Dark and Dieselly!

The modern canopy at Manchester Vic is no preparation for platforms where some commuters  complain of dirt and diesel fumes.  Of the canopy: “Looks great,” emailed one of our  commuters, “Although I can see that it isn’t getting cleaned. But Platforms 3 to 6 under the Arena are pretty grim.  It might help if they cleaned the lights but there is so much dirt and diesel fumes around the bridge that it’s unpleasant to cross over above the platforms and possibly a health hazard. I have seen several people hold scarves over their faces presumably to avoid breathing in the muck in the air. The other day one woman suggested that people should complain and demand air quality tests. To avoid the smog you can walk to the east end of the platforms where there’s an open-air, but slightly decrepit footbridge. The air feels more breathable there but it’s not a pretty route.  Did they run out of money when they refurbished? It feels like only half a job was done.”  Victoria’s dark and dieselly through platforms will be used more and more by CV line passengers when almost all of our trains go through to the Airport, Chester and Southport. Most trains at the now-electrified station are still diesel. Surely the air quality argument  strengthens the case for more electrification so we see dirty diesels phased out.

Image: “142036 – Manchester Victoria” flickr photo by Gene Hunt https://flickr.com/photos/raver_mikey/15803930143 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

 

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Summer update: Part 2 – Elland station good news. Ambitious transport hub is another reason to upgrade Brighouse Line timetable!

 

Low Moor 153 edited
Huddersfield-York Sunday train calls at Low Moor station on the recent new station’s first day. In not too many years time this train should also serve Elland. Time for an update on this summer’s good news:

HADRAG welcomes this summer’s major step forward in planning Elland station as an ambitious transport hub, and calls for the Northern train operator to rise to the challenge of upgrading train services on the line. We say with a decent timetable Elland-Leeds by train could take just over 20 minutes. MORE BELOW…

Elland map

In June the combined authority’s West Yorkshire and York investment committee recommended allocation of up to £22million from the West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund (WY+TF) to an ambitious project that should make the new station at Elland a local transport hub, with pedestrian, bus, park & ride and cycle links, by 2022.

This is a major step forward for Elland, the town that has been waiting for its own railway station since Brighouse opened 17 years ago. The scheme will now move forward towards the next hurdle, outline business case, which should be completed by the end of next year. By then the project will have achieved what Network Rail calls “GRIP 4” – single option development, with detailed design (GRIP 5) following over the next two years.

The £22M (which includes allowance for 20% overrun in delivery costs) buys considerably more than just a simple train station. The key elements of the ambitious  project are:

  • The new station itself, located at Lowfields Way. This would be next to the big “figure of eight” roundabout off the A629 bypass road;
  • Pedestrian, cycle and public realm improvements to link the new station to Elland town centre as well as to surrounding areas of planned employment and housing growth;
  • New footbridge over the River Calder. This will link to the Calder Valley Greenway on the canal bank (Route 66). It will also give good links to the station from the north and west where the Local Plan suggests significant housing growth. Current employers in the area could also benefit with opportunities for “intensification” of activity;
  • New bus infrastructure to enable bus-train interchange at the station, providing sustainable access from a wider catchment area; and
  • Dedicated station car park and highway access to bring in park & ride to bring in passengers from existing and new housing area around the periphery of the town.

This sounds very much like the sort of local transport hub that HADRAG called for just four years ago after we held our 2013 annual meeting in Elland .

We understand the car park could be built on two levels, and hope bus operators will be persuaded to provide services linking the station and all the surrounding communities. Sustainable commuting and leisure also look to be encouraged by the scheme. We look forward to being able to access the station on foot or with a bike from the canalside “green” route.

The station also has an obvious potential role in hospital transport for staff, patients and visitors. Could shuttle buses linking the two NHS sites at Calderdale (Salterhebble) and Huddersfield (Lindley) be developed to call at Elland station?

In terms of the local community, HADRAG says Elland station, with good park & ride and sustainable transport links should be seen as serving not just Elland itself but also Greetland and Stainland, a total “Greater Elland” population of more than 20,000. As such the station will have a catchment as populous as the areas served by stations like Brighouse or Sowerby Bridge. In fact we reckon any one of Sowerby Bridge, Elland or Brighouse stations potentially serves as big a population as the two main upper Calderdale stations – Todmorden and Hebden Bridge – combined.

