Electric Railway Charter Update

RIA (Rail Industry Association) North has published a plan for electrification across the North spanning Carlisle, Teesside and the East Midlands. Most lines are designated priority 1 (yellow on map below). Priority 2 lines (green) would later transform bi-mode operation to pure electric. Priority 3 (blue) is longer term battery/hydrogen proposals around the edges of the map. RIA North marks 36 freight terminals that would be decarbonised one way or another.

Needless to say, all cross-Pennine routes are priority 1 from Merseyside to Humberside and Scarborough, including of course the full Calder Valley line that was top-ranked by the 2015 task force. Manchester-Bradford-Leeds is second among the top 10 priority 1 schemes, after Sheffield-Doncaster/Wakefield. Completion of Huddersfield and London-Sheffield is assumed. Our thumbnail of RIA North’s map below may be small print but you can find the whole report at Roadmap for a green railway in the North unveiled (riagb.org.uk).

The trick now of course is to convince HM Treasury that not only is electrification affordable. We cannot afford not to electrify, given environmental and resources uncertainties about hydrogen (the RIA barely mentions it) and about batteries (where’s all the lithium coming from?) and less-than ideal efficiency – wastefulness – of multi-mode trains. Electrification will pay for itself by cutting running costs, benefitting customers and combatting climate change.

Electric Charter Update

SCOTLAND’s railway already has a lot electrified across the central belt between Clyde and Forth. Four routes are wired between Glasgow and Edinburgh – compare that with our cross-Pennine routes! North of the border only routes not for eventual electrification will lines in the far north, western Highlands and Stranraer, which are planned for hydrogen power.

Siemens (siemens.co.uk/sustainablemobility) the engineering company says “We need to go further and faster to decarbonise transport in Britain and fight climate change”, and advocates a transition solution of hydrogen/batteries for routes to Inverness and Aberdeen and in Fife, Ayr and to Tweedbank – “transition”, we take it, means temporary. This is a step in the right direction – and maybe an opportunity to sell hydrogen-powered trains. Siemens say current plans mean UK rail still running diesels in 2060. Scotland is targeting no diesels by 2035.

England’s Integrated Rail Plan will wire the Midland Line through Derby to Sheffield (what about the link to Leeds and Doncaster?) and the full Pennine route via Huddersfield – schemes originally planned before Northern Sparks task force reported! Now Bradford Interchange is in the plan. But where’s the ambition to extend to our full Calder Valley Line, advocated 7 years ago by the task force? And what’s happened to the NPR plan for a new through station at Bradford that would end the idiotic delay-multiplying need for trains to reverse? In central Scotland routes comparable with the Calder Valley are already wired!

Siemens quote figures for CO2 emissions. 27% are from transport. Of which 90% are from road transport. And passenger trains average emissions of one third those form an average car.

But road transport is already noticeably decarbonising. How many electric cars have you seen this week?

Rail must keep up.

Of course the electricity must be from zero-carbon sources. This is even more true of hydrogen power which will always be much less efficient because more energy conversions are involved. And not all hydrogen is genuinely zero-carbon. So called “blue” hydrogen is made from fossil fuels. “Green” hydrogen is made using water and renewably generated electricity

Staged Wiring for CV Line?

The Integrated Rail Plan proposes electrification Leeds to Bradford Interchange probably without a new Bradford station. A new station would be good of course, if suitably located for the city centre, and to end the need for Calder Valley line trains to reverse. The IRP suggests Bradford-Leeds should come down to about 12 minutes (which could be less with more new line).

But of course what we need is full Calder Valley electrification extending to Halifax, Manchester, East Lancs and Preston. Transport for the North’s rail committee looked at a blueprint in March which included an as yet uncosted proposal to electrify Manchester-Rochdale, along with Manchester-Warrington-Liverpool, under the heading of MNTP schemes (Manchester & NW Transformation Programme). The timeline arrow touches the early 2030s. In Yorkshire, early extensions of Huddersfield line wiring (beyond the IRP promise), through Brighouse towards Halifax, Hebden Bridge and beyond also seem possible (and easier than the many-tunnels section Bradford-Halifax).

