The Halifax and District Rail Action Group is calling for better deals at Sowerby Bridge and Brighouse from the new Northern Rail franchise which started this week.
The group has released a paper addressed to the new Northern trains franchisee Arriva Rail North, to transport agencies across the North and to all responsible for decisions about rail investment and service patterns.
HADRAG has welcomed the massive improvements promised over the next four years for many stations, including new destinations, and more frequent services for the Calder Valley Line. But, the group says the franchise benefits are not even. HADRAG Chair, Stephen Waring said: “It’s good news that Bradford, Halifax and upper Calderdale are going to get trains to Liverpool, Chester and Manchester Airport. Its good that Sowerby Bridge, along with other principal stations, will become a Northern Connect station with all-day staffing.
“But it’s not yet clear whether the train operator intends to increase the basic train service at Sowerby Bridge. The station is obviously highly successful with a car park full most days, yet would-be train users see too many trains running through fast without stopping.
“Brighouse station has seen even greater growth and has massive potential if only the current hourly stopping services on the Leeds-Dewsbury-Calderdale-Manchester and Bradford-Huddersfield lines could be upgraded.
“Brighouse looks only to be getting ‘partial staffing’ (we are not sure what that means), and whilst places like Hebden Bridge will have four or five trains an hour to Leeds by 2019, most of them operated by brand new rolling stock, we fear Brighouse could be stuck with its present basic stopping service and a few extra trains early morning and on Sundays.
“This would be a poor deal for a station that’s seen traffic booming and, as at Sowerby Bridge, we really hope Arriva is about to make a commitment to provide a better deal soon.”
In the medium term, HADRAG wants infrastructure improvements being planned by Network Rail in connection with electrification in the Huddersfield area to build in enough capacity to allow more services through Calder Valley via Elland and Brighouse.
This route is potentially the fastest from Calderdale to Leeds and also offers the possibility of better links from upper Calderdale and beyond the Pennine to Huddersfield and to places like Wakefield and York.
Finally, HADRAG’s paper renews the call for progress on electrification of the Calder Valley Line itself, once electrification from Manchester to York via Huddersfield is completed
Mr Waring added: “We are really pleased with what is on offer for the line through Halifax and Bradford with more frequent services and brand new trains on the Manchester-Bradford-Leeds route and Blackpool-York.
“We do not blame Arriva for the apparently poor initial offer for Brighouse. But we really need a promise now to fulfil the potential of Sowerby Bridge as well as the Brighouse route.
“We know from our dealings with them over recent months that the train company Arriva, the regional body Rail North and infrastructure agency Network Rail are willing to listen, open to our ideas.
“We have asked for the 2017 and 2019 timetables to have more trains stopping at Sowerby Bridge and higher quality service with faster journey times for Brighouse passengers, along with the possibility of serving a new Elland station. We believe what we are asking for is feasible.
“In the slightly longer term we want to see more development of the Brighouse corridor enabled by work Network Rail is planning as part of its TransPennine Route Upgrade – what we call the Huddersfield Line electrification scheme. They need to make sure this includes the track capacity in the Huddersfield and Mirfield areas that will allow more trains through Brighouse and Elland to and from Halifax, upper Calderdale and Lancashire.
A service running fast Brighouse-Leeds via Dewsbury could cut journey times Brighouse-Leeds from 35 minutes to just over 20 minutes, Sowerby Bridge to Leeds from about 45 minutes to half an hour. We know this is possible but Network Rail has to provide the capacity.
“Finally, a year ago the Northern rail electrification task force gave top ranking to the Calder Valley Line for electrification by 2024. There may be a year or two of slippage in the schedule but it is time we began to see evidence of planning to fulfil the task force promise.”