Good news update! Quality commuter train to start from Halifax in bid to relieve overcrowding

 

UPDATE DECEMBER 2016: Good news of relief for at least some Calderdale-Leeds commuters, thanks to efforts by train operator Northern working with sister company Grand Central.  Halifax is to get an extra weekday morning train to Bradford and Leeds when new timetables start on Monday December 12th. The new Northern service will be formed of a 5-carriage Grand Central train that already comes empty through Halifax to form the 0744 Bradford-Leeds service that has run since July (see our original newsletter story below).

The extra train will start from Halifax at 0728 arriving in Leeds soon after 0805. It should give people a welcome and attractive alternative to the overcrowded 0720 and 0734.These two services (respectively the 0659 from Huddersfield via Brighouse and the 0636 from Manchester via upper Calderdale) were both cut from four carriages to two last summer when Northern had to replan its rolling stock deployment in the wake of a rolling stock “grab” involving three train operating companies. As we understand it decent trains that had been operated by TransPennine Express were reallocated southwards so Chiltern Railway could expand services. This meant some equally decent trains on loan from TPE to Northern in the north-west had to go back to TPE. Which left Northern short. As soon as we heard they were going to run the Grand Central train on a Bradford-Leeds service, HADRAG started pressing Northern to start the service further back along Calder Valley Line. So it’s good news that the proposal, after a period of industry consultation (it seems these things are never a formality), looks to have borne fruit.

Given that Northern’s loss seems to be Chiltern’s gain, we are not sure what the fall-out would be if people on the latter operator’s new service from Oxford to Marylebone had to endure the conditions of our lines Leeds and Manchester commuters.

The new Halifax-Leeds train which will have free wifi, extra legroom and – top-tip! – a first class coach at no extra cost! Although the train starts at Halifax, passengers from Brighouse and upper Calderdale will also benefit indirectly with less crammed conditions on their trains. Hopefully a few people may also transfer from the 0749 from Halifax, a Blackpool-York service that has seen some sardine-can conditions that are surely unacceptable.

We’re under no illusion that this is a complete solution, and nor, we trust, are train operators Northern who are in a seemingly impossible position for peak capacity until new rolling stock arrives. Running as it already does from Bradford, the GC train has built up quite a following is and is fairly full by Bramley; but getting on at Halifax at 0728 you’ll have first choice for a seat. Advertised arrival time in Leeds is 0807 (Tuesday-Friday) but 5 minutes later on Mondays when our train has to cede a path to a freight train going through Leeds. The service is expected to run at least until December 2017.

We could really do with some even more imaginative thinking to help commuters on other crammed services including the aforementioned 0749 from Halifax. Local train operating franchisee Northern (Arriva Rail North Ltd) and the open-access operator Grand Central, who are operate the new train on Northern’s behalf, are of course sister companies under the German-owned (but North East England based) Arriva group. The GC “Class 180” unit that works the extra service to Leeds then operates the mid-morning Grand Central service from Bradford, Halifax and Brighouse to London.

Original story from Autumn 2016 Halifax & District RAIL VIEWS (October): 

Bradford Interchange, weekday morning, about 0740. At platform 1 (left), the 0752 Grand Central (GC) train to London (calling Halifax and Brighouse on the way). Meanwhile on P2 lucky commuters board another GC “Class 180” with its intercity seats, plenteous toilets, free wi-fi, and “operated by Northern” window stickers. This is the 0744 extra train to Leeds, and Northern hires the roomy 5-car “180” (which goes to London later in the morning) from its “sister” Arriva company. It’s a tactic that responds to a rolling stock shortage and peak-hour overcrowding that’s marred the first six months of the new Northern (Arriva Rail North) train operating franchise.

In July the TransPennine Express franchise lost some good modern trains down south to Chiltern under the Department for Transport’s “let the market decide” rolling stock policy. Northern had to return some other nice carriages that it was using on  services in the North West back to TPE, requiring to major train replanning to cope.

On our line the two Leeds commuter trains at 0720 and 0734 from Halifax have been cut from four carriages to two. The 0734 now sees intolerable crush-loading between Bradford and Leeds, as does the following 0749 from Halifax, a Blackpool-York train which should be 3-car (but sometimes is only two). Here’s one of many comments from a HADRAG regular on the 0749:

“Three carriages but horrendous today. Stood up all way to Leeds… 22 standing in my carriage from Halifax… everybody managed to get on at Bradford but we were then full… counted 80 on platform at New Pudsey and very few managed to squeeze on… one bloke running along [platform] desperate. Late at Leeds due to time it takes to get people on and persuade others to give up trying and stand clear of the doors.”

