Transport for the North, soon to become the first statutory subnational transport body, has published its draft Strategic Transport Plan. Rail North, the body of local/combined authorities that in partnership with the Department for Transport oversees the Northern and TransPennine Express train franchises, will become part of TfN. TfN looks to the long term, well beyond the nine-year horizon of the present Northern train franchise. The strategic plan can be found as a hefty collection of on-line material on the Transport for the North website and includes an update of the Long Term Rail Strategy.
All of which will take us some time to digest – but not take too long as the whole thing is out for consultation and responses must be in by 17th April. You are encouraged to attend consultation events, in various venues, including one looming in Halifax as we write this. See panel.
The emphasis seems to be on strategic links between cities as a means of driving economic growth. All transport modes are covered — road and rail, passenger and freight. It’s no surprise that a central proposal is high speed rail linking Liverpool with Hull and Newcastle with a new cross-Pennine line aiming to get the journey between Manchester and Leeds city centres down to 30 minutes. This is Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR — aka HS3, Crossrail of the North etc). The favoured route for the new line would include a station in the city of Bradford, probably in the centre. We can speculate about the precise route, but much tunnelling is inevitable, on a truly alpine scale. The timescale is unclear but may go some way beyond the projected 2033 completion date for HS2, the high speed line from London to Leeds and Manchester.
For campaigners on the Calder Valley Line it is perhaps difficult to see how the benefits will trickle down to our line. Whatever is built in 15, 20, 25 years time we are surely right to be primarily concerned with shorter term but nonetheless strategic developments that can yield benefits for regular train passengers in a timescale we can see the end of. We want to get people off congested, polluted roads onto free flowing, clean and sustainable railways. With our environmental perspective it is not just about getting into the city centre, or getting between them, as quickly as possible but about making rail the natural mode for more and more people for more and more purposes — social and leisure, personal development, education—not just business and work. Surely its about the quality of everyone’s lives.
But if HS3, sorry NPR, comes through Bradford the intriguing possibility is whether, and how, it might be linked with the “classic” Calder Valley Line. Trains on NPR could get from Bradford to Leeds in maybe 6 or 7 minutes. What if a junction were built in Bradford linking the new line with our line and also Airedale/Wharfedale? Calder Valley trains could run fast Bradford-Leeds cutting the journey time from Halifax to Leeds from 35 minutes or more today to maybe less than 20. And trains from Ilkley or Keighley could run on the high speed line to Manchester. Are we dreaming? Or is this something for which we can realistically campaign? —JSW
Consultation events on the STP are drop-in events open to everyone but if possible you are asked to register your details on the TfN website . Events have already been held in Halifax and Bradford. The Halifax one was led by TfN’s strategy director Jonathan Spruce and started with a presentation lasting about half an hour, followed by a good hour’s open and informal discussion. Several HADRAG members were present and raised issues including the need for a stronger environmental focus combatting climate change, linking NPR (HS3) with the Calder Valley Line, and the importance of smaller local stations.
The session format includes a repeat of the opening presentation at the end. So you don’t need to be there for the full three hours. Next event is:
Leeds – Monday, 5 March at The Tetley, Hunslet Rd, LS10 1JQ, 1600-1900.
Congratulations to “our” intercity operator Grand Central on its tenth anniversary at the end of last year. As if to mark the occasion, GC has withdrawn its three InterCity 125 “high speed train” (HST) units, receiving four more of the “Class 180” trains familiar both to Halifax/Brighouse-London passengers and to those who depend on the 0728 Halifax-Leeds. The extra 180s are from Great Western, another company taking HSTs out of service as new “Intercity Express Project” trains arrive. The GC HSTs, which received new engines in 2010, have gone to East Midlands Trains. What a pity they could not have moved sideways from Arriva-owned GC to sister company Northern to help relieve overcrowding whilst we desperately await new trains.
