Rail passengers in Calderdale “deserve better” says council leader

A train going through Hebden Bridge Railway Station
A train going through Hebden Bridge Railway Station

Long-overdue improvements to overcrowded and delayed trains in Calderdale cannot come soon enough.

That is the message from Calderdale Council leader Tim Swift and campaigners, who are demanding an end to the rail misery in the borough.

Concillor Tim Swift outside Halifax Town Hall.

Concillor Tim Swift outside Halifax Town Hall.

In an open letter to Chancellor Philip Hammond, Coun Swift said: “Passengers on the Calder Valley currently get a raw deal.

“Trains are often severely overcrowded and delayed. The line is consistently one of the poorest performers across the West Yorkshire network.

“And this was exacerbated by the introduction of the new timetable in May 2018

which caused chaos throughout the national rail network.

Stephen Waring

Stephen Waring

“We deserve better. We deserve a high quality rail service which is reliable and has the capacity to meet demand.”

Speaking to the Courier, Coun Swift said: “Reliable and good-quality rail services are absolutely essential for residents and businesses. The underinvestment in the Calder Valley line has gone on for too long and it’s having major impacts on local people.

“It’s good to see the work underway at Bradford Interchange, but we will continue to lobby for further improvements on the Calder Valley line, including electrification, to ensure the many economic, environmental and social benefits they would bring.”

Work is under way to improve the Calder Valley rail line, which is described as one of the “poorest performing” in the country.

The Calder Valley Line links Leeds and Manchester via Bradford and Halifax, but clogged routes and slow-moving trains have led to multiple calls for the line to be upgraded.

Platforms will be extended and signal improvements will be made at Bradford Interchange.

A report to the Combined Authority’s Bradford District Consultation Sub Committee said: “The works will also facilitate the planned increase in services on the Calder Valley line from December 2019.”

Stephen Waring, chair of the Halifax and District Rail Action Group, said: “The current improvements on the Calder Valley Line should mean better and more reliable services in the future. Already this week we are seeing hints of improvements to come.

“But for now passengers, particularly peak-hour commuters, continue to suffer miserable journeys as the train company struggles with an obvious shortage of trains. The new rolling stock promised for our line can not arrive too soon. Passengers and rail campaigners can only hope that it will be enough.

“Network Rail commissioned new signalling on the line between Bradford and Todmorden at the beginning of this week. Following earlier track improvements this has allowed speeds on the line to be increased and we are already seeing trains taking less time to get from station to station.

“The new signals also mean trains can run at closer headways along the route which should improve punctuality and make the service more frequent.

“Next year we are promised Calder Valley services running through to new destinations - Manchester Airport, Chester and Liverpool - in addition to current destinations Leeds, York, Manchester and Preston/Blackpool. The franchise also specifies an extra train every hour on the Bradford Manchester route.

“We are demanding the train planners produce a timetable that will work for all users of the line. Last May we saw the service damaged, and passengers driven away, by a botched timetable change from which we are still recovering.

“Too often we see trains that should have three or four carriages turn up with just two. This causes gross overcrowding with people being left behind on the station platform.

“HADRAG wants to see the linespeed and capacity improvements used to deliver a better service for all communities along the line.

“The present timetable with uneven patterns and inconvenient gaps is not fit for purpose. When the extra service every hour comes in, hopefully in December 2019, we say it should be used to improve services at stations like Sowerby Bridge that serves a big urban and commuting area but seems in the past to have been treated by the railway like a country halt.

“It seems obvious that the trains to Manchester Airport should serve as many of the towns along the Calder Valley Line as possible.

“And we want to see the service through Brighouse improved particularly with the expected new station at Elland hopefully opening by 2022.

“Like Sowerby Bridge, Elland and Brighouse are both sizeable towns. Northern’s franchise agreement requires two trains an hour between Brighouse and Leeds but the timetable introduced last May is a travesty of this specification because the direct train between Brighouse an Leeds via Dewsbury overtakes the one that runs via Bradford in both directions.

“The Brighouse line needs a more frequent service, and like the rest of our line, a better-designed timetable.

“So we want the speed and capacity improvements to enable a serious re-write of the timetable to repair the damage done by the May 2018 shambles.

“In the longer term, HADRAG is campaigning under the Electric Railway Charter banner for a truly modern Calder Valley Line, fast, quiet and pollution free and meeting the obligation to fight climate change.

“But meanwhile, for commuters suffering the stress of serious overcrowding on a daily basis the new rolling stock that is now under test can not arrive too soon. We just hope it will be enough.”