Mytholmroyd (in picture) and Sowerby Bridge should be getting all York-Blackpool trains stopping when the May 2018 timetable plan is implemented (which may not be May 2018!). Worryingly, however, both stations were threatened in the draft timetable with losing Sunday services to/from Manchester as well as late night trains back in the week—unintended consequences of the service specification in the franchise agreement. We are more hopeful Sowerby Bridge will see improvement by December 2019 when the “Northern Connect” regional express brand is launched. Sowerby Bridge is to be an NC-designated station, and we are told all NC trains should stop there even though this would go beyond the franchise specification. We’ve asked Northern to clarify their intentions and we’ll let you know!
Northern Connect stations will also get “full staffing”, which is starting to sound something like a proper booking office. Mytholmroyd and Brighouse are meant to get for partial staffing, the meaning of which will doubtless become clear. When its big new car park is complete Northern may discover that Mytholmroyd needs more trains! Brighouse certainly deserves better.
Campaigners in HADRAG, the Halifax & District Rail Action Group, are calling for Elland to be next new railway station in West Yorkshire following opening of Low Moor earlier this month. We want the Northern train operator (Arriva Rail North) and Network Rail (who oversee tracks and timetables) to declare their commitment to Elland station and ensure provision is made for trains to stop in new timetables planned for the next 2-3 years. Meanwhile we continue to argue for a better deal for Calder Valley stations currently missed out by “semi-fast” or “express” services. We say Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge deserve something more like the service level and quality enjoyed by Hebden Bridge and Todmorden. More below:
Low Moor station is on the Calder Valley Line between Halifax and Bradford. HADRAG joined with other groups including the Bradford rail users (BRUG), and the Friends of Low Moor Station (FOLMS) in celebrating the first trains at Low Moor station on the first Sunday in April (02/04/17). Low Moor is served by hourly trains on the Leeds-Bradford-Halifax-Brighouse-Huddersfield route. It also has intercity services to London operated by the Grand Central open access operator. With the other groups, HADRAG wants to see a better service at the new station and we hope a Manchester service can be arranged to stop every hour by the end of 2019.
December 2019 is the second of two big timetable change dates when services are expected to be transformed under the Northern trains franchise under Arriva. By then Bradford-Manchester should have 3 trains/hour (compared with 2/hour at present) and we say that should be an opportunity to boost the service at intermediate stations, not just provide an extra fast train that misses out a lot of stops.
If increasing usage is the measure (Office of Road and Rail station usage statistics, 2016), Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge should be the Calder Valley Line’s top two stations. (See also our newsletter piece: Two Cinderella stations again top table!)
Usage of Sowerby Bridge station has risen steadily and now stands at 392,000 passengers/year, an increase of 132% on ten years ago. Although passenger numbers are historically higher at Hebden and Tod, their ten-year percentage increase is somewhat less than Sowerby Bridge’s. Sowerby Bridge station serves not just the town itself but also the Ryburn valley and the eastern side of Luddendenfoot. This represents a catchment area of more than 20,000 population, and probably more than that of Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined. Yet the basic half-hourly service at Sowerby Bridge is only about half the frequency enjoyed by the upper valley stations. HADRAG continues to argue that all of the York-Blackpool semi-fast trains should call at Sowerby Bridge (at present just a few do at peak hours). We also say that when an extra service every hour is introduced between Bradford and Manchester at the end of 2019, that train should also serve Sowerby Bridge.
Brighouse line – and Elland! Brighouse has an even better case for more trains, but apart from some increase to peak hour and Sunday services to be introduced by May 2018, little extra seems to be promised for Brighouse under the Northern franchise. This is in stark contrast to Halifax, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden on the Bradford-Manchester route which will benefit from “Northern Connect” branded regional express services by 2019. Like Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse serves a population covering at least two local council wards – 20,000 plus. The ORR’s figures show a ten-year increase of 476% at Brighouse station which now sees footfall of over 400,000 entries and exits annually. No better than Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse’s best local service frequency is hourly on each of two routes (Leeds-Brighouse-Todmorden-Manchester and Leeds-Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield). The Sunday service is at present 2-hourly (on the Bradford route only); the commitment is to increase this to hourly. HADRAG has been pressing for a speed-up of the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester trains which we say should also run on Sundays. We hope that changes to stopping patterns may see these trains running semi-fast west of Todmorden in the next year or so. A few peak-hour trains on the Brighouse-Manchester route are planned to run non-stop Rochdale-Manchester from December 2017. We do not yet know whether this will become the pattern for all of these trains. Beyond 2019 and Northern’s initial franchise commitments we hope that the Brighouse-Leeds service will also be improved with fast or semi-fast operation. Non-stop running time Brighouse-Leeds is about 17 minutes but the current stopping service takes double this time. This is very much an area where we expect the train operator to deliver beyond its basic franchise commitment.
Which brings us to Elland, one of the top three sites in the West and North Yorkshire new stations study (now getting on for three years ago). The October 2014 Atkins report forecast demand at Elland as 240,000 annually. In the latest feasibility studies, consultants report a strong business case and confirm the buildability of an impressive-looking new station on the strategic site next to the A629 and Lowfields. HADRAG believes this could work well as a park and ride serving the whole “Greater Elland” settlement – again, a population of 20,000 plus. We understand the money for building Elland station (price-tag maybe £14 million) could come from West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund, though there may be further hoops to jump before that can happen.
