Rail groups coupling together to revive electrification proposals

Stephen Waring, chair of HADRAG
Stephen Waring, chair of HADRAG

Rail user groups have joined together in a grass-roots campaign to revive plans for railway electrification across the North of England

The groups cover the length of the Calder Valley Line (CVL), a strategic route that was ranked in top place in a report "Northern Sparks" by the Northern Electrification Task Force three years ago. The CVL links Leeds with Manchester and Preston via both Bradford and Brighouse.

The new campaign, called the Electric Railway Charter, is to be launched in Halifax this Thursday.

Founding groups HADRAG (Halifax & District Rail Action Group), STORM (Oldham and Rochdale rail users group), Upper Calder Valley Sustainable Transport Group, and Bradford Rail Users Group are supported by Yorkshire and North West branches of Railfuture, the national independent campaign for a better rail network.

The plan, born out of frustration at delays to rail schemes, is to engage support for the Charter from a wide range of local and regional environmental, business, civic and political groups.

The Charter campaign is being coordinated by two rail-user campaigners, Stephen Waring of HADRAG and Richard Lysons, Chair of the Friends of Littleborough Station, who is representing STORM. At a launch event in Halifax, an audience from local groups and rail users will hear from the local MP Holly Lynch, and from environmental and transport campaigners.

Stephen Waring, an engineering graduate and recently retired teacher of science said, "Electrification is a greener form of transport with potential to vastly reduce carbon emissions compared with diesel.

"Through the Electric Railway Charter we want to unite environmental, operational, business and economic objectives in a campaign for rail electrification.

"We want a modern railway that provides an alternative to congested roads, and one that fully plays its part in improving air quality and combatting climate change.

"We hope the TransPennine Route Upgrade will include electrification and we believe the equally strategic Calder Valley Route will be a natural follow on scheme.

"The Calder Valley Line has many functions. It is a commuter line for workers and students; it is a community line for residents, school pupils and families; and it is a tourist trail with vast potential as it goes through beautiful Pennine scenery and serves fascinating places such as the fantastic Piece Hall in Halifax.

"We accept the argument that some difficult sections for example through tunnels may be left unwired. But we say the gaps should be filled by trains with sustainable onboard energy storage, not by diesel traction that can never be truly clean. Battery technology is advancing led by renewables development and the move, ironically, towards electric road vehicles. Rail needs to keep up.

In March 2015 the Northern Electrification Task force recommended 12 lines for electrification in an initial five year programme.

Two years later the government seemed to withdraw its commitment to electrification in favour of continued use of diesel-traction in so-called bimode trains.

Midland Main Line electrification was cancelled last July along with the short Windermere branch in Cumbria.

Doubt was cast over proposed electrification from Manchester to Leeds and York via Huddersfield, part of Network Rail's proposed TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU).

The government has recently announced that the TRU should start as soon as possible which seems to mean Spring next year.

A number of options are believed to be on Chris Grayling's desk, which may or may not include electrification.

The Electric Railway Charter says that electrification of the Calder Valley Line would be a natural follow-on to the Huddersfield Line Upgrade.

Richard Greenwood, Chairman of STORM said: "The quicker acceleration and smoother braking on electric trains would be ideal for the Calder Valley line with its frequent stations between Manchester and Leeds. STORM was originally formed to save the Oldham Loop between Manchester and Rochdale, but now our efforts are focused on improving this crucial part of the railway network and public transport system in the north of England.

"This is an issue that goes across constituency and party political boundaries. Every day rail passengers travel along the line in overcrowded, aged and inefficient trains. If electrification is good enough for passengers in the south east, then why not for the millions of people who live in our region?"