Summer update: Part 2 – Elland station good news. Ambitious transport hub is another reason to upgrade Brighouse Line timetable!

 

Low Moor 153 edited
Huddersfield-York Sunday train calls at Low Moor station on the recent new station’s first day. In not too many years time this train should also serve Elland. Time for an update on this summer’s good news:

HADRAG welcomes this summer’s major step forward in planning Elland station as an ambitious transport hub, and calls for the Northern train operator to rise to the challenge of upgrading train services on the line. We say with a decent timetable Elland-Leeds by train could take just over 20 minutes. MORE BELOW…

Elland map

In June the combined authority’s West Yorkshire and York investment committee recommended allocation of up to £22million from the West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund (WY+TF) to an ambitious project that should make the new station at Elland a local transport hub, with pedestrian, bus, park & ride and cycle links, by 2022.

This is a major step forward for Elland, the town that has been waiting for its own railway station since Brighouse opened 17 years ago. The scheme will now move forward towards the next hurdle, outline business case, which should be completed by the end of next year. By then the project will have achieved what Network Rail calls “GRIP 4” – single option development, with detailed design (GRIP 5) following over the next two years.

The £22M (which includes allowance for 20% overrun in delivery costs) buys considerably more than just a simple train station. The key elements of the ambitious  project are:

  • The new station itself, located at Lowfields Way. This would be next to the big “figure of eight” roundabout off the A629 bypass road;
  • Pedestrian, cycle and public realm improvements to link the new station to Elland town centre as well as to surrounding areas of planned employment and housing growth;
  • New footbridge over the River Calder. This will link to the Calder Valley Greenway on the canal bank (Route 66). It will also give good links to the station from the north and west where the Local Plan suggests significant housing growth. Current employers in the area could also benefit with opportunities for “intensification” of activity;
  • New bus infrastructure to enable bus-train interchange at the station, providing sustainable access from a wider catchment area; and
  • Dedicated station car park and highway access to bring in park & ride to bring in passengers from existing and new housing area around the periphery of the town.

This sounds very much like the sort of local transport hub that HADRAG called for just four years ago after we held our 2013 annual meeting in Elland .

We understand the car park could be built on two levels, and hope bus operators will be persuaded to provide services linking the station and all the surrounding communities. Sustainable commuting and leisure also look to be encouraged by the scheme. We look forward to being able to access the station on foot or with a bike from the canalside “green” route.

The station also has an obvious potential role in hospital transport for staff, patients and visitors. Could shuttle buses linking the two NHS sites at Calderdale (Salterhebble) and Huddersfield (Lindley) be developed to call at Elland station?

In terms of the local community, HADRAG says Elland station, with good park & ride and sustainable transport links should be seen as serving not just Elland itself but also Greetland and Stainland, a total “Greater Elland” population of more than 20,000. As such the station will have a catchment as populous as the areas served by stations like Brighouse or Sowerby Bridge. In fact we reckon any one of Sowerby Bridge, Elland or Brighouse stations potentially serves as big a population as the two main upper Calderdale stations – Todmorden and Hebden Bridge – combined.

Upper valley-Elland-Brighouse rail corridor: we hope for timetable improvements!

But of course Todmorden and Hebden Bridge, along with Halifax, currently have almost double the train service level of either Sowerby Bridge or Brighouse. Sowerby Bridge (and Mytholmroyd) should see some improvement next year with the Blackpool-York trains stopping. We really hope Northern will build on that at the end of 2019 when the next big timetable recast comes. And of course HADRAG continues to argue the case with train operator Northern for a better deal for the Brighouse corridor. In our response to Northern’s timetable plans we have specifically asked for future timetables to include make allowance for all trains that currently stop at Brighouse also to serve Elland. We have also want the Manchester-Rochdale-Brighouse-Leeds “valley bottom service” to run later at night and on Sundays, something that does not, so far, seem to feature in Northern’s plans.

As an ambitious transport hub, Elland station will be another reason to upgrade the timetable. Opening 22 years after neighbouring Brighouse, the new station may still seem frustratingly in the future. But at least by 2022 we hope there may be further timetable improvements. Under the existing service patterns, Elland would be served by hourly trains on the Manchester-Brighouse-Leeds and Huddersfield-Bradford-Leeds routes, effectively an hourly stopping service to key destinations. We have joined our colleagues in the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group in calling for a service from the upper Calder Valley to Huddersfield, meeting commuting, educational and other sources of demand. That would give an additional service along the Sowerby Bridge-Elland-Brighouse corridor. But we also need better services Elland/Brighouse-Leeds.

