London rail link: A triumph for the Courier campaign

IT has taken nearly four years of fighting but the Courier On Track campaign has finally achieved its goal.

The Office of Rail Regulation accepted the powerful case put by the campaign outlining the economic benefits of a direct rail link between London and Halifax.

It was one of the biggest campaigns undertaken by the Courier and attracted support, not only from people in Calderdale but from outside the area.

Regional development bodies such as Yorkshire Forward, local authorities and dozens of MPs came on board.

It was a tough campaign, taking on a highly regulated industry in which it is extremely difficult to get permission for new services.

Thousands of readers signed the petitions, which were then sent to the Office of Rail Regulation and letters of support flooded into the Courier office.

The case was convincing – Grand Union had a sound business plan and a potentially huge new market, bringing hundreds of thousands of people in Calderdale and Kirklees (via Brighouse) within easy reach of direct trains to the capital. But despite the strength of the campaign, victory was never a certainty.

To win the right to run the London service Grand Union and the Courier had to overcome the powerful interests of two company giants – first GNER and then National Express – who wanted to keep their own trains running.

The campaign also highlighted the economic benefits to the region. Direct rail links are an important factor for business leaders, one which could be especially important now HBOS has been absorbed into the Lloyds Banking Group.

The direct line could bring more tourism into Calderdale and mean fewer cars on West Yorkshire roads.

The decision means rail passengers can now look forward to a journey time of around two hours and 45 minutes from Halifax to London – removing the currrent obstacle of having to drive to Wakefield and Leeds to catch a direct train.

All of this could not have happened without the diligence of Ian Yeowart, managing director of Grand Union. The first application in 2006 was rejected but he – and the campaign – pressed on.

Grand Central did everything it could to meet the criteria it needed for success on the back of the On Track campaign.

Its latest application had been under consideration since last April.

The decison had been delayed while the regulator considered all factors – including the attempts by other train operators to use the route, blocking access to Calderdale.

The decision by the Office of Rail Regulation will be widely welcomed, giving the district a real boost.

Three daily trains, in each direction, will run from Bradford to London (King's Cross) calling at Halifax and Brighouse on route through Wakefield (Kirkgate), Pontefract and Doncaster.

Campaign timeline

Early 2005: York-based Grand Union announces plans for direct trains from Calderdale to London.

July 2005: the Courier On Track campaign wins all-round support from the public and business people.

July 2005: Courier editor John Furbisher hands over a 2,000-name petition to Grand Union managing director Ian Yeowart at Halifax railway station to be taken to the decision-makers at the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR); a Parliamentary Early Day Motion in support is signed by 50 MPs; regional development agency Yorkshire Forward sends a letter of support to the ORR; the Association of North East Councils also give backing.

November 2005: Halifax and District Rail Action Group write to GNER, the then main operator on the east coast main line, asking it to accept the need for improved services.

January 2006: the ORR say the application will be refused with timetable pressure cited as a major stumbling block. But permission is granted for Grand Union to run trains from Sunderland to London; Grand Union vow to continue with its West Yorkshire plans.

December 2007: Grand Union trains start running from Sunderland to London.

March 2008: Halifax MP Linda Riordan highlights the need for direct links in Parliamentary debate.

April 2008: Another bid is on the table for consideration. Grand Union is now the development arm of the company and Grand Central the operational arm.

July 2008: Calderdale Council writes in support of the latest bid.

January 29, 2009: Campaign successful.