Brighouse Woes and Crazy Clockface

The train in our picture takes 34 minutes Halifax-Huddersfield including 4 min standing in Brighouse and another 5 min at the next junction waiting the train coming the other way. Unless there are late changes (there were last December!) this looks to be little improved in the May 2019 timetable, despite some retiming. It seems the railway just can’t get the Brighouse line timetable right. Yet Brighouse has shown the biggest footfall increase of any Calder Valley Line station over ten years. Latest blow is withdrawal of the 0606 from Huddersfield via Halifax to Leeds, scuppering early commutes from Huddersfield/Brighouse to Halifax/Bradford. Halifax- Leeds will have nothing from 0600 until 0645, leaving only 3 trains between 0600 and 0700 compared with a long-established four.

The late evening 2-hour gap in call from Manchester at Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge remains despite an obvious easy fix of adding stops by trains that currently fly through. Good news is a new late-night York-Blackburn train that will provide a later service back from Bradford (2320) for these stations. Hourly York-Halifax-Blackpool through trains are restored (but just Leeds-Blackpool on Sundays).

Our Manchester trains will extend hourly to Chester, also welcome if it works. Halifax’s crazy clockface to Leeds gets worse with departures at about 00, 07, 15 and then nothing till 43 minutes past — four an hour but effectively little better than half-hourly. Some

hours the gap is more than 30 minutes. We are pressing Northern on these issues with another letter to David Brown, Managing Director. We hear there could be interesting, even helpful changes in December.

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Another flawed timetable. How can rail run better?

A Manchester-Leeds train sneaks through lush verdure into Halifax. Even commu ng should be a pleasure; there is surely economic value in people arriving for work relaxed a er a pleasant journey. And if it’s for cultural, personal or leisure purposes, your journey should be the part of the a rac on that gets you away from congested, polluted and pollu ng roads. Our Calder Valley Line looks ideal for this. We say give it a go, especially at mes when the trains are not crammed!

But we’ve seen hal ng progress since 2016 under the present Northern franchise. A er the May 2018 shambles this May’s metable is looking at best like another awed and un nished product, trying our pa ence. Hourly trains to Chester are welcome, but Halifax-Leeds travellers face a “crazy clockface” with three trains in 16 minutes then nothing for almost half an hour, a travesty of “15 minute frequency”. Early morning commuters from Hudders eld, Brighouse and Halifax to Bradford and Leeds face a kick in the teeth with withdrawal of the rst Brighouse line train.

The franchise speci es an hourly CVL train to Manchester Airport from December, but this looks to be delayed because of lack of capacity round Manchester. Planned extra pla orms at Manchester Piccadilly seem lost in the long grass of the Department of Transport, whilst TransPennine Express’s franchise commitment to run 2 trains/hr from the North East to Man Airport seems to be a higher priority than Northern’s supposedly equal commitment to more Calder Valley trains including our own Airport service.

HADRAG’s response to the Williams Rail Review calls for a single operator to deliver services across the North that work for all. We con nue to engage with Northern, Network Rail, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Transport for the North and poli cal contacts. And the Electric Railway Charter (www.electriccharter.wordpress.com) con nues to build the argument for a clean, green, modern Calder Valley Line that helps combat the climate emergency. — JSW.

Spring update – HADRAG responds to Williams review. Plus timetable issues and Electric Charter campaign

 

180HBG Zeke

HOW SHOULD our railways be run in the future? As a campaigning rail users’ group embracing a range of views, HADRAG does not take a view on whether our national rail system should continue with largely privatised, private enterprise train operation, or whether there should be some form of social ownership or renationalisation. What many of us do think is that the present system is crazy, not necessarily because of who owns it, but because of fragmentation. We desperately need one railway that works for passengers and to provide an attractive, modern, reliable alternative to congested roads, supporting good growth and protecting the environment, locally and globally.

