How good is your train?

BRAND new “Class 195” trains already working Calder Valley-Manchester/Chester services began phasing in to York-Halifax-Blackpool in December.

We remain concerned about the need for more peak-hour strengthening. Units can be coupled together but platform lengths at Leeds (notably short bays like P10) are a limitation. New “Platform 0” and lengthening of P1-6 will help, but it will be another year before these works are complete. The evening peak is highly stressful for commuters and staff coping with overcrowding. There used to be four trains from Leeds to Calderdale between 1700 and 1730 but with standardisation of the hourly pattern this is now just three (1712 to Manchester, 1717 via Brighouse and 1727 to Halifax). Surely strengthening is essential but, it seems, often does not happen.

On the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Wigan service, use of 3-car Class 158s marks progress, but a miscellany of  more old-fashioned types continue including single “153s” coupled to a 158, impairing acceleration and limiting maximum speed.  To us, the new trains look ideal for this line with smart acceleration between frequent stops. The new Bradford-Huddersfield “shuttle” is usually a single-car “153”. Pacers (fingers crossed) seem to have gone.

Having only one toilet on the new trains is surely a serious design error. Dare we hope for a later order of extra coaches with more facilities for services taking commuters to work, students to college, families to the seaside or historical attractions, and hens and stags on happy weekends?

 

Depot Problems

Performance issues taking the shine off a new timetable are, sadly, not news. Calderdale commuters have been suffering early morning cancellations due not just to staff shortages but to “problems at the depot”, “train late leaving depot” (so it’s late because it’s late!), “trains needing more maintenance than usual” and the rest. New trains require new procedures, such as emptying of toilet retention tanks (thankfully, the deposit of human excreta on the track is to be phased out). Did no-one plan for this? Northern’s main Yorkshire train depot, Neville Hill, is stuck out on the wrong side of Leeds and not big enough. Many empty stock workings have to come through Leeds to get anywhere useful to pick up early bird commuters. We hear serious talk of building a new depot somewhere less inconvenient. Somewhere in the Wakefield area springs to mind as accessible to much of West Yorkshire.

 

New Trains

Our picture of a new Northern train is good news. But Northern’s franchise is effectively bankrupt, performance has been abysmal and committed new services have not been delivered. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps seems to agree with regional leaders like Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham that this can not go on. Arriva Rail North will (in some sense) be “stripped of the franchise”, meaning either takeover by a government-owned company, or a management contract awarded to Arriva itself. Extra Calder Valley services linking to south Manchester and the Airport, should have been introduced in the current timetable but are on hold. Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge have had their service cut with May’18 improvements taken away. The Brighouse (and Elland) line is desperate for a better service. Failure of the franchise must not mean letting the railway collectively off the hook. A lot of Northern’s problems stem from late delivery of Network Rail infrastructure projects and, critically, failure at the Department of Transport to approve capacity works in Manchester. Transport for the North as calling again for those works to be approved. HADRAG has also written (again) to the Secretary of State (see inside). We say that whoever is running the trains must be charged producing a timetable that works, and using imaginative solutions to give our line its fair share of benefits. —JSW

Brighouse Pacers dodge axe

With delayed introduction of new trains, the hated Pacers, 1980s bus bodies on a rail wagon, have a short stay of execution. Routes still blessed with these heritage vehicles include the Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield shuttle, until spring 2020. “Enjoy” them while you can! Meanwhile, the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Wigan route, now denied modern Class 170 “Turbostars” (our loss is Bridlington-Sheffield’s gain) will soldier on with 3-car “158+sprinter” combo units, meaning poorer acceleration and lower maximum speed, as well as poorer design than a 170 for getting people on and off in quick time.

Performance plummets as new trains enter service

NORTHERN’s new Class 195s entered CV line service on 21 October, nine trains planned to cover nine “diagrams” meaning almost all Leeds-Manchester/ Chester services. Maybe this was over-ambitious. What about extras for peak-hour strengthening, as the new trains can not be coupled on to the old ones? The expectation was new trains on our line would be at least three cars but on the first day a post on the HADRAG Facebook page reported the 1719 Manchester-Leeds, usually a 3-car “158”, had been just a 2 car “195”, with people standing all the way to Hebden Bridge. A 195 has no more seats than an equivalent 158. Standing space should be more comfortable, but if peak-hour strengthening does not happen people are going to be very cross.

Performance took a dive in late October— too many delays and cancellations, how much directly due to the new trains not entirely clear, but there were door problems and other issues. That said, the 195s seem reasonably well designed with a light ambience, a good number of tables (if you can get to one) to work at or look out of the window, and wide vestibules for quick boarding and alighting. 3-pin sockets tucked between seats annoyingly lack USB points, so you have to carry charger as well as cable. We are told this could be rectified in later units. Litter bins are not easy to find and look rather small. And just one toilet for three carriage is no easy fix.

New Trains Down Our Way

YES, that’s a brand new train taking the curve into Halifax, snapped from Shaw Lane bridge in July. That was a trial run, but now the “Class 195s” are in service on Manchester and Chester trains, and expected on the Blackpool route in December.

Entry to service was not without hitch. We hope causes of recent delays and cancellations across Calder Valley services (not just the new trains) will be quickly resolved.

We also trust there will be enough extra carriages to relieve overcrowding. The benefits of a new modern will be lost on passengers who are still crammed like sardines.

And we’ve asked for the new trains on the Leeds-Manchester -Wigan service that goes through Brighouse. This route was promised modern (albeit second hand) Turbostar trains from Scotland but these have gone to the Bridlington-Sheffield route instead. It’s not good enough for the Brighouse line to struggle on with older sprinter-type trains when higher performance units would be better suited to a pattern of frequent stops.

Timetable development is a major issue. The railway collectively finds itself unable to keep promises such as extra trains on our line including ones to the south side of Manchester. Instead of bringing comprehensive improvements the December timetable looks like a kick in the teeth for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd station users who lose most of their trains to York and Blackpool. Northern have made changes to repair some of the damage, but we fight on for a better deal for the whole line.

Read our recent paper with reasonable demands for improvement and realistic ideas for implementation at this link.

With the future of the train company in doubt, we are pressing West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Metro) and Transport for the North to come up with a strategy to provide the comprehensive, modern, reliable Calder Valley line service that the Northern franchise was supposed to deliver.

New Trains Worry

We’ve been seeing lot of aging “Pacers” recently, whilst waiting patiently for the brand new trains promised to be on Calder Valley services this year. The new “Class 195s” have been under test and a problem has been found with couplings. We gather the engineers have a solution but it means further delay. This follows disappointment that the “Class 170” trains from Scotland, second hand but pleasantly modern, are not now likely to be deployed on the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester route. As far as we know officially the Pacers are still expected to go by the end of this year, and the brand new trains should come our way.

Hell to pay if they don’t arrive! Again, we are pressing Northern for confirmation of intent.

 

Header Image: “A spanking new 195 113” flickr photo by 70023venus2009 https://flickr.com/photos/70023venus2009/40723003743 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license