So extensions stepwise of existing proposals could eventuate in full CV line electrification. This would amount to a rolling programme for our line. Bi-modes could be an interim solution, batteries (no more diesels, thanks) covering Rochdale or Littleborough to Hebden Bridge and Halifax to Bradford. But in the long term this is a less energy-efficient way of running trains than overhead wires, and with freight traffic as well as passenger, full electrification is what we need, not just for our line but right across the North.

Header Image: “Sunshine After the Rain” flickr photo by sjpowermac https://flickr.com/photos/sjpowermac/47770785201 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

Back to the Future?

25 per cent carbon cut  – but surely  zero-carbon means 100 per cent less!

Northern is looking to order about 20 new trains with reduced CO2 emissions – possibly to use on Bradford-Huddersfield and Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Wigan trains on our line. As we understand it these would be diesel-battery hybrids, similar in design to the Class 195s now used on our York, Leeds, Manchester, Chester and Blackpool trains. We understand they would have diesel engines (that’s right) and electric transmission so energy recovered in electric braking could be used to recharge the batteries. This regenerative braking, coupled perhaps with other efficiency-increasing measures would, it is thought, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 25%.

So this is not zero carbon! A quarter of the way there sounds about as advanced as hybrid cars introduced 20 years ago. Zero-carbon must mean a 100 per cent cut!

The idea seems to be that the trains would run on routes close to the TransPennine Route Upgrade Huddersfield line, which (we are informed by the rail minister) is to be fully electrified. So you would think the trains would be able to run on energy supplied by the overhead, say from Leeds to Mirfield and from Bradley into Huddersfield. From what we have seen so far that seems not to be the case.

Or could the trains be “plug-in hybrids” that can be charged at stations? Or maybe converted later with pantographs to run on overhead electric and charge when under the wires? Hybrids are (as we tried to explain to the rail minister) less energy efficient than pure electrics but could be a step on the way.

What is proposed seems more a case of “back to the future”. But good on Northern for taking what could transformed into a strategic step.

Electric Railway Charter: Keeping Up The Campaign

Here is the latest Electric Railway Charter letter to government. Wendy Morton MP and Andrew Stephenson MP are ministers of state at the DfT. Morton is the rail minister; Stephenson has responsibilities including HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, and TransPennine Route Upgrade. He is also a northern MP. So we thought we’d write to both! We copied in local MPs and the opposition shadow Louise Haigh MP. A reply, from Morton, came very quickly by government department standards. (See next page and www.electriccharter.wordpress.com.)

We wanted to remind politicians who might have forgotten (or not been told) about the Northern Sparks report that gave top ranking to our full line, to note the inadequacy of IRP proposals to electrify Leeds to Bradford with no plan to extend beyond, and whilst accepting alternative fuels such as hydrogen will have a role, not for busy routes like ours that carry a mix of fast and stopping passenger trains and freight. And we shared our arrow diagrams comparing efficiencies.

Dear Wendy Morton MP and Andrew Stephenson MP,

As you may be aware, the Electric Railway Charter is a campaign founded four years ago by rail user groups on the Calder Valley Line (CVL) with Yorkshire & NW branches of Railfuture. We seek implementation of the all-party “Northern Sparks” Northern Electrification Task Force (NETF) report (March 2015) and Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS, 2020). (References at end.)

Northern Sparks gave the full CVL top-ranking in an initial 5-year plan of 12 schemes.[1] Panel (right) shows these schemes in order of economic, business and environmental scores. The more recent promise (Integrated Rail Plan) to electrify Leeds-Bradford is welcome. But it only makes sense as part of a plan to wire the whole route. Almost no trains terminate at Bradford.

Rail Industry Association (RIA) has shown that a wider rolling programme could cut electrification costs by 30%-50%. Disappointingly, the recent Integrated Rail Plan does not include a rolling programme of electrification.

Full electrification of the strategic Calder Valley line would join the Bradford and Brighouse routes via Rochdale to Manchester and via East Lancs to Preston. The scheme would link other electrified railways including the now approved Huddersfield TransPennine route[2].