Upper valley-Elland-Brighouse rail corridor: we hope for timetable improvements!

But of course Todmorden and Hebden Bridge, along with Halifax, currently have almost double the train service level of either Sowerby Bridge or Brighouse. Sowerby Bridge (and Mytholmroyd) should see some improvement next year with the Blackpool-York trains stopping. We really hope Northern will build on that at the end of 2019 when the next big timetable recast comes. And of course HADRAG continues to argue the case with train operator Northern for a better deal for the Brighouse corridor. In our response to Northern’s timetable plans we have specifically asked for future timetables to include make allowance for all trains that currently stop at Brighouse also to serve Elland. We have also want the Manchester-Rochdale-Brighouse-Leeds “valley bottom service” to run later at night and on Sundays, something that does not, so far, seem to feature in Northern’s plans.

As an ambitious transport hub, Elland station will be another reason to upgrade the timetable. Opening 22 years after neighbouring Brighouse, the new station may still seem frustratingly in the future. But at least by 2022 we hope there may be further timetable improvements. Under the existing service patterns, Elland would be served by hourly trains on the Manchester-Brighouse-Leeds and Huddersfield-Bradford-Leeds routes, effectively an hourly stopping service to key destinations. We have joined our colleagues in the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group in calling for a service from the upper Calder Valley to Huddersfield, meeting commuting, educational and other sources of demand. That would give an additional service along the Sowerby Bridge-Elland-Brighouse corridor. But we also need better services Elland/Brighouse-Leeds.

Potential for fast journey to Leeds

We want Northern, Network Rail and their train planners to rise to the challenge of providing an upgraded timetable for Elland/Brighouse rail corridor. It probably needs some capacity improvements in the Huddersfield and Mirfield area as well as a more ambitious approach by the train operator.

Finally, HADRAG has repeatedly, over may years, pointed out the potential to speed up trains on the direct Brighouse-Dewsbury-Leeds route. At present Brighouse-Leeds takes about 34 minutes, calling at nearly all stations. So that would be 37-38 minutes from Elland. A fast service, with maybe just intermediate stop, would easily cut the Brighouse-Leeds journey to 20 minutes. So stations all the way up the valley would get a Leeds service that could be 10-15 minutes faster than at present. Elland-Leeds could be about 23 minutes.

What could go wrong? One complication is the TransPennine Route Upgrade. This is the project that was meant to include Huddersfield Line electrification, though it sounds increasingly as though it may not. With or without electrification there is likely to be upgrade work to improve capacity that will mean diversions of TransPennine Express via the Calder Valley line while the work is going on. The plan seems to be that this will be completed before Elland opens. Fingers crossed, then. -JSW

Elland next!

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 opening 2017.04.02
First call by a Northern service at brand new Low Moor Station, Sunday 2 April 2017. This 0832 Sunday train to Halifax comes back as a York service at 0852. Weekday services start earlier!  HADRAG says the next new station in West Yorkshire has got to be Elland.

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:

It’s got to be Elland next!

– JSW

P1040956
Low Moor, Sunday 2nd April 2016. First train to call at the new station was actually the 0802 Grand Central service to London King’s Cross here seen accelerating away with passengers onboard enjoying the historic moment. Northern’s first local service followed half an hour later.

Two Cinderella stations again top table!