Potential for fast journey to Leeds

We want Northern, Network Rail and their train planners to rise to the challenge of providing an upgraded timetable for Elland/Brighouse rail corridor. It probably needs some capacity improvements in the Huddersfield and Mirfield area as well as a more ambitious approach by the train operator.

Finally, HADRAG has repeatedly, over may years, pointed out the potential to speed up trains on the direct Brighouse-Dewsbury-Leeds route. At present Brighouse-Leeds takes about 34 minutes, calling at nearly all stations. So that would be 37-38 minutes from Elland. A fast service, with maybe just intermediate stop, would easily cut the Brighouse-Leeds journey to 20 minutes. So stations all the way up the valley would get a Leeds service that could be 10-15 minutes faster than at present. Elland-Leeds could be about 23 minutes.

What could go wrong? One complication is the TransPennine Route Upgrade. This is the project that was meant to include Huddersfield Line electrification, though it sounds increasingly as though it may not. With or without electrification there is likely to be upgrade work to improve capacity that will mean diversions of TransPennine Express via the Calder Valley line while the work is going on. The plan seems to be that this will be completed before Elland opens. Fingers crossed, then. -JSW

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Elland next!

Campaigners in HADRAG, the Halifax & District Rail Action Group, are calling for Elland to be next new railway station in West Yorkshire following opening of Low Moor earlier this month. We want the Northern train operator (Arriva Rail North) and Network Rail (who oversee tracks and timetables) to declare their commitment to Elland station and ensure provision is made for trains to stop in new timetables planned for the next 2-3 years. Meanwhile we continue to argue for a better deal for Calder Valley stations currently missed out by “semi-fast” or “express” services. We say Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge deserve something more like the service level and quality enjoyed by Hebden Bridge and Todmorden. More below:

Low Moor opening 2017.04.02
First call by a Northern service at brand new Low Moor Station, Sunday 2 April 2017. This 0832 Sunday train to Halifax comes back as a York service at 0852. Weekday services start earlier!  HADRAG says the next new station in West Yorkshire has got to be Elland.

Low Moor station is on the Calder Valley Line between Halifax and Bradford. HADRAG joined with other groups including the Bradford rail users (BRUG), and the Friends of Low Moor Station (FOLMS) in celebrating the first trains at Low Moor station on the first Sunday in April (02/04/17). Low Moor is served by hourly trains on the Leeds-Bradford-Halifax-Brighouse-Huddersfield route. It also has intercity services to London operated by the Grand Central open access operator. With the other groups, HADRAG wants to see a better service at the new station and we hope a Manchester service can be arranged to stop every hour by the end of 2019.

December 2019 is the second of two big timetable change dates when services are expected to be transformed under the Northern trains franchise under Arriva. By then Bradford-Manchester should have 3 trains/hour (compared with 2/hour at present) and we say that should be an opportunity to boost the service at intermediate stations, not just provide an extra fast train that misses out a lot of stops.

If increasing usage is the measure (Office of Road and Rail station usage statistics, 2016), Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge should be the Calder Valley Line’s top two stations. (See also our newsletter piece: Two Cinderella stations again top table!)

Usage of Sowerby Bridge station has risen steadily and now stands at 392,000 passengers/year, an increase of 132% on ten years ago. Although passenger numbers are historically higher at Hebden and Tod, their ten-year percentage increase is somewhat less than Sowerby Bridge’s. Sowerby Bridge station serves not just the town itself but also the Ryburn valley and the eastern side of Luddendenfoot. This represents a catchment area of more than 20,000 population, and probably more than that of Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined. Yet the basic half-hourly service at Sowerby Bridge is only about half the frequency enjoyed by the upper valley stations. HADRAG continues to argue that all of the York-Blackpool semi-fast trains should call at Sowerby Bridge (at present just a few do at peak hours). We also say that when an extra service every hour is introduced between Bradford and Manchester at the end of 2019, that train should also serve Sowerby Bridge.

Brighouse line – and Elland!  Brighouse has an even better case for more trains, but apart from some increase to peak hour and Sunday services to be introduced by May 2018, little extra seems to be promised for Brighouse under the Northern franchise. This is in stark contrast to Halifax, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden on the Bradford-Manchester route which will benefit from “Northern Connect” branded regional express services by 2019. Like Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse serves a population covering at least two local council wards – 20,000 plus. The ORR’s figures show a ten-year increase of 476% at Brighouse station which now sees footfall of over 400,000 entries and exits annually. No better than Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse’s best local service frequency is hourly on each of two routes (Leeds-Brighouse-Todmorden-Manchester and Leeds-Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield). The Sunday service is at present 2-hourly (on the Bradford route only); the commitment is to increase this to hourly. HADRAG has been pressing for a speed-up of the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester trains which we say should also run on Sundays. We hope that changes to stopping patterns may see these trains running semi-fast west of Todmorden in the next year or so. A few peak-hour trains on the Brighouse-Manchester route are planned to run non-stop Rochdale-Manchester from December 2017. We do not yet know whether this will become the pattern for all of these trains. Beyond 2019 and Northern’s initial franchise commitments we hope that the Brighouse-Leeds service will also be improved with fast or semi-fast operation. Non-stop running time Brighouse-Leeds is about 17 minutes but the current stopping service takes double this time. This is very much an area where we expect the train operator to deliver beyond its basic franchise commitment.

