Catching up with Smart Tickets

ONE DAY the whole of the North will have smart ticketing. Touch in, touch out, “pay as you go” and the system will cap your total fare daily and weekly at a reasonable maximum price for the zones you travelled in. Just like they’ve had in London with Oyster for nearly two decades. Smart travel in most of the rest of the country is laboriously catching up, every authority seemingly reinventing the wheel. West Yorkshire Ticketing Company Ltd runs the MCards now familiar as replacement for the old MetroCards.  So, for example, a pink MCard can be loaded up with weekly or longer period travel for the zones you want, rail+bus or bus only. But it seems sales of rail+bus multi-modal tickets have fallen relative to rail-only daily/season tickets. Work patterns are changing; the “9 to 5”, 5-day week is not what it was. And if your train is seriously delayed you can claim “Delay Repay” on rail-only but not multimodal tickets.

Pay-as-you-go could be (sorry) just the ticket. But we need the technology installing.

 

Calder Valley Line stations lose passengers, but Mytholmroyd surprises!

If service is poor people will vote with their feet. Latest statistics from the Office of Road and Rail cover the year including May 2018 timetable chaos. So it’s no surprise that many stations show a drop in passenger footfall. Bits of good news include figures for Mytholmroyd where the ORR records nearly 15% annual growth and attributes it to improved service in May 2018. But Sowerby Bridge had the same improvement at the same time and appears to have lost passengers to the tune of 5½%. Other factors affect our valley, such as traffic problems on the dreaded A646. Sadly, increased service frequency given to SOW and MYT in 2018 has now been taken away—likely to be reflected in next year’s statistics. But when Mytholmroyd gets its big new car park (soon!) with spaces for a couple of hundred daily park and riders the station could see another surge. Mytholmroyd has real potential to relieve Hebden Bridge — but only if the service is improved. Usage also increased at Todmorden where upcoming access improvements could attract even more. Walsden is another to watch, a 6.3% surge reversing gradual decline over ten years — and only an hourly service! Brighouse still tops the CV Line league for biggest 10-year percentage growth, but its messed-up service over two years (effectively only one train an hour to Leeds) has begun to throw away the gains. We’ll keep an eye on how the Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle performs. Great start for first two years of Low Moor.

Our table adapts the ORR’s spreadsheet. Explore link above for national picture. Interpretation may require a pinch of salt. Nobody’s been counting actual passengers: figures estimate total entrances and exits from ticket sales, with adjustments for multimodal tickets like MCard.  Note comment on methodology for the GM stations, where free concessionary travel has been evaluated and included for the first time. So apparent surge over the border is journeys suddenly being counted and high growth compared with the Yorkshire side is more apparent than real. It is right to include these journeys and the comparison will again become valid in future results.

Halifax is 324th busiest station nationally (down from 300th). Leeds is third busiest station outside London, behind Birmingham and Glasgow Central. London Waterloo retains the overall title.

Our (latest) letter to Grant Shapps

Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport,

Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, LONDON SW1P 4DR

14 January 2020

Dear Secretary of State,

Northern railways and the Calder Valley Line – towards solutions

HADRAG is a campaigning rail users’ group, a supportive, positive and respected “critical friend” of the railway. We seek a modern, sustainable railway that more and more people want to use.

Failure of the railway collectively to deliver either day-to-day service reliability or promised enhancements is a desperate disappointment. We welcome your recent statements. We understand that you have a process in place to resolve the Northern franchise issues. From a passenger viewpoint, we wholeheartedly agree that action is needed. Thank you in anticipation for considering the following.

We were concerned by reports of a proposal to split Northern (Arriva Rail North) into two separate east and west companies:

  • Such a suggestion poses more questions for our Calder Valley Line than for on any other Northern-operated route. Four cross-boundary services per hour penetrate deep into east and west Pennine territories. Yorkshire commuters travel regularly into Manchester and Lancashire, using services that span York, Leeds, Preston, Blackpool, Manchester, Wigan and Chester.
  • We agree that Northern is geographically large. But we believe an already fragmented railway needs to be re-integrated, not split into further smaller parts
  • Such re-integration should, we believe, go beyond the existing Northern TOC bringing in TransPennine Express and the infrastructure operator Network Rail. Vertical integration – literally across the “wheel-rail interface” is perhaps more critical than geographical boundaries. But the cross-Pennine services of Northern and TPE should also be brought together since they are complementary and need to be operated in cooperation.