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)
Year on year growth Growth over 10 years
2005-06 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 13/14-14/15 14/15-15/16 05/06-15/16 Mean/y
Brighouse 72,229 371,666 384,922 416,094 3.6% 8.1% 476.1% 19.1%
Sowerby Bridge 168,942 351,652 383,844 391,766 9.2% 2.1% 131.9% 8.8%
Bramley 154,249 317,132 305,580 315,342 -3.6% 3.2% 104.4% 7.4%
Halifax 978,225 1,912,798 1,935,764 1,982,148 1.2% 2.4% 102.6% 7.3%
Hebden Bridge 385,768 739,112 764,354 756,508 3.4% -1.0% 96.1% 7.0%
Todmorden 311,986 548,152 563,920 585,310 2.9% 3.8% 87.6% 6.5%
New Pudsey 475,591 763,666 844,046 891,062 10.5% 5.6% 87.4% 6.5%
Rochdale 641,487 1,059,282 1,098,630 1,134,418 3.7% 3.3% 76.8% 5.9%
Littleborough 223,821 368,598 380,786 391,896 3.3% 2.9% 75.1% 5.8%
Castleton 85,695 143,506 148,596 148,262 3.5% -0.2% 73.0% 5.6%
Mills Hill 183,853 302,726 313,536 310,032 3.6% -1.1% 68.6% 5.4%
Mytholmroyd 107,107 156,704 171,704 164,742 9.6% -4.1% 53.8% 4.4%
Smithy Bridge 98,319 146,980 144,206 149,152 -1.9% 3.4% 51.7% 4.3%
Moston 52,205 125,902 82,486 71,732 -34.5% -13.0% 37.4% 3.2%
Bradford Interchange 2,482,799 2,990,294 2,922,956 2,993,340 -2.3% 2.4% 20.6% 1.9%
Walsden 132,703 94,332 93,942 102,324 -0.4% 8.9% -22.9% -2.6%
CVL totals 6,554,978 10,392,502 10,539,272 10,804,128 1.4% 2.5% 64.8% 5.1%
National 1,601,494,732 2,665,123,512 2,785,070,620 2,938,358,550 4.5% 5.5% 83.5% 6.3%

Down At The Station

The new franchise under Arriva promises a quiet revolution on stations across the North with a return of human railway resources to halts that have been unstaffed for years. Many stations will be branded “Northern Connect” after the new network of express trains serving them. Northern Connect stations should have staff presence from 06.00 till 22.00 every day, plus catering facilities and that 21st Century necessity free wi-fi. It has been pointed out by at least one HADRAG member that “catering facilities” could in some cases just mean a vending machine – cynical or what?

Four Calderdale stations will be Northern Connect. Three of them already have catering. Halifax already has its “Cafexpress” café-shop, Hebden Bridge its “Coffee Station” and Sowerby Bridge of course the justly famous Jubilee Refreshment Rooms. Todmorden did have a vending machine for a time.

Staffing until 2200 will mean extended hours for all of these stations compared with what they have now. Of the four designated stations only Sowerby Bridge does not already have a booking office but its platforms are usually staffed at peak times by the now familiar revenue protection staff in their hi-viz jackets. Indeed we wonder whether the new staffing will be not so much people sitting in offices as roaming the platforms giving help and advice as well as selling tickets. We are also likely to see a lot more ticket vending machines (TVMs) and maybe “virtual ticket offices” a bit like the “smart wall” recently installed on the concourse at Harrogate.

Brighouse and Mytholmroyd will not be Northern Connect Stations, even though it seems from what we can deduce about service patterns that Mytholmroyd at least will have some Northern Connect services. Both will, however, have rail staff around for part of the day. We shall see whether they also get TVMs. The question arises what form of accommodation will be provided for staff. A traditional booking office may be inappropriate where stations have several entrances and platforms are connected by indirect pedestrian routes using nearby roads. Again there seems to be a logic favouring roaming staff – but they still need a base, shelter and restroom. One “size” is unlikely to fit all. At Sowerby Bridge, could railway staff make use of the Jubilee’s excellent refreshment and restroom facilities?

Sowerby Bridge is complicated by having two entrances, though in a different way to Mytholmroyd. Neither station has a single convenient place for a ticket office. Brighouse has four entrances. But it does have the wonderful Station Café, not quite on the station but just a minute round the corner in Gooder Lane, and already in a positive relationship with that other Arriva brand, Grand Central.

The lack of direct pedestrian links across the line also arises with the new car park at Mytholmroyd, which is planned and hopefully should be ready in 2017. Returning commuters from Leeds who have parked next to the eastbound platform will have a long walk round in the evening back to their cars – they already do but it will be even further! Locations like Hebden Bridge, Sowerby Bridge and even Halifax will always be more physically convenient for park and ride – but their car parks are often full!

The big new car park at Mytholmroyd may make more people ask whether their station should actually be served by more trains. That will not be easy to achieve given the need to strike a balance between serving the village community and providing a attractively frequent and fast inter-urban service.

Back in the physical here and now (rather than the speculative future) a recent innovation at Halifax aims to improve safety for ever-increasing crowds. Signs have gone up exhorting people to keep left on the stairway between footbridge and platforms which should mean less bumping into each other. It’s still easy to not notice and go the wrong way if you are running for a train of course. A central handrail might be a further help.

