Major revisions planned for Airedale and Wharfedale rail lines

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Tim Callow, chairman of the Aire Valley Rail Users Group Tim Callow, chairman of the Aire Valley Rail Users Group

If you travel on trains along any route in the Bradford district, the chances are that Network Rail’s Route Utilisation Strategy for Yorkshire and the Humber will affect you in some way.

In the north of the district, major revisions are proposed to peak hour services on the overcrowded Airedale and Wharfedale lines which could change the habits of commuters along those routes.

To the south-west of the district, a complicated plan to bring about quicker services between Bradford and Manchester has emerged from the strategy.

And in the east of the district, extra trains could operate in rush hour periods to prevent passengers having to stand up between Bradford Interchange and Leeds.

The new report notes the current levels of overcrowding on West Yorkshire services and sets out plans to cope with projected passenger growth by 2017/18.

Rail user groups across the district are already beginning to form their opinions on the strategy and are busy contributing to the consultation process ahead of the deadline for feedback on December 18.

Airedale line (Skipton to Leeds and Bradford Forster Square) Since electrification in the mid-1990s, the route has seen rapid passenger growth, leading to serious overcrowding during peak periods.

The busiest services run between Skipton and Leeds, where passengers find themselves having to stand up during morning and evening peak periods.

Most services on the route are operated by electric trains made up of four carriages – the maximum length that can be handled by the short platforms at many stations on the line.

The new strategy looks at the possibility of lengthening platforms at Shipley to accommodate longer trains, but rules out that option because the triangular track layout around the station makes the work “prohibitively expensive.”

By virtually dismissing the possibility of lengthening every train on the Airedale line, the report says the “most efficient” way to alleviate overcrowding is to reorganise peak services to create a two-tier timetable.

The move would see a number of lengthened semi-fast services operating along the route, combined with more frequent short-length stopping services.

Six services currently operate during the three-hour peak period, but these would be replaced by four services that start and terminate at Skipton, call at all stations between Skipton and Keighley, and then operate semi-fast between Keighley and Leeds, calling only at Bingley.

These trains would be lengthened to six carriages and would no longer call at Crossflatts, Saltaire and Shipley.

Up to five further services in the same three-hour peak period would start and terminate at Keighley and call at all stations between Keighley and Leeds.

A new turnback facility at Keighley – either a platform or siding – would have to be built to allow this plan to work.

All passengers to and from the north of Keighley would use the semi-fast services which, when lengthened, would have sufficient capacity to accommodate future growth.

Passengers from Keighley and Bingley would have a choice of service types, but in reality most would be likely to use a semi-fast rather than a stopping train.

Rail users from all other stations would use the stopping services, which would then be significantly less crowded in the absence of passengers from north of Keighley.

Network Rail estimates that capacity would increase by between 40 and 50 percent and an economic appraisal suggests the move would offer medium to high value for money.

Passenger numbers on the present Leeds – Bradford Forster Square services are well within the capacity of existing trains and therefore no action is needed to accommodate forecast growth.

On that