Still Hoping for Good News, Meanwhile…

With COP26 underway, the integrated rail plan (IRP) is now expected in mid November, after a Downing Street rewrite. So are we still being softened up for cancellation of big projects like the eastern arm of HS2 from Birmingham to Leeds? How will Northern Powerhouse Rail end up? What about the TransPennine Route upgrade, which should be fully electric and with extra tracks Huddersfield to Dewsbury? (Is HM Treasury really going to agree to both full-scale TRU and high-speed NPR via Bradford?) And what about Northern Sparks electrification, recommended by a task force six years ago? Top ranking was given to the Calder Valley. And a year ago Network Rail’s TDNS (decarbonisation network strategy) effectively called for a rolling programme. We hope for good news from IRP.

And rail decarbonisation would be a great thing to announce in the run-up to COP26 summit in Glasgow. So let’s hope we have something positive to report in our Winter issue.

Manchester plans: report hardly mentions our line

Meanwhile this seems to have been a year, mid-pandemic, of consultations on timetable changes. The government has recently published the response to the Manchester Rail Task Force (MRTF) consultation. HADRAG responded earlier this year as did the three North of England branches of Railfuture. Among other demands we pointed out that Bradford and the Calder Valley line really need the promised service round the Castlefield curve to the south side of central Manchester, serving work, education and leisure attractions, as well as onward connections and trains to the airport. We understand that MRTF’s purpose was to simplify the timetable and make it more reliable. So we are not surprised that proposals for a new service would be difficult to swallow – even though the service was a commitment under the now defunct Northern franchise.
So whilst Southport will get an hourly service to Manchester Oxford Rd (alternating with an hourly service to Victoria and Stalybridge), the derived “Option B+” service pattern cuts the service round the Castlefield chord to 1 train/hr. The Colder Valley line and Bradford are barely mentioned. Good news is that the Option B+ service diagram does show the useful CV-Chester continuing hourly as now, improving on original Option B. Worryingly, however, it is not mentioned in the text of the document. There is a promise to look at options to restore a South Yorkshire-Manchester Airport service, but nothing about bringing in a CV-Airport service.

The Option B+ timetable is expected to be introduced in December 2022. Actual times of trains are yet to be revealed. Transport for the North were not happy about the option selected but the only alternative they were given was continuation of the Covid timetable.

ECML recast and Calder Valley needs

Readers will know that the proposed recast of the East Coast Main Line timetable, proposed for May 2022 has been postponed by at least a year. There will be a further consultation in Spring 2022. HADRAG has supported a submission by Yorkshire campaigners calling for a single exercise based on a timetable showing all operators’ trains on the route. The exercise held earlier this summer required consultees to respond separately on draft timetables produced separately by train operating companies LNER, TransPennine Express, Cross Country and Northern – each table showing only the trains proposed by each operator. This made the overall picture less visible, and seemed to be in defiance of the recently announced move towards a more unified national Great British Railways.

HADRAG will respond to the new consultation. This year we commented only on Northern’s proposals for Calder Valley services and took the opportunity to restate concerns about the present service and our aspirations, starting with issues from the present (effectively Dec’2019) timetable that remained in the May’22 draft:

Sowerby Bridge (SOW) and Mytholmroyd (MYT) stopping pattern. Note particularly that SOW serves a population comparable with Hebden Bg and Todmorden combined but has little more than half the service frequency of these stations.

  • 2-hour gap in eastbound evening services calling at SOW and MYT. Manchester Vic dep 2121 then 2319, with 2 trains from Manchester and one from Blackpool running non-stop Hebden Bridge to Halifax in between. This evening gap can surely be fixed.
  • Poor peak-hour service particularly at Mytholmroyd to/from Leeds.
  • Sundays no trains Mytholmroyd to/from Manchester – no obvious reason for this.
  • Blackpool trains call at SOW and MYT on Sundays only. No Blackpool service Mon-Sat (apart from three evening-peak calls at SOW). Every Blackpool service should call, at least at SOW, as they did from May’18 to Dec’19. Present timings appear to make that possible.
  • We believe every CV Manchester (and every Blackpool) service should also call at Sowerby Bridge.
  • Pathing of nominally fast services westbound towards Manchester behind freights. Several “fast” services’ which do not call at SOW and MYT, have significantly extended timings between Bradford and Manchester: see for example deps from Leeds at 0712,1712, 2112 and 2212. There are also irregularities in the timing of westbound services from Man Vic.

HADRAG says that our Chester trains, connecting at Warrington with the West Coast Main Line, should now be seen as an established link. Issues in the present timetable need to be dealt with as soon as possible – by Dec’22 if not May’22, i.e. the above issues including illogical and inconvenient stopping patterns. Sowerby Bridge – a potential interchange – should have full service frequency on both Manchester and Blackpool routes. Mytholmroyd, with its enlarged car park, also needs more trains. And the timetable should be arranged to accommodate freight trains without making a nonsense of “fast” passenger services. (Provision of passing loops could help this.)

Header Image: “195104 at Mytholmroyd 28/07/20” flickr photo by Aaron 56125 https://flickr.com/photos/aaronsrailwayphots/50538650177 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license