The Northern Sparks taskforce reported to Patrick McLoughlin MP (now in the House of Lords) when he was Secretary of State for Transport. Lord McLoughlin is now Chair of Transport for the North (TfN). We hope that the Government will work bodies such as TfN to build on the plans already announced. We need a rolling programme of electrification, essential to efficiently decarbonise rail over the next 20 years. 

We urge great caution over hydrogen-fuelled trains or widespread batteries instead of full wiring: TDNS suggested around 85% of non-electrified routes need to be electrified.

  • Electrification is essential to decarbonise heavy freight.
  • Of course long remote routes with low frequencies may be converted to hydrogen. This must be genuine “green hydrogen” made by electrolysis using electricity from renewables. But hydrogen gas has insufficient energy density for frequent passenger and heavy freight trains across the Pennines. Hydrogen will be a useful way of storing energy off-peak electrical  energy, but may be more useful for domestic heating than for transport.
  • Batteries will be used over short sections that are difficult to electrify. But Northern Sparks and TDNS proposed full electrification schemes.

Our arrow diagrams (based on RIA figures) compare the approximate energy efficiencies of pure electric (overhand wires), battery and hydrogen traction. Compare pure electric (80%) and hydrogen (35%). Hydrogen traction wastes at least 65% of the original electrical energy in making the gas, compressing it for storage, using fuel cells to regenerate electricity, and in transmission via motors to the wheels.

Multi-mode/hybrid traction may be needed in some places, combining different systems, but is more wasteful of energy because the trains are heavier and more complex.

Rail electrification is tried and tested technology that can only improve in a well-planned programme. The Treasury needs to be persuaded that capital cost will be paid back, through:

  • Reduced running and maintenance costs of pure electric trains, compared with trains requiring more complex systems. Pure electrics’ lighter weight reduces track costs. So network – not piecemeal – electrification makes sense.
  • Reduced capital cost of simple electric trains compared with complex hydrogen or bimode units.
  • Regenerative braking returning electricity to the grid (or batteries).
  • “Sparks effect” – more passengers attracted by higher speed and acceleration serving more stations.

Final thought: Northern’s latest proposed new trains – diesel-battery hybrids, technology that has been around for decades with hybrid road vehicles – will give at best 25% reduction in carbon output, when 100% is needed, i.e. zero-carbon. We need to get our trains up to date!

We look forward to your comments. Rail electrification is established technology that will become more economical through a programme that builds and maintains skills, reducing costs. We look forward to engaging further with you in future, and look forward to news of such a programme.

Yours sincerely, J Stephen Waring and Richard Lysons, joint coordinators, Electric Railway Charter

[1] For historical perspective it is worth mentioning that this 5-year plan should have been for Network Rail’s CP6 2019-24, following schemes such as Midland Main Line, TransPennine Route Upgrade which were postponed and only recently revived.

[2] Incidentally, the IRP seems unclear on whether it proposes full electrification of the present route between Stalybridge and Marsden or is dependent on the proposed Warrington-Marsden NPR line. Please could this be clarified?

Grounds for Optimism?

Wendy Morton MP assured us that the government would “continue to build” on rail’s “strong green credentials”, by “progressing electrification and decarbonisation, … building back greener and meeting the net-zero commitment”. Short term focus would be on “largest sources of emissions” but continuing rail decarbonisation building on 800 track miles delivered in last four years. The “cleaner, greener vision” of the Williams-Shapps plan for rail was mentioned. Great British Railways, once established, will be responsible for “bringing forward costed options to decarbonise the rail network.” Sounds like more waiting.

There will likely be “a role for hybrid and bi-mode battery and hydrogen trains” including interim solutions deployed “while further electrification is being developed”. Government has provided, through First of a Kind schemes £4M to develop alternative technologies.

Morton states that the “IRP has confirmed” the TransPennine route via Huddersfield will be “fully electrified, this includes Stalybridge to Marsden.”

There is no response to our view that electrifying Leeds-Bradford implies the need to continue up the CV line as in Northern Sparks top recommendation.

There is no comment on our arrow diagrams illustrating overhead electrification at least twice as energy efficient as hydrogen power.

There is no acknowledgement of the fact that pure electric trains are simpler and cheaper to run than complex bi-modes, tri-modes and alternative fuel trains.

