Better timetable for our line?

There remains the former franchise promise of a service from Bradford to Manchester Oxford Rd, Piccadilly and the airport. Responding to the MRRTF report, we asked for this to be included in the recast expected next year. We showed how the Calder Valley line to Bradford serves a similar population to the Bolton line to Preston, but has a much less well-connected service. Demanding a new link when other routes in the area are having to accept cuts is a big ask, but we ask for a fair approach, saying Calder Valley and TransPennine Express could both have an hourly path round the “Ordsall Chord” to Castlefield, with connections at Man Vic – see our diagram (times are illustrative only). We also say that is that if there is to be a wider recast of the timetable next year the opportunity must be taken to deal with the faults in the present Calder Valley
service pattern. Fast trains timed to go slow following freight trains. Missing late night stops for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. And no Manchester trains at Mytholmroyd on Sundays. We need more trains to stop at Sowerby Bridge including the York-Blackpools. And a better service on the Brighouse/Elland line – including more trains going up the valley on Sundays for leisure trips. Keeping up the struggle – JSW

Ordall Chord

On the day the Ordsall Chord opened last December, a Calder Valley train from Manchester Oxford Road leaves Deansgate station. Ours is the first service to use the new line, hourly on Sundays and a few trains continuing round the chord during the week. These trains will be extended to Manchester Airport, every hour, early morning till late night, when Northern has enough trains to do it.

The Oxford Rd service calls at Deansgate, useful for workplaces, Castlefield attractions, and trams to Altrincham and MediaCityUK.

But when our trains go on to the Airport it seems they’ll  trundle through Deansgate non-stop. The two track section through to Piccadilly is an issue for timetabling. We need those extra platforms at Picc to make room for all the new services round Ordsall and a better timetable for routes across the North.

We hope the DfT has got the message.


First round the chord!

First public train over the Ordsall Chord is scheduled for Sunday 10 December, 0840 from Manchester Victoria to Oxford Road where it will then form the 0857 via the Calder Valley to Leeds. First train westward to Oxford Rd from Halifax will be the 0945. Check timings online at We hope to meet a few HADRAG members and friends on these first trains!

Weekday service round the Chord starting December 11th will just be the CVL trains, daytime off-peak generally at 18 minutes past from Leeds to Man Vic, Deansgate and Oxford Road stations, returning from Oxford Rd mainly at xx38 (until 1638). It’s a stepping stone to something a lot better. In May 2018 TransPennine Express should start using the new line and Northern Calder Valley trains should run hourly until late night to Piccadilly and the Airport. We don’t know if the Deansgate stop — useful for workplaces, cultural attractions and the tram to Salford Quays — will be made permanent. We hope so, though it wasn’t shown in the May’18 consultation draft timetable.

No digital miracle: more tracks and platforms needed

The Northern Hub project was supposed to include two extra through platforms and tracks at Manchester Piccadilly station. However, ministerial comments in July reinforced fears this may not happen. Apparently the DfT has asked Network Rail to look at using digital signalling to increase capacity instead. It’s true modern train control with signals in the driver’s cab can increase capacity by allowing trains to safely follow at closer headways, but it clearly does not allow a faster train to pass a slower one, or two trains to run in parallel into a station—unless the physical track capacity is provided. Nor can it make commuters get on and off crush-loaded trains any faster. “Going digital” will take years and is no miracle cure. New platforms and tracks at Piccadilly could prove essential for reliable operation of more trains, including Calder Valley trains from Blackburn as well as Bradford going round to the Airport. Not to mention the need for more tracks around Huddersfield and Mirfield to allow more trains via Brighouse and Elland.

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 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Judge gives green light to Ordsall

The Ordsall Chord is a new railway that will allow TransPennine and Northern trains via Victoria station to swing round the west of the city to Oxford Rd and Piccadilly stations. It will open a route for Calder Valley trains to Manchester Airport and other southward destinations. Transport and Works Act approval for the chord was given by the Secretary of State for Transport in Spring following an inquiry. But this was challenged in the Royal Courts of Justice in September by former president of the Institute of Civil Engineers, Mark Whitby. Mr Whitby argued the decision-making process was flawed and the benefits of preventing harm to heritage assets were not given due consideration. Network Rail’s new line slices through two historic bridges where it intersects the route of the “world’s first inter-city railway”, the Liverpool & Manchester, causing physical and contextual damage to heritage structures. Mr Whitby’s claimed an alternative “Option 15” would be better. But Option 15 was certain to cost more. It would have meant diverting the existing Liverpool-Manchester Victoria line to cut through a massive economic development site, Middlewood Locks in Salford, where work on a first phase including hundreds of new homes could start early next year. Clearly Mr Whitby’s option would affect this! The Ordsall Chord inquiry inspector had acknowledged damage to heritage, but recommended approval for the Network Rail scheme. On October 14th Mrs Justice Lang dismissed Mark Whitby’s challenge, saying the inspector had given “considerable weight and importance” to heritage issues. She found no error in law, and gave no permission to appeal; so this looks like a green light, not a yellow.

If you value both transport heritage and transport development this has been a messy, uncomfortable process. But the Ordsall Chord should now be ready by the end of 2017.

Header image attribution: flickr photo by Thomas’s Pics shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license