Community Opportunity

Station adoption and partnership groups showcase award-winning heritage, cultural and horticultural activity and wider community involvement. In HADRAG’s core area alone we have BrighouseSowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd — three in a row! A “community rail partnership” for the whole line would support and complement their work, writes Richard Lysons, chair of the Friends of Littleborough Stations (FOLS) and HADRAG committee member.

Community rail lines fit local circumstances and increase involvement, helping to support growth. A Community Rail Partnership (CRP) supports a community rail line. The Penistone Line, Bentham Line and Mid Cheshire Line partnerships are notable examples.

Mid Cheshire CRP (Chester-Northwich-Manchester) joined forces Calder Valley Line volunteers in the highly successful Discover Amazing Women by Rail project. As a result our line now has a quality publication that focusses on people like the Bronte sisters, Anne Lister and Gracie Fields whilst promoting our local destinations, and encouraging rail tourism. A map shows the 29 stations along the line and its branches. Finance for the project came mostly from the Department for Transport’s Designated Community Rail Development Fund.

The Mid Cheshire CRP has been running for over 10 years and benefits from the work of energetic full time officer Sally Buttifant.

The Calder Valley Line is a long and varied route linking Yorkshire, Manchester and East Lancashire. It passes through beautiful scenery and towns of all sizes. Whilst the line is very successful and overcrowded at times, smaller unstaffed stations can be bleak, and at certain times trains are relatively empty. Fares can be a problem: cheap off-peak rover tickets are available in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, but fares soon become unappealing if one dares cross the border by train! Too many of the visitors to Eureka and the Piece Hall, right next to Halifax station, arrive by car, as do visitors to Hebden Bridge.

Along the line several highly successful station friends groups and station partnerships mobilise scores of volunteers who already work hard to improve their station environment and facilities. Some work with schools and youth groups and many are involved such activities as gardening, litter picking and Christmas activities. Some have effective sponsorship schemes with local businesses.

A typical community rail partnership covers a whole line and brings together local authorities, train operators, community groups and businesses, with common aims of promoting and enhancing stations and services, complementing and supporting the voluntary efforts of station groups. CRPs are as varied as the lines they serve. In recent months the Calder Valley Line’s rail services have come in for a lot of criticism. A community rail partnership would not solve problems that the railway itself must address, but research has shown that where such line CRPs exist revenue has risen and so has passenger satisfaction — helping to fill those emptier off-peak trains.

The Calder Valley’s “line identity” has already gained a huge boost from Amazing Women, a project initiated by the Friends of Littleborough Stations. Success was due to the creative partnership of this small friends’ group with the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACORP), Community Rail Lancashire, Women in Community Rail and Mid Cheshire CRP. Without professionals experienced in community rail and rail tourism, the women’s history project would not have happened.

The Calder Valley Line lends itself to green, niche and alternative tourism, following the Rochdale Canal and other waterways along its routes with rich opportunities for station-to-station walks, cycle trips — urban and rural exploration and potential access for all. There are historic cinemas in Elland, Hebden Bridge and Leeds; unusual music venues; even more links with amazing people (women and men!) and a large number of art galleries, museums and historic houses. [Some of us think every station should be an art gallery— Ed.] There are all sorts of possibilities for trails and days out exploring these themes.

Officers at Calderdale and Rochdale councils are discussing a possible CRP for the Calder Valley Line. Watch this space!

More Information

Rail Partnerships

Local Station Groups



Timetable must work for all

On 20th May the railway introduced major timetable changes that simply did not work. By the end of 2017 it had dawned on the railway that Bolton line electrification was not going to be ready in time. So diesels would have to be kept on the route leaving a shortage elsewhere. We gather Northern wanted the whole timetable change postponed but was refused because other operators wanted to go ahead. Which still meant major replanning at impossibly short notice. Not only were upgrades such as Calder Valley trains to Manchester Airport deferred (again), but also existing services were damaged (see Back Page). An interim report by official regulator ORR (Office of Road and Rail) blames all — train companies, Network Rail, Government and ORR — for failures to anticipate, plan, or question assurances based on optimistic assumptions. HADRAG sent submissions to the ORR consultation, and to the House of Commons Transport Committee. We gave examples of how our services were hit. And we make the point that instead of Northern, TransPennine Express, and Network Rail having their own train planners (timetablers) it might be better to have one joint office planning a timetable across the North that actually works. Works, that is, not just for the minority of passengers heading for the Airport, but for all who depend on lines like ours everyday for work, business and civilised leisure.