Whatever the future structure, the railway in the North must be collectively tasked with the duty, and provided with the financial and physical resources, to achieve the following priorities:

  1. To run a reliable and punctual and comfortable service in the short term and going forward.
  2. To deliver benefits that were promised by the 2015 franchise. These must include enhancements such as (on our line) increased frequency between Bradford and Manchester, and a regular link with the south side of Manchester, for which we know there is demand in terms of access to employment, education, attractions and connections. Locally, it is a major disappointment that the present franchise is unable to deliver these commitments.
  3. To plan for further improvements to services and new services. In the Calder Valley there is a pressing need for a better service on the Brighouse route (which will hopefully have an additional station at Elland in 2-3 years). Since December 2019 Brighouse has only one train an hour Leeds-Manchester plus a Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle – a cut in service which fails to comply with the Train Service Requirement (TSR) in the original franchise agreement.

The recent collapse in service performance on both Northern and TransPennine Express sadly coincided with the introduction of new rolling stock, turning good news into bad. We hear that new trains were introduced with staff training insufficiently complete on both TOCs. Meanwhile, regular late-running by TPE causes hold-ups at Manchester, Leeds and York, hitting the performance of Northern-operated Calder Valley trains, showing the inter-dependence of the two TOCs.

The train companies seem to have offered too much with too little resources or allowance for contingencies. But failure to deliver franchise commitments for the Calder Valley Line is due in part to capacity on the Ordsall and Castlefield route through south Manchester. The Ordsall chord was built to carry both long-distance TPE trains and Northern’s Calder Valley services. Complementing Ordsall, we should by now have two more through platforms in use at Manchester Piccadilly and other works completed to allow longer dwell times and more trains. But the go ahead for this work was not given. We know other possible enhancements in the area are being considered. Meanwhile, Northern have told us they are banned from bidding for the additional Calder Valley services. Yet TPE is allowed to run 2 trains/hour from North East England to Manchester Airport via the Huddersfield line and Ordsall.

We respectfully ask therefore:

  • That you give the go-ahead – now – to the Castlefield enhancements planned originally for CP5 (2014-19). These are essential to deliver the priorities (1) and (2) above – franchise commitments.
  • That service planning should treat Northern and TPE as complementary and equal priorities. As we wait for more capacity, it may be necessary to run fewer trains – for now – via Castlefield. All we ask, however, is a fair share of the available paths, and delivery of promises that were made for our line. We look for imaginative interim solutions to deliver benefits.
  • For a realisation that Calder Valley line passengers find it unreasonable that present reliability and potential future services are being damaged because other train operators take priority. Connectivity across Yorkshire, Manchester and Lancashire are at least as important as connectivity between Tyne/Tees and Manchester Airport.
  • For further infrastructure enhancements to allow better timetabling and performance. Examples include additional tracks at pinch points, passing loops so that freight traffic does not hinder the passenger service, and of course electrification – essential for decarbonisation.

Whatever the short-term fix, we call for “one railway” involving both TOCs and Network Rail. We have no wish to pre-empt the (overdue) Williams Review. But:

  • Please do not keep us waiting any longer for publication of Williams and of your White Paper!
  • Could some of the ideas generated by Williams be brought forward as a pilot to tackle the problems of the railway in the North of England, a process that is now urgent?
  • Train planning functions at present seemingly in “silos” at the separate TOCs and in Network Rail have obstructed apparently easy service improvements. Two local stations one of which serves the significant catchment area of Sowerby Bridge have seen cuts in service with trains missing out stops late at night, their latest blow being loss of daytime services to York, Preston and Blackpool. Planning must be unified, and devolved as far possible to ensure that decisions are informed by local detail and responsive to common sense proposals.

We look for an alliance of train operators, Network Rail, local/combined authorities and Transport for the North to plan a service pattern that is fair to all, design a timetable that works, and operate it through a system that is adequately funded, swift-acting, and well-communicating within the railway and outside it.

