May timetable: Could be worse. Needs to get better

Service extensions to Manchester Airport and Chester are deferred, but the May 2018 timetable is better than we feared. Northern should still bring in all promised enhancements by the end-of-2019 deadline. We want them to introduce committed new services whilst improving — not damaging — service patterns for local passengers between Manchester, Calderdale and Leeds.

Back in February we had serious concerns about what we’d seen online about the May timetable. We were promised trains to Manchester Airport and Chester, but it looked like Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd could be missing Sunday trains to Manchester, some important peak services seemed to be missing and there was a serious issue about “clockface” patterns. The good news is that the above concerns have been at least partly addressed. Chester and Airport trains are deferred, awaiting a next cascade of diesel rolling stock when the late-running Bolton line electrification is finally done. And the trains shortage affects existing services on the Calder Valley Line. Big disappointment is truncation of Blackpool-York services to Preston-Leeds—however temporary. It is hoped some repairs to the damage will be made by the end of this year. Here are some of the May 2018 changes.

Peak Commuter Services

With a major recast a lot of times are changing. Not everyone will be happy! A relief for Calderdale-Leeds users is that the extra Halifax-Leeds train operated by a 5-car Grand Central unit will not only continue to run but will start back from Hebden Bridge at 0702. And it will have a return working at teatime. The latter in particular means additional capacity. But it is difficult to be optimistic about further early relief for overcrowding at least until the new trains are in full service by the end of next year.

Blackpool – York

Blackpool-York trains are temporarily cut back to Preston-Leeds, with connections at Preston, but will run through on Sundays. You can see the logic given a shortage of diesel trains and the Blackpool line now electrified; but this is still very unwelcome. Some other CVL trains will be linked through to/from York or Selby

in compensation for existing Calderdale cross-Leeds users. With the Airport and Chester services deferred, it’s odd that extension of Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester trains to Southport is going ahead, increasing frequency on the Manchester-Atherton-Wigan line. Sounds like Calderdale’s loss is Atherton’s gain! Southport is surely the least useful of our new destinations. Southport and Wigan people would really rather have trains to Manchester Airport. Wouldn’t we all?! Northern have said they will restore Blackpool-York as soon as trains become available. It is expected that the service will then become fast Leeds-York, which sounds like good news.

Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd

Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd do, thankfully, keep their hourly Sunday service to Manchester, and in addition have all Blackpool/Preston-Leeds/York stopping — news we’ve been waiting for! But Mytholmroyd is not shown in Northern’s online pdf York-Blackpool timetable. We shall see if it’s in the eventual printed version. At time of writing online timetables were still showing a 2-hour late evening gap in trains back from Manchester to these stations. We raised this with Northern and it sounds like a genuine error which the train planners are now working to fix. Fingers crossed.

‘Clockface’ Timetables

Clockface patterns are far from ideal. Just as an example, Halifax towards Leeds is now roughly 00, 12, 34, 43, deviating significantly from even-interval (but better than feared). Annoying variations between hours could make people miss trains. Some journey times increase. Eastbound Preston-Leeds trains call at Bramley, whilst Huddersfield-Hfx-Leeds trains are non-stop from New Pudsey. Overall verdict: rather messy.

Last December. Signs at stations bore good news: Calder Valley trains going hourly via the brand new Ordsall Chord beyond Manchester Victoria to Oxford Road station on the south side of the city. Actually, apart from Sundays, it was never quite hourly. But never mind. This was a stepping stone to regular CVL trains through to Manchester’s Piccadilly and Airport stations. And the trains served very useful Deansgate station (though maybe temporarily).

But in the new timetable all CVL trains once again end at Man Vic, and won’t be going round the chord again until the Airport service starts, maybe later this year, maybe next.

Brighouse Line

More clockface and journey time issues. Leeds-Brighouse-Manchesters are fast Rochdale-Manchester, a gain partly lost by extra time westbound Brighouse-Sowerby Bridge. Would it not be better to hold them in Brighouse station, rather than have the trains waiting for signals at Milner Royd? Issues like this should be helped when new signalling is commissioned. The Leeds-Brighouse direct trains overtake the ones via Bradford in both directions. This makes a mockery of the franchise Train Service Requirement of 2 trains/hour Brighouse-Leeds. If you just miss the direct train (or it’s cancelled) you might as well wait for the next one a full hour later rather than get on one that is overtaken. With “pathing” time approaching Huddersfield—which actually means waiting at the signals at Bradley Junction— Brighouse-Huddersfield is now typically takes 14 minutes. Surely some better solution to both of these problems can be devised? Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester will be running later in the evening, but not yet on Sundays: we shall keep pressing for that. Sundays Leeds-Halifax-Brighouse is more or less hourly, a promise delivered, though with irritating variations (dodgy clockface again).

Timetable Booklets

Three Northern booklets (8, 36 and 45) are still required to show the whole CVL service—somewhat unsatisfactorily. And they won’t be available in print until June. We understand there is a plan to improve the booklets. Dare we hope for a clear, well presented Calder Valley line booklet showing all services when Northern Connect branded services are introduced in December 2019? This is clearly something that Northern find difficult, but remember West Yorkshire “Metro” produced complete line timetables right through from the 1970s to a year or so ago. Why can’t Northern under Arriva replicate what the county body used to do?