Amid the timetable chaos Adam Timewell, commercial franchise manager at Rail North Partnership (Transport for the North + Department for Transport) who was to have spoken at HADRAG’s June AGM, had to send apologies. We were massively grateful to Calderdale member of WYCA’s Transport Committee Cllr Dan Sutherland, and to Richard Crabtree from the WYCA rail office for joining our discussion at short notice. We’ve been engaging with WYCA on the recent Elland station consultation. We have met officers on our priorities and aspirations for service improvement and development.

And we shall continue to take up the issues with Rail North Partnership.

Halifax station – making it better – December 7th deadline for comments!

DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE! Halifax Railway Station users have just a few more days to make their views known about ideas for transforming the station and its surroundings. Concept designs for an ambitious gateway scheme were published by Calderdale Council in March. Now (until December 7th) there is an on-line questionnaire inviting passengers to rate present facilities and prioritise a range of possible improvements. There are spaces for extended comments on what you like about the station and what you would change, and for any further suggestions or feedback on possible future developments.HFX Friay teatime 2017.05.12

HADRAG supports the broad scope of the concept designs which are truly transformational and promise make the station a centrepiece at the bottom of town linked by high quality public realm to new bus stops, the Piece Hall, Library, Industrial Museum and the town centre beyond. (See our March blogpost.) We have concerns about some aspects to do with pedestrian and vehicular access. We think taxi and drop-off facilities, and rail users’ parking should stay on the town-facing side of the station where the main entrance will be, not moved to the back involving indirect subway access. We accept that current arrangements on the road approach bridge are congested and potentially hazardous. The idea of removing the bridge and having a new concourse building next to a reopened Platform 3 is exciting and ambitious – but it has to work for train passengers. Bringing P3 back into use would reduce pressure on the congested island platform (1/2) effectively replacing platform 2. We say this must be done in a future-proof way so that a third operational rail platform could be introduced in the future to accommodate more frequent trains and new service patterns.

Here are our answers, submitted on behalf of HADRAG by Stephen Waring (Chair) on the three open-ended questions:

What do you like about Halifax station?

  • Compact layout easily navigated with only one change of level (by lift or stairs) between the entrance (including drop-off point) and platforms. Entrance is level with bottom of Horton Street giving direct access for pedestrians with minimal level-changes, despite limitations of space and traffic conflicts on present road access bridge.
  • Reasonably modern concourse and booking office with small retail unit though all limited by space.
  • Island platform (1/2) allows cross-platform connections between upper Calder Valley trains and route to Brighouse, Huddersfield etc.

What would you change?

Not in order of importance, we see need for:

(a)    Larger concourse and other covered space, and better organised space on platforms.

(b)    More space for variety of transport modes at station entrance, retaining common access point to booking office and platforms for pedestrians, cyclists, bus passengers, disabled and taxi/drop-off users. Better transport integration i.e. bus stops as close as possible to train platforms + encouragement of sustainable access (walking and cycling) as well as more rail users’ car parking. Car parking could be on 2 or 3 levels.

(c)     Rail users’ parking to be provided with charging points for electric vehicles.

(d)    More retail, café/bar facilities, aimed at making the station a hub of activity and an attraction in its own right.

(e)    Community rail activity to embed the modern railway in local area – art and historical displays linking with community groups, schools etc; pop-up enterprises; mini-museum of local transport history (just a few ideas!).

(f)     Better public/passenger toilets essential.

