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.

Performance plummets as new trains enter service

NORTHERN’s new Class 195s entered CV line service on 21 October, nine trains planned to cover nine “diagrams” meaning almost all Leeds-Manchester/ Chester services. Maybe this was over-ambitious. What about extras for peak-hour strengthening, as the new trains can not be coupled on to the old ones? The expectation was new trains on our line would be at least three cars but on the first day a post on the HADRAG Facebook page reported the 1719 Manchester-Leeds, usually a 3-car “158”, had been just a 2 car “195”, with people standing all the way to Hebden Bridge. A 195 has no more seats than an equivalent 158. Standing space should be more comfortable, but if peak-hour strengthening does not happen people are going to be very cross.

Performance took a dive in late October— too many delays and cancellations, how much directly due to the new trains not entirely clear, but there were door problems and other issues. That said, the 195s seem reasonably well designed with a light ambience, a good number of tables (if you can get to one) to work at or look out of the window, and wide vestibules for quick boarding and alighting. 3-pin sockets tucked between seats annoyingly lack USB points, so you have to carry charger as well as cable. We are told this could be rectified in later units. Litter bins are not easy to find and look rather small. And just one toilet for three carriage is no easy fix.

What do we want the Calder Valley Line service to do?

Northern can not deliver franchise commitments because of external factors. Without serious capacity works through Oxford Rd and Piccadilly stations Manchester’s new Ordsall Chord can apparently not take even one Calder Valley service per hour in addition to the twice-hourly TransPennines that link Tyne and Tees with Manchester Airport. (No, it’s not fair.) Northern, running out of money, will surely be under different ownership or a different contract soon. HADRAG says local councils, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Transport for the North should demand promises be kept by any new regime. Our map hints at possibilities for lines that should be seen as a crossroads of the Pennine rail network. We need:

Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and (soon) Elland, significant towns, to have as good a service as stations further up the valley that have traditionally been favoured with the “fast” trains.

For work and leisure, trains to the south side of Manchester. Could Bradford-Huddersfield trains be linked with a service to Manchester Piccadilly? Could one TransPennine Express per hour to the Airport run via the Calder Valley instead of via Huddersfield? (Could this also enable a better Huddersfield-Manchester local service?)

The promised extra service every hour, Calder Valley-Manchester, to help local stations and fill gaps such as the missing Littleborough-Halifax/Bradford daytime service.

Brighouse and Elland to have two trains/hr direct to Leeds, with fast journey time also benefitting upper Calderdale stations. And two trains an hour on the Bradford-Huddersfield line providing good upper valley-Huddersfield connections (and possibly a direct service in the future).

Better Sunday services on all routes reflecting leisure and work demand. Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester should be 7-days a week as should cross-Manchester links. —JSW

Stripped of Franchise?

WE HAVE IT on good authority Arriva Rail North (aka Northern by Arriva) is indeed in trouble. Running, it seems, out of money. The year-long conductors’ dispute took its toll. So too have external factors preventing the company from delivering promises including additional services on our line.

Something big, we hear, will have to give by next Spring. Rather than being “stripped of the franchise” Arriva could be granted a “direct award”, effectively a management contract to deliver specified outputs. Or the “Operator of Last Resort” could take over —
effectively nationalisation. The latter might bring in new blood (personified as veteran rail operators) at board level. But let’s just be careful what we wish for. Whoever runs the company, public or private, will need new resources from government to deliver the franchise ambitions of 2016. Or it could just be an excuse to rein in aspirations and make cuts.