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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“Four in 44” is great news. But sardine-can commuters need more now

New trains, faster journeys, more seats, more often: “Four in 44” — four broad objectives in 44 months from the start of the Arriva Rail North franchise last April, taking us to December 2019. On the Calder Valley Line we are promised a good share of the new trains (which could start to appear next year); and of the faster services, branded Northern Connect (including all Leeds/Bradford-Manchester and York-Blackpools); and of the more often. New destinations will include Chester, Liverpool and Manchester Airport, with an extra train every hour between Bradford and Manchester.

The more seats promise is globally a 37% increase in peak capacity for “31,000 extra customers”. That, we repeat, is by 2019, by which time most of the new trains will be delivered. There will also be lots  of units “cascaded” from other train operating companies (TOCs), all of which are to be refurbished to be good as new—which means even better than “partially refurbished” Class 158 train that has been running on our line over recent months, and which Northern admits is work in progress. The cascaded trains will include modern Class 170s from Scotland (promised for the Harrogate and Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester lines) as well as more 30-year old Class 150s. We are excited by the prospect of a “good as new” Class 150.

All the above we knew already. But we do have some simmering worries, to be voiced in more detail in our New Year message to Northern managing director Alex Hynes. In summary.

Worry One. We need more capacity now!

A 37% increase for 31000 “extra” passengers in three years time sounds great unless you are one of thousands of existing Calder Valley Line commuters who, right now, daily endure trains that seem more like 100% overcrowded. People who depend on the train to access employment pay the highest fares to travel on peak-hour trains, but often seem to get the worst service, as they find themselves packed like canned sardines in trains so full that sometimes passengers are left behind.

Northern actually had rolling stock taken off it last summer in a knock-on effect when TransPennine Express lost decent Class 170 trains to Chiltern Railways. One consequence was halving of capacity on two morning Calderdale-Leeds trains. Northern worked with sister Arriva company Grand Central to get a 5-car train running an extra Bradford-Leeds train. That (after some nagging by HADRAG) has now been extended to start at Halifax. We are grateful to Northern for this initiative and their positive response to or suggestion.

But we know, and they know, that a lot more is needed to help with intolerable overcrowding on other trains.

gc-at-bradford-interchange-jsw
The 0744 Northern service from Bradford to Leeds began last July, operated by a Grand Central intercity train, here seen alongside the 0752 to London. It used to come empty through Halifax causing annoyance to Leeds-bound commuters on the station who couldn’t get on! HADRAG pressed for the new service to serve Calderdale. Arriva Rail North agreed with us but with industry consultations seemingly non-optional for even the simplest, most obviously beneficial changes, it took until December to get the train starting from Halifax at 0728. Northern and Grand Central are both, of course, Arriva-owned companies. Good result! More needed!

Worry Two. Even if we can bear to wait until 2019, how is 37% more capacity going to be enough?

We understand the Arriva Rail North has an option to order more of the new trains —diesels and electrics— that are being built by CAF in Spain.

It is be hoped that when the current order for 281 vehicles is complete, more will be built! …

Worry Three. Delays to the rolling stock cascade affecting planned improvements

Last November, Network Rail issued a media statement announcing that certain improvements to Northern and TPE services scheduled for December 2017 would be “phased”, which of course means “delayed” (though some regional media interpreted the story as good news). We struggled to get clarification on this. It seems projects like the Ordsall Curve —critical to North of England service development— are OK. But late-running infrastructure projects elsewhere, like Great Western Electrification, mean the cascade of rolling stock to Northern could be held up. An email sent out by Northern in the North West suggested December 2017 improvements could be delayed until May’18.

It is not yet clear whether this will affect introduction of the CVL Chester service or Sunday Bradford-Manchester Airport trains, both of which were planned for December 2017.

Worry Four. Refurbishment means pain before gain as trains go out of service for the work to be done. Can’t we draft in more trains to cover?

Northern is still working out what the “good as new” refurbished trains will look like. When the programme is under way, covering everything apart from Pacers (which have to go), it will mean more trains out if service for the work to be done. Which will temporarily reduce capacity even more.

Some have suggested Northern’s rolling stock problems could be addressed by drafting in rakes of locomotives and coaches. Other TOCs have done this and Northern is doing it on the Cumbrian Coast route using old Class 37 diesel locos and rakes of Mk 2 coaches. But that sort of train could not keep up to “sprinter” timings on the CVL, and we hear there have been reliability problems on the Cumbrian Coast. However there may be sets of coaches available if suitable modern traction can be found to pull them. In particular the former “Wessex Electrics”, later Gatwick Express trains of Class 442 are lying idle in want of a new use. Two other Arriva companies have already expressed interest. Alliance Rail wants some for a proposed open access Southampton-London service, whilst Arriva Trains Wales is reportedly proposing to run them with diesel haulage as crowd-busters. There are 24 of these trains, not brand new but decent modern 5-car units that would be much better than a 2-car “150” or Pacer. So how about some for Northern? Modifications would be required; is cost a barrier for a franchise that is otherwise promising so much?