Looking Ahead

December 2019 will be another major change with an extra service each hour Bradford-Manchester and through trains to Liverpool as well as Man Airport and Chester. We say this should be an opportunity to deliver a better clockface pattern, and serve more local stations with the Airport trains. Enhancements must surely be brought in without damaging the service at local stations. Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and the future Elland station deserve a much better train service. —JSW

 

Header image: “DSC_0270-1” flickr photo by Lawrence Holmes. https://flickr.com/photos/sherrlock/19923819964 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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Northern Meeting: Stations and Information

Halifax station should get three new ticket vending machines in the near future as Northern installs more and more of its shiny “smartwalls” across the network. Let’s support our staffed booking offices, expanded maybe to offer a wider range of services.  More local and tourist information would be a start. Northern seem to be saying they want to develop the role of the booking office. Stations like Sowerby Bridge — at present unstaffed — could get modular buildings for staff to serve the public.

People still want printed timetables. HADRAG has criticised the current Northern style  where you need three separate booklets to find the whole Calder Valley Line service. We understand the plan is for a smaller number of area-based timetables. That could be a step forward.

Image: Sowerby Bridge Station (flickr photo by calflier001 https://flickr.com/photos/calflier001/4605598267 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license)

Northern Meeting: Capacity, Service patterns

HADRAG takes up issues with Northern. No quick fix for overcrowding but a glimmer of hope the first lot of new trains could be followed by more. We keep up pressure on serious timetable issues for Halifax and Calder Valley Line stations whilst train planners wrestle with the May 2018 timetable.

Last Autumn HADRAG wrote to the new managing director of Northern (Arriva Rail North) with a familiar catalogue of issues. Commuting capacity—can anything be done short term to relieve some of the outrageous overcrowding? Service patterns—our concerns about the May 2018 plan and what happens in 2019, particularly for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. Hopes for a better deal on the Brighouse line (and Elland station). And issues about retailing and information—stations and booking offices, and the poor quality timetable booklets. In January a group from HADRAG met Northern at their office. It was a good meeting with mutual respect. We were listened to as equals.

We started with the bad news. Bolton line electrification is (further) delayed because of the sort of problems you only find when you start digging. So there’s a delay to the “cascade” of diesel trains to other services. Northern’s train planners are working to figure our how much of the May 2018 timetable plan can actually be delivered on 20/05/18 and which enhancements will have to be postponed, perhaps till December. (Remember May’18 was originally supposed to be December 2017!) For our line the May 2018 plan includes extension services to Southport (the Brighouse “valley bottom” service), Chester and Manchester Airport with earlier morning and later night trains at least for some stations. They expect to tell us in early March what they can actually deliver in May, and what will be postponed until maybe Autumn.

Questioning the Wisdom

On capacity and overcrowding we had questioned the wisdom of the refurbishment programme when the shortage of carriages is so obvious. But refurbishment is part of the franchise agreement and committed. (We can all draw our own conclusions about unwanted consequences of franchising.) It seems we can shout as loud as we like that current sardine-can conditions are unacceptable but there does not seem to be any sign of a quick fix to relieve conditions before new trains start arriving or our line. The new trains are now being built in Spain.  The glimmer of hope is that further orders could follow and more reasonably modern trains from other operators could be cascaded to Northern. Meanwhile, expect an improvement on the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Southport service which should get refurbished “Turbostars” (Class 170) in less than a year’s time. Northern will receive about 16 of these trains from Scotland starting in a few weeks. The first of them are expected to be deployed on Harrogate services, perhaps in May.

There does seem to be an acceptance that the franchise capacity promise, a 37% increase by 2020, may not be enough. Many Calder Valley Line commuters would argue their train is already 100% overcrowded, with some trains leaving passengers behind at stations such as New Pudsey and Castleton that are near the end of the route. And we’ve seen it happen at Halifax.

For the train companies and the DfT, capacity includes standing room. But let’s be reasonable. You might not mind standing from New Pudsey to Leeds if there is a bearable amount of space. But if you are travelling from Halifax to Leeds or Manchester it’s reasonable to expect a seat and a fair share of elbow room. If you can’t be sure whether you’ll be able to get on the train, and when you do everyone is crammed nose-to-nose, that surely, ought to be unacceptable.

Serious Concerns

Earlier in February we saw details on Open Train Times and Real Time Trains websites of provisional May 2018 timings. We knew this was subject to change, as explained, because of the Bolton line issue. But what we saw gave us continuing serious concerns about aspects of the proposed Calder Valley timetable pattern. Along with other groups, we first raised these in response to a consultation last summer.