(g)    Enhanced booking office providing local and regional travel/tourist information (gateway to Halifax) plus full retailing of commuter and tourist travel products

(h)    Better links between levels, particularly if the approach bridge is to go. To guarantee access for all, lifts need to be reliable, ideally duplicated. For level changes within the proposed new building provision of escalators in addition to lifts and stairs would be desirable, particularly for those who, whilst not requiring lift access, nonetheless struggle with stairs.

(i)      Train operation future-proofing. Provision for transformed, increased, more comprehensive train services in future e.g. design of reinstated Platform 3 should to allow for three operational train platforms which could facilitate improved service patterns.

Any other suggestions/feedback

HADRAG agrees with clear need to transform the station and better integrate it with the town. We strongly support broad aim of the published (March 2018) station gateway concept designs but have concerns about the details as suggested in those designs. The final design must put rail users first in terms of providing direct, safe access between station entrances and trains, and in terms of future-proofing the design for further future expansion of train services. Specifically:

(a)    Concern about proposal in concept design to relocate rail users parking, taxi and drop off on the east side of the line with access to the station entrance via reopened underpass (Navigation Rd). Opening the underpass is welcome to create a new pedestrian link from the Nestle site to town, but access from an east-side entrance to platforms would be very indirect. Even if platform 3 is reinstated, half of passengers arriving/departing would still use the existing island platform (1/2). Access between an east-side car park and P1/2 would require walking through a subway, then up a lift/steps to footbridge level, back over the footbridge and then down another lift/steps. This would be significantly worse for train users than the present access from the road approach bridge.

Also, subways are unpopular.

A further issue arises if access from the town direction is pedestrian only: this could become a rather quiet area at night creating issues of personal security from pedestrian station users. Having taxis, drop-off and (ideally) parking close to pedestrian access would avoid this problem by ensuring activity in the station gardens area throughout opening hours.

We feel strongly therefore that taxis/drop-off and, it is hoped, rail users’ parking should remain on the west, town-facing side of the station, where they could be no more than a few steps from the new station entrance.

(b)    Assuming the approach bridge is removed and platform 3 reinstated, the floor of the proposed new concourse should be level with P3 (not below it as shown in the concept designs), which would avoid an annoying and unnecessary level change that would be counter to the object of providing level access to P3.

(c)     Proposal to “build out” Platform 3 to serve existing Platform 2 track. This appears to make no provision for the possibility of a third operational platform with an independent track. Whilst it is not yet clear whether future service patterns will require this, the possibility must not be excluded; the design must be future-proof.

Future service patterns could involve a further significant increase in service frequency, and could have more trains terminating at Halifax, or trains reversing in the station, or more connections (passengers changing trains at Halifax); an additional operational platform would also enable trains to follow each other into the station at closer headways promoting punctuality, whilst Network Rail might be able to dispense with the existing turnback siding south of the station. Rather than building out the platform, which would also require provision of an enlarged canopy, it would be better to persuade Network Rail to move the P2 track to serve P3 in its present position. This appears feasible; some signalling cables (if still in use following recent resignalling) would need to be moved but this might also be required by the build-out proposal. This would allow for a third track and associated point work to be added later when required.

– JSW 

After the May 2018 omnishambles!

It started badly. It got better. But it’s still not good enough. Following the May 2018 train timetable omnishambles, where are we going with service improvement and development on the Calder Valley Line?



180HBG Zeke
Grand Central to the rescue? First day of the May timetable saw a new morning commuter train at 0702 from Hebden Bridge to Leeds. Northern hire in a 5-carriage Grand Central unit for this service, which should also now return at teatime, 1725 from Leeds back to Hebden Bridge. Not just an “extra”, it ought to be seen as a vital part of the commuting timetable, particularly when “short formations” cause gross overcrowding on other trains. Sadly, reliability of this train has been poor, with frequent cancellations during October and the train sometimes just running Halifax-Leeds instead of through from/to Hebden Bridge.
(Updated October 2018)

Read our early Autumn update below. But first a quick summary of HADRAG activity over a hectic summer, with links to documents. Since our June AGM, HADRAG has:


