Controversy alert. How much will commuting be permanently cut after Covid? Conversations and back-of-envelope estimates suggest… what?… 30%?… 50%? Is that a threat to our railways or is it an opportunity?
Should we welcome working and conferencing from home as reducing the need for planet-damaging travel and improving work-life balance? Maybe up to a point. All who meet on “Zoom”, plus teachers and students struggling to engage in distance learning, vital NHS and other key workers including rail staff, know you just need to meet physically. And in the arts and music human interaction sparks creativity – surely a growing part of a future green economy.
As we decarbonise, travel becomes less damaging. More walking and cycling, plus electric trains, trams, cars and buses. Railways will be vital in a green economy supporting human creativity and wider wellbeing, through “sociable” transport serving the whole community. Here are seven suggested principles for discussion:
Crowded trains were never healthy. So no going back to sardine-can commuting. Let’s spread demand across the day making load factors more even. Social distancing is with us for some time.
If frequencies have to be cut, let it be just that. No line closures.
And no cuts in track capacity. Might some big projects be delayed
favouring regional enhancements? “Northern Sparks” electrification is essential. But what about HS2 and NPR?
No cuts on minimal service lines like Leeds-Lancaster/Carlisle, the Whitby line – or our Brighouse line. The principle of half-hourly minimum service on urban routes remains sound. The Calder Valley has more than that and needs it.
If some peak services are reduced, released rolling stock must improve reliability, open up off-peak travel for more people and maybe avoid some capacity investment.
London may be most affected by more working from home. So no making so-called “loss-making” lines up North suffer most. Remember levelling up! Let it be fair, North with South, and Calder Valley with Trans-Pennine.
To get traffic off roads onto rail, let’s have deep integration with reregulated buses, trams and active travel routes. Make sociable transport competitive against cars for more complex journeys that are not focussed on city centres. Many people never use the train, so there’s a huge potential market to be tapped.
It stretches credibility to demand trains run nearly empty in a nominally rich nation where we seem to struggle to feed all of our children or look after older people.
Let us have trains that carry comfortable loads of people with services designed to be useful to more and more. It’s not all about the big cities.
WE HAVE a reply – HERE – from the Department for Transport to our September letter to Grant Shapps (see previous post).
There is reassurance that Elland station is still on schedule for the end of 2022 (see also below), and that Network Rail’s revolutionary TDNS (the interim traction decarbonisation network strategy, published September 2020) will inform the Department’s wider decarbonisation strategy.
Meanwhile, at the Yorkshire Post’s Great Northern Conference earlier this Autumn, the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps replied to our question. The tone was a little sotto voce, but yes, the Secretary of State said, we’ll be electrifying more railways. He also mentioned hydrogen but said it took a lot of of power to generate, which seemed to be an acknowledgement that hydrogen trains are a much less efficient way of delivering traction energy than overhead electric wires.
We are optimists. We see evidence the Department for Transport gets it, understands the science. With a holistic economic view electrification will pay for itself through future savings in train operating costs – as well as through the benefits to humanity of having zero-carbon transport. We still have to convince the Treasury and must press the case through our MPs. More on the Electric Railway Charter blog. This should be headline stuff right now with Boris Johnson’s new target to cut greenhouse gases by 68% by 2039, amid a perfect storm of cuts to Network Rail’s budget and lack of progress on schemes promised five or ten years ago. The TransPennine route upgrade was announced in 2011 as a full-electrification project. A decision on how much of the Manchester-Huddersfield-York route will actually be electrified is now expected in mid 2021. That’s a decade gone.
TDNS provides backing for the Northern Sparks task force report that recommended electrification – well beyond TRU – of the Calder Valley and other northern routes. That was to be 12 routes in an initial 5-year plan, recommendations made almost six years ago. There is a clear match-up, as a short report at a November meeting of Yorkshire and neighbouring Railfuture branches explained.
Elland station could be no more than two years away. Ground for optimism include the possibility of the new station providing an alternative railhead when the route through Huddersfield is closed for work on TRU. We know from more than one source that this has been under discussion. With planning on TRU -both 4-tracking between Huddersfield and Dewsbury and the extent of electrification – still under discussion, it makes sense to get Elland done first.