And the train timetable must be designed to allow trains to stop at Elland. So HADRAG calls on the Northern train operator (Arriva Rail North) and on Network Rail to declare their commitment now to operating Elland station with a good train service. Every local train that stops at Brighouse must also stop at Elland! There looks to be slack in the current timetable to allow that to happen but obviously with major timetable recasts in May 2018 and December 2019 that allowance must also be built in for the future. Faster line speeds on the Bradford-Manchester route and hopefully a semi-fast pattern for the Brighouse-Manchester trains should make this easier. The railway – train operators and infrastructure managers – should commit to this without further delay or equivocation. What’s to stop them? HADRAG is clear that after massively successful Apperley Bridge and Kirkstall Forge, and now Low Moor:
Network Rail say rail passenger numbers have doubled nationally over 20 years and will double again by 2041. But the top stations on our line can better that! Halifax station usage has doubled in just 10 years. Latest batch of station usage estimates from the Office of Rail and Road reinforce previous years’ results. ORR’s estimates are based on ticket sales. Refinements of methodology over the years mean caution is required when identifying trends. But some trends are clearly significant.
We have again done our homework on the ORR spreadsheet and calculated increases in estimated footfall over the last ten years (up to last spring), as well as the latest year-on-year figures. Our Calder Valley Line (CVL) table is ranked by 10-year growth, and once again Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge come out top. Brighouse has had another growth spurt (8.1% over last year), consolidating a spectacular 476% over ten years. Sowerby Bridge may have levelled off slightly this time — sign of demand starting to be suppressed by service limitations? — but 132% over ten years is still double the national average. These are of course our “Cinderella” stations; they serve medium-size towns comparable with Todmorden and Hebden Bridge but have significantly fewer trains. As we keep telling people, better services at Brighouse and Sowerby are surely overdue.
10-year growth exceeds the national average at all Calder Valley stations within West Yorkshire except Walsden and Mytholmroyd, the latter a significant village halt where untapped potential may emerge when the new car park opens. Overall, CVL stations are a little behind national growth figures, more significantly so on the latest year-on-year results. Again, is this the limitations of provided service suppressing demand?
Walsden is interesting with a sudden apparent spurt against declining trend. Look also at New Pudsey where morning peak trains regularly leave passengers behind. And Bramley, third from the top, last station before Leeds (but compare with Moston at the other end of the line). Any theories?
CVL station usage statistics: entries and exits
(extracted from Office of Road and Rail station usage estimates, December 2016 – growth calculations added for HADRAG by JSW)
The unloved”Pacer”at Brighouse will be gone by 2019. What will replace it? Great news that under the new Arriva franchise most Calderdale stations will see brand new trains on “Northern Connect”services to York, Blackpool, Liverpool, Chester and Manchester Airport. But it looks like Northern Connect will bypass Brighouse. On the plus side,
Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester stopping trains are expected to be extended to Southport and should get millennium-vintage “Turbostar”trains in 2-3 years time. The promise is that everything not new will be refurbished to top modern quality with free wi-fi, and improved access and toilets. Expect 30 year-old”Sprinters”looking like new-it’s not impossible!
HADRAG, the group that fought to get brighouse station reopened 16 years ago has released a report advocating a better deal. Capacity around Huddersfield and Mirfield prevents new operator Arriva from increasing services along the Brighouse line. But HADRAG says the Manchester trains should be speeded up as”semi-fasts”exploiting Turbostar performance. Longer term we want track authority Network Rail to build in extra capacity as it electrifies the Huddersfield line so that more trains can run through Brighouse to Huddersfield, Mirfield and beyond. HADRAG has always said a fast Brighouse-Mirfield-Leeds train could cut journey time from 35 to 20 minutes. And the Brighouse Line timetable must be designed to include stops at planned Elland station.
Sowerby Bridge also has a good case for more trains. HADRAG argues all York-Blackpool”Northern Connects” should stop there, plus the extra Manchester-Bradford trains due to start in 2019. We believe our ideas are sensible and achievable. And we believe Arriva, Rail North and the other “powers that be”are listening to us.
Many of the trains that do not stop at Sowerby Bridge have the same timing Hebden Bridge to Halifax as ones that do stop. The non-stoppers often have a couple of minutes “performance allowance” in the schedule. In theory most if not all could all stop, but don’t because of “performance risk”. This service has to hit time slots over complex junctions at Preston, Leeds and York, so the train operator wants some slack in the timings to meet punctuality targets. We understand that. But in our report we also say the new timetable to be introduced at the end of 2017 could and should be designed so that all the Blackpool-York expresses do serve Sowerby Bridge. This has been half-promised in the past and it’s time to deliver. We also think a few more of these trains could serve Mytholmroyd.
By 2019 there will be an extra train every hour on weekdays between Bradford and Manchester—through to the Airport. We say this should also serve Sowerby Bridge.
These reasonable, achievable proposals would double daytime service frequency at Sowerby Bridge during the week, responding to clear latent demand. ORR figures show passengers at Sowerby Bridge increased by 115% between 2006/7 and 2014/15, beating all other Calder Valley Line stations apart from Brighouse.