There is a comment that individual schemes – no mention of a rolling programme – must be value for money for the taxpayer. Quite right. But a mainly electric railway will be cheaper to run than more complex multi-mode alternatives. It will attract more taxpayers to use the trains. It will be investment paying back HM Treasury in the long term.

Header Image: “319 380” flickr photo by hugh llewelyn https://flickr.com/photos/camperdown/20470153960 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

White paper step forward on electrification?

Strongest hint yet of a rolling programme. But must we really wait for “feet under table” at Great British Railways?

The government’s Great British Railways white paper says “Transport generates over a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, … the largest emitting sector of the economy. But rail produces around 1% of Great Britain’s transport emissions, despite carrying almost 10% of all passenger miles and nearly 9% of freight moved before the pandemic.” (p88 of the Report)

We say absolutely right. Rail already has the capability to move passenger and goods with net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. “ There are huge opportunities for rail to contribute … through further electrification.” That, at last, is getting close to what we should be hearing. The document continues:

Electrification is likely to be the main way of decarbonising the majority of the network. Electrification does not merely decarbonise existing rail journeys: it has a clear record of attracting new passengers and freight customers to rail, the so called ‘sparks effect’, thereby decarbonising journeys that would otherwise have been by road. The government has announced almost £600 million to start work on electrifying the Trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester, design work to extend electrification to Market Harborough is underway, and the government will announce further electrification projects in England … shortly.

Great British Railways, the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail

That may not be quite a commitment to a rolling programme, but is the nearest we’ve had yet. It’s not absolutely clear if this is a commitment to full electrification of the route through Huddersfield and Stalybridge but it feels like a strong hint. Market Harborough is on the Midland Main Line where, the next step must surely be through to Nottingham Sheffield and on to Leeds. We want to see these commitments firmed up, beyond vague ministerial (indeed prime ministerial) promises to a national programme that includes the March 2015 Northern Sparks task force recommendations headed by our full Calder Valley Line.

Note: “the main way” of decarbonising the majority of the network. We make no apology here for repeating figures showing what the split between electrification, battery power and hydrogen should be – based on Network Rail’s traction decarbonisation network strategy published last autumn. We think the DfT and ministers get this.

The worry is the word “shortly”. Here’s the next bit. You can spot our slight concern here:

Great British Railways will bring forward costed options to decarbonise the whole network to meet the government’s commitment to a net-zero society as part of the 30-year strategy. These plans will help to kickstart innovation and change across the sector, support long-term funding commitments and build on the forthcoming Transport Decarbonisation Plan and Great British Railways will bring forward costed options to decarbonise the whole network to meet the government’s commitment to a net-zero society as part of the 30-year strategy. These plans will help to kickstart innovation and change across the sector, support long-term funding commitments and build on the forthcoming Transport Decarbonisation Plan and Network Rail’s recent Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy.

Great British Railways, the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail

So the new “guiding mind” of our national rail network will offer options with price tags to the government. Meanwhile the DfT’s transport decarbonisation plan is coming soon. And at least the ground-breaking TDNS is acknowledged. But does this mean we have to wait until the still-to-be-appointed chief executive of GBR has established their feet under the table? Surely, Network Rail has schemes that it can be getting on with, and needs to be drawing up a rolling programme now? Yes, we have said it before, but let’s start getting electrification done.

Over and over again rail industry bodies call for ongoing electrification where teams stay together, developing and improving techniques as they move from scheme to scheme. This is network electrification, it reduces the overall costs, and multiplies the benefits as it cuts the number of non-electric trains operating “under the wires”. In Scotland all four routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow are electrified and there’s a plan to electrify all but the most remote outposts of the rail network. That’s a local example of good practice for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year. Even better would be a plan for the rest of the UK to catch up with Scotland.

Neighbouring schemes have mutual benefits – like the Calder Valley line naturally following on or even getting started in tandem with TransPennine Route Upgrade.