  • contributed to inquiries into the timetable chaos by the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) and the House of Commons transport committee. See also submission to the select committee
  • raised a shopping list of Northern issues at a drop-in session with Northern’s regional director and colleagues. In October we shall be discussing our aspirations for service development with officers at West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA).
  • strongly supported Elland station plans in the recent public engagement by WYCA/Calderdale and made suggestions. See our response Elland response July 2018. HADRAG will be holding its next committee meeting in Elland on Saturday 15th July (10.00 at the Cartwheel youth centre) and we’d be happy to meet anyone interested in the station. (This replaces the 10 September committee meeting.)
  • participated in the Transport Focus/Rail Delivery Group “Easier Fares” consultation (see Fares consultation HADRAG response ).

And we strongly welcome Calderdale Council’s cabinet level decision, aligned with the Electric Railway Charter, to lobby MPs, Government and Network Rail to bring forward Calder Valley Line electrification. See also the council’s report.

Remember Monday 21 May? There were a few hours during which we thought the new timetable was not going too badly. There was “good news” at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd with the York-Blackpool trains calling every hour, fulfilling a long-standing aspiration of HADRAG. Except that the York-Blackpool trains were only running from Leeds to Preston. Calder Valley trains that had been running through to Manchester Oxford Road via the new Ordsall Chord had gone back to terminating at Victoria. So instead of getting through trains to Manchester Airport and Chester originally panned for December 2017 (yes, nearly a year ago now) our line went back to a worse service than we’d had under the old franchise. At least Brighouse now has an hourly service to Wigan and Southport, useful the for the few that want to make that journey. Although – surprise, surprise! – we hear that Southport and Wigan would much rather have an hourly service to Manchester Airport. Wouldn’t we all? (But we are having to wait a little longer.)

The immediate impression of the new timetable was that it simply did not work. People were turning up at the station, looking at the screen, wondering how late they’d be for work or whether they’d get home before the kids’ bedtime. The chaos went on for two weeks. Northern introduced a temporary timetable (i.e. temporary service cuts) mainly hitting the North West, to deal with shortages of trains, shortages of train crews. The cuts seemed to hit existing services (such as the Manchester-Todmorden-Blackburn route) not just the proposed enhancements. Thankfully service quality improved. Reliability and punctuality are back to historic levels, the service is usable (despite regular strike days – another story). And we want people to use it.

But that does not mean it is good enough. The term omnishambles seems to cover it. What had gone wrong? It seems the railway realised around Christmas that electrification of the Manchester-Bolton-Preston line (principal contractor Carillion – remember them?) through Bolton was not going to be complete in time to introduce electric services in May. This means the “cascade” of diesel trains needed to bring in enhancements on other routes could not happen. So Northern (we understand) prudently requested a delay to the whole May timetable change across the North. This was refused by Network Rail, it seems because other train operators (TransPennine Express et al) wanted to go ahead with their planned enhancements. Leaving Northern in a mess. The service had to change in May to fit in with other operators, but the enhancements could not be introduced. So the timetable had to be replanned over a couple of months, a process that might normally be expected to take a couple of years. Then there was a delay handing back the Preston-Blackpool line after an Autumn-Spring blockade to complete electrification. A six-month limit was breached meaning drivers had to re-learn the route. (Given the tendency of infrastructure projects to overrun, should jot this have been anticipated?) It meant only limited services could be operated on the Blackpool line, and continuing shortages of train crew hitting other services.

Before May, Northern had told us the York-Blackpool service would be restored as soon as enough trains were available. This sounded hopeful. But now now the expected timetable recast in December 2018 has been postponed (perhaps wisely) until at least May next year, and Northern seem to be unable to tell us whether there is a chance of earlier improvement.

