With a shortage of trains due to delayed electrification, Northern has been forced to postpone some improvements including Calder Valley services to Manchester Airport and Chester. Some aspects of the new — but temporary — timetable are better than we feared. “Clockface patterns” are not ideal, there are issues about journey times and evening patterns, but Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd will be served by Preston/Blackpool trains, and keep their present Manchester frequency. For the future the concern is that when the promised new services eventually come in, existing local users could still lose out.
We’ve been given to understand that, as a “Northern Connect” station, Sowerby Bridge could be served by all (?) trains with the new express brand. We are keen for this to be confirmed. Brighouse, and in the future Elland, cry out for better services on a line with obvious suppressed demand.
Meanwhile, Calder Valley Line passengers tell us that overcrowding and delays have got worse under the new franchise.
All rail users are welcome at HADRAG’s annual meeting On Saturday morning, 2 June 2018 at St Paul’s Church, Tower Hill, Sowerby Bridge, HX6 2EQ (10 min walk from station). Doors open 10.00; speeches and discussion 10.20 till 11.45 (all
business done by 12.30)
SPEAKER: Adam Timewell, Commercial Franchise Manager, Rail North Partnership — responsible for overseeing Arriva on the Northern train operating franchise. As always, come along and have your say!
HADRAG is centred on Halifax, Brighouse, Elland and Sowerby Bridge. For 32 years we have supported positive development by the train companies, and encouraged greater use of the railway, seeking extensions to services and a better deal for everyday travellers. We believe that through a reasonable, realistic approach as friendly critics who put forward creative ideas, we have gained the respect of railway professionals and transport planners more widely. Over the last year we have held meetings with local MPs and have continued to develop a working relationship with the local council as well as officers at West Yorkshire Combined Authority, business representatives and other local groups. HADRAG’s Chair is a co-opted member of Calderdale council’s transport working group. We want to build on this engagement.
Overcrowding on local trains is a massive problem. We want to get more commuters and other rail users, as well as people who might use the train if the service were a lot better, to join us and get involved. See our contact details below.
It’s good to note that the latest ambitious plans for Elland station reflect very much ideas that HADRAG put forward four years ago. The £20M scheme is moving ahead driven by Calderdale and WYCA. The train operator’s timetable plans contain good news but also sound alarms. We keep pressing for a better service along the Brighouse Line making sure Elland gets full benefit. We have serious concerns over the Calder Valley timetable for 2018, 2019 and beyond, about service patterns and not least for stations that miss out on the new express services. We still want to meet with Arriva as train company to talk about this. Meanwhile, with other train user groups along the line we shall be launching our Electric Charter to press the case for a zero-emissions railway along the Calder Valley Line and across the North.
Rail development is good for the environment and good for local business. The work of HADRAG has been praised by Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce. We have recently been presented with a significant grant from Calderdale Business Trust to help us continue and develop this work. We are most grateful to receive this support and we record our thanks here.
Saturday 13th May: tea and coffee from 1300 (1pm) for a 1320 start
Orange Box Centre, Halifax, HX1 1AF
To venue from Halifax train station — straight up Horton St; turn right by small car park into Thomas St; continue to end and turn right.
From bus station go south along main street past Tesco; turn left at Westgate pub.
Meeting room upstairs — level access by lift.
Paul Barnfield, Regional Director (East), Arriva Rail North (Northern) on Northern’s service development vison
Chris Hoesli, transport fund programme manager, Calderdale on the Halifax station gateway scheme
Come and have your say!
This page and next are members’ calling notice and agenda for HADRAG’s 2017 Annual General Meeting along with last year’s draft minutes for adoption. The AGM is HADRAG’s main open event. Formal business will be in the latter part of the meeting, after speakers and discussion. Tea and coffee will be available before the meeting which will open with a short Chair’s report followed by the main item, our guest speakers.
Back in Halifax this year, we shall be pleased to welcome two speakers. Paul Barnfield is the regional director for the train company we know as Northern under the Arriva franchise. Paul will talk about the transformation of services that will benefit Halifax and the Calder Valley Line between now and 2020. And with decisions due in the next few months on plans to transform Halifax station using resources from the West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund, Calderdale programme manager Chris Hoesli will be bringing us up to speed on what could be planned. So this this is an opportunity to hear about positive developments in the offing and also for members to ask questions and raise concerns.
In May this year in Brighouse HADRAG held possibly its best-ever Annual General Meeting, with speaker David Hoggarth, Director of Rail North and over 30 people in attendance, part of our campaign to get a better train service deal for stations like Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge.
Over summer we updated our paper on development aspirations for the Calder Valley Line, and in October we held an “open committee meeting” in Halifax where the train operator Northern’s regional stakeholder manager John O’Grady gave a presentation to HADRAG members and friends about the company’s franchise promises. John has a background in journalism having worked as a young reporter on the Brighouse Echo. He still lives in Brighouse so if any Northern employee understands the needs of our line and its users John should! He spoke entertainingly and answered questions with honesty and good humour.