We do not disagree that some routes will have battery or hydrogen powered trains. Batteries and hydrogen are important ways of storing energy – but not the only ones. Storage is essential because the wind does not blow all the time even out at sea where the turbines spin. But hydrogen and battery powered trains may – in terms of track miles needing to be decarbonised – be no more than 15% of the total. The white paper says:

Battery and hydrogen-powered trains will be trialled for passenger routes where conventional electrification is an uneconomic solution, in order to support the government’s ambition to remove diesel-only trains from the network by 2040. Advances in technology, deployment and more appropriate regulation will be instrumental to achieving this in an affordable way, while also minimising disruption to passengers and freight customers.

“Trialled” – is someone admitting here that battery and hydrogen trains have still to be proven? And “diesel-only trains” removed from the network by 2040 – does that mean there will still be diesel bi-modes running, still wasting energy carrying around dead weight, still increasing maintenance costs, still burning carbon? Of course there are schemes under development to take the diesel engines out of electro-diesel bimodes and replace them with batteries – a form of electrification “without wires”, albeit limited. 

And “where conventional electrification is an uneconomic solution” – who decides on the economics? We know that a rolling programme will cut costs of wiring, maybe by a third, maybe even by half.

We also know that electric trains:

  • use less energy to run because overhead wires are the most efficient way of delivering traction energy. So they are cheaper to buy and cheaper to run.
  • are much less complicated than diesels, bi-modes or hydrogen-power meaning they are more reliable and cheaper to maintain.

And electrics deliver business benefits:

  • Lower mass, carrying  more passengers for the same amount of power;
  • Better acceleration reducing journey times even with more stops serving more stations on lines such as the Calder Valley;
  • Attractive to would-be passengers as clean, quiet, more spacious and more modern – and green. That’s the sparks effect mentioned in the white paper.

Now add in the economic benefit of having clean air, safety, roads freed of congestion by having more people using public transport, and saving future generations from climate catastrophe. Surely, then you have the economic case. With a stake in both tracks and trains Great British Railways should put the case effectively.  Grant Shapps must get the message to the Treasury. And readers, please tell your MPs!

Header Image: “Electrification work at Cardiff Central” flickr photo by Dai Lygad https://flickr.com/photos/126337928@N05/48892795197 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

When shall we travel again? – late spring update

Copley Via 195
Copley viaduct, on the Bradford arm of our Calder Valley Line, geographical focus for HADRAG. The new Northern train, amid Covid-19 lockdown, may have no more than half a dozen passengers aboard. If the “Northern Sparks” promise of 2015’s electrification task force had been respected by government this train could have been electric. We keep up the campaign, HADRAG’s Stephen Waring, in this blog reflecting a personal view plus an idea where HADRAG might be going in these strange times. There is a dystopian nightmare, but as campaigners we hold out hope of a better, greener society connected by active and public transport. See also our associated Electric Railway Charter website

WHEN SHALL we travel on the train again?

When (asks HADRAG Chair Stephen Waring) shall we go to Manchester or Leeds for work, for the shops, for the art gallery or theatre, for a good night out where we dance and hug? When shall we hop on our Calder Valley train, avoid the dismal A646, and take a turn (on foot or wheels) along the canal bank, stagger up the hill to Stoodley Pike, visit friends, sing in a choir or sit in an audience, or just occupy a café?

The Calder Valley line is a wonderful community asset. But at the end of May (as we update this blog), with the coronavirus lockdown (ambiguously?) easing, near-empty trains still run for essential journeys only. Workers are urged to go back, but work from home if the can – which many essential workers can not. Enclosed space makes public transport vehicles a potential arena for infection. Walk, or cycle, says the government – sustainable ideals. Or use the car – the opposite. This feels like a somewhat dirty exit in terms of what we should be doing to protect local environments and fight global heating. What if you don’t have a car or morally object to using it? Train companies are being paid by the government to run trains whilst discouraging people from using them, a policy that sounds crazy but has logic where we are now. Thanks are due to rail staff at all levels who keep these services going for essential workers, The intention is safety, preventing infection, and where we are now is the right thing to do. But…

Early in May polling suggested UK citizens feared early easing of lockdown. Looking ahead, friends for whom rail travel would always be first choice vow not to go on a train until they can get vaccinated. Immunity hopes rise, there’s talk of massive factories manufacturing vaccine, but as yet there is no guarantee. What if there is no vaccine?

The Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank has advocated peak fare increases to discourage passengers. Staggered work times could help to ease the lockdown, spreading passenger demand for travel. Social distancing onboard trains means a tenth the capacity of normal passenger loadings. Clearly that cannot go on indefinitely.

Social dstncng Northern 195 cropped
New Northern train equipped for social distancing. This can not be permanent.

Public transport must either come back, supported as a public need, or die.

As Calder Valley Line commuters remember only too well from pre-lockdown, those early morning and teatime trains used to be disgracefully overcrowded. Rail commuting was not a choice, but a punishment for city working. Already, people were learning to work from home. Going into the office maybe just once a week could turn the rush-hour into history.

The nightmare… and the hope…

With or without an anti-coronavirus vaccine, there’s a dystopian nightmare here. People travel – only when they have to – singly or in permitted police-enforced groups, in driverless automatic pods centrally controlled to maximise road capacity (note: “road”). People meet on-line, but must log-in their immunity passports to meet physically. There are no passenger trains, buses or trams. But rail freight has replaced thousands of HGVs, and distributes food and hardware via thousands of robotic vans. The good news in this science-fiction world is that both the freight trains and the driverless road vehicles are powered by zero-carbon electricity. The bad news – it is simply not human as we understand the term. An ideal, but not one we’d want.

Science fiction, yes… maybe.

The worry is public transport really may not recover. The “right” to car travel, in bigger and bigger vehicles, it would seem, still largely powered directly or indirectly by fossil fuels, will be reasserted. We feel safe in in our sealed 4-wheeled travelling cage. The quieter roads and cleaner air we enjoyed during the early weeks of lockdown may be but a footnote in the narrative of environmental catastrophe.

The hope is that a better world is possible… and that people realise it must be done…

We are optimists about green reconstruction, post-Covid

As campaigners for clean transport (some of us have been doing this since that cuts congestion, protects the environment, and fights global heating, we are optimists. Our assumption must be that this coronavirus will be dealt with (dare we hope with lessons learnt for the future?). The climate emergency will still be there, more and more pressing. Post-Covid reconstruction must, surely, be about green, good growth, not about reseeding the old disasters. We shall need people using public transport for more and more different types of journey, cutting congestion locally and fighting local and global disaster. Even if every car is electric, and every electron in the grid system has been mobilised by renewable energy, we need to clear our roads and streets so people can move sustainably, sociably, using active and public transport, and where communities thrive.

We must recognise likely changes in the nature of travel. If city-based work is decimated, where does this leave high speed rail (HS2, NPR etc…) that links only the biggest cities and a few regional hubs? Is there an opportunity to better serve communities that focus on their local train stations. People need to travel, to explore, to get together, to be creative, to enjoy active leisure. Social interaction must again become possible. Should not transport be about promoting quality of life, not just work for work’s sake? Trains, trams and buses really can enable this. And enable environmental excellence.

Electric trains can be spacious and comfortable for passengers. With a more flexible approach to work they can enable a new commuting that is a comfortable, relaxing start and finish to the day, not a sardine-canned, unhygienic ordeal. Low-pollution, energy-efficient, ideal for routes with lots of stations, electrics can run on zero-carbon energy.

So, what is HADRAG doing?

Given the present situation, is this blog just deckchair shifting on a public-transport Titanic? It may be an act of faith, but we must make cautiously optimistic assumptions and keep up the campaign.

Northern Rail, the train company, was renationalised on 1 March. (Farewell, Arriva!). However much has happened since then, we are committed to press the new controllers of Northern Trains Ltd for three aims:

  • A timetable that works and delivers a reliable service. Latest update on the new company’s plan suggests a recast performance-based timetable is the official objective for December 2021.
  • Delivery of promises, including trains from Calderdale across Manchester to Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations, probably to the airport. It’s not that we want to encourage lots environmentally damaging air travel. But there are important work and leisure destinations on the southern fringe of Manchester city – universities, hospitals, theatres and concert halls, leisure and heritage attractions – all places where people must congregate in the future if people are to fulfil the potential of being human. And of course connections to destinations beyond.
  • Better deal for all our stations. All trains should stop at Sowerby Bridge. HADRAG held a successful public meeting here on February 1st, and we had an excellent discussion wit rail manager from West Yorkhire Combined Authority, Richard Cravtreee. Sowerby Bridge station serves a population equalling that of Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined – you could call this the Upper Valley Equivalence Criterion. And of course the Brighouse Line needs a much better service, especially as we expect the opening of Elland station in a couple of years’ time. Each of Elland and Brighouse also meets the Upper Valley Criterion – they should have as good a service as Hebden Bridge and Tod.  Then there is Mytholmroyd, a village station, bit one that should soon get a large new station car park. Could MYT offer some relief to HBD?  Where we are now, with doubt over the future role of city living and working, can we reasonably demand the franchise promise of three trains an hour Bradford-Manchester? Or would we be better asking for more trains serving lower Calderdale and the Brighouse and Elland communities and encouraging their development? We must also press these points with Transport for the North, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Calderdale Council. What should we be asking for?

Let’s put “Northern Sparks” and classic rail capacity ahead of planning high-speed links between cities

We have responded to Network Rail’s latest consultation on TRU, the TransPennine Route upgrade. They asked for views on revised proposals for Huddersfield-Dewsbury 4-tracking, grade separation (flying junction) at Ravensthorpe, and local station rebuilding schemes, before a Transport and Works Act application. We simply state this work is essential and must go ahead without delay, without waiting for some protracted inquiry into how it links with the future Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) scheme. We need the extra tracks through Mirfield and into Huddersfield so more trans can run via the Elland-Brighouse corridor from Calderdale towards Huddersfield, Wakefield, Dewsbury and Leeds. This is about expanding local and regional connectivity to create an attractive alternative to damaging road transport. It cannot wait for high speed proposals that are still decades away, that will only link the big cities (albeit possibly including Bradford), and that may be irrelevant post-Covid.

And have also now responded (29 May) to a call for evidence from the National Infrastructure Commission on Rail Needs for the Midlands and North. This follows the February government announcement confirming go-ahead for HS2 Phase 1 (London-Birmingham) and proposal for an integrated rail plan for that big tract of England north of the Trent , coordinating HS2, NPR and other rail proposals. This, surely, is an opportunity to make the point that, notwithstanding the present disease threat, there are long-delayed projects to increase rail capacity in the North of England that simply need to go ahead now. In three headings, these are:

  • Northern Sparks – rail electrification across our region, across the Pennines. To state again: the full Calder Valley Line, Leeds to both Preston and Manchester via both Bradford and Brighouse was top-ranked scheme of the Northern Electrification Task Force five, yes five years ago…
  • … that needs to go ahead following full Huddersfield Line electrification, and promised capacity increases under TransPennine Route Upgrade (including four tracks along the Huddersfield-Mirfield-Dewsbury corridor). Another promise for which we have been waiting five years.
  • Manchester capacity. Extra platforms at Manchester Piccadilly allowing more trains including Calder Valley ones round the new Ordsall chord railway were planned – you guessed it – five years ago. We hoped the new government’s first budget might have given this the go ahead. But still we wait. An alternative being mooted could be a new tunnelled railway from the Liverpool and Bolton lines coming in at Ordsall (Salford) under the city to Manchester Piccadilly. Might this be done quicker than a scheme that was shovel-ready years ago?
  • Other enhancements that could make our service better including passing loops to get freight trains out of the way of our services, and possible station improvements including, just maybe, a third platform at Halifax to enable future timetable development.
  • And a bit of extra capacity at city terminals could enable new services over existing but under-used routes. We are thinking of a west-east service from East Lancs, through Calderdale, Wakefield and Castleford to York, via an existing freight and diversionary avoiding Leeds. The lines are there and in use, and there is space for an extra bay platform at York station. More in our response to the NIC

Whatever the future of country-town commuting or city-city business travel, our ideas above are projects that we need so that future transport meets community needs, supports human wellbeing, and does not contribute to wreckage of the local and global environment. How bad would it be if post-Covid reassessment of needs killed HS2 or NPR (aka HS3)? If you have a view, tell us.