Which brings us to Elland, one of the top three sites in the West and North Yorkshire new stations study (now getting on for three years ago). The October 2014 Atkins report forecast demand at Elland as 240,000 annually. In the latest feasibility studies, consultants report a strong business case and confirm the buildability of an impressive-looking new station on the strategic site next to the A629 and Lowfields. HADRAG believes this could work well as a park and ride serving the whole “Greater Elland” settlement – again, a population of 20,000 plus. We understand the money for building Elland station (price-tag maybe £14 million) could come from West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund, though there may be further hoops to jump before that can happen.

And the train timetable must be designed to allow trains to stop at Elland. So HADRAG calls on the Northern train operator (Arriva Rail North) and on Network Rail to declare their commitment now to operating Elland station with a good train service. Every local train that stops at Brighouse must also stop at Elland! There looks to be slack in the current timetable to allow that to happen but obviously with major timetable recasts in May 2018 and December 2019 that allowance must also be built in for the future. Faster line speeds on the Bradford-Manchester route and hopefully a semi-fast pattern for the Brighouse-Manchester trains should make this easier. The railway – train operators and infrastructure managers – should commit to this without further delay or equivocation. What’s to stop them? HADRAG is clear that after massively successful Apperley Bridge and Kirkstall Forge, and now Low Moor:

It’s got to be Elland next!

– JSW

P1040956
Low Moor, Sunday 2nd April 2016. First train to call at the new station was actually the 0802 Grand Central service to London King’s Cross here seen accelerating away with passengers onboard enjoying the historic moment. Northern’s first local service followed half an hour later.

What’s in a name?

 

“Just call us Northern” says our train operating company under the 9-month old franchise. It’s what it says on the “partly refurbished” Class 158 train that’s been running on our line and on the “we are Northern” posters that punningly promote the new franchise.  We were politely corrected when we called them “Northern Railway”, though the web branding stands out on posters, leaflets etc. The logo, of course has  a lower case initial “n”, a kind of inverted horseshoe (hope the good luck doesn’t run out of the ends).  Legally, the new franchise holder is Arriva Rail North Ltd. So (just) Northern is (just) a trading name. And don’t confuse Arriva Rail North with Rail North. The former is part of a group owned by German Railways (but firmly grounded in north-east England). Rail North is the body of nearly 30 local and combined authorities that, in partnership with the Department for Transport (DfT), supervises both Northern and TransPennine Express train franchises.  It seems train operators’ parent company names —Arriva or First— are no longer applied to public branding. So (First) Great Western is just Great Western Railway and (First) TransPennine Express is just Transpennine Express (web tpexpress.co.uk). Did somebody say “Bring back British Rail”? Let’s not go there right now!

 

WYCA Also Wants More!

The new Northern franchise is indeed transformational. But we aren’t the only ones saying even more is needed to meet potential travel needs. West Yorkshire Combined Authority oversees the Metro brand in the county. At a recent  transport committee meeting, a report from officials highlighted gaps and areas for improvement, some of them close to HADRAG’s heart. “Adjustments” and smaller changes for discussion with Northern include:

  • Moving to 2 trains/hr at Low Moor
  • Sunday trains Leeds-Dewsbury-Brighouse-Manchester (one of two routes in the city region without a Sunday service);
  • Earlier Sunday trains Hebden Bridge/Brighouse to Leeds.
  • Possibility of starting the Bradford-Manchester Airport service before 2019 (it is actually to start 2017 on Sundays)…

And classed as “enhancements”:

  • WYCA goal of 4 trains/hour between Bradford and Manchester…
  • …with restoration of link between local stations like Walsden and Bradford. We could support that!

A separate report sets out a rail narrative for West Yorkshire. Elland tops the list of new stations listing benefits of connectivity, modal shift, network access and park & ride.

