Our Calder valley rail priorities

  • Get service back to normal – cuts must not be permanent
  • Get service right for present users – “easy wins”
  • Develop better service for new travel patterns – more trains for Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and Elland – Taktfahrplan Calder Valley
  • And decarbonise by modern, but tried and tested, technology – electrification

First job must be to restore our service to normal. At present it’s looking like the service Bradford-Huddersfield and Halifax-Hull cut to 2-hourly, plus “missing trains” in the Manchester-Burnley “Todmorden curve” pattern, could last at least until the December 2022 timetable change, when the plan is to re-establish the Dec’21 pattern. And if we are facing a summer of discontent with strikes this situation could last longer[1]. Northern needs to catch up on crew training that could not be done during the periods of lockdown, and there are still issues of staff sickness. At a webinar in May We understand the reasons for the present cuts but do not know whether there is a hidden agenda – maybe imposed by Government.

The present service pattern makes little sense for passengers. If your service is 2-hourly, you have to remember which hour you are on. Bradford Huddersfield is important for college students and connections with TransPennine Express trains. And in hours when the Hull train is missing Halifax-Leeds has three trains in less than half an hour then nothing at all for the next half-hour. Uneven patterns catch people out and discourage use.

A train every hour must be re-established as absolute minimum at all stations, all routes, with higher frequencies where they have been established. And – as we go on to say – where they are clearly needed.

Then let’s get the easy wins. Correction of silly things like a late night 2-hour gap at Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge in trains from Manchester. Restoration of Sunday stops by Manchester trains at Mytholmroyd. It should not be necessary to produce a business case (see below) to fix such obvious errors in the timetable. Nor should such an exercise be necessary to implement stops at stations such as Sowerby Bridge which is not served most of the day by Blackpool trains and Manchester “fasts”.

Then real service development – post-pandemic rail can contribute much more to people’s lives. Northern Trains have said they aim to restore services this December to the level established in December 2021. That should include hourly services Halifax-Hull, Bradford-Huddersfield and round the Tod curve, as well as York-Blackpool and Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester both hourly, and Leeds-Bradford-Manchester (2/hr) or Chester (1/hr). There are fewer services on Sundays, something that needs to be addressed as travel habits change post-pandemic.

First job must be to restore our service to normal. At present it’s looking like the service Bradford-Huddersfield and Halifax-Hull cut to 2-hourly, plus “missing trains” in the Manchester-Burnley “Todmorden curve” pattern, could last at least until the December 2022 timetable change, when the plan is to re-establish the Dec’21 pattern. And if we are facing a summer of discontent with strikes this situation could last longer[1]. Northern needs to catch up on crew training that could not be done during the periods of lockdown, and there are still issues of staff sickness. At a webinar in May We understand the reasons for the present cuts but do not know whether there is a hidden agenda – maybe imposed by Government. The present service pattern makes little sense for passengers. If your service is 2-hourly, you have to remember which hour you are on. Bradford Huddersfield is important for college students and connections with TransPennine Express trains. And in hours when the Hull train is missing Halifax-Leeds has three trains in less than half an hour then nothing at all for the next half-hour. Uneven patterns catch people out and discourage use.

A train every hour must be re-established as absolute minimum at all stations, all routes, with higher frequencies where they have been established. And – as we go on to say – where they are clearly needed.

Then let’s get the easy wins. Correction of silly things like a late night 2-hour gap at Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge in trains from Manchester. Restoration of Sunday stops by Manchester trains at Mytholmroyd. It should not be necessary to produce a business case (see below) to fix such obvious errors in the timetable. Nor should such an exercise be necessary to implement stops at stations such as Sowerby Bridge which is not served most of the day by Blackpool trains and Manchester “fasts”.