It may be a cast-off from down south but this “319” was given a quality refurbishment and and glossy branding by the previous Northern franchise. 86 of these 4-car trains used to work the Bedford-London-Brighton “Thameslink” route that now has a completely new fleet. 32 are now Northern’s, plus eight more that will have diesels added so they can work on both electric and non-electric routes. Good idea? Maybe. But an electro-diesel “bimode” train working, say, the Windermere branch will also have to run to Manchester Airport using power from the 25kV overhead supply, carrying its diesel engines there and back as energy-wasting dead weight.
Sister company Arriva Trains Wales is also, we hear, to acquire bimodes converted from the same fleet. That still leaves about half of the 319 fleet, looking for good work to do. More electro-diesel conversions in prospect?
Is that what we want in a world where we should be saving energy and combatting climate change?
Meanwhile, TransPennine Express has ordered brand new electric trains to use on Liverpool/Manchester-Scotland services, making redundant a small fleet of modern “Class 350” units, pure electrics built just four years ago. The 350s were going to go to the Midlands, but the new operator of the West Midland train operation has ordered new trains instead. So that’s another 10 good, modern pure electric trains that could be put to good use in the North of England, if only more routes were electrified.
“Today,” writes one of our commuters, “The 0807 was late, and therefore extra full. By Bradford it was heaving.” The 0749 Halifax-York should be 3-car but sometimes we get: “Only two carriages. Only just got on at Halifax. Several gave up trying. Delayed as last few tried to squeeze on. Will be standing all way to Leeds…” And more: “Only a handful could get on at New Pudsey – must have left more than 50 on the platform. A bit of swearing too.” No wonder people get angry. A phone picture conveys something of the nightmare. Arriva (Northern) promise 37% more peak capacity with new trains by 2020. But why is a train planned for three carriages at present so often only two? We fear worse before it gets better. Halifax-Leeds passengers at present have the 5-car 0728 using an intercity train hired from Grand Central. This highly successful service was not shown in the draft timetable circulated earlier this year for May 2018, leaving a peak-hour 23 minute gap in Halifax-Leeds departures from 0718 to 0741. In other words a reduction in service.
We made our views known in HADRAG’s response to the draft timetable and specifically asked for the GC train to be kept until all the new stock arrives.
Brighouse station “park & ride”. Most of the cars are there all day — no chance if you set off late. Does every car belong to a rail user?
Hebden Bridge station will soon get 50 per cent more car parking, going up to 127 standard + 4 blue badge bays. Mytholmroyd, currently with no official park & ride, shouldn’t be far behind with an ambitious build, still subject to Network Rail approval, to create 195 + 8 spaces. Mytholmroyd will take £3M from £32.5M of WY+ Transport Fund money allocated to West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s initial programme of a dozen stations across the county due to be complete by 2019.
Sowerby Bridge had its car park doubled in size about five years ago, but now on weekdays its 105 or so spaces are nearly all taken by 07.30. Brighouse has a bigger problem with just 64 spaces. Calderdale Council’s transport working group (on which HADRAG’s Chair is a coopted member) discusses station parking and there’s local pressure on West Yorkshire Combined Authority to include more of our stations in future plans. Land could be available at Sowerby Bridge. Brighouse is more difficult. The former dairy site next to the station was sold off commercially by its private owners and is now an office development: in effect WYCA (Metro) was outbid. Future station car parks could be two or more storeys. That would reduce land-take but could be disruptive to build over the existing facility. At Brighouse another issue has been non-passengers parking in the station car park to walk into town, not noticing “rail users only” signs. Station car parks are run by the train companies or their contractors. We have heard of genuine rail users being fined for parking outside the marked bays (perhaps in frustration), but it would seem non-passengers abusing the facility are a more difficult nut to crack.
So what do you do if you want to park at the station and use the train, say mid-morning, but find the car-park full? Many would-be rail users will simply not bother and complete the journey by car. A lot of us have done just that. And it does seem unfair that station parking is effectively unavailable for work, business and leisure travellers setting off later in the day. Most Northern Rail car parks in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester are free, whilst in other parts of the country – though not all! – charging is the norm. Should West Yorkshire drop its policy of having free train station parking? That would surely cause resentment. Would it not lead some commuters, already jaded by overcrowded trains, to drive to work?