Worry Five. Will innovative rolling stock solutions work?

With delays expected to diesel train cascades, rolling stockleasing company Porterbrook announced with Northern and Rail North just before Christmas that it intends to fit some Class 319 electrics with diesel-generator modules and put in service with Northern by Spring next year. Northern has been using pure-electric 319s for a couple of years on newly electrified lines in the North-West. As “bi-modes” they could be used more widely across the North. Like the Vivarail Class 230 “D-train” which uses former London Underground D78 trains, it is thought the “Class 319 Flex” would have automotive diesel alternator modules installed under the carriages. On 30 December one of the power modules on Vivarail’s “230” prototype caught fire whilst on trial near Coventry. Public trials of the “230” are therefore postponed pending an investigation report. Of course the 230 and the 319 Flex are not the same train and we may be worrying unduly. But don’t blame us for being concerned.

Worry Six. Service development. The Northern Connect promise is excellent, but what about our “Cinderella stations”?

This was HADRAG’s big strategic issue for 2016 and we are not giving up. Latest station usage estimates (next page) confirm the increase in Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge passengers over ten years. Sowerby Bridge is earmarked a Northern Connect station (meaning all-day staffing), but it is still not clear whether there will be any significant increase in trains stopping. Brighouse is to get a modest increase in Sunday trains and earlier first trains during the week, but what else we are not sure. We await detailed plans for service stopping patterns 2017- 2019 with great interest.

The Train Service Requirement commits Northern to a 55 minute Bradford-Manchester semi-fast journey time by 2019. We say this could include a Sowerby Bridge stop giving the station an “express” as well as “stoppers”. And we have of course been saying for years that all the York-Blackpools should serve Sowerby Bridge.

We still hope the Brighouse-Manchester trains may be speeded up with a semi-fast pattern.

Beyond 2020, we hope Arriva will commit to the 4 trains/hour Bradford-Manchester that is West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s aspiration, as well as more trains through Brighouse and fast Brighouse-Leeds journeys.

Northern knows we are their supporters, not naturally complainers. We trust them to deliver. We look forward to good  news. —JSW

Aspirations for more

Network Rail’s HADRAG presentation was about projects in the current 2014-19 control period (CP5) and our guests preferred not to be drawn on any more ambitious aspirations that might be considered in the future. There are obvious projects, some that we have called for in the past and that our friends in the UCV Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group included in a list of priorities published a year ago. Much of this is not so much investment in new railways but more about restoring valuable infrastructure short-sightedly taken away over the last few decades, such as:

  • Loops/four tracking between Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd to allow freight trains to be overtaken.
  • Putting back four tracks in the Huddersfield/Mirfield/Dewsbury area creating capacity for more trains through Brighouse as well as on the Huddersfield line.
  • Halifax platform 3 as through loop.
  • The “Crigglestone Curve” linking the lower Calder Valley and Barnsley routes for a service through Brighouse to Sheffield —advocated years ago by HADRAG!
  • And of course CVL electrification via both Bradford and Brighouse.

 

Tantalising Scene

History in the making? The scene looking north-east(-ish) from Halifax station hints tantalisingly at the future. Observant Leeds-bound passengers know that if the signal at the end of the platform shows a yellow (never amber on the railway!), they’ll be crawling to a halt at a red just this side of Beacon Hill Tunnel. A preceding train has to pass the signal nearly 4 miles away at Wyke before the next can go. Network Rail’s resignalling scheme over the next 18 months aims to sort the  problem, allowing trains at closer headways all the way from Manchester to Bradford, meaning higher frequencies as well as speeds and—hopefully—better punctuality. It will also make the historic signalbox standing on the former platform redundant as control of the signals is transferred to York. What new use will the old “box” find? The train on the left, a grim old Class 150 unit arriving at Platform 1 for Manchester Victoria, is also going to change and before 2020 will more likely be one of Northern’s brand-new trains now being built by CAF in Spain. The “150” itself, years of life remaining, is promised good-as-new refurbishment. Truly tantalising is the vacant track bed next to the Platform 2 line, with much interest locally in the idea of bringing Platform 3 back into use. Wider development promises to create a transformed gateway between station and town. A third platform would spread the crowds and allow more flexible operation, though we may still have a job on to persuade the railway of its necessity.

History could have been different. Back in the 1980s Halifax & District Rail Action Group started up against a background of shady proposals by British Rail to reduce the line from Sowerby Bridge to Bradford to single track. Ambitions in West Yorkshire put a stop to that idea so that after 30 years of improvement that relied on cut-back infrastructure, we now have a railway that’s not too hard to upgrade, hopefully overcoming current worries to transform services by three years from now.

So, settling in to 2017, we wish HADRAG members and friends, passengers actual and would-be, happy travelling in the future! – JSW