HADRAG wrote to Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, six weeks ago. We want him to press Network Rail to get Elland station open by the end of 2022. And we want him to give the go-ahead to a rolling programme of electrification. Network Rail’s “TDNS” (the interim Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy) says that the majority of present diesel-only routes should be electrified. That includes the Calder Valley Line that was top scheme in the Northern Sparks task force report (March 2015). We are waiting for a reply from Mr Shapps.
Our letter is below:
Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport, Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, LONDON SW1P 4DR
Originally sent by email: 22 September 2020 and again on 21 October. Awaiting reply so re-sending in post in case not received
Dear Secretary of State,
The Calder Valley Line, Elland station and rail development across the North post-Covid
Thank you for replies to previous letters. You know our concern is the Calder Valley Line (CVL) train service, linked to:
the need for progress on TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU),
the need for long-awaited capacity improvements in Manchester (as well as locations such as Leeds and York),
the need for electrification (including our Calder Valley line), now evidenced by Network Rail’s interim Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS), and requiring a positive government response.
The development of sustainable, “sociable” public transport, with a clear plan for decarbonisation, providing an attractive alternative to transport modes that cause health-damaging congestion and pollution will be even more important in a post-Covid world. We link these national/global issues, and alert you to urgency for progress on a long-awaited new rail station proposed at Elland, next to Brighouse on the Calder Valley Line. Elland station must not be delayed by TRU works, and we hope you will press Network Rail to coordinate these projects to best effect locally.
1 TRU and the Elland/Brighouse Line
We want to thank you massively for your July announcement of £589M for TRU. We feel more hopeful that this scheme will now eventually mean electrification without gaps Manchester to York (and beyond).
As well as inter-city journeys TRU will benefit regional services on routes such as the arm of the strategic Calder Valley Line through Elland/Brighouse which joins the Manchester-Huddersfield-Leeds route at Huddersfield and Mirfield[i]. Four tracks Huddersfield-Mirfield-Dewsbury will allow more services over the Bradford-Huddersfield and (Manchester/East Lancs-)upper Calderdale-Brighouse-Leeds corridors through Calderdale. Brighouse currently has only an hourly service to each main destination. Comparing with stations serving smaller catchments such as Todmorden and Hebden Bridge, you will see that this branch of the CV line should have at least 2 trains /hour to each destination.
Elland station should have opened alongside Brighouse precisely 20 years ago. The local community has campaigned ever since for a station that will serve a similar catchment area to Brighouse or Todmorden/Hebden Bridge. Promoted by West Yorkshire Combined Authority with Calderdale Council, the station will have transformative local links for sustainable and active travel for work, business and leisure in our beautiful valley. The station has passed outline business case and further consultation towards full business case. Projected opening is by December 2022.
But concern has been raised locally that building of Elland station could be delayed because of work on TRU, which will affect connected routes and at times require diversion of TP Express services via the CV line. Given the potential timescale for TRU, any delay to Elland would cause massive local disappointment. Elland should if anything be brought forward. When remodelling of Huddersfield station and other works are taking place as part of TRU, a station at Elland on the diversionary route would be an ideal alternative railhead for passengers who would normally use Huddersfield. We understand this possibility is being considered. Given all of the above points:
Will you please require Network Rail and other bodies involved to ensure that opening of Elland station before the end of 2022 is not delayed?
We welcome recent initiatives by Network Rail to speed up delivery of projects, and also your announcement in July of a Northern Infrastructure Acceleration Council. Might there be a mechanism here to ensure that projects such as Elland station go ahead, on time, as planned?
2 Electrification, decarbonisation – TDNS and the need for a rolling programme
We enthusiastically welcome recent publication by Network Rail of the interim Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy. This clearly shows that the majority of lines that are at present not electrified require electrification. It is acknowledged that there are short-distance routes where batteries may be used and more remote routes with infrequent and lower speed services where hydrogen may be appropriate. But TDNS confirms our Electric Railway Charter view that routes such as the Calder Valley Line (CVL) between Leeds and both Manchester and Preston via both Halifax and Brighouse need to be electrified. As you know, a 5-year initial programme of 12 routes was recommended in the March 2015 report “Northern Sparks” by the Northern Electrification Task Force[ii]. The 12 routes included the full CVLas top-ranked scheme on economic, business and environmental criteria. TDNS suggests that parts of this route could be electrified at an earlier stage as part of a Manchester Rail Strategy[iii].