We continue to ask for progress on HADRAG’s oft-repeated suggestion to reduce crowding on the narrowest part of the platform near the automatic sliding doors. Polite signs and yellow hatching on the floor would encourage passengers to move along, improving safety, aiding door operation and promoting faster boarding and alighting when the train comes in.

Down at the Station…

Brighouse

We wandered along one midsummer morning to find the Friends of Brighouse Station hard at work putting final touches to floral displays before the arrival of judges from Yorkshire in Bloom (YiB). Throughout the summer, colourful displays on the station have transformed the environment for rail users. Praising the Friends’ voluntary efforts since their formation last October, YiB’s judges noted: “The station now looks more inviting to visitors and users. Sponsored planters and self-watering half baskets make the platforms colourful and inviting. The volunteers have made a great impact, making the station clean, [and] litter, graffiti and weed free. Improvements [are]now taking place in the car park making the area more inviting and safer for rail users.”

Sowerby Bridge

Just up the line, FoSBRS, the Friends of Sowerby Bridge Railway Station, have been going a bit longer, and – you guessed it – they scooped yet another award this summer. Awarding Gold in the Open Spaces category YiB commended a “well organised, enthusiastic group with specific aims utilising members’ specialist skills and interests, working with various groups and stakeholders to ‘breathe new life into the station’ for the benefit of rail travellers and visitors”. There was praise also for links with schools and scout groups, and for recruitment and social activities. An “impressive number of information boards depicting persons of note and interesting events” from local history now adorn the platforms. And FoSBRS looks after its environment, providing habitats for wildlife and harvesting rainwater. Coffee grounds and card from the Jubilee Refreshment Room are composted for use by the group’s eager team of gardeners.

Mytholmroyd

Mytholmroyd Station Partnership & Neighbourhood were judged “Outstanding” in YiB’s Neighbouhood category. This “dedicated group who are committed to improving the station and neighbouring green spaces for the local community and visitors to the town to enjoy” were commended for their partnership with the railway, local authority and local church, for planting on and around the station, and for encouragement of local schoolchildren to get involved with artwork and seed cultivation.

Community displays brighten the scene. “Ironman” boards celebrate a 1968 science fiction story by Ted Hughes the locally born Poet Laureate. As at Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge sponsorship by local businesses is acknowledged and highly valued – essential in fact. Mytholmroyd station partnership celebrates its tenth year in 2016.

With continuing community involvement Mytholmroyd should become an even more attractive place to get on the train, and is due to get a new station car-park. What some users have been calling for is simply more trains – or maybe not so simply! The weekday service is twice-an-hour to Manchester and to Leeds. By national standards, that’s not a bad service frequency for a village halt, but there’s a greater catchment area if park & ride expands. We know people want more frequent trains to Bradford and it would be nice if currently rare stops by the York-Blackpool service could be increased.

Overall

HADRAG has repeatedly argued, notably in the Northern franchise consultation and to the shortlisted bidders, that more is needed for stations by-passed by the faster services. We have long said that all the York-Blackpools should serve Sowerby Bridge – seemingly half-promised in the past but a lot less than half delivered. By the end of the decade the franchise will deliver an extra semi-fast service every hour on the Bradford route; surely, we say, this should call at Sowerby Bridge. The station now has a big car park that is almost full most mornings.

A lot more is needed to realise Brighouse’s rail potential, drawing on a key position within the M62 corridor. Here is another station where the car-park fills early. With talk of tourism development let’s make rail first travel choice for more people! For starters we’ve called for the Manchester-Brighouse-Leeds service to run later in the evenings and on Sundays. There must be a case for a service, maybe from Preston, linking upper Calderdale with Huddersfield, giving an additional hourly train for all stations along the valley bottom – not forgetting Elland. Brighouse is also on a potential direct route via Wakefield to York, avoiding the Leeds bottleneck. And finally, if the capacity can be created for a fast service, Brighouse could in the future be within 20 minutes of Leeds itself by train – something this newsletter will never let you forget!

Volunteer action by the friends and partnership groups makes our stations more attractive and creates a sense of community ownership. But we need the rail businesses and transport authorities to give us more trains, market them, and get even more of us using them.