HADRAG’s friend Steven Leigh of Mid-Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce is also a coopted member of Calderdale’s transport working group. Steven has suggested stations might have more than one category of parking, maybe with some restricted-time (but free) spaces and maybe some at premium rate for people who want to travel later in the day. Steven emphasises it’s just an idea. But what if a train ticket plus premium parking ticket is more than you are prepared to spend? And if travelling on business you might be just as prepared to pay for a taxi to the station. It’s a real conundrum and no doubt the debate will continue. What do our readers think?
At Halifax, 30-odd spaces, regularly filled before 07.00, are to be moved off the station bridge to ground level as part of town centre Eastern Gateway plans. The plans also include a public car park on two levels. So whilst there may not, at least initially, be a lot more free parking for rail users, there will at least be pay-to-park spaces, well connected to a transformed station and providing those “premium” spaces for train users setting off later.
Final point. Taking Sowerby Bridge as an example, the station has an annual footfall (passenger entries & exits) of 392000 (ORR, 2015-16). So that’s roundly 1100 per day or the equivalent of 550 return trips, more than five times the station car park capacity. Applying a similar calculation elsewhere you see that most local station users don’t actually park at the station. They may walk, take the bus, cycle or be dropped off by friends/relatives/partners. Shouldn’t we encourage more of this? How many who park at the station before 0700 live walkably close? Maybe a few — and maybe they have good reasons, like getting up at 0530 to get the train when every minute seems to count in busy lives. Park & ride is a significant part of the mix and we need to keep pressing for more.
Campaigning group HADRAG has again written to the managing director of the Northern train company, with a renewed call for action on commuter conditions and questioning the policy of taking trains out of service for refurbishment when there is a clear shortage of carriages. The group wants “a train service that gets people to work, and home again, rested and relaxed, not tired and jaded” – benefitting productivity and the economy. Following an initial response from the train company HADRAG representatives expect to meet with Northern early in January.HADRAG’s latest letter, addressed to David Brown, the new managing director of Arriva Rail North, HADRAG reflects the anger of commuters about overcrowding on the Calder Valley Line. HADRAG appreciates that the problems are part of a national situation and not directly the fault of the regional train company, but calls for early action by the company to deal with the issue of trains on the Calder Valley frequently not having enough carriages for the number of passengers wanting to travel at peak times. The campaigners also welcome the good news that more trains – brand new trains – will be introduced before 2020, with a 37% increase in morning peak capacity across the franchise. But HADRAG’s letter says that with commuters reasonably arguing that the trains they travel on are more like 100% overcrowded “we feel bound to ask whether the promised capacity increase will be enough!”
HADRAG wants action sooner to help passengers and in the letter asks Northern specifically:
Can the present programme of taking trains out of service for refurbishment, affecting both capacity and reliability, be justified when commuting conditions are so difficult?
Can a popular extra morning train, the 0728 Halifax-Leeds be kept on at least until all the new rolling stock is in service? This train is a 5-car intercity-type unit and it is not yet clear whether it will still be in the timetable after May 2018.
Can we expect more trains to be “cascaded” from other regional train operators in the next few months given expected progress to complete electrification of lines in Scotland and on the Great Western route?
Could InterCity 125 trains coming out of service in other parts of the country be used temporarily to provide additional capacity in the North?
The HADRAG letter, signed by the group’s chair, Stephen Waring, reiterates a welcome for planned enhancements to the Calder Valley Line timetable from May 2018, when it is hoped trains will run through to Manchester Airport and Chester. The plan is also for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd to be served by the York-Blackpool express service – fulfilling a long-standing HADRAG demand.
But the group is concerned about the planned service pattern between Leeds and Calderdale and raises issues about service patterns and journey times the could impact on local passengers from next May.