Yours sincerely, and with thanks again,

(by email)

J Stephen Waring, Chair, HADRAG

cc MPs, local leaders, media, neighbouring rail user groups, Railfuture

Depot Problems

Performance issues taking the shine off a new timetable are, sadly, not news. Calderdale commuters have been suffering early morning cancellations due not just to staff shortages but to “problems at the depot”, “train late leaving depot” (so it’s late because it’s late!), “trains needing more maintenance than usual” and the rest. New trains require new procedures, such as emptying of toilet retention tanks (thankfully, the deposit of human excreta on the track is to be phased out). Did no-one plan for this? Northern’s main Yorkshire train depot, Neville Hill, is stuck out on the wrong side of Leeds and not big enough. Many empty stock workings have to come through Leeds to get anywhere useful to pick up early bird commuters. We hear serious talk of building a new depot somewhere less inconvenient. Somewhere in the Wakefield area springs to mind as accessible to much of West Yorkshire.

 

Getting Halifax Connected

Anne Lister, Shibden Hall, and the BBC drama Gentleman Jack have put Halifax on the map. Thousands of fans will descend on the town for the Anne Lister Birthday Weekend on 1st– 5th April this year. Would it not be wonderful if lots of them came by rail?   Women in Community Rail and Discover Amazing Women by Rail are doing a stall in the Piece Hall on Saturday 4 April at the Makers Fair. Most of the weekend’s paid events are already sold out with people coming from the USA and beyond. Some events are at the Minster right next to Halifax station.  Shibden Hall could be extremely crowded that weekend.

Maybe choosing a less busy time, for walkers it’s an invigorating climb (give yourself an hour) from Halifax station to Shibden Hall and Park via Magna Via, the ancient packhorse route over Beacon Hill, with spectacular views. The route also links to a 9km Anne Lister Walk around the delightful Shibden Valley (map and guide for sale  from www.christophergoddard.net).

For the less adventurous a shuttle bus would help. And actually we could do with a permanent “hopper”, linking stations, town, Dean Clough and heritage attractions such as Bankfield Museum as well as Shibden Hall. With regeneration plans in the pipeline for both bus and train stations and new round-town bus circulation, let’s hope inter-modal links will be transformed over the next few years. —RL/JSW

 

Up, and over the odds

On January 2nd train fares regulated by the government went up by 2.7% (average), driven by the July annual increase in RPI (retail price increase). The link to RPI has changed over the years, but as the table by Railfuture shows (below),  a £100 fare in 2003 would now be £181.33. That 83% increase in ticket prices over 16 years compares with just 45% inflation in consumer price index. CPI is calculated differently to RPI (for example   it does not include housing costs). CPI is nearly always less than RPI meaning train fares are based on the higher measure of inflation, meaning they don’t just go up but go up (arguably) over the odds.

Rail businesses and DfT have said for years that that fare rises are needed to pay for improvements. We’ve seen increased services, even at long last new trains (working through their defects). But as travellers continue to suffer too many late trains, too many cancellations, too many trains overcrowded, and franchise failures to increase services as promised can any fare rise be justified?

TransPennine Express, after a terrible Autumn for its passengers (even worse than Northern’s) announced a 3% rebate on season tickets. Shouldn’t other operators be made to do the same?

New Trains

Our picture of a new Northern train is good news. But Northern’s franchise is effectively bankrupt, performance has been abysmal and committed new services have not been delivered. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps seems to agree with regional leaders like Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham that this can not go on. Arriva Rail North will (in some sense) be “stripped of the franchise”, meaning either takeover by a government-owned company, or a management contract awarded to Arriva itself. Extra Calder Valley services linking to south Manchester and the Airport, should have been introduced in the current timetable but are on hold. Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge have had their service cut with May’18 improvements taken away. The Brighouse (and Elland) line is desperate for a better service. Failure of the franchise must not mean letting the railway collectively off the hook. A lot of Northern’s problems stem from late delivery of Network Rail infrastructure projects and, critically, failure at the Department of Transport to approve capacity works in Manchester. Transport for the North as calling again for those works to be approved. HADRAG has also written (again) to the Secretary of State (see inside). We say that whoever is running the trains must be charged producing a timetable that works, and using imaginative solutions to give our line its fair share of benefits. —JSW

Franchising Dead?