The 0744 Bradford-Leeds “GC train” has developed a following. We’ve seen it quite full by Bramley, but with some seats free and a few “optional standees”. It is limited help for Calderdale passengers. Yet GC’s “empty stock” from depot comes non-stop through Brighouse and Halifax. So, HADRAG suggested, why couldn’t the GC train could pick up on its way or even start further up the Calder Valley? These things are never easy with “pathing” issues and the need to taxi a GC conductor to the right place. But if this nice train could be judiciously timed to start at Brighouse, or maybe even Hebden Bridge, it could spread demand between Halifax and Leeds and ease intolerable crowding on the 0734 and 0749. However they do it,  Northern need more carriages for Calderdale commuters now. We can’t wait till 2019! – JSW

Advertisements

A better class of cast-off!

These ScotRail “TurboStar” Class 170 diesel trains built around 15 years ago are a lot more modern than most of what currently runs on the Calder Valley Line.  We hear that they could be taking over Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Southport services (along with the Harrogate Line) in a couple of year’s time, displaced by Scotland’s electrification programme. So is this another case of Northern England having to make do with cast-offs, this time from further north rather than down south?

Such a view would be unfair. Arriva promises that, whilst acquiring 281 brand-new carriages, they will refurbish all older units as new. This means modernising, complete with free wi-fi and compliant access, not just any 1999-2005 vintage Turbostars, but also our ancient Class 150s that in their present state really are a step back into the grim
1980s. (That such transformation is possible has been demonstrated by South West Trains with its 30-year old Class 455 electrics.) Our guess is that”150s”will still be running Leeds-Halifax-Huddersfield services in five years time but there is every reason to hope they will look and feel much more like modern trains. They will keep one current advantage
doors part way along the carriage to facilitate quicker boarding and alighting at busy times compared with later”super sprinter”and “express”types. The 170s also have the doors advantage, plus higher power that HADRAG hopes will help improve journey times on the Brighouse-Manchester route.

Of course the really good news for all Calderdale stations apartfrom Brighouse-is that most trains via Bradford and Halifax will become Northern Connect services employing brand new”Civity”Class 195 trains being built in Spain”as we speak”, to quote Northern boss Alex Hynes. We expect the 195s to have all mod cons including tables, leg room and a decent view out of the window!

Rolling Stock Roundup

Pictured mid-August – the first Vivarail D-train carriage, converted from a decades-old “cast-off” London Underground car, ready for a trip round a Warwickshire test track.  We couldn’t resist the chance to muck about on a “new” (?!) train and so joined an invited party of stakeholders to look at work in  progress. Low-emission diesel engines have been fitted, and a new strengthened cab. Inside, it still felt very much like a London “Tube”, with District Line blue moquette replaced by a duller grey. There were mock-ups to look round of innovative modern interiors more suited to longer trips. It will be good to see these in service. The test-track demo was a pretty good ride at maximum speed of maybe 35mph (though we were advised to remain seated at one point). It could go at 60 in service. Faster than the usual 45 max on the District Line. Slower than a Pacer or Sprinter, but with better acceleration. Could the D-train replace Pacers in the North? Surely not. The bidders for the Northern franchise have made such decisions by now and the D-train is some months away from useful evaluation. A 3-car prototype should enter service on the Plymouth-Gunnislake branch next Spring. Scenic branch lines in the South West of England or elsewhere could just suit this train, with its good views out of the window hopefully improved by upgraded seating. Overall it’s a laudable re-engineering of a train that is too good to just throw away.

On the Calder Valley D-trains just wouldn’t do. We hope to receive a share of the 120 brand-new carriages required by the franchise specification for non-electrified routes, and speculate hopefully that these proper new trains could be used on a network of regional express routes including our York-Blackpool and future services to Chester and Manchester Airport. The franchisee will also have to refurbish all existing stock to modern standards, provide a significant increase in capacity and banish Pacer units by 2020. Interestingly, however, the Porterbrook train leasing company’s prototype refurbished Pacer is expected to be trialled on Northern lines as we write this. Well-tested in the North, Pacers could yet come out of retirement down south, slightly redressing the balance!

Meanwhile the North West continues to go electric as 25-year old Class 319 units from Thameslink, refurbished to look like new (well nearly), provide a lot more seats on routes from Liverpool to Manchester Airport, Wigan etc. The 319s are 10 years older and significantly less powerful than certain other electric trains in the North, including Class 323s which work existing Manchester electric routes and the 333s (pictured front page) that work the Airedale and Wharfedale lines. Now we hear that Northern’s 323s will likely go to the Midlands in the next few years and it’s obvious 319s would struggle to maintain timings on routes such as the tightly scheduled Glossop line. After the removal of TransPennine Express Class 170 diesels to Chiltern Railways, it sounds like the Northern Powerhouse could be suffering a Northern Power Loss. Oh dear!