Good news of government go-ahead for TransPennine Route Upgrade. 4-tracking through Mirfield should also benefit Calder Valley. Meanwhile WYCA’s submission to National Infrastructure Commission calls for Calder Valley electrification and keeps 5-year old task force recommendations alive. But still no clear plan to unlock capacity on Manchester’s Castlefield corridor, needed for better Calder Valley services.
Grant Shapps celebrates his first anniversary as transport secretary this week with a go-ahead for the TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU). We have been waiting five years, but today (23 July 2020) the good news is £589 million “to kickstart” work on Manchester-Huddersfield-Leeds. Reading between the lines, we gather this is still initially the gapped electrification scheme with wiring only – as yet – between Manchester and Stalybridge and Huddersfield-Leeds: “Most of the line will be electrified,” says the statement, “And our ambition is to go further.” This is good news, a step change in government thinking, and was predicted in a report to West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s transport committee earlier this month.
The promise now is that full electrification, digital signalling, more multi-tracking and more freight capacity are under consideration, under an integrated rail plan expected in December.
Meanwhile it is important for the Calder Valley to note the immediate promise that “the most congested section of the route will be doubled from two to four tracks”. We take it this means the section from Huddersfield to Dewsbury, involving a conflicted-relieving flying junction at Ravensthorpe, a project for which Transport and Works Act approval is now awaited. These works will provide new capacity for more trains long called for by HADRAG, via the Elland-Brighouse corridor as well on the Huddersfield line.
Keep the sparks alive!
The Electric Railway Charter calls for electrification of the full Calder Valley Line (Leeds to Manchester and Preston via both Bradford and Brighouse) as an early follow on to TRU and as recommended to government by the Northern Electrification Task Force more than five years ago.
We are delighted to see Calder Valley Line electrification prioritised in West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s submission to the National Infrastructure commission. WYCA indicates that the March 2015 task force report Northern Sparks is still very much a live document. Remember the task force, an all-party group of MPs working with local authorities and rail industry, recommended a five-year initial rolling programme of 12 routes of which the full CV line achieved top ranking.
The 23 July statement by Grant Shapps boasts a total of “over £600 million” investment. Some of the apparent “extras” have already been announced and include:
- £10M for design and development of capacity improvements including consideration of different options. Another 5-year old project – we are still waiting for the extra platforms at Manchester Piccadilly that should have enable a Calder Valley-Manchester Airport service a year ago. It is not clear whether the original plan will go ahead or an alternative involving a tunnel from the west to Piccadilly – which might be better but could take years longer to plan and build. As Bradford, Halifax, Calder Valley and Rochdale passengers we need this bottleneck unblocking to permit better services on our line, including a service to Manchester Airport. Update 31 July: At the Transport for the North board meeting on 29 July, Greater Manchester Mayor Burnham asked for clarity on plans. If Network Rail has an alternative to the proposed Man Picc platforms 15 & 16 TfN wants to hear about it. And so do we, the ever-patient travelling public and campaigners! The promise seems to be we’ll all find out in December.
- £1M for planning a cycling route between Halifax and Bradford through Queensbury former rail tunnel. Very welcome (but again, this is just for planning).
Strategic routes need wires
Finally, just like the TRU Huddersfield line, routes like the Calder Valley are strategic and need full electrification. Travel patterns will change after Covid, but we see public transport being built back as “sociable transport” not just catering for inter/into/intra-city travel but for the whole community in our large, medium and smaller towns. We want rail to be first choice for the broadest range of travel needs. That means a return to frequent services – at least 2 trains per hour on all sections of the line, at least 4/hr on key corridors such as Leeds-Halifax-Hebden Bridge and Todmorden-Manchester. Rochdale-Manchester already, under normal circumstances, has 6/hr. Whilst we do not yet know what the post-Covid normal will be, the climate and environmental crisis will still be there.
We can not go back to congested, polluted roads.
Nor should we go back to sardine-packed trains where people paying peak-rate fares have the worst travel conditions.
And let’s not be distracted false promises. Hydrogen-powered trains waste energy (compared with either overhead electric or batteries) in the inefficiencies of making the hydrogen, distributing it, and then getting the energy back on the train. We don’t deny hydrogen has its uses but not for strategic routes like ours.
The communities on our line need a modern, electric railway. – JSW