The letter calls for Sowerby Bridge station to be served by the Manchester Airport trains, and asks for an assurance that service levels not just at Sowerby Bridge but also at smaller stations such as Mytholmroyd will not be adversely affected when most Calder Valley Line trains become express-style “Northern Connect” services at the end of 2019. HADRAG also supports calls by other groups along the line for improved services at Littleborough and at the new station Low Moor, in Bradford.
Beyond 2019, HADRAG calls for an improved service along the Brighouse line with a faster journey upper Calderdale-Brighouse-Leeds, ready for when the new station opens at Elland, hopefully by 2022.
The letter also calls for improved quality published and printed timetable booklets, and expresses concern that proper booking offices should be maintained at stations and developed to offer a wider range of retail and information services.
HADRAG Chair Stephen Waring commented: “We have written to the new managing director of Northern, to introduce ourselves as a group that has been supporting positive development by the train operators as well as putting forward our own ideas for development for 32 years. We welcome much that the Northern franchise is planning, but we must reflect the daily concerns of people using our line who are crammed in conditions that frankly seem unhealthy. We want a train service that gets people to work, and home again, rested and relaxed, not tired and jaded. That will surely be better for productivity and the economy.
“We have had an initial response from Northern and they have offered to meet us in the coming weeks. That is really good because we want to continue to engage with them in a positive way.
“To describe Calderdale commuters going into Bradford, Leeds and Manchester in the morning as hard-pressed would perhaps be too literally true. The good news is that new trains are coming, but people crammed daily in frankly unhealthy conditions are still being asked to wait for this. We hear of regular instances of passengers being left behind at the station because it is physically impossible to get on the train.
“We really hope the new trains when they arrive will be enough, but meanwhile we really hope Northern can get hold of more carriages, sooner rather than later.
“And we must question the present train refurbishment programme which can only reduce peak capacity whilst the work is going on. We also suspect it puts pressure on maintenance leading to reduced reliability. The refurbished trains now running on our line are a big improvement and we welcome that. There is more work to be done on them. But it’s not much comfort having a nice modernised train in smart new colours if it’s so crowded that you can’t get on it.”
On service development, Stephen Waring added:
“We have already welcomed positive aspects of the May 2018 timetable proposals, but there has to be a better deal for stations serving medium-size towns like Sowerby Bridge and Brighouse that always seem to miss out on the faster services. Again, there is good news that Sowerby Bridge – and Mytholmroyd – will be getting the York-Blackpool trains, but we are a bit concerned that service improvements given next year could be taken away when the Northern Connect brand of fast services is introduced in 2019. They are planning an extra service every hour between Bradford and Manchester from December 2019. HADRAG wants that to be used to improve the service more stations, with places like Sowerby Bridge sharing in the benefits of the new service across Manchester to the Airport.”
First public trains are due to run over a brand new railway in Manchester starting Sunday 10th December – and they will be Calder Valley Line services from Leeds via Halifax and Rochdale, operated by Northern. The Ordsall Chord will link lines through Manchester Victoria station with the ones through Deansgate, Oxford Road, Piccadilly and towards the Airport. From this month Calder Valley trains will run through, daytime off-peak only for now, to Oxford Road station. This is a prelude to a full hourly service to Manchester Piccadilly and the Airport in May 2018. First train scheduled over the new curve on the Sunday morning should be an 0840 local working from Manchester Victoria station to Oxford Road. This returns at 0857 to Calder Valley stations and Leeds. First westbound Sunday service from Calderdale is scheduled 0945 from Halifax through to Oxford Road. Hopefully there’ll be one or two HADRAG members on these first trains to mark the historic occasion – we are keeping an eye on the forecast as wintry weather threatens.
Weekday services will be the ones that leave Leeds around 18 minutes past the hour. The first Oxford Road weekday service will be the one that picks up at Halifax at 0756, after which they’ll be more or less hourly until late afternoon. Hopefully this is a taste of a much more useful service to come. From May 2018 Calder Valley Manchester trains should run not only round Ordsall to Manchester Piccadilly and the Airport but there will also be an hourly service to Warrington and Chester.