Peak-hour overcrowding on Calderdale-Leeds commuter trains was hottest topic at the Halifax meeting. People who pay the top-rate peak fare are understandably angry when not only can they not get a seat but the train is so crowded that passengers stand nose-to nose, with passengers sometimes left behind at places like New Pudsey. It is equally irksome when a high quality modern train that is about to form an extra service from Bradford to Leeds passes empty through Halifax as you wait for your 25 to 30-year old two-car unit that you know is going to be crammed (see our front page story). Northern promise to look again at these issues. The situation is not of their making and using the Grand Central train is a good tactic to provide relief. If only it could help Calderdale commuters! The new franchisee knows that we are looking forward to the benefits of brand new rolling stock, more services and new destinations by 2019. But they also know there is anger now about a railway that is victim of its own success.
HADRAG is also continuing to press on what might be termed medium term strategic issues, firstly in the hope that Northern under franchisee Arriva will deliver a better train timetable for more Calder Valley Line stations—not just the so-called principal stops—and secondly for a vision for the second half of the franchise when we hope more services could be developed via the Elland/Brighouse rail corridor.
To recap, we say a long-standing half-promise that all York-Blackpool trains should call at Sowerby Bridge should be redeemed at the next key timetable change which is December 2017. At the same time we hope the Leeds-Brighouse-Todmorden-Manchester service can be speeded up by making it semi-fast at least west of Todmorden. The aim, with improved rolling stock, should be 50 minutes Brighouse-Manchester Vic. Yes, we hear the argument that you can go from Brighouse to Manchester Piccadilly via Huddersfield in not much more than that time but it means changing trains (and platforms) at Huddersfield and not everybody wants to go to Piccadilly! We also think the “valley bottom service” should run on Sundays—and West Yorkshire Combined Authority agrees with us.
It would also be good if Northern could design its timetable to get a second train each hour stopping at the new Low Moor station (see panel, previous page). Next opportunity after 2017 could be the 2019 timetable with an enhanced “TSR” or minimum Train Service Requirement which means Northern has to run 3 trains/hour between Bradford and Manchester, one of which has to go to Manchester Airport, one to Chester and one to Liverpool. All of these three trains will be Northern Connect services, which means regional express, but existing stops in upper Calderdale and Rochdale district will still have to be covered by the three trains combined.
So when is an express not an express? When it has to meet the TSR for intermediate stations! What HADRAG is saying is we are going to have this new service that is going to use a brand new line round Manchester (the Ordsall Chord) to get to Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. Why not maximise the benefits of this investment by spreading the new connectivity to as many CVL stations as possible? It does not have to be the Airport train that achieves the headline timing (say 52 minutes) Bradford-Victoria; in fact it makes most sense if the fastest Calder Valley service is the one that goes to Chester, the longest distance. So we say the Airport-Bradford train should serve Sowerby Bridge. And perhaps it should also serve the new station at Low Moor where there is park & ride and business as well as commuting potential. This means the Airport train must go to Leeds, not just to Bradford, related to another yet-to-be-answered question: how many trains per hour, Halifax-Leeds? The TSR says four (minimum), but the promise at the franchise announcement last December seemed to be five.
And our “Cinderella station”, Mytholmroyd, is about to get a new car park. The village has 2 trains/hr to Leeds and Manchester but misses the 2/hr it had for a time to Halifax and Bradford. Could Northern’s 2019 timetable come to the rescue?
There is an expectation of further service development beyond 2019. With housing and business growth in the lower valley, Elland station a near certainty, and potential of a fast route to Leeds as well as Huddersfield, Wakefield and beyond, the Brighouse rail corridor is ripe to develop. Don’t forget Brighouse station usage grew by 342% between 2007 and 2015. Along with Sowerby Bridge, the town of Brighouse can justify demanding a lot more from its railway. –JSW
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:
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.
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.
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.
We hope local rail passengers, and members of friends of HADRAG, the Halifax & District Rail Action Group had a great summer. We’ll be back in a day or two with more about HADRAG’s latest campaigns.
We want to push the new train operator Arriva Rail North (aka Northern Railway) to deliver the best possible deal for all “our” stations in the zone around Halifax, Sowerby Bridge and Brighouse, not to mention planning for a future new station at Elland.
If you are back at work and commuting on the train you may be concerned – to put it mildly – about one or two morning trains to Leeds on the Calder Valley Line that have a reduced number of carriages. We’ve seen crush-loading on services such as the 0734 Halifax-Leeds in recent days. It seems the train operator has had some rolling stock purloined.
But there’s good news for some Northern customers as certain off-peak fares have been reduced. So the off-peak return from Halifax to Manchester is now £9.90 (was £11.70). So go on, have a trip on the train!
More to follow soon, but meanwhile, have a look back at our archive of blogs on this site.
It’s all systems go for HADRAG’s annual meeting in Brighouse on Saturday (14 May’16). Our speaker David Hoggarth, Director of Rail North has confirmed. Start time is 13.00 (1pm) at the Central Methodist Church with an update on HADRAG’s campaign to get a better deal for the Calder Valley’s “Cinderella Line” through Brighouse and Elland that links Halifax and Sowerby bridge with Huddersfield and Mirfield, after which we’ll have David’s talk followed by questions and discussion. All actual and would-be rail users welcome! The meeting will conclude the group’s formal AGM business all of which will be done by 15.30 (3.30pm).
Doors open 12.30 for “light refreshments” (probably tea/coffee and biscuits unless somebody decides to bake a cake).
The weather forecast for Saturday morning in Brighouse looks pretty fair. So why not make a day of it? Take a stroll on the canal bank, seek out the open market, and enjoy brunch in one of the town’s cafes before coming along to the meeting.