TDNS confirms that electrification is the way ahead. Electrification wins in a holistic economic assessment as capital costs of electrifying the lines will be paid for by future savings to train operators in both lower capital costs of electric trains and lower operating costs through reduced energy use, reduced complexity[iv] and therefore increased reliability, as well increased revenue through the “sparks effect”. As existing electrification schemes are completed, it is important that skilled engineering teams are kept together. A rolling programme will build on experience and on improved technology, making electrification of existing routes easier to achieve. Scotland already has most central belt lines electrified including 4 routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow, with proposals for near full electrification of the country over the next 15-25 years. We expect only the same for the North of England and therefore ask:
Please will you and your government colleagues now give the go-ahead to rolling programmes of rail electrification in England and Wales, based on regional proposals, including the March 2015 NETF report?
3 Concluding remarks – beyond Covid, towards a sustainable, sociable railway
Driving, as we are sometimes forced to do, across Northern England, we say to you, let us not go back to congested, polluted roads that damage our physical and mental health. Nor do we want a return to the unhealthy sardine-can transit of pre-pandemic commuting. Our railways (like our transport as a whole) are supported by the whole community through taxes. So let the whole community benefit. In the post-Covid world office workers may need to spend less time in the city, traveling into the city, or traveling between cities. But people will still need to make countless journeys, for leisure as well as work, for personal as well as corporate development – because they are human beings. We cannot forever travel in isolation, and so we want to see public transport reinvented as sociable transportwhere people’s wellbeing is enhanced by traveling together, and where the local and global environment is protected.
So please listen to our idea that all railways should be community railways, attractive to a future generation with the environment at its heart and helping the wider economy. Zero-carbon, zero-pollution, congestion cutting and serving the widest variety of local needs. We hope you can help us achieve Elland station without further delay, and an electric railway across our region.
With thanks in anticipation,
J Stephen Waring, Chair, HADRAG
cc MPs, local leaders, media, rail and Electric Railway Charter contacts
ELLAND station should open by the end of 2022. HADRAG says it’s a brilliant project with a superb local access package encouraging active travel – walking and cycling – to get people via regenerated parkland, new bridges and canal side to the station, Lowfields business park and all along from Greetland to Park Road. A phase 2 public consultation here closes on Sunday 16 August – get in quick to support the project and comment on the latest details (you’ll find there’s feedback to read from the earlier consultation). We are determined not to accept any further delay to Elland. The Calder Valley Line will be used for diversions when work is being done for the TransPennine Route upgrade. Elland station could be an ideal alternative railhead for Huddersfield passengers at times when their station is out of use. So we say let’s get Elland done first. More below, and read HADRAG and Railfuture Yorkshire’s response to the consultation at this link. Link to WYCA website for consultation is https://www.yourvoice.westyorks-ca.gov.uk/elland2020#!
ELLAND station is already 20 years late and counting, having been shelved to save money when Brighouse opened in May 2000. As planning proceeds to full business case with a target to open before the end of 2022, we say any further delay can not be acceptable.
TRU concern. Following a government announcement last month of £589 million for the TransPennine Route Upgrade on the Huddersfield line, it still is not quite clear when that project will start. When it does start there will be periods when the Calder Valley Line is used for diversions and that won’t just affect the service at the new Elland station. The rumour machine has suggested Elland could be held up while TRU is completed, and whilst we have been told that is not expected to happen, the concern remains. If Elland had to wait for TRU it could take another 5 years, maybe more and that would be massive disappointment for local people who want their railway station and are eager to use the linked package of new and upgraded active travel routes linking the station to town centre, Park Road and Greetland via new bridges and canal path.
So we say get Elland done first.The official target is still to open the station by the December 2022 timetable change. The TRU work will mean there will be periods when Huddersfield station is closed for remodelling work. TransPennine Express services may then be diverted via the Calder Valley Line. If Elland station is already built it could be an ideal alternative railhead for passengers who normally use Huddersfield. The railway geography also tells us there will be periods when the service along the Brighouse and Elland line is also disrupted. But this will also affect other existing stations, and is no reason to delay Elland.
HADRAG will be pressing the case for Elland first, with local representatives, council and WYCA contacts, MPs and the transport secretary Grant Shapps. if anything, we argue, Elland needs to be brought forward by a few months, not put back. Along with the £589M for TRU, Mr Shapps announced a new Northern Transport Acceleration Council to speed up projects across our greater region. There was some understandable disquiet at what seemed to be top-down imposition, but maybe the new body could not just get planning of TRU and other schemes accelerated but also make sure schemes like Elland are not left behind.
