Give us more to do while we’re travelling on trains

Some new features awaited passengers at Sowerby Bridge station last week. Unfortunately though, rather than the ability to buy a ticket or have on-screen, real time train information, they were three new advertisement boards.

Even more unfortunate was that pinned to them are notices saying that the public address system is not working.

At the same time adverts in support of High Speed 2 (HS2) have appeared at stations on the Huddersfield line. HS2 is the proposed Y-shaped national high speed rail network that would bring Manchester and Leeds to within 80 minutes of London.

According to the current consultation exercise, HS2 “would cost £32 billion to construct, and would generate benefits of around £44 billion, as well as revenues totalling a further £27 billion”. The adverts on the Huddersfield line promise simply that HS2 will deliver ‘more jobs’.

If the benefits of HS2 are to be extra time and the attractiveness of ‘the north’ to do business, then the experiences of commuters at Sowerby Bridge station perhaps illustrate that there might be quicker and less-expensive ways of achieving both.

For example, until some enterprising people opened the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms (which I understand was achieved in spite of and not because of Network Rail) there was nowhere to buy a cup of coffee on a cold morning. On such mornings queuing on the motorway in a warm car becomes a more attractive option.

Trains could also be made more productive places. According to the Office of Rail Regulation, 258,918 used Sowerby Bridge station during the year 2009/10 and the majority probably spend around an hour a day commuting to work.

It may not be the case now, but certainly in the not too distant future the majority of commuters are likely to be using laptops or ipads or similar, and if trains had on-board wi-fi then more people would use them and that hour of their day could be made more useful than reading a Metro.

Like commuters at Sowerby Bridge, the 179,500 people who used Brighouse station during 2009/10 have no means of buying a ticket before boarding.

For passengers for whom passes are not cost-effective and who cannot buy a ticket on-board this means queuing at Leeds (or Manchester) to get through the barriers, which again is a disincentive to travel by train and reduces collective productivity.

The principle of HS2 is obviously a sound one, but since it is already possible to get to London from Leeds in two hours (and with direct services already from York, Brighouse and Halifax), £32 billion seems a lot of money to spend on an extra 40 minutes.

Noting that the planning inquiry for Terminal 5 at Heathrow lasted eight years it is also obviously sometime away.

I cannot help but feel that creating road capacity by getting more people on to trains, and by giving people the opportunity to be more productive once on them, would create more value per pound spent and be of more immediate and direct benefit.

Samuel Stafford

Bank Buildings

Mill Bank

Sowerby Bridge