 

Last May we had a timetable change that was a complete mess. That must never happen again. In the North of England we have two main train operators, Northern and TransPennine Express. They run across a system operated by Network Rail, the government-owned track operator. Network Rail decides the final timetable, from a remote train planning office in Milton Keynes. Northern and TPE both have their own train planners and must bid, to some degree in mutual competition, for slots in the Network Rail plan. So that is three separate bodies of train planning expertise planning what rail users are surely entitled to see as one train service. Who cares who runs the trains (or owns it – a wholly separate matter in the fragmented railway)? We just want a timetable that is strategically planned by a regional guiding mind to meet the needs of commuters and more occasional travellers, and delivers enhancements that will make train travel more attractive, more usable.

The Williams Review is looking at the whole organisation of our railways with a view to feeding in to a government white paper this autumn. It’s a tight deadline. HADRAG responded to the “initial listening phase earlier this year, but anyone can put forward views – on franchising, the public-private debate or other issues by the end of May. See the summary of our initial response below, and our full paper here.

Meanwhile, HADRAG’s latest newsletter Halifax and Calder Valley Rail Views sets out our latest thoughts on timetable issues, and we have an update on the Electric Railway Charter with the argument swinging back from “gapped” electrification towards the need for strategic routes like the Calder Valley (as well as the Huddersfield Line “TransPennine” route) to be fully electric. – JSW

Here’s HADRAG’s summary from our response to Williams:

“There should not be a conflict between the interest of passengers and taxpayers. Taxpayers benefit from the existence of a modern and effective rail network through its ability to reduce congestion, taking people to work and delivery goods. Railways directly reduce the number of vehicles on the roads. Government financial support for rail should be seen not as subsidy but as social payment for a public service with wide social, economic and environmental benefits. Because of that, the possibilities of rail travel should be made attractive to as great a percentage of the population as possible.

Priorities should be:

  • To re-integrate a railway that is fragmented in its structure. Removal of fragmentation to put functions under one roof can reduce costs and promote effective, agile decision making. Train-operation and system operation (including timetable planning) need to be unified. For example, in the North of England a single company should be responsible for internal services, planning service patterns, devising the timetable and delivery of the service. The present system for example of separate train-planning establishments within Northern and TransPennine Express TOCs and centrally within Network Rail does not make sense.
  • Devolved structures to promote effective and prompt decisions as close as possible to the point of service delivery, responsive to passengers’ needs. Regional “track+train” operating companies may be in the private sector or may be socially or cooperatively owned. (HADRAG maintains a neutral position on the political question of private versus public ownership.)
  • Expansion of the rail network with a fares system that encourages increasing use for an increasing range of purposes – culture, leisure and community as well as work and business.”

Timetable must work for all

On 20th May the railway introduced major timetable changes that simply did not work. By the end of 2017 it had dawned on the railway that Bolton line electrification was not going to be ready in time. So diesels would have to be kept on the route leaving a shortage elsewhere. We gather Northern wanted the whole timetable change postponed but was refused because other operators wanted to go ahead. Which still meant major replanning at impossibly short notice. Not only were upgrades such as Calder Valley trains to Manchester Airport deferred (again), but also existing services were damaged (see Back Page). An interim report by official regulator ORR (Office of Road and Rail) blames all — train companies, Network Rail, Government and ORR — for failures to anticipate, plan, or question assurances based on optimistic assumptions. HADRAG sent submissions to the ORR consultation, and to the House of Commons Transport Committee. We gave examples of how our services were hit. And we make the point that instead of Northern, TransPennine Express, and Network Rail having their own train planners (timetablers) it might be better to have one joint office planning a timetable across the North that actually works. Works, that is, not just for the minority of passengers heading for the Airport, but for all who depend on lines like ours everyday for work, business and civilised leisure.

Amid the timetable chaos Adam Timewell, commercial franchise manager at Rail North Partnership (Transport for the North + Department for Transport) who was to have spoken at HADRAG’s June AGM, had to send apologies. We were massively grateful to Calderdale member of WYCA’s Transport Committee Cllr Dan Sutherland, and to Richard Crabtree from the WYCA rail office for joining our discussion at short notice. We’ve been engaging with WYCA on the recent Elland station consultation. We have met officers on our priorities and aspirations for service improvement and development.

And we shall continue to take up the issues with Rail North Partnership.

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

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