What do we want the Calder Valley Line service to do?

Northern can not deliver franchise commitments because of external factors. Without serious capacity works through Oxford Rd and Piccadilly stations Manchester’s new Ordsall Chord can apparently not take even one Calder Valley service per hour in addition to the twice-hourly TransPennines that link Tyne and Tees with Manchester Airport. (No, it’s not fair.) Northern, running out of money, will surely be under different ownership or a different contract soon. HADRAG says local councils, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Transport for the North should demand promises be kept by any new regime. Our map hints at possibilities for lines that should be seen as a crossroads of the Pennine rail network. We need:

Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and (soon) Elland, significant towns, to have as good a service as stations further up the valley that have traditionally been favoured with the “fast” trains.

For work and leisure, trains to the south side of Manchester. Could Bradford-Huddersfield trains be linked with a service to Manchester Piccadilly? Could one TransPennine Express per hour to the Airport run via the Calder Valley instead of via Huddersfield? (Could this also enable a better Huddersfield-Manchester local service?)

The promised extra service every hour, Calder Valley-Manchester, to help local stations and fill gaps such as the missing Littleborough-Halifax/Bradford daytime service.

Brighouse and Elland to have two trains/hr direct to Leeds, with fast journey time also benefitting upper Calderdale stations. And two trains an hour on the Bradford-Huddersfield line providing good upper valley-Huddersfield connections (and possibly a direct service in the future).

Better Sunday services on all routes reflecting leisure and work demand. Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester should be 7-days a week as should cross-Manchester links. —JSW

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

Crossing the City

Calder Valley Line (CVL) trains are expected to be running across Manchester via the new Ordsall curve at the end of this year. Northern has consulted on the December 2017 timetable change. Daytime off-peak, the hourly semi-fast Leeds (xx18), Halifax (xx54) trains to Manchester Vic will continue to Oxford Road station, serving the south side of the city directly from our area for the first time. The intention is for these trains to be extended to Manchester Airport in May 2018. Though only off-peak for now this is good news because the franchise “train service requirement” (TSR) does not specify through CVL trains to Manchester Airport until the additional hourly Bradford-Manchester service is introduced at the December 2019 change (known as TSR3).

Also in the December 2017 timetable, there will be some extra Rochdale-Manchester stoppers at peak hours. This will allow a small number of Leeds-Brighouse-Todmorden-Manchester trains to run non-stop Rochdale-Victoria. Hopefully this will improve both journey time and reliability. We have not yet been told whether the intention is for all of these trains to do this, which would improve the Brighouse-Manchester journey. HADRAG has of course repeatedly said we would like the Brighouse trains to become semi-fast west of Todmorden.

Major recasting of the timetable is delayed until (hopefully no later than) May 2018 in a “phased introduction” of the original December 2017 plans—”TSR2″. The cascade of second-hand trains from other franchises is behind schedule because of projects elsewhere running late. The Great Western Railway franchise can not release diesels to Northern until Network Rail electrification work is complete and GWR can run electric trains.

The latest we know however is that May 2018 should implement “full TSR2”, which should mean extension of the other hourly Calder Valley Manchester train to Chester. It should also mean Brighouse Sunday services modestly improved (hourly instead of 2-hourly Leeds-Bradford-Huddersfield), and half-hourly on Sundays Bradford-Manchester, including an hourly Sunday service to the Airport.

HADRAG insisted on making detailed comments on the December 2017 timetable consultation. The May’18 consultation is due anytime now and we expect to be included in that too!

We continue to argue the case for more trains stopping at Sowerby Bridge, both the York-Blackpools and the extras to be introduced in 2019. We believe the linespeed improvements and new rolling stock should enable this without unduly compromising the journey time commitment. Looking at catchment areas and population HADRAG believes Sowerby Bridge station potentially serves as many local people as Hebden Bridge and Todmorden put together, despite having little more than half the service level. We have also supported the submission by our colleagues in the Rochdale/Oldham group STORM for a better service at Littleborough.

We think Halifax-Leeds will be five trains per hour by the end of 2019, though again that seems to be implied rather than confirmed. It was promised back in December 2015 when the Arriva franchise was announced and is consistent with a map of “Northern Connect” routes published with the Dec’17 consultation. All CVL Manchester trains via Halifax (but not the ones via Brighouse) will be of “regional express” quality by the end of 2019. All of these Halifax trains (3/hour by 2019) look to be going through to Leeds, plus the Blackpool-York trains (also NC) plus the local Huddersfield-Brighouse-Bradford-Leeds. So that looks like 5-an-hour. By the way, we hear the Huddersfield-Bradford-Leeds service will linked with a new Leeds-Hull-Bridlington service (by Dec’19) giving an hourly Brighouse-Brid through train!

Obviously Brighouse needs a lot more than that. We keep mentioning the need to speed up Brighouse-Todmorden-Manchester trains. “Turbostar” trains cascaded from Scotland could help. Improvements Brighouse into Leeds will depend on outputs of the TransPennine Route Upgrade—that’s the project that includes Huddersfield Line electrification— sometime in the 2020s. Semi-fast Leeds-Manchester via Brighouse and Rochdale would surely make sense.

But with all this talk of service development the elephant in the room is the sardine-can conditions in which many of our peak-time commuters endure their daily journeys to and from work in Leeds and Manchester. We were angry last year when the “market” grabbed good trains from the North for the Chilterns, indirectly cutting seats for Calderdale commuters. We were thankful when Northern arranged with sister Arriva company Grand Central to put on a comfortable extra train Halifax-Leeds. More of these initiatives are needed.

Brand-new trains come to our line from December 2018 plus refurbished “cascades” from other companies. A 37% increase in morning capacity is promised across the franchise by 2020. Will that be enough? Will it be soon enough? What (if anything) more can be done while we are waiting?

And what, indeed, is the economic value to society of city workers arriving in a relaxed state and getting home rested, not frazzled by the return journey? Has anyone quantified this? Or is it simply unmeasurable, meaning it does not count?

HADRAG will continue to put the case for more. —JSW


Featured Image: “castlefield chord illustration4” flickr photo by mwmbwls https://flickr.com/photos/mwmbwls/8222513415 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license