The modern canopy at Manchester Vic is no preparation for platforms where some commuters complain of dirt and diesel fumes. Of the canopy: “Looks great,” emailed one of our commuters, “Although I can see that it isn’t getting cleaned. But Platforms 3 to 6 under the Arena are pretty grim. It might help if they cleaned the lights but there is so much dirt and diesel fumes around the bridge that it’s unpleasant to cross over above the platforms and possibly a health hazard. I have seen several people hold scarves over their faces presumably to avoid breathing in the muck in the air. The other day one woman suggested that people should complain and demand air quality tests. To avoid the smog you can walk to the east end of the platforms where there’s an open-air, but slightly decrepit footbridge. The air feels more breathable there but it’s not a pretty route. Did they run out of money when they refurbished? It feels like only half a job was done.” Victoria’s dark and dieselly through platforms will be used more and more by CV line passengers when almost all of our trains go through to the Airport, Chester and Southport. Most trains at the now-electrified station are still diesel. Surely the air quality argument strengthens the case for more electrification so we see dirty diesels phased out.
Good to celebrate opening of the Ordsall Chord in December, linking Manchester Victoria station with the lines going through Piccadilly. Northern now extends a few Calder Valley trains weekdays (all-day Sundays) round to Deansgate and Oxford Road. It’s a stepping-stone to a full service linking our line with Manchester Airport — soon.
Ordsall was just one aspect of the “Northern Hub”, now seen as part of the Great North Rail Project. Also promised were two extra through platforms (15&16) at Manchester Piccadilly station to improve capacity and performance, creating the physical space for a better timetable for a diverse mix of local, regional, intercity and freight trains — including our trains to the Airport. But we don’t yet know if the Department for Transport will give P15&16 the go-ahead. We say the promise must be kept, the job completed.
Meanwhile, our commuters continue to suffer serious overcrowding on trains that obviously need more carriages. We hear stories of trains unable to shut doors because of the crowds, of tempers raised, passengers taken ill. What is the economic cost of people arriving to work stressed, day-after-day, by these travelling conditions? Brand new trains are coming from later this year. 37% more peak capacity is promised across the Northern franchise by 2020. Can nothing be done before then? And will it be enough? HADRAG has questioned the current programme of taking trains out of service for refurbishment when there is such an obvious shortage of rolling stock. With new stock already displacing old in other parts of the country dare we hope for relief without having to wait yet more years?
Northern expects to reveal its timetable for 20 May early in March. From what we have seen online, we continue to have serious concerns.
Physical evidence of improvement, new lineside objects appear by the Calder Valley railway. No real mystery, this example at Hebden Bridge is one of numerous new signals due to be commissioned this Autumn (though rumoured to be running late). Resignalling will eliminate long “block” sections reducing delays, and allow more trains to run at higher line speeds, cutting journey times.
Calderdale Council is setting the ball rolling to transform Halifax station. The expected result will be a new centrepiece in the lower part of town linking with Halifax’s developing cultural hub, shopping and business areas.
Bus-rail interchange should improve with bus stands serving a wide range of destinations located by a new public square below the complex of attractions around the Piece Hall. New pedestrian access to the train station is expected to be via improved public domain in the new square and pleasant “station gardens”. Direct routes will lead pedestrians arriving by train towards Square Chapel, Library, Piece Hall, Industrial Museum as well as the towns shopping and business areas. As currently envisaged the transformation will include a new glazed concourse complementing and literally reflecting the original 1855 station. There will be space for increased numbers of passengers and increased facilities for them both in both new and old buildings. The 1855 building could be home to new leisure or retail facilities attracting more people to the site. The original Navigation Road underpass will be opened up as a pedestrian link not just for station users but for anyone needing to access between new development to the east around the Nestlé site and the town centre.
Comparison has been drawn with Sheffield where the rail station, at bottom of town as in Halifax, now opens out onto a modern public square.
It needs to be emphasised that concept designs described in the report to the council’s cabinet on Monday 19 March are just a starting point. HADRAG will keep up pressure to get a final design that puts first the needs of train passengers, whether they access on foot, on bike, by park and ride or by drop-off/pick-up/taxi. And we encourage others to make their views known.
HADRAG fully supports the transformational aspirations. There now seems to be a consensus that the present road approach bridge with its road congestion and indeed safety issues has to go. The bridge, inadequate for the coming and goings of station users on foot or in vehicles, is also an architectural detraction from the glorious original 1855 station building .
Initial suggestions in the concept design would relocate not just rail users’ car-parking but also taxis and drop-off/pick-up to the east side of the railway. All levels from restored underpass up through the new concourse to the footbridge would be connected by a new lift. Clearly the lift will have to be highly reliable! But we have a serious concern that the proposed arrangements could mean indirect and inconvenient transfer routes between car and train. We say this needs further thinking. One idea known to be under consideration is having a further lift and stairway going up through the Navigation Road archway direct to Platforms 1 and 2.