Consultation response: HADRAG has submitted a joint response with Railfuture Yorkshire Branch to the Phase 2 consultation by West Yorkshire Combined Authority on Elland. You can read our response at this link. If you are reading this before 16 August you also have time to send in your own response (details here). We praise the wider access package of active travel links that will open up Calderdale’s countryside to visitors arriving by rail, as well providing healthy access to the station. And we renew our call for a better service on the Elland-Brighouse line; the aim should be at least half-hourly on both east-west and north-south routes in line with WYCA policy and we say this will be an essential development in the years after the station opens. We expect the TransPennine Route Upgraded, when it is complete, to provide new capacity through Huddersfield and Mirfield that will allow more trains from Calderdale to Huddersfield, Leeds and Wakefield. But we still say let’s build Elland first! From the start, we hope Grand Central will call at Elland with its popular Bradford-London trains, so the new station will immediately have more than Northern’s Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Wigan and Bradford-Huddersfield local trains.
Bus and hospital links. We also call for the new station to be joined up with local bus routes taking people around Elland, Greetland and Stainland. This will need a bus stop by the station on Lowfields Way, and we have suggested a new network of local “hopper” routes. This should be easier as the proposed mayoral devolution deal for West Yorkshire should allow the county to take back control of buses.
We also say Elland could be an excellent railhead for people from the upper valley to access Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS hospitals – staff, patients and visitors. We suggest a minibus link which could be demand-responsive and might even be free to use.
The station will have a reasonably large car park. Past experience suggests station car parks are never quite “big enough”. Covid-19 means transport is in crisis now, but we must work for a future where the car and congested, polluted roads are no longer first choice. Public transport must become sociable transport, popular but not overcrowded, first choice for the whole community. And of course electric as advocated by the Electric Railway Charter.
FUNDING for the TransPennine route upgrade, £598M announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps this week (23 July 2020), should be good news for the Calder Valley as well as the Huddersfield line. New tracks through Huddersfield-Mirfield should mean capacity for more trains via Brighouse and Elland where plans for the new station are approaching the next gateway. But also relevant to our line, uncertainty remains (despite a recent £10M batch of development funding) about a solution the Manchester “Castlefield” problem where promised services will never be delivered without congestion-busting capacity. We welcome the government’s commitment to these schemes but ask now for a truly modern, zero-carbon railway. That means electrification across our region including the full Calder Valley line as recommended in the 2015 Northern Sparksreport. West Yorkshire Combined Authority calls for Calder Valley electrification in its recent submission to the National Infrastructure Commission. In the much longer term a new station in Bradford serving both the proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) high speed route and the Calder Valley Line is advocated. That’s a long way ahead. The good news is there is now a realisation that the North of England cannot be kept waiting decades for a high speed route which even when it comes will serve the big cities, not local communities. We have to get on now with upgrading the “classic” routes. More on all this below:
As public transport – let’s call it “sociable transport” – rebuilds after Covid we want to see a railway that serves more and more of the community. City working may be permanently reduced in the future. The old rush-hour with commuters paying peak-rate fares crammed in the worst conditions could be history. So we need to look at a service for the whole community that gets people on trains for a wider range of purposes.
Latest news is that the long-awaited TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU) seems to have the go-ahead. Critical not just for the Manchester-Huddersfield-Leeds route but also the linked Calder Valley line, the plan includes an increase from 2-track to 4-track between Huddersfield and Dewsbury. We expect this to allow more trains off the Elland-Brighouse Calder Valley corridor both into Huddersfield (where there will be more platforms) and through Mirfield towards Leeds/Wakefield. There will be a conflict reducing grade-separated junction (flyover/diveunder) at Ravensthorpe. These extra tracks will probably be vital if the Brighouse/Elland line is ever to get a proper half-hourly service on both Bradford-Huddersfield and upper Calderdale-Leeds services.
As HADRAG has pointed out many times, a fast journey from Brighouse to Leeds via Dewsbury could take about 20 minutes or less compared with today’s almost 35 minutes. This time saving would also benefit trips from upper Calderdale to Leeds via the Brighouse route.
