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