 

Concerns and aspirations

Northern Rail’s local stakeholder manager John O’Grady was well-received by HADRAG members, friends and regular rail users at our October “open committee meeting”. It’s clear that John, who lives in Brighouse, has our local line at heart and after presenting Arriva’s vision for the Northern trains franchise between now and 2019 and beyond, he responded with humour and honesty to our questions.  …more below:

dscf3163
Not so much a case of who owns whom, but who’s hiring out what to which sister company, this is surely a good example of useful cooperation between Arriva Rail North (Northern Railway train-operating franchisee) and Arriva-owned intercity operator Grand Central. The GC train on the right, decidedly posh by local commuting standards, is shortly to depart as the 0744 Northern service from Bradford to Leeds, an extra train that’s expected to run at least until December. It provides some relief following a rolling stock shortage forced on Northern when carriages on loan from TransPennine Express had to be returned. The timetabling solution means a halving of capacity on two morning Calder Valley-Leeds trains. Of course a train starting at Bradford provides limited benefit for Calderdale-Leeds commuters. So we continue to observe some pretty unpleasant overcrowding on trains such as the 0636 from Manchester (0734 Halifax)  to Leeds, which is currently 2-car Northern “bog standard” rather than 5-car GC “posh”. Now wouldn’t it be good if the posh train started further up the Calder Valley Line?

HADRAG is continuing to engage with Northern about both strategic aspirations and short-term concerns. Whilst we look forward to promised developments, and make our case about how we’d like the promised improved train services to take shape, the topic causing most heat right now is undoubtedly overcrowding on Calder Valley Line commuter services.

Rolling stock grab

In short, and clearly not of its own making, Northern has had a shortage of trains since early summer. In a rolling stock grab by the South of good trains from the North, the TransPennine Express franchise lost its “Class 170” units to Chiltern Railways where they will be used to increase capacity on the lines from London’s Marylebone station to Oxford, Warwickshire and Birmingham. This in turn meant Northern had to return to TPE carriages it was using on services in the North-west that it had newly taken over when the two North of England franchises changed hands in April. (Stay with us here!) This meant a shortage of carriages for our train operator and a problem for their train planners to solve. The solution was not good news for our line. From July 9th two Calderdale-Leeds commuter trains previously booked for four carriages were cut back to 2-car trains. Clearly this equates, in round numbers, to a halving of capacity on those two services, the 0720 and 0734 from Halifax to Leeds (respectively starting from Huddersfield and Manchester).  At the same time, and providing relief for some, Northern did a deal with sister Arriva company Grand Central to hire in one of the five-car trains used on Bradford-Halifax-London services. The pleasant, modern unit therefore now does a trip from Bradford Interchange (0743) to Leeds for Northern before forming the mid-morning GC service to London King’s Cross.

Intolerable overcrowding

This sounds great for Bradford-Leeds commuters who happen to be setting off at that time but has demonstrably done little to help people from Calderdale who have suffered intolerable overcrowding in recent months not just on the 0720 and 0734 from Halifax but also on the Preston-York train that calls Halifax at 0749. We believe the Blackpool-York trains should normally be at least 3-car units but sometimes – all too frequently in fact – only a 2-car set is provided.

All of this is causing anger. As one of HADRAG’s regular commuter members emailed us from the 0749: “Now at Bradford and packed . We are leaving people behind. A woman near me is quite irate. Only positive thing is that by luck and being in the right place I managed to get a seat when somebody got off. Many others have not been so fortunate and are standing up to Leeds.”

HADRAG is concerned that in this situation people are going to start looking at alternative ways of getting to work as the railway’s reputation is damaged.

Why can’t the GC train pick up at Calderdale stations?

What is particularly frustrating for commuters at Halifax and Brighouse is that the Grand Central train comes through our two stations empty on its way from the depot near Wakefield in order to work the new “extra” 0743 Bradford-Leeds. What everyone asks is why can’t this train pick up at Halifax?

And actually HADRAG asked for this when we were first told about the situation back in the spring. We suggested that either the GC unit might form an extra service from Brighouse/Halifax to Leeds or form the Huddersfield-Halifax(0720)-Leeds train or it might even take over the Manchester-Leeds train (Halifax 0734), releasing a Northern unit to strengthen another train. We know this is not as straightforward as it may sound. You have to get the other company’s unit to the right place, the driver has to be passed to work the route, and the new train has to have a “path” in the timetable that fits sensibly and reliably between other services. If the Northern service worked by a GC train were to start at, say Brighouse or Halifax then a Grand Central guard would have to be taxied to whichever of those stations. But that surely can not be such a big problem? Suffice to add that the train planners have not (so far) found a way of implementing any version of HADRAG’s suggestion – sensible though it surely seems! So the 0743 smart 5-car train from Bradford runs with seats to spare whilst 2-car units bringing commuters from Lancashire, upper Calderdale, Brighouse and Halifax are packed to the point of absolute misery and leave people behind on the platform when more can not physically be taken.