The Elland station project is now on its way towards full business case under WYCA and Calderdale supervision. The required phase 2 public consultation is in progress. As far as we know the planned completion date remains 2022, but there is some concern about how this will marry up with TRU. Fear is that uncertainty about TRU and the phasing of works requiring diversion of TransPennine Express trains via the Calder Valley could delay the new station. Also the major works at Huddersfield station and through Mirfield are likely to affect trains via Brighouse. But if Elland has to wait for all the TRU work to be completed that could be another five, or even ten years, surely not acceptable given that the station originally should have opened alongside Brighouse in May 2000.
HADRAG says if anything Elland station should be opened sooner rather than later, and could be an alternative railhead for Huddersfield station users when diversions are in operation during the TRU works.
The consultation on Elland Rail Station and Access Package Phase 2 is open until 16th August 2020, details at this link: https://www.yourvoice.westyorks-ca.gov.uk/elland2020 . This is an ambitious scheme, not just a train station but a package of transformative local improvements. Make your views known!
Electrification – and NPR
As reported in our previous post, HADRAG responded to the National Infrastructure Commission call for evidence on rail needs in the North (here).
We also strongly welcome the submission made by West Yorkshire Combined Authority (jointly with W&N Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce) – at this link. They call for “a single strategic programme of investment in rail covering the next 30 years”, and say this must include improvements at Leeds City station, completion of TRU by 2026, links to HS2, and
“Delivery of the NPR network including a new station in the centre of Bradford incorporating both NPR and Calder Valley services and early delivery of a new line between Leeds and Bradford”
“A rolling programme of electrification to create an electrified city region metro rail network the supports the government’s wider plans to decarbonise the economy, starting with the Calder Valley line” (we’ve added the italics).
Whilst CV electrification is the last item in a 6-point list, HADRAG would expect this to be the next scheme after TransPennine route upgrade, as recommended by the March 2015 task force report Northern Sparks. We need a zero-carbon transport system if we are to build better, post-Covid. More on electrification, and Grant Shapps’s TRU announcement on our Electric Railway Charter site.
Remove Bradford turnback?
HADRAG has expressed concern that a high-speed line between Leeds, Bradford and Manchester would do little for Calderdale. The Bradford “NPR plus Calder Valley” station proposal is perhaps rather long term, though we note the request for “early delivery” of a high-speed Leeds-Bradford route. The WYCA submission says the possibility of integrating the Bradford station with the Calder Valley line could remove the turnback at Bradford Interchange and create “a new through station which would also improve services [from Leeds] to Calderdale and east Lancashire”. So that is potentially good news for our line.
HADRAG has previously said that if Calder Valley trains could run on the NPR high speed line from Bradford to Leeds that would cut Halifax-Leeds journey time from the present 35 minutes plus, to about 20 minutes. Maybe we’ve been heard! We have also said in our own submission to NIC that NPR should have more intermediate stations including one in Calderdale itself.
Classic routes and Manchester capacity
Meanwhile the classic routes need improving. The government seems to realise we need upgrades way ahead of NPR. Alongside the TRU they promise the capacity issues in Manchester and Leeds will be addressed. £10M has been allocated for more design/development work on the Castlefield corridor where lack of through platforms is preventing improvements, including Calder Valley-Manchester Airport services, that were promised by the Northern franchise. There was of course a plan about 5 years ago for remodelling Oxford Road and providing two extra platforms at Piccadilly. We can only assume this is still one of the options. Another possibility is a tunnel from Ordsall Junction (west of the city) to Piccadilly station. This, on the face of it, could be decades away. Perhaps the Northern Transport Acceleration Council announced by Mr Shapps really will bring this forward.
Network Rail has done a second consultation on the Huddersfield-Dewsbury 4-track plan prior to a Transport and Works Act application as part of the TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU). The scheme, which includes grade separation (flyover/under) at Ravensthorpe, links with the Brighouse line at Mirfield and Bradley; it will increase capacity and reduce junction conflicts.
HADRAG’s response is a simple message: that this work has to be done without further delay, and without waiting for an inquiry into how it might interact with high speed proposals that could still be decades away. Whether city-connecting Northern Powerhouse Rail goes ahead or not, we need present lines upgrading to enable better services not least on Calderdale’s Elland-Brighouse corridor towards Huddersfield, Wakefield and Leeds. Surely rail in the post-Covid world trains must serve communities even if city-based work is history?