This is why we keep campaigning.>> – JSW

Electrification: Harrogate leads the way…with buses!

The Electric Railway Charter calls for smart electrification to save time, costs and disruption. Rail needs to catch up as cars and buses go green. Could pioneering bus development set the example? Andrew Whitworth reports from Harrogate.

It’s exasperating that railway electrification in England is going backwards.

Latest news on the delayed Manchester-Leeds-York plans came as an apparent (deliberate?) leak in September. The emphasis was on how difficult it would all be, despite actual proposed electrification seeming to be limited to Leeds-Huddersfield. It’s a different story in Scotland, where the fourth electrified route linking Edinburgh and Glasgow went live in July – and work progresses on the fifth route. The enterprising Scots are also wiring the Stirling to Alloa branch line. Meanwhile,

Wales has approved some innovative electric plans for the Cardiff Valleys lines using battery power to reduce the costs, timescales and disruption of electrification.

In contrast to their lamentable rail electrification policy for England, on the roads our government have set ambitious targets to switch everyone to electric cars (or at least hybrids) by 2040.

The government is also spending money now to promote low emission buses in towns and cities.

Of 13 such schemes approved in 2016, most are hybrid or electric, including a unique plan for Harrogate due to go live imminently.

Harrogate has had two battery buses since 2014, but they can only run for about 7 hours, then need an 8 hour slow charge at the depot.

Now, The Harrogate Bus Company owner Transdev is buying 8 new-generation electric single-deckers. The new battery buses are able to run for a full day, by using fast ‘opportunity charging’ whenever they’re at the bus station, which takes only 6 minutes. This is topped up by an overnight slow charge. Compared to conventional battery buses this system requires fewer vehicles, with smaller batteries -which also saves a lot of weight.

It’s an innovative idea which – together with the flexible approach in Wales, and the stability of the rolling programme that has succeeded in Scotland – must have potential to help get northern railway electrification plans back on track.

The Electric Railway Charter — watch out for our launch!

Quick recap: big station, fully electrified since 1960. But five out of six trains in our picture are still diesel. Seems a waste? It’s blindingly obvious more could be electrics, helping to keep the air in the station safe to breathe, helping to combat global warming, if only more lines had the “wires” up. Britain lags other advanced European countries in terms of electric rail-km. Yet the Department for Transport seems to be saying that buying fleets of trains laden with both electric pick-up and diesel-generator equipment is a sensible substitute. As explained in our Autumn issue, we don’t agree. “Bimodes” are inefficient, underpowered on diesel, overweight on electric, more complex and costlier to maintain, bad for business and bad for the environment. If diesel or bimode traction were to be the norm for another generation those polluting trains would still be running when fossil fuel power is coming to an end on the roads. Of course electrification means major investment, and, like any improvement scheme, some disruption. But as has been shown the cost is recouped by operational savings (such less fuel, less maintenance) and the “sparks effect” of trains that more people want to use.

Network Rail is the national agency that has the multifarious tasks of managing day to day operation of the system, maintaining tracks and signalling and organising upgrades. Having let engineering expertise go it has, with its contractors, been learning the hard way how to electrify railways in the North West, in Scotland and on the Great Western. An effectively managed rolling programme would capitalise on the skills gained. Nearly three years ago a politically balanced task force backed by professional research recommended a dozen northern routes for electrification by the mid-2020s. You won’t need reminding that the Calder Valley Line, from Leeds to both Manchester and Preston via both Bradford and Brighouse was the top-scoring scheme.

Campaigning train user groups along the length of the line are not giving up. In the coming weeks, HADRAG, STORM (Rochdale), Bradford Rail Users and our colleagues in the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group are to jointly launch the Electric Railway Charter. The charter will be a declaration calling for implementation of the task force recommendations with our line at the top. It will promise to keep up the campaign for an economically and environmentally sustainable railway. And it will call on a wide range of other groups—business, environmental, political, workplace, community—to support us. We are already supported by the Yorkshire branch of Railfuture, the national independent group campaigning for a better rail network for both passenger and freight. Spread the word.