We are keeping up pressure on Northern. As we say, it’s not entirely their fault. Everyone concerned just hopes that a solution can be found in the next few months and we don’t have to wait for the new rolling stock promised in 2018-19.

Strategic aspirations

In terms of strategic aspirations HADRAG also continues to press for a good deal from the new Arriva franchise going beyond the promise for principal stations to be served by “Northern Connect” trains to York, Blackpool, Liverpool, Chester and Manchester Airport. We look forward to the brand new trains before 2020. But there are still unanswered questions about service patterns. The franchise announcement last December mentioned an extra train every hour between Halifax and Leeds by 2019 but we have so far been unable to get anyone to confirm whether or not this is to happen.

We still say the benefits of new connectivity across the region should be spread to more of the communities along our line. Our fastest growing Calder Valley Line (CVL) stations seem to be offered uncertain benefits. Passenger numbers at Brighouse station increased 342% between 2006/7 and 20014/15 but Brighouse seems to be promised little more than its existing service (footfall figures from Office of Road and Rail http://orr.gov.uk/statistics/published-stats/station-usage-estimates). The figure for Sowerby Bridge is 115% but although it’s to be designated a “Northern Connect” station we still don’t know how many trains are planned to stop there when major timetable upgrades come along in 2017 and 2019. We do know that would-be users of Sowerby Bridge station tire of seeing trains go flying through non-stop. The new station at Low Moor is expected to open in a few months time with just one local train an hour on the Leeds-Bradford-Huddersfield service, and surely will need more, including an hourly service to Manchester. We could also make a case for at better deal at Mytholmroyd where work is starting on a big new station car park.

New trains and faster more frequent services are something to look forward to over the next four years – more than just jam tomorrow. Meanwhile, down-to-earth issues that occupy us, on top of the major concern about current overcrowding, include:

  • fares – good to see some reductions in off-peak fares – but do the ticket vending machines (TVMs) make it easy for you always to buy the cheapest ticket?
  • station staffing. Northern Connect stations are being promised staffing from early morning to late at night, with “partial” staffing at places like Brighouse and Mytholmroyd. (And yes, Brighouse is a big town!) Meanwhile, let’s support our traditional booking offices at Halifax, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden where staff can still provide help that’s difficult to find on the “TVM” or on-line.
  • MCards at train stations. The new smartcard replaced the old paper MetroCard at the beginning of September. You can top up your MCard with weekly and monthly zonal travel tickets like the old MetroCard using train station TVMs. But you can’t get your original card (or top it up) at the booking office. Surely the range of services and products available over the counter at stations should be increased, not reduced.

Finally, Halifax station is to get a line of automatic ticket “gates” controlling access to the platform by March 2017. Some of us have decidedly mixed feelings about this, which is all about “revenue protection”. It certainly does not seem to make the railway more welcoming, though the gates will have to have staff in attendance whenever they are in operation. We have always found the revenue protection staff checking tickets at Halifax station to be pleasant and friendly.

 

Arriva for Northern and First hold on to TransPennine Express

Just when we thought it was safe to have a lie-in, a glance at the phone gave the alert. White smoke from the Department for Transport (DfT) revealed Arriva Rail North Ltd in line for the Northern train operating franchise. TransPennine Express will stay with First group.

It’s a year since we put our views to the Arriva team, who impressed us as good listeners. Campaigners had already demanded (against an originally disappointing DfT prospectus) train services comparable with what London and the home countries enjoy. The result was a reasonably expansionist specification (the “ITT”) that it’s clear Arriva now intend to deliver well beyond.

With the worrying proviso that Network Rail has to complete infrastructure enhancements on time, four years from now, our line will be part of the Northern Connect express network, with regular trains to Liverpool, Chester and Manchester Airport as well as Blackpool, Preston and York. Halifax should have 5 trains/hour to Leeds, plus an extra train each daytime hour Bradford-Manchester with journey times reduced by at least 10 per cent. Stations will have a new staff presence. Sunday services will be increased. And there will be significant additional rolling stock both new and refurbished to reduce commuter overcrowding.

Will it be enough? We are disappointed at how little is proposed for the Brighouse Line. We don’t blame Arriva for this but we want more to be done. And we say Sowerby Bridge should be served by all Blackpool-York trains and by the extra Manchesters to be introduced in 2019.

HADRAG’s work continues

Header image attribution: By Geof Sheppard (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons