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
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.
YES, that’s a brand new train taking the curve into Halifax, snapped from Shaw Lane bridge in July. That was a trial run, but now the “Class 195s” are in service on Manchester and Chester trains, and expected on the Blackpool route in December.
Entry to service was not without hitch. We hope causes of recent delays and cancellations across Calder Valley services (not just the new trains) will be quickly resolved.
We also trust there will be enough extra carriages to relieve overcrowding. The benefits of a new modern will be lost on passengers who are still crammed like sardines.
And we’ve asked for the new trains on the Leeds-Manchester -Wigan service that goes through Brighouse. This route was promised modern (albeit second hand) Turbostar trains from Scotland but these have gone to the Bridlington-Sheffield route instead. It’s not good enough for the Brighouse line to struggle on with older sprinter-type trains when higher performance units would be better suited to a pattern of frequent stops.
Timetable development is a major issue. The railway collectively finds itself unable to keep promises such as extra trains on our line including ones to the south side of Manchester. Instead of bringing comprehensive improvements the December timetable looks like a kick in the teeth for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd station users who lose most of their trains to York and Blackpool. Northern have made changes to repair some of the damage, but we fight on for a better deal for the whole line.
Read our recent paper with reasonable demands for improvement and realistic ideas for implementation at this link.
With the future of the train company in doubt, we are pressing West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Metro) and Transport for the North to come up with a strategy to provide the comprehensive, modern, reliable Calder Valley line service that the Northern franchise was supposed to deliver.
HADRAG has been pressing Northern Rail to improve the proposed December 2019 timetable for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. You can read our updated review of the new timetable HERE. The two stations are to lose calls by the York-Blackpool trains on Mondays to Saturdays, which amounts to a 33% cut in service frequency in the “standard hour”. Northern has now introduced some improvements which will maintain present frequency for Sowerby Bridge commuters who work in Leeds but this will not help Mytholmroyd and will not restore the all-day Blackpool and York trains fir these two stations.
On Sundays the York-Blackpools will be stopping at “SOW” and “MYT” but the Manchester trains will not be – so that’s a 50% service cut. There are hints, however, that the Manchester stops at least for Sowerby Bridge may be put back in and there could be further improvements next May.
To be fair this is not entirely the fault of the Northern train operator, who have been forbidden to bid for enhancements such as the proposed new service from Bradford and Calderdale to Manchester Airport, and are dependent on the system operator Network Rail to agree to their bids. This has been a barrier to getting other improvements over the last year including dealing with gaps in the late evening service from Manchester back to SOW and MYT.
Meanwhile brand new trains have been introduced to Leeds-Manchester and Chester trains on the Calder Valley line. Good news, though the first week has been far from smooth, with a lot of delays and cancellations. Clearly some snagging work to do
HADRAG members will be hearing from Northern Rail at their September Committee meeting (Contact us for details.) . Theme is how to improve the Calder Valley Line timetable.
A preview of the December timetable is now available on-line via the Real Time Trains website (see for example https://www.realtimetrains.co.uk/search/advanced/HFX/2019/12/17/0200-0159?stp=WVS&show=all&order=wtt), and HADRAG’s review of what we’ve seen is here. There is good news for Halifax in December with an even-interval service of 4 trains an hour from Leeds, improvements to the (still uneven) westbound pattern and a new hourly service to Hull, restoring the useful commuting link between Calderdale, Bradford and local stations east of Leeds.
But Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd look to be taking delivery of a kick in the teeth.
The provisional timetable shows all York-Blackpool trains (Mondays-Saturdays) running non-stop Halifax-Hebden Bridge, reversing an useful improvement brought in last year, and cutting basic service frequency at “SOW” and “MYT” by a third.
On Sundays passengers from the two valley stations look like they will lose trains to Manchester; the Sunday York-Blackpools will still call. Manchester passengers will have to change at Hebden Bridge, but the wait could be something like half an hour. We can not believe that this is really what Northern intend so we believe there is some hope these proposed cuts may be reversed.
For the Brighouse Line the December timetable makes concrete what has always been effectively true, that Brighouse really only has one train an hour to Leeds. In recent years the two trains have been timed such that the direct one via Dewsbury either overtakes or effectively catches up with the one via Bradford. So from December, weekdays Brighouse will have one train an hour on the Leeds-Dewsbury-Manchester-Wigan route, and an hourly Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle. The shuttle looks to give sensible journey times Bradford/Halifax to Huddersfield (unlike the present timetable): so that’s an improvement. But connections for Huddersfield from upper Calderdale are unsatisfactory – particularly for Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge. On Sundays Brighouse now has a more or less hourly service on the Huddersfield-Bradford-Leeds route. We say the Brighouse trains via Dewsbury should also run on Sundays.
