How about a train that could get you from Brighouse to Sheffield in 50 minutes?

Independent research group Greengauge 21 published a report last winter proposing upgrades and new stations along a broadly defined Sheffield-Leeds corridor. For which read Sheffield not just to Leeds but also to York via Wakefield and Castleford, and – in a second stage – to Bradford via the Calder Valley line. Greengauge say some of the proposals are almost ready to go, and the hope or even expectation is that much could be completed within a decade. (Sheffield-Leeds: What’s Next? Greengage 21, December 2022 – Interim rail improvements for the Yorkshire economy – Greengauge 21)

The idea is also that – with uncertainty about high speed proposals certainly not decreasing – we need to develop improved services over existing routes. We can not wait a whole generation – maybe more – for services to be upgraded. Existing passengers need to be able to see benefits – including new services that will attract new passengers. It’s not just about connecting the big cities.

HADRAG is particularly excited by the Bradford-Sheffield proposal. We flatter ourselves that we suggested it first about 20 years ago! Reopening of the Crigglestone curve would be required – a line from Horbury, by the former station, that connected with the Wakefield-Barnsley route and carried a summer Saturday Bradford-Weymouth train until the late 1980s, when it was closed after the “Five Curves” hearings. Three of the curves reopened with Brighouse station in May 2000. The Crigglestone curve is still there, not built on. It would undoubtedly need some work to restore but the benefits for Bradford, Halifax and the lower Calder valley would be massive.

Greengauge’s map shows how the Bradford-Sheffield service would fit geographically. Note new station proposed “Ossett & Horbury”, actually in Horbury but providing for the biggest town in Yorkshire without trains, could also be served by services from Manchester, Huddersfield and the Calder Valley to Wakefield and beyond.

Greengauge suggests trains from Bradford could serve Low Moor, Halifax, Brighouse, Mirfield and Horbury before running fast to Barnsley, Meadowhall and Sheffield. We have already pointed out that Elland should be added to the list of calls. Greengauge’s director, Jim Steer, did not disagree! The table shows our estimates (not Greengauge’s) of journey times.

Looking on National Rail’s journey planner for Brig house to Sheffield times revealed what a complex journey this is under present service patterns. The Greengauge proposal would provide an hourly through train taking 50 minutes.

The benefits for Bradford are not quite as great but the proposed service avoids the need to change at Leeds, or have a through service that would require reversal in Leeds – with timetabling complications.

Big Benefits

The big benefits of the proposed service are definitely for Halifax, lower Calderdale, Mirfield and Horbury/Ossett.

Halifax-Sheffield would be only fractionally more than an hour. Elland and Brig house’s position on the national rail map would be strengthened. Connections to East Midlands, Birmingham and the South West would be eased, avoiding the oft-heard complaint “We don’t want to go by train because you have to go the long way round via Leeds.”

Further development could extend the through service from Bradford beyond Sheffield, maybe to Leicester. The whole proposal would be highly beneficial for stations in Calderdale, Kirklees (Mirfield) and Wakefield (Horbury for Ossett) districts. It would provide access to the massive potential of towns such as Barnsley, and of course direct access from South Yorkshire to the business and leisure attraction of south-west Yorkshire. Barnsley to Halifax Piece Hall in under three quarters of an hour!

As we said, Bradford-Sheffield is in the second phase of Greengauge’s proposals.

The first phase would involve immediate action to provide:

  • Second hourly fast service Leeds-Sheffield via Wakefield Westgate, on the opposite half-hour to Cross Country’s long-distance service to the South West – thought to be an existing ambition of Northern Trains.
  • New Rotherham main line station, located to offer connections with the Sheffield tram-trains and buses (which we reckon also means a new tram station). The new station could be served by trains on Leeds and Doncaster to Sheffield, Manchester and cross-country routes. It would not be on our slightly more aspirational Bradford-Barnsley-Sheffield route.
  • Extension of London St Pancras to Sheffield trains via Barnsley and Wakefield Kirkgate to York via
    • Castleford. Potential here to maximise benefits of current work to provide a second platform at Castleford. As always, an alternative could be (yet) another service to Leeds.