We strongly welcome the positives. If all goes to plan we get, if not in May by the end of the year, hourly services to Manchester Airport and Chester. Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd will be served by the York-Blackpool trains all day, seven days a week. Brighouse-Manchester gets better timings with fast running  Rochdale-Manchester. There are new early morning and late night services, with an earlier first train from Brighouse at 0632 direct to Leeds. (But this also means users of the present 0702 will have to get up earlier!) All good news but…

Northern timings from 20th May have now disappeared from view online. We understand the timetable will now appear around 8th March.1  We hope issues we have pressed on Northern again since we met them will be addressed:

  • Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd Manchester service.
  • “Missing trains” that were in the draft timetable that did not appear in the recent online version—hopefully accidental omissions that will be restored. Our concern is for Low Moor and Halifax-Manchester commuters.
  • Whether the 0728 Halifax-Leeds “extra”, the 5-car Grand Central train, will continue. Its omission would leave a serious gap in the proposed peak Halifax-Leeds service.
  • Clockface patterns, not least from Halifax towards Leeds. If we have 4 trains/hour it’s reasonable to expect reasonably even spacing, though we accept that precise quarter-hourly is impossible.

We have asked Northern to address all of these points. We believe the red line should be no loss of connectivity or worsening of service for any station. For example in the evenings and on Sundays end-to-end journey time is surely less important than ensuring that all intermediate stations retain a decent service, whilst maintaining frequency of commuter trains should be sacrosanct.

Other concerns include:

  • Connections upper Calderdale stations-Huddersfield at Brighouse/Halifax.
  • Leeds-Brighouse service pattern if the train via Bradford is overtaken by the train via Dewsbury.
  • Need for Sunday service Leeds-Brighouse-upper Calderdale-Manchester.
  • Extended journey times Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield due to difficult “pathing” with extended dwell times. Surely, we have said to Northern, some better solution is available?
  • Calder Valley-Manchester Airport trains planned not to call at Deansgate station in Manchester, even though the present trains to Oxford Road do so.

We understand Northern’s train planners face a massive challenge. But the price of welcome new destinations such as Manchester Piccadilly/Airport and Chester should not be loss of decent local connectivity at sensible timetable intervals. If some of the May changes are to be delayed by circumstances outside Northern’s control maybe there is a chance to come up with something better later in the year.  —JSW

 

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

Timetable booklets are a mess.

Sorry Northern (Arriva Rail North), we support all the good things you are doing and planning to do to improve services, but there’s no polite way to say this. Your new line timetable booklets are a dismally poor substitute for the excellent former Metro booklets. As expected, the train operating company has taken over publication from West Yorkshire Combined authority. There seems little point WYCA expending resources on duplicating a role given to the TOCs. Sadly, however, whilst WYCA/Metro’s single Calder Valley Line booklet showed all trains running on our line between Leeds and Blackpool/Manchester plus the Brighouse line, that information is now spread across three or four separate publications. Booklet 8 shows York-Blackpool services only. Booklet 36 shows Leeds-Todmorden-Manchester services.

New Booklet 45 shows all Northern services Leeds-Huddersfield and Hebden Bridge including Brighouse trains. This is a sensible idea. But there are no times shown for stations outside that area, through trains to York, Blackpool and Manchester being indicated only by footnotes with no indication of journey time or intermediate stops such as Rochdale or Blackburn. It’s good to see that Grand Central services are shown. But TPExpress trains on the Huddersfield Line are left out which means there is no timetable booklet showing the complete train service between Leeds and Huddersfield. Surely ridiculous. It’s doubly strange because we were told TPE and Northern would be cooperating, and because Northern’s Wakefield Line booklet (42) also shows East Coast and Cross Country trains. We’d actually like timetables that show all trains on a given route. A separate mini-timetable (44) shows Blackburn-Man Vic “Tod Curve” trains—one of three separate booklets needed to find all trains between the Lancashire towns of Accrington and Blackburn!  The  new format also means full-line posters are no longer displayed on West Yorkshire stations. And at the start of the new timetable Halifax station had only been supplied with local line booklets, not other WY routes. “MetroTrain” timetables served the county’s rail users well for over 40 years and were also available as an all-county book. What we have now is a confusing mess. We hope it can be sorted out for the May timetable change. It’s in our New Year message to Northern!

Farewell, faithful timetable!

Under the new Northern franchise responsibility for producing timetable booklets “passes to the franchisee”. So, from this December timetable, the familiar West Yorkshire Metro A6-size booklets for “Calder Valley Line” and other routes will be replaced by Northern booklets. The all-county combined volume will, we understand, be no more. Avoiding duplication is one thing. But we say Northern needs to improve significantly on its current booklets. At present the company shows York-Blackpool and Leeds-Manchester trains in separate tables, and some local Northern trains on our line are not shown in any Northern booklet at all—that includes  more than half the trains serving Brighouse! Metro officers at West Yorkshire Combined Authority have been working with Northern “to ensure local rail passenger needs are maintained”. The booklet for any route must surely include all operators’ services, meaning Grand Central and the rest as well as Northern itself. We have expressed our concerns with both Northern and WYCA, and await the new booklets with nervous interest. The all-county timetable will be greatly missed by those who travel widely about West Yorkshire. We might even be prepared to pay a cover price for a wider regional volume. How about it?

 

Sowerby Bridge: reasonable, achievable demands!

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.