It’s the policy of West Yorkshire Combined Authority to have a useful 2 trains per hour on local routes. So HADRAG’s call is for Brighouse to have 2/hr on the upper Calderdale-Dewsbury-Leeds route, and the same on the Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle. This, surely is a reasonable demand for when Elland station opens in less than three years time (we hope). A fast service Brighouse-Leeds via Dewsbury would bring the journey down to about 20 minutes, with benefits for stations further up the valley.
In the meantime Northern’s franchise commitment was to run 3 trains/hr Bradford-Manchester from December this year including an hourly service round the Ordsall Chord to Manchester Oxford Rd, Piccadilly and Airport stations. That is not going to happen this year because there is insufficient track and platform capacity Piccadilly. Plans to deal with this should have been implemented along as part of the original Northern Hub project in Network Rail’s 2014-19 control period to enable all the service possibilities of the new Ordsall line. Sadly that plan is now very much kicked into an unmown region of the Department for Transport garden. But TransPennine Express is still allowed to run 2 trains/hr from North East England whilst Northern’s promised are on hold. Not fair, is it?
HADRAG’s committee meeting with a speaker from Northern Rail is Monday evening 16 September. You are not a member and would like to attend as an interested rail user (actual/would-be) please contact us for details.
“Delay Repay” is available on Northern if your train is more than 15 minutes late, though the last we heard it still only applies to rail-only tickets not multi-modal passes like the MCard. Hang on to your ticket to claim! We’ve heard of at least one passenger being refused because their used ticket was captured by the station exit gate. Separate proof of purchase and photo of screen showing train cancellation were not accepted. Surely rather harsh, since it’s not always obvious the automatic barrier is about to confiscate your ticket. Gates should always have staff present to help.
We’ve been seeing lot of aging “Pacers” recently, whilst waiting patiently for the brand new trains promised to be on Calder Valley services this year. The new “Class 195s” have been under test and a problem has been found with couplings. We gather the engineers have a solution but it means further delay. This follows disappointment that the “Class 170” trains from Scotland, second hand but pleasantly modern, are not now likely to be deployed on the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester route. As far as we know officially the Pacers are still expected to go by the end of this year, and the brand new trains should come our way.
Hell to pay if they don’t arrive! Again, we are pressing Northern for confirmation of intent.
Could a new “Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway” deliver quality and reliability for 21st Century passengers?
After the timetable shambles a year ago, HADRAG made this argument:
Trans Pennine Express and Northern operate nearly all local and regional trains across the North of England. Each of these companies has its own team of train planners. Each must each bid for timetable slots to nationalised Network Rail, with its own train planning office in Milton Keynes (where knowledge of the needs of Brighouse or Sowerby Bridge may be limited). Three organisations, three timetabling offices, to plan a single network of services. Would it not be better to have one organisation, whether publicly or privately owned, planning service patterns and delivering a timetable that works across our northern sub-nation?
As a group HADRAG does not take a view on “renationalisation” versus continued private-sector involvement in the railway. But it is clear how having so many companies involved in running the railway can lead to inefficiency, increased costs and increased me to get anything done. Surely a devolved system that unites track and trains, and works with regional bodies like Transport for the North instead of distant Whitehall bureaucrats must be more efficient and more effective in delivering decent services for all? As it is, it seems like the whole timetable across the North is built around the need to get a relatively small number of TPE’s customers from North East England to Manchester Airport.
The Rail Review, chaired by Keith Williams, is looking at the whole organisation of British railways. A White Paper is expected in the Autumn.
A railway for the common good
The proposals put to Williams by Paul Salveson’s Rail Reform Group would reintegrate rail opera ons at a regional level. It looks like a middle way between top-down nationalisa on and a flawed franchising model. The aim, star ng in the North, is “a railway for the common good”, with less call on the public purse, less pressure on Government to micro-manage, and higher quality, reliable services supporting economic regeneration of the regions. The brand “Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway” chimes well for those who know a bit of history and see lessons to be learned.
Be quick and have your say!
The Williams Rail Review remains open until 31 May. Anyone can make a submission via the government website. HADRAG contributed early on: see our Spring update. Feel free to support our views, and/or those of the Rail Reform Group, or just put forward your own.
Williams’s objectives talk about balancing the needs of passengers, taxpayers and wider society (including the environment). We say there should be no conflict. Yes, rail receives a high level of government support and passengers (themselves taxpayers) expect good service. Perhaps getting better value for taxpayers’ money should be about continuing to invest in improvement and turning more taxpayers into passengers.—JSW
COME AND TELL US what you think! Rail users in Halifax and along the Calder Valley Line hold their Annual Meeting in Halifax on Saturday morning 1 June 2019 (details below). Theme will be reforming rail in the north – making our railway better. For HADRAG the most urgent needs are a better deal for commuters, and a better deal for stations like Sowerby Bridge and Brighouse that serve sizeable towns but are the “Cinderella stops” on our line. As a new timetable starts (20 May) early morning commuters from Brighouse and Halifax and Bradford and Leeds face a cut in service. We want the present flawed timetable replaced by a fit-for-purpose service ready for when the new station opens at Elland hopefully by 2021. And wearing our Electric Railway Charter hats we want to see progress towards a truly modern and sustainable Calder Valley Line.