No surprise midlockdown, our local inter-city operator Grand Central suspended all services on 3 April initially for a two-month “hibernation”. Since 2010 GC has run trains from Bradford, Halifax, and Brighouse to London, originally three trains, more recently four a day. An open-access operator, GC does not receive the government support that is keeping franchised train operators running in the present crisis, but has been able to make use of the government furlough scheme.
In a statement online (3 April) GC’s managing director Richard McClean said this was “necessary but temporary”. The company would “keep in contact with the three main rail unions,” and “A skeleton team will continue working to ensure Grand Central is ready to resume services as a thriving train operator, serving communities…, once restrictions ease.”
The promise is a come-back “stronger and more resilient”. Trains to London have become an expectation at our stations. They must come back.
The key workers’ service on our line is hourly Leeds-Manchester on both Bradford and Brighouse routes and 2-hourly Leeds-Preston, with the Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle running hourly. This continued at the 18th May usual timetable change date. Planned enhancements are deferred. The service is for essential workers only. Leisure and other nonessential journeys are not allowed, reflecting the government message and more specifically to protect staff and passengers and avoid spreading the infection. To quote Northern (15 May): “If your only option is to travel by train, please: buy tickets online; respect the 2-metre rule; follow instructions at stations and from train staff; use a face covering if you can; wash your hands before and after your journey; take your face covering and litter with you; and allow extra time for your journey.”
Very few HADRAG contacts have been commuting. We heard there were typically three or four passengers in each carriage which increased only slightly after that slight easing of lockdown. That makes 2-metre social distancing possible, but the limit is said to be no more than 10 per cent of normal loadings. Northern’s average on 15 May was apparently 12.7 passengers/train. Pressure will grow if commuting resumes. The reduced Calder Valley Line service seems to be 3-car or 2×2-car class 195s (the new trains] with 4-car 158s on the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchesters, and single 153s coupled to make two on Bradford-Hud. We gather end-compartments are taped off so conductors can social-distance whilst operating the doors. Clearly longer trains are needed to carry a fraction of normal loadings until we have beaten this virus.
Meanwhile can face-covering help? To quote an update to Northern’s stakeholders (15 May] “it still isn’t clear how effective [masks] are, and whether their use will be mandated on-train.” But by the end of April Germany was requiring face covering on buses and local trains, with masks on sale from machines in at least some stations. And, reinstating something like its normal train service on 11 May, Swiss Railways website said: “Transport companies are counting on their customers to show personal responsibility and solidarity. When a distance of two metres cannot be maintained, the wearing of protective masks is recommended. You can obtain these at various shops at SBB railway stations and elsewhere.” So, back on UK rail, we shall see.
In normal times we’d have our annual general meeting (AGM) with a speaker in late May or June. That of course is prevented by the need for continuing social distancing, which equally obviously means cancellation of committee meetings for the time being. We had hoped to have our 2020 AGM in Brighouse, just 20 years since the town’s station opened. We’ll hold that meeting as soon as we can – though it may have to be a 21st rather than 20th anniversary. Focus will remain the need to improve services on the arm of the Calder Valley line that serves not just Brighouse but the proposed new station at Elland and potentially improves links between upper Calderdale and Huddersfield, Wakefield, Dewsbury and Leeds.
Some groups have been meeting on-line (formally or informally) using facilities such as Zoom. We are conscious this would not suit all of our members. But should we consider holding one or two informal Zoom meetings for members who would like to be in involved in an on-line discussion?
In the meantime essential AGM business will be conducted by HADRAG’s committee and members by correspondence to be ratified or amended by a conventional meeting later. Just when that can be remains unclear. Let’s all stay safe.
When (asks HADRAG Chair Stephen Waring) shall we go to Manchester or Leeds for work, for the shops, for the art gallery or theatre, for a good night out where we dance and hug? When shall we hop on our Calder Valley train, avoid the dismal A646, and take a turn (on foot or wheels) along the canal bank, stagger up the hill to Stoodley Pike, visit friends, sing in a choir or sit in an audience, or just occupy a café?
