Calderdale campaigners tell rail bosses to stop making excuses over electrification

Stephen Waring, a retired physics teacher who is chair of Halifax & District Rail Action Group,
Stephen Waring, a retired physics teacher who is chair of Halifax & District Rail Action Group,

Campaigners are demanding that rail chiefs stop making excuses and create a railway that is truly and modern and sustainable for the people of Calderdale and the north.

Members of the Electric Railway Charter have written to the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling calling for full delivery of an electrified TransPennine railway through Huddersfield and capacity enhancements that will also benefit Calder Valley Line services via Brighouse, Halifax and Hebden Bridge.

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Following the TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU) the letter calls for commitment by the government to a rolling programme of electrification across the North as called for by the Northern Sparks task force report of nearly four years ago.

Stephen Waring, a retired physics teacher who is chair of Halifax & District Rail Action Group, a long-established campaigning rail users’ group based in Halifax and the Calder Valley is one of the Charter coordinators.

He said reports have revealed that the Government is considering a less than complete version of TRU, for example only electrifying from Leeds to Huddersfield instead of all the way from York to Manchester.

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TRU also involves additional tracks, for example in the Huddersfield/Mirfield area which could also benefit Calder valley services via the Brighouse route which badly need improving but are currently limited by capacity.

“Nearly four years ago when the taskforce reported, we all thought there was going to be a rolling programme of rail electrification across the North of England,” said Mr Waring. “Instead it is frustrating to find excuses being made for not modernising our lines to create a railway that is both truly modern and sustainable.

“Yes, there will be some disruption in installing the overhead electric equipment on our lines. But with the TRU it simply does not make sense to leave long sections unelectrified when other upgrade work is being done anyway. Looking ahead to the true modernisation of other lines like the Calder Valley routes across the North we expect a smarter approach.

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"The latest technology will allow cheaper, more easily installed equipment, and short lengths of unelectrified route such as through tunnels can be solved using trains with modest battery capacity. This is the approach already proposed for the Welsh Valleys lines. There are even possibilities of insulating difficult bridges reducing the need to rebuild or lower track. We welcome initiatives by railway engineers to make electrifying routes cheaper and less disruptive.

“We should also learn from the past. In the 1980s British Rail electrified the East Coast Main Line from London to Edinburgh with little of the fuss we are currently seeing about proposals to wire the North of England, and in much shorter time.

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“Rail has to play its full part in creating a zero-carbon transport system. That means having a plan to end diesel traction, including complex and inefficient electro-diesel bi-mode trains. But to date the DfT’s approach has looked to be short-term, short sighted, and based on poor advice. Electrification is achievable, need not be unduly disruptive and makes best economic as well as environmental sense in the medium to long term.”

The Northern Electrification Task Force, chaired by Andrew Jones MP who is now a junior minister in Mr Grayling’s team at the DfT, recommended 12 North of England rail route for electrification in an initial five-year plan. Top-ranked scheme was the strategic Calder Valley Line linking Leeds with Manchester and Preston via Bradford, Brighouse and Hebden Bridge.

The Electric Railway Charter is a grassroots initiative founded by four campaigning rail user groups and two branches of the national campaign for rail development, Railfuture.

The Charter calls for implementation of the task force recommendations and sets out economic, business and above all environmental, reasons for supporting full wiring of key routes. The group accepts that short sections through difficult sections such as tunnels might be not be “live” but says the gaps must bridged using trains with modest on-board energy storage, not polluting diesels.

Charter campaigners are also heartened by the rail supply industries commitment to making electrification easier, with the Railway Industry Association leading an Electrification Cost Challenge, and supports the industry-led Campaign to Electrify Britain’s Railway

The letter to the Secretary of State is being copied to a wide range of policy influencers, including leaders of local and combined authorities along the line, MPs, and Transport for the North.

Richard Lysons, is the Charter’s west-Pennine lead. He is a member of the Oldham & Rochdale group STORM and, as chair of the Friends of Littleborough stations is a leading community rail activist.

Calling for Calder Valley Line electrification and wide support for the charter, Richard Lysons said: “The Calder Valley line is crying out for electrification.

“With the line’s huge passenger numbers, electrification would allow quicker and more efficient acceleration and deceleration at its 28 stations.

“We cannot wait a quarter of a century for a new line between Manchester and Leeds that probably will not serve local communities anyway.

“ We need our existing line electrified within the next decade. That will benefit commuters and promote sustainable leisure travel through our Pennine valleys.

“We already have the support for the Charter from Tony Lloyd MP (Rochdale) and Holly Lynch MP (Halifax) along with Calderdale Council. Now we want all the MPs and local authorities along the Calder Valley Line to sign up.”