The meeting on June 1st is open to all rail users and others interested in developing better train services through our part the Pennines as a stimulus to quality travel, good growth and a clean environment, and starts at 1015, at the Carlton Centre, Harrison Rd, Halifax HX1 2AD. Doors open from about 0945 with light refreshments available before the speeches start.
Guest speaker will be Prof Paul Salveson, community rail pioneer, and now chair of the Rail Reform Group. Retired from the railway “establishment”, Paul provides an independent voice and interesting ideas about how a truly Northern-based railway could serve the cities, towns and smaller communities across the central belt of the North from west to east centred once the territory of the “Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway”. The Rail Reform Group, a body of respected former railway professionals, proposes a “railway for the common good”, bringing together functions that are at present fragmented, to create a railway shackled neither by top-down nationalisation, nor by a need to put profit before passengers. The RRG has submitted its ideas for a new “L&Y” to the Williams Rail Review. See also Paul’s piece in the Yorkshire Post earlier this year.
Williams was commissioned by government to look at how rail could work better following the May 2018 timetable shambles. The review is still open until 31 May to receive ideas and evidence from any member of the public – so readers of this blog may still have a little time to send in views online. HADRAG submitted comments early on.
We want a truly modern, sustainable transport system that provides commuters with a good deal, encouraging people off congested roads – polluted and polluting – and plays the maximum role in tackling the climate emergency.
Writing on 19 May 2019, we hope last year’s timetable shambles is not about to be repeated. HADRAG made this argument: Trans Pennine Express and Northern operate nearly all local and regional trains across the North of England. Each of these companies has its own team of train planners. Each must each bid for timetable slots to nationalised Network Rail, with its own train planning office in Milton Keynes (where knowledge of the needs of Brighouse or Sowerby Bridge may be limited). Three organisations, three timetabling offices, to plan a single network of services. Would it not be better to have one organisation, whether publicly or privately owned, planning service patterns and delivering a timetable that works across our northern sub-nation?
We hope Williams hears what we and others are saying about creating a railway that is integrated, devolved and puts passengers first, a railway that is simple to use with fares that are not seen as extortionate, and flexibility that will attract people from their cars. Williams talks about balancing the needs of taxpayers and passengers. But are not passengers themselves taxpayers, and is not the railway a massive public asset that should be providing an increasingly attractive public service with non-user benefits? Trains – passenger and freight – can reduce the volume of cars and lorries on the roads. Should we not reject the term “subsidy”? We do not talk about “subsidies” for other public services such as the NHS, the police or indeed the programme of road building that we continue to see. We need investment in the North that matches that in London and the South East.
Transport seems likely always to require social payments, especially if it is to provide a comprehensive service promoting high quality growth and wider values of environmental protection and social inclusion. Perhaps the best way to get the best value for taxpayers is to develop a railway that turns more taxpayers into passengers. – JSW
The train in our picture takes 34 minutes Halifax-Huddersfield including 4 min standing in Brighouse and another 5 min at the next junction waiting the train coming the other way. Unless there are late changes (there were last December!) this looks to be little improved in the May 2019 timetable, despite some retiming. It seems the railway just can’t get the Brighouse line timetable right. Yet Brighouse has shown the biggest footfall increase of any Calder Valley Line station over ten years. Latest blow is withdrawal of the 0606 from Huddersfield via Halifax to Leeds, scuppering early commutes from Huddersfield/Brighouse to Halifax/Bradford. Halifax- Leeds will have nothing from 0600 until 0645, leaving only 3 trains between 0600 and 0700 compared with a long-established four.
The late evening 2-hour gap in call from Manchester at Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge remains despite an obvious easy fix of adding stops by trains that currently fly through. Good news is a new late-night York-Blackburn train that will provide a later service back from Bradford (2320) for these stations. Hourly York-Halifax-Blackpool through trains are restored (but just Leeds-Blackpool on Sundays).
Our Manchester trains will extend hourly to Chester, also welcome if it works. Halifax’s crazy clockface to Leeds gets worse with departures at about 00, 07, 15 and then nothing till 43 minutes past — four an hour but effectively little better than half-hourly. Some
hours the gap is more than 30 minutes. We are pressing Northern on these issues with another letter to David Brown, Managing Director. We hear there could be interesting, even helpful changes in December.