The Calder Valley line is a wonderful community asset. But at the end of May (as we update this blog), with the coronavirus lockdown (ambiguously?) easing, near-empty trains still run for essential journeys only. Workers are urged to go back, but work from home if the can – which many essential workers can not. Enclosed space makes public transport vehicles a potential arena for infection. Walk, or cycle, says the government – sustainable ideals. Or use the car – the opposite. This feels like a somewhat dirty exit in terms of what we should be doing to protect local environments and fight global heating. What if you don’t have a car or morally object to using it? Train companies are being paid by the government to run trains whilst discouraging people from using them, a policy that sounds crazy but has logic where we are now. Thanks are due to rail staff at all levels who keep these services going for essential workers, The intention is safety, preventing infection, and where we are now is the right thing to do. But…
Early in May polling suggested UK citizens feared early easing of lockdown. Looking ahead, friends for whom rail travel would always be first choice vow not to go on a train until they can get vaccinated. Immunity hopes rise, there’s talk of massive factories manufacturing vaccine, but as yet there is no guarantee. What if there is no vaccine?
The Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank has advocated peak fare increases to discourage passengers. Staggered work times could help to ease the lockdown, spreading passenger demand for travel. Social distancing onboard trains means a tenth the capacity of normal passenger loadings. Clearly that cannot go on indefinitely.
Public transport must either come back, supported as a public need, or die.
As Calder Valley Line commuters remember only too well from pre-lockdown, those early morning and teatime trains used to be disgracefully overcrowded. Rail commuting was not a choice, but a punishment for city working. Already, people were learning to work from home. Going into the office maybe just once a week could turn the rush-hour into history.
The nightmare… and the hope…
With or without an anti-coronavirus vaccine, there’s a dystopian nightmare here. People travel – only when they have to – singly or in permitted police-enforced groups, in driverless automatic pods centrally controlled to maximise road capacity (note: “road”). People meet on-line, but must log-in their immunity passports to meet physically. There are no passenger trains, buses or trams. But rail freight has replaced thousands of HGVs, and distributes food and hardware via thousands of robotic vans. The good news in this science-fiction world is that both the freight trains and the driverless road vehicles are powered by zero-carbon electricity. The bad news – it is simply not human as we understand the term. An ideal, but not one we’d want.
Science fiction, yes… maybe.
The worry is public transport really may not recover. The “right” to car travel, in bigger and bigger vehicles, it would seem, still largely powered directly or indirectly by fossil fuels, will be reasserted. We feel safe in in our sealed 4-wheeled travelling cage. The quieter roads and cleaner air we enjoyed during the early weeks of lockdown may be but a footnote in the narrative of environmental catastrophe.
The hope is that a better world is possible… and that people realise it must be done…
We are optimists about green reconstruction, post-Covid
As campaigners for clean transport (some of us have been doing this since that cuts congestion, protects the environment, and fights global heating, we are optimists. Our assumption must be that this coronavirus will be dealt with (dare we hope with lessons learnt for the future?). The climate emergency will still be there, more and more pressing. Post-Covid reconstruction must, surely, be about green, good growth, not about reseeding the old disasters. We shall need people using public transport for more and more different types of journey, cutting congestion locally and fighting local and global disaster. Even if every car is electric, and every electron in the grid system has been mobilised by renewable energy, we need to clear our roads and streets so people can move sustainably, sociably, using active and public transport, and where communities thrive.
We must recognise likely changes in the nature of travel. If city-based work is decimated, where does this leave high speed rail (HS2, NPR etc…) that links only the biggest cities and a few regional hubs? Is there an opportunity to better serve communities that focus on their local train stations. People need to travel, to explore, to get together, to be creative, to enjoy active leisure. Social interaction must again become possible. Should not transport be about promoting quality of life, not just work for work’s sake? Trains, trams and buses really can enable this. And enable environmental excellence.
Electric trains can be spacious and comfortable for passengers. With a more flexible approach to work they can enable a new commuting that is a comfortable, relaxing start and finish to the day, not a sardine-canned, unhygienic ordeal. Low-pollution, energy-efficient, ideal for routes with lots of stations, electrics can run on zero-carbon energy.
So, what is HADRAG doing?
Given the present situation, is this blog just deckchair shifting on a public-transport Titanic? It may be an act of faith, but we must make cautiously optimistic assumptions and keep up the campaign.
Northern Rail, the train company, was renationalised on 1 March. (Farewell, Arriva!). However much has happened since then, we are committed to press the new controllers of Northern Trains Ltd for three aims:
A timetable that works and delivers a reliable service. Latest update on the new company’s plan suggests a recast performance-based timetable is the official objective for December 2021.
