Calderdale campaigners demand better timetable deal for stations

Rail campaigners Stephen Waring and Nina Smith
Rail campaigners Stephen Waring and Nina Smith

Campaigning rail users have added their voice to the call by West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) on a train company to improve timetable plans for May 2018.

HADRAG (The Halifax & District Rail Action Group) and the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable (UCVRSTG) submitted a joint response to a draft timetable consulted on by Northern (Arriva Rail North).

The groups welcome headline improvements proposed by Northern for the Calder Valley line but they agree with the reported comments of WYCA that the proposed timetable could lead to a “markedly worse” service between Leeds and Calderdale.

Northern, which operates local services in Yorkshire, has been asked to look again at alterations it is planning to make from May next year which could break the terms of its franchise or lead to a worse service for passengers.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has told Northern the changes “include first trains that are not early enough, last trains that are too early, and train frequencies falling short of requirements”.

A combined authority report says the potential franchise breaches “may be the result of errors by [Northern], and they are looking into them”.

Stephen Waring, Chair of HADRAG said: “We know Northern want to improve our services under the franchise agreement. We have put forward constructive criticisms on what is currently proposed. We want passengers to be able to welcome the May 2018 timetable when it is finalised not greet it with a storm of protest.

“We are delighted that our present York-Halifax-Blackpool semi-fast trains linking towns across the North are going to be stopping at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. That’s something HADRAG has called for over many years.

“But we are disappointed with aspects of the proposals that make the service less attractive for existing users, let alone attract new passengers. We are not alone in criticising the proposals because we know the county’s official transport body, West Yorkshire Combined Authority has said the Leeds-Calderdale service could be markedly worse.

“We are glad about the extra trains stopping at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd, but we have seen information shared by Northern that suggests service frequency at these stations could actually be cut again in December 2019 when many of our trains become “Northern Connect” expresses. This would surely not be acceptable.

“We are hoping to meet Northern again to find out firstly how they hope to improve on the May 2018 proposals which as they stand are simply not good enough. Secondly, we hope they can assure us about future developments, not least to improve services on the Brighouse line ready for opening of Elland station, hopefully by 2022. Brighouse still gets a poor deal; more is needed.”

Northern is run by Arriva Rail North which took over the franchise which covers local rail services in Yorkshire last year with a promise of significant improvements.

Nina Smith, Chair of UCVRSTG said: “Whilst we warmly welcome the new trains to the Airport, Chester and Southport, and a later train to Sowerby Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge from Leeds, we are very concerned about the uneven pattern of trains from Leeds and Manchester to the upper valley stations, which will mean people who just miss a train could have to wait nearly half an hour for the next one.

“We are also concerned that the opportunity presented by a major timetable recast has not been used to provide good interchange in both directions for people travelling between the upper valley stations and Huddersfield.

“This is a growing commuter flow, especially with staff and students for Huddersfield University, and our longer term goal is for a direct upper valley to Huddersfield service.

“Finally, we were hoping that the May 2108 timetable would include early morning Sunday trains to Leeds and Manchester. Sundays are now as important for rail travellers as other days. “