Restoration of the archway below the station pedestrian link will put the station on a through route for pedestrians between the town centre and potential new development to the east. So the station will no longer be a dead end for people on foot. An underused office block owned by sweet manufacturer Nestlé (who make Mackintosh’s Quality Street on the site) could be demolished to make way for the new car park. Could this be a general as well as rail users’ car park?
We also want a design that offers flexibility to develop new and improved train services, and we shall be working to persuade the railway authorities that our station needs not just the reinstatement of Platform 3 to deal with growing numbers of passengers, but also a third operational train track to deal with potentially increased and more complex services in the future.
The concept designs envisage widening, building out P3 to serve the track currently serving P2. This would vastly increase circulation space for passengers with trains going west and south using P1 (as now) and trains for Bradford, Leeds and York using the restored enlarged P3. In effect the station would be doubled in size, creating physical room for crowds arriving for events at the Piece Hall as well as providing a spacious, modern environment for business and tourist visitors.
At present rail infrastructure company Network Rail seems to be saying it can not see the need for a third operational train platform within its current planning horizon. At a station where passenger footfall has roundly doubled in a decade, we ask whether the railway is being sufficiently ambitious. We want a design that is truly future-proof!
Here is the statement given to Halifax Courier by HADRAG chair Stephen Waring: (published Fri 9 Mar’2018):
“It is many years since HADRAG first called for Halifax train station to be transformed as a welcoming gateway between railway and town. The station gateway proposal coming from Calderdale Council shows the ambition to do this. We discussed the concept designs at HADRAG’s committee meeting this week (Monday 12 March), and they look truly transformational, making the station itself a much more attractive feature at the centre of a greatly enhanced environment linking with new bus stops, the Piece Hall, cultural hub and town centre.
“HADRAG therefore welcomes the broad concept as presented but wants to see further work done to ensure the best possible access for existing rail users. Wherever possible, level horizontal routes are better than either stairs or lifts. The architects of the final scheme must consider how passengers will negotiate changes in levels, as well as the need to create a direct route between the proposed new east-side car park and the current station platform.
“We also think that, rather than completely segregating pedestrian and vehicle access, drop-off, pick-up, cycle and taxi access could be retained on the west side of the station – the “town side” – where pedestrians will access through the proposed station gardens and a new public square.
“The final design must be future-proof, allowing for greatly increased train services and new service patterns. Reinstatement of platform 3 will create space for growing numbers of passengers. We think it should be done so as to allow in the future for an additional railway track, giving three fully operational lines so that more trains can run through, terminate and reverse in the station. So far the railway authorities haven’t seemed interested in doing this. We need to persuade Network Rail and the train companies to have greater ambition matching the local ambition of the station scheme itself.
“Opening up the Navigation Road arch puts the station on a transformed pedestrian route between new development east of the line and the town centre. This should make the station a centrepiece. With new development in and around the historic 1855 Building the station hub should become an attraction its own right.
“But most importantly it must also be designed to work for train passengers, better for both existing users and increasing numbers in the future.
“HADRAG hopes there will be early public consultation on the proposals, getting present-day station users involved.”
On the day the Ordsall Chord opened last December, a Calder Valley train from Manchester Oxford Road leaves Deansgate station. Ours is the first service to use the new line, hourly on Sundays and a few trains continuing round the chord during the week. These trains will be extended to Manchester Airport, every hour, early morning till late night, when Northern has enough trains to do it.
The Oxford Rd service calls at Deansgate, useful for workplaces, Castlefield attractions, and trams to Altrincham and MediaCityUK.
But when our trains go on to the Airport it seems they’ll trundle through Deansgate non-stop. The two track section through to Piccadilly is an issue for timetabling. We need those extra platforms at Picc to make room for all the new services round Ordsall and a better timetable for routes across the North.
Copley viaduct, on the line from Sowerby Bridge to Halifax and Bradford. Lower bridge over the Calder is route of Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester trains that come through Elland and Greetland. By chance both trains in this shot are 30-year old “Class 150” Sprinter types — the ones with cramped 2+3 seating. 150s should be banished from this line, though not from Northern, in less than two years’ time. Northern Connect services crossing the viaduct en route to Blackpool, Chester, Manchester Airport, Leeds and York will be brand new trains now being built in Spain, whilst the “valley bottom service” (soon to be extended to Southport) is expected, in less than a year, to get refurbished millennium-vintage “Turbostars” arriving from Scotland; these will be a lot better than 150s or Pacers or even the “express” 158s — trust us! We hear Northern hope to replace of more of the older units. So maybe things really can get better.
Halifax station should get three new ticket vending machines in the near future as Northern installs more and more of its shiny “smartwalls” across the network. Let’s support our staffed booking offices, expanded maybe to offer a wider range of services. More local and tourist information would be a start. Northern seem to be saying they want to develop the role of the booking office. Stations like Sowerby Bridge — at present unstaffed — could get modular buildings for staff to serve the public.
People still want printed timetables. HADRAG has criticised the current Northern style where you need three separate booklets to find the whole Calder Valley Line service. We understand the plan is for a smaller number of area-based timetables. That could be a step forward.