Delivery of promises, including trains from Calderdale across Manchester to Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations, probably to the airport. It’s not that we want to encourage lots environmentally damaging air travel. But there are important work and leisure destinations on the southern fringe of Manchester city – universities, hospitals, theatres and concert halls, leisure and heritage attractions – all places where people must congregate in the future if people are to fulfil the potential of being human. And of course connections to destinations beyond.
Better deal for all our stations. All trains should stop at Sowerby Bridge. HADRAG held a successful public meeting here on February 1st, and we had an excellent discussion wit rail manager from West Yorkhire Combined Authority, Richard Cravtreee. Sowerby Bridge station serves a population equalling that of Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined – you could call this the Upper Valley Equivalence Criterion. And of course the Brighouse Line needs a much better service, especially as we expect the opening of Elland station in a couple of years’ time. Each of Elland and Brighouse also meets the Upper Valley Criterion – they should have as good a service as Hebden Bridge and Tod. Then there is Mytholmroyd, a village station, bit one that should soon get a large new station car park. Could MYT offer some relief to HBD? Where we are now, with doubt over the future role of city living and working, can we reasonably demand the franchise promise of three trains an hour Bradford-Manchester? Or would we be better asking for more trains serving lower Calderdale and the Brighouse and Elland communities and encouraging their development? We must also press these points with Transport for the North, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Calderdale Council. What should we be asking for?
Let’s put “Northern Sparks” and classic rail capacity ahead of planning high-speed links between cities
We have responded to Network Rail’s latest consultation on TRU, the TransPennine Route upgrade. They asked for views on revised proposals for Huddersfield-Dewsbury 4-tracking, grade separation (flying junction) at Ravensthorpe, and local station rebuilding schemes, before a Transport and Works Act application. We simply state this work is essential and must go ahead without delay, without waiting for some protracted inquiry into how it links with the future Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) scheme. We need the extra tracks through Mirfield and into Huddersfield so more trans can run via the Elland-Brighouse corridor from Calderdale towards Huddersfield, Wakefield, Dewsbury and Leeds. This is about expanding local and regional connectivity to create an attractive alternative to damaging road transport. It cannot wait for high speed proposals that are still decades away, that will only link the big cities (albeit possibly including Bradford), and that may be irrelevant post-Covid.
And have also now responded (29 May) to a call for evidence from the National Infrastructure Commission on Rail Needs for the Midlands and North. This follows the February government announcement confirming go-ahead for HS2 Phase 1 (London-Birmingham) and proposal for an integrated rail plan for that big tract of England north of the Trent , coordinating HS2, NPR and other rail proposals. This, surely, is an opportunity to make the point that, notwithstanding the present disease threat, there are long-delayed projects to increase rail capacity in the North of England that simply need to go ahead now. In three headings, these are:
“Northern Sparks” – rail electrification across our region, across the Pennines. To state again: the full Calder Valley Line, Leeds to both Preston and Manchester via both Bradford and Brighouse was top-ranked scheme of the Northern Electrification Task Force five, yes five years ago…
… that needs to go ahead following full Huddersfield Line electrification, and promised capacity increases under TransPennine Route Upgrade (including four tracks along the Huddersfield-Mirfield-Dewsbury corridor). Another promise for which we have been waiting five years.
Manchester capacity. Extra platforms at Manchester Piccadilly allowing more trains including Calder Valley ones round the new Ordsall chord railway were planned – you guessed it – five years ago. We hoped the new government’s first budget might have given this the go ahead. But still we wait. An alternative being mooted could be a new tunnelled railway from the Liverpool and Bolton lines coming in at Ordsall (Salford) under the city to Manchester Piccadilly. Might this be done quicker than a scheme that was shovel-ready years ago?
Other enhancements that could make our service better including passing loops to get freight trains out of the way of our services, and possible station improvements including, just maybe, a third platform at Halifax to enable future timetable development.
And a bit of extra capacity at city terminals could enable new services over existing but under-used routes. We are thinking of a west-east service from East Lancs, through Calderdale, Wakefield and Castleford to York, via an existing freight and diversionary avoiding Leeds. The lines are there and in use, and there is space for an extra bay platform at York station. More in our response to the NIC
Whatever the future of country-town commuting or city-city business travel, our ideas above are projects that we need so that future transport meets community needs, supports human wellbeing, and does not contribute to wreckage of the local and global environment. How bad would it be if post-Covid reassessment of needs killed HS2 or NPR (aka HS3)? If you have a view, tell us.