And there are other serious defects in the timetable affecting local passengers. These include the following, all of which we believe need dealing with urgently:

  • Poor clockface patterns. Examples include 4 trains an hour Halifax to Leeds but nothing like even quarter-hourly. 2 trains/hr Sowerby Bridge but the fast closely follows the stopper and catches it up. Also “Brighouse overtaking issue” – see below.
  • Increased journey times on some services.
  • Inconvenient morning peak gaps for example from Sowerby Bridge to Leeds in the morning.
  • Evening gaps at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. 2-hours between evening trains from Manchester. Last train back from Bradford to these stations significantly earlier than in old timetable. This despite late evening trains running through the two stations non-stop, a problem which it would appear could easily be solved. Why wait till next May or even December?
  • “Brighouse overtaking issue”. The Leeds-Bradford-Brighouse train is overtaken in both directions by the direct service via Dewsbury. This in effect reduces Leeds-Brighouse frequency from 2 trains/hr to 1 train/hr. This may confirm with the letter but surely not the spirit of the franchise service specification. We can see this might need longer to put right, but December 2019 seems a reasonable demand given this is the date when (last we heard) Northern must have all its service enhancements in place and will be the second of two major changes next year.

There seems to be a systemic problem. All the train companies including Northern and TransPennine Express who operate almost all internal trains across the North have their own train planning offices. They must bid for slots in the timetable to Network Rail who have their own train planners centrally – but for us remotely – based in Milton Keynes. So that’s three separate organisations planning the timetable across the North. Northern as “stopping train” operator is last in the pecking order and TransPennine gets priority for its trains from the North East to Manchester Airport going through Manchester Victoria, round the new curve and in via Oxford Road and Piccadilly. So Calder Valley trains and scores of other routes used by huge numbers of daily commuters must fit round a minority “inter-city” operation. Surely a better system is possible? How about a single, devolved and integrated joint train planning team for the North, setting out a strategic service pattern to meet commitments and building an optimised timetable that works fairly for all?

HADRAG’s priorities and aspirations

Early in July we were able to present Northern with a short “Issues” paper outlining our concerns and setting out our aspirations – including better services over the Sowerby Bridge-Elland-Brighouse corridor. We are developing this into a list of priorities that we hope to discuss with WYCA early in October. In short:

  • we expect the promised franchise enhancements to be introduced by December 2019. Commitments include the Airport and Chester trains plus an extra train each hour between Bradford and Manchester and trains to Liverpool. All these plus the York-Blackpools will be branded Northern Connect as regional express services, and will be due to get the brand-new trains that are now starting to arrive from Spain.
  • We really hope Northern will use the increase in Calder Valley frequency to improve the service at stations such as Sowerby Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Low Moor. It is still not clear what the level of service will be at Sowerby Bridge (and Mytholmroyd) by the end of 2019. We want the enhancements to be introduced without further damaging the service for existing passengers. And damage already done needs to be repaired.
  • Beyond 2019 and looking toward opening of the new station at Elland hopefully by 2022, we want to see a better service over the Halifax/Sowerby bridge-Elland-Brighouse corridor. We have already made that point in our response to the recent consultation on Elland station. Fast running Brighouse-Leeds could bring that journey down to 20 minutes or less. New services could be introduced for example linking upper Calderdale with Huddersfield and Halifax with Wakefield and York or Sheffield. We hope that capacity enhancements in the Huddersfield-Mirfield area will be part of the Network Rail’s TransPennine Route Upgrade which is expected to start next spring.

AGM: The May timetable chaos meant Adam Timewell, commercial franchise manager at Rail North Partnership (Transport for the North + Department for Transport) was unable to attend HADRAG’s AGM on June 2nd. Two weeks in, he was fully occupied dealing with fallout. We were really grateful to WYCA Transport Committee Cllr Daniel Sutherland and to WYCA rail development officer Richard Crabtree for attending at short notice and responding to a HADRAG presentation. Adam promised to talk to us later in the year and we intend to take up that offer.

Electric Railway Charter

The campaign gathers pace for electrification of the Calder Valley Line, top-ranked scheme of the Northern Electrification Task Force in its 2015 “Northern Sparks” report. Calderdale Council’s cabinet meeting in early September agreed to mount an intensified lobbying campaign to bring our line forward. The council’s position is aligned with the Electric Railway Charter, launched in Halifax in May. Along with HADRAG the Charter founder groups are Bradford Rail Users Group, Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group, and STORM (Support the Oldham-Rochdale-Manchester rail line), supported by the Yorkshire and North West Branches of national pressure group Railfuture.