Then real service development – post-pandemic rail can contribute much more to people’s lives. Northern Trains have said they aim to restore services this December to the level established in December 2021. That should include hourly services Halifax-Hull, Bradford-Huddersfield and round the Tod curve, as well as York-Blackpool and Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester both hourly, and Leeds-Bradford-Manchester (2/hr) or Chester (1/hr). There are fewer services on Sundays, something that needs to be addressed as travel habits change post-pandemic.

StationWeekday trains/hr, daytime off peak, existingNumber of wards served (approx)Estimated catchment popn, potential!
Todmorden4112400
Hebden Bg41+13100
Sowerby Bridge22+24000
Elland (future)2221000
Brighouse2221500

Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and soon to open (we hope) Elland station each serve roughly two council ward areas. The population estimates in the table are our rough estimates based on ward boundaries. Even allowing for inaccuracy you can see that our three station’s potential exceeds those for either of the two upper valley stations, but they have about half the number of services. It is also noteworthy that the 2 trains/hour at Brighouse (and future Elland) are on different routes serving different destinations: Manchester-Leeds and Bradford-Huddersfield. So really, they only have one train per hour to each destination. There is much discussion of commuting not recovering to pre-pandemic levels. We should welcome that. The threat must become an opportunity to develop new markets based on the idea that rail can do much more to enhance people’s lives. Work is something people have to do but what we are working for is the freedom to make the most of leisure time, time with friends, time exploring, time just doing ordinary stuff but not worsening road congestion.  

We propose:

  • Sowerby Bridge should have a level of service equal to Hebden Bridge’s and Todmorden’s, with all Blackpool services calling, and all Manchester services, every day of the week. Mytholmroyd should also have more trains calling – if only to justify the station’s massive new car park!
  • Brighouse and Elland should have their service doubled. 2 trains/hr on both Bradford-Huddersfield and upper Calderdale-Brighouse-Leeds corridors. Variants of this are possible, including trains from Calderdale to Wakefield and from Hebden Bridge to Huddersfield. And more trains on Sundays.
  • Where the two routes cross as at Brighouse/Elland, services should be coordinated to enhance connectivity. What we are advocating is a predictable timetable – Swiss-style taktfahrplan.
  • Sunday services should reflect weekday provision, recognising the social importance of leisure.

We call on Northern trains with West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Transport for the North to draw up the required business case for the above improvements.

Decarbonisation must mean electrification. There seems to be reluctance by government to give the go-ahead to electrification. Yet we are convinced that wiring will pay back in the long term. It’s not just about decarbonisation but about conserving energy and cutting the costs of running a modern railway. Electric trains are cheaper to build, cheaper to operate, cheaper to maintain because they are simpler than diesels or hydrogen trains. 80%, 65% and 34% are roundly the respective efficiencies of pure electric, battery and hydrogen trains. Remember efficiency is the percentage of energy not wasted in conversion processes – such as making hydrogen from electricity, transporting it, and the using fuel cells to get the energy back. Hydrogen will have its uses – not least as an interim solution – but surely not on busy lines like the Calder Valley that also carry heavy freight. While we are developing the bright ideas of people with new machines to sell we are wasting time when we could be putting up wires, using new technology to reduce costs.

Electric trains, light and efficient, are attractive to passengers for speed and acceleration allowing more stops so more people can benefit.

After a decade of prevarication the government seems to have said yes to a little more electrification: Midland Main Line, and – at last! – TransPennine via Huddersfield. Bradford Interchange is also there – but not yet the full Calder Valley electrification which the Northern task force gave top ranking in 2015.

It must happen. – JSW


A version of this article will go to West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Mayor Tracy Brabin, Transport for the North, Calderdale councillors, Members of Parliament, plus – need we add? – Northern Trains and Network Rail.


[1] It is not for HADRAG to comment on the rights and wrongs of industrial action, however much we might sympathise, however much our summers may be threatened by the inconvenience. We do not know the dates of strikes at time of writing. See for example: https://inews.co.uk/news/rail-strike-when-dates-rmt-walkout-2022-uk-trains-affected-explained-1649473

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.