RAIL magazine (15 January) reports a DfT spokesperson saying the suggestion of splitting Northern was not something the Government had considered. This contradicts items in several news media last month: “The Government is preparing to scythe one of Britain’s biggest rail networks in two as part of a potential re-nationalisation of train services across the North of England. Northern rail would be separated into two franchises – North West and North East – under plans prepared by Whitehall officials, senior industry sources said” (the Telegraph online, 25/12/10). So has there been a U-turn, or just media confusion? We should know the short-term future for Northern by the end of this month with a promised announcement by Grant Shapps. Could the break-up come later under proposals by the Williams Rail Review, still to be unveiled? A White Paper is expected soon. There is a widespread view that franchising is not working. Other train operators including TransPennine Express, South Western Railway and West Midlands Trains are also in trouble with issues to do with performance, finance or both.
HADRAG’s letter to Shapps reflects the submission we made to Williams a year ago. We pointed out the folly of service planning: Northern and TPE each with their own train planners proposing services over the same or closely linked routes, bidding to Network Rail whose own train planning officers remote in Milton Keynes decide the timetable. No wonder its so difficult to implement no-brainer ideas like extra stops at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. Devolution, and putting fragmented operations back together must be more important than geographical boundaries.
The rail-wheel interface is a precision machine. Does it not seem crazy that its two parts are run by different organisations?

HADRAG open meeting for rail users and campaigners: 1 February

class-195-sowerby-bridge-jsw

Our picture of a new Northern train on a Blackpool-York service nearing Halifax is a little bit of good news. For a time these trains stopped at Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge but since December 2019 on weekdays they no longer do. It’s a kick in the teeth for two stations that need a better service not a worse one. Delays and cancellations were terrible over the autumn-winter period. And we still get overcrowding when the new trains don’t have enough carriages.

HADRAG is to hold an open meeting in Sowerby Bridge on Saturday, February 1st. Richard Crabtree, rail development manager at West Yorkshire Combined Authority has agreed to be our speaker. We’ll set out our priorities, issues and ideas, and Richard will give a WYCA officer’s perspective. It’s about how we can press for enhancements we thought were franchise commitments to be delivered. More follows (and in our newsletter, RAIL VIEWS):…

The railway collectively (Northern train company + Network Rail track operator) refuses to fix obvious flaws in the timetable like a 2-hour gap in trains back from Manchester at night. Mytholmroyd has no to trains to Manchester on Sundays. (We persuaded Northern that Sunday Manchester needed to call at Sowerby Bridge, but apparently Network Rail refused to let them stop at Mytholmroyd as well.) Yet Sowerby Bridge serves a population as big as Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined, and Mytholmroyd is about to get a big new car park. How about some big new services?

Northern’s franchise is effectively bankrupt, performance has been abysmal and committed new services have not been delivered. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps seems to agree with regional leaders like Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham that this cannot go on. Arriva Rail North will (in some sense) be “stripped of the franchise” (announcements promised by end of January), meaning either takeover by a government-owned company, or a management contract awarded to Arriva itself.

Extra Calder Valley services linking to south Manchester and the Airport, should have been introduced in the current timetable but are on hold.

Further down the Valley the Brighouse (and Elland) line is desperate for a better service. Brighouse now has just one service an hour to Leeds and Manchester plus an hourly Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle. The need for two trains/hr on both routes is surely a no-brainer.

We say failure of the franchise must not mean letting the railway collectively off the hook. A lot of Northern’s problems stem from late delivery of Network Rail infrastructure projects and, crucially, failure at the Department of Transport to approve capacity works in Manchester – works that should have been completed by 2019. Transport for the North is calling again for those works to be approved. So are we: HADRAG has also written (again) to the Secretary of State. More in our latest newsletter, Halifax and Calder Valley Rail Views.

We say that whoever is running the trains must be tasked producing a timetable that works, and using imaginative solutions to give our line its fair share of benefits. —JSW

Brighouse Pacers dodge axe

With delayed introduction of new trains, the hated Pacers, 1980s bus bodies on a rail wagon, have a short stay of execution. Routes still blessed with these heritage vehicles include the Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield shuttle, until spring 2020. “Enjoy” them while you can! Meanwhile, the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Wigan route, now denied modern Class 170 “Turbostars” (our loss is Bridlington-Sheffield’s gain) will soldier on with 3-car “158+sprinter” combo units, meaning poorer acceleration and lower maximum speed, as well as poorer design than a 170 for getting people on and off in quick time.