We intend to keep building support for the Charter and will be contacting all MPs and local authorities along the Calder Valley Line.

The Autumn edition HADRAG’s newsletter Rail Views will appear later in September.

Get involved as Elland moves to next stage!

Aerial view

HADRAG wants local people to respond positively as the Elland rail station project takes a further step forward. WYCA (West Yorkshire Combined Authority) and Calderdale are consulting on the latest outline designs with drop-in sessions to look at the plans and meet members of the project team, and an on-line consultation. Downloadable displays show visual impressions of the new station itself and plans of the proposes wider access package, which could include pedestrian and cycle links from as far away as West Vale, with new bridges over the River Calder and canal. There is also a booklet which sums up both station and access schemes. 

Fingers crossed, we can be confident now that the station is on course to open by 2022 – who knows, maybe before? The whole combined scheme – a 2-platform station with lifts, car park and wider access package costed in total at a little over £20 million – is a lot more than just a simple train halt. It’s in the West Yorkshire Transport Fund capital programme, but there are still hoops to jump on the journey through outline then full business case to construction and commissioning for trains to stop there. The present consultation is part of that process. Deadline for responses is 20 July 2018.

WYCA is working on the station, and Calderdale on the wider sustainable access. This public engagement period is to allow everyone to see the work to date and give their thoughts. The scheduled drop-in sessions are:

      Thursday 28th June – 12pm to 6pm – Elland Southgate Methodist Church

      Wednesday 4th July – 12pm to 6pm – Brighouse Civic Centre

      Saturday 7th July – 10am to 2pm – Elland Southgate Methodist Church

      Monday 16th July – 12pm to 6pm – Halifax Town Hall

Whether or not you can make one of these sessions all the engagement materials including a list of “FAQ” answers are available on the WYCA website for review:

Amazing Women Promote Calder Valley Line

Discover Amazing Women by Rail is an exciting initiative to encourage people to explore the Calder Valley and Mid-Cheshire lines. An excellent – and free! – tourism booklet has been researched by historian (and HADRAG member) Richard Lysons, and edited by Alice Mannion of ACoRP, the Association of Community  Rail Partnerships. The project brings together Mid-Cheshire Community Rail Partnership, Friends of Littleborough Station, Community Rail Lancashire, and Women in Community Rail, and aims to encourage people to explore the rail routes and find out more about inspirational women and their histories. The booklet has biographies, itineraries, tips on travel and, for delving further, a suggested reading list. Halifax’s pages feature Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, and the lesser known name of Laura Annie Willson, the engineer, house-builder and women’s rights campaigner. The booklets have been distributed through visitor information centres, libraries, museums and stations. See also website:

If you have stories about other amazing women along the Mid-Cheshire and Calder Valley lines the project would like to hear from you! —RL/jsw

Penalty Fares: Northern promises discretion

Fine bank holiday at Sowerby Bridge station. People heading up the valley. Todmorden for Stoodley Pike, Smithy Bridge for Hollingworth Lake. A group of retired people, habitual car users but keen to use public transport, have spotted the signs about the impending imposition of penalty fares. “Have you paid?” “We’d love to but where is the machine?” Under new penalty fares rules even at unstaffed stations you must get a ticket or “promise to pay” chitty (the machines at unstaffed stations only take cards) before boarding the train. But if travelling west at Sowerby Bridge the machine is on the opposite platform, 3 minutes just to walk there and back. We timed it. At Mytholmroyd it’s a good 5 minutes.

HADRAG has raised a list of concerns.

Where’s there’s no booking office the machines only offer tickets from that station. So what if you want to save money by “split-ticketing”, need an add-on to a travelcard or just change your plans en route? How long are you expected to wait if there’s a queue? The notices say you must have a ticket for your whole journey. Who wants to pay a £20 fine? Northern have assured us that discretion will be applied, but the big yellow warning notices don’t seem to cover these situations, leaving questions unanswered. Our fear is that good people will be frightened off travelling.