Phase 2 – initiate planning – alongside Bradford-Sheffield, proposes a new link from Sheffield for Manchester Airport, plus examination of extending the new Leeds-Sheffield fast to Birmingham. Is the Airport link of more or less net benefit than a new service Bradford-Sheffield with a new station for Ossett, and major improvements to regional connectivity?

Phase 3 is headed renew investigations for things like infill electrification Sheffield-Doncaster/Leeds – surely essential! – plus relieving capacity constraints north of Sheffield’s Midland station.

This matches our ambitions – but is it realistic?

So how could the Greengauge 21 proposals tie in with HADRAG’s ambitions for the Calder Valley line, not least doubling of frequency on the Elland/Brighouse line? Going beyond faults in the present timetable such as the obvious need for all Manchester and Blackpool trains to stop at Sowerby Bridge we have called for a doubling of frequency at Elland and Brighouse. All three local stations just mentioned serve populations comparable with the two main upper valley stations combined but have little if any more than half the service level. So we want more trains Halifax and Sowerby Bridge to Elland, Brighouse and beyond.

(And all upper Calderdale trains should serve Sowerby Bridge!)

Additional Calder Valley trains could go to Wakefield, Castleford (using the newly constructed platform) and York. Not everyone wants to go to Leeds! (But Leeds would be an alternative destination.) Another might take longer to develop but could go via Horbury and Barnsley to Meadowhall and Sheffield (maybe beyond) a la Greengauge 21.

So, in one model, a future service pattern at Elland and Brighouse could be

  • 2 trains/hr to Halifax and Bradford
  • 2 trains/hr to upper Calderdale, alternating Manchester and east Lancs, Preston etc
  • 1 train/hr (at least) to Huddersfield
  • At least 2 trains/hr eastwards via existing routes, at least 1 to Leeds but maybe 1/hr to Wakefield, Castleford and York
  • 1 train/hr to Bradford to Sheffield, maybe Leicester via Mirfield, Horbury, Barnsley and Meadowhall.
  • Intercity services less frequently, at least the present 4 trains/day Grand Central to London.

Will it ever happen? Greengauge’s suggested Bradford-Sheffield service would massively benefit Halifax and lower Calder valley stations – a huge improvement for Brighouse (and Elland). We shall keep up the argument with train operators, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Transport for the North and local representatives and MPs. We can not wait for high-speed proposals which will not clearly benefit our line. We need action this decade. – JSW

Journey Times: how long would our train take?

The following times for a through service are HADRAG’s estimates. Existing times quoted are for outward times on a weekday morning.

Time (minutes)
from Bradfordto SheffieldTypical Existing times to Sheffield for Comparison
Bradford Interchange007583 to 87 min (change at Leeds – note 1)
Low Moor0669
Halifax126395 to 100 min (change at Leeds – note 2)
Brighouse255082 to 120 mins via. Leeds (faster using GC train – note 2)
Mirfield324384 to 120 mins via. Leeds (faster using GC train – note 2)
Horbury for Ossett4035not applicable (proposed new station)

Note 1 – through train via Leeds (with train reversal) could take around 70 min, dependant on stops and pathing. Note 2 – faster times available when Grand Central gives connection at Wakefield Kirkgate e.g. on mid-morning train from Hfx 84 min, Brighs 70min, Mirfield 62min to Sheffield; but remember GC only runs 4 trains/day. Finding good times from Brighouse and Mirfield to Sheffield was a challenge! The 82 min quoted from Brighouse allows less than the recommended 10 minutes to change in Leeds. Some search results involved doubling back at Huddersfield or Dewsbury. Present Brighouse-Huddersfield trains do not connect with Huddersfield-Penistone- Sheffield trains – unless you consider a wait of almost an hour a connection!

Further factor is current suspension of Huddersfield-Wakefield service: when this service runs, journey time (change at Wakefield Kirkgate) is about 84 minutes Mirfield-Sheffield. Restoration of Huddersfield-Wakefield is expected, possibly in Dec’23, and possibly in a different form operated by TransPennine Express.

Header Image: “Sheffield city centre from Park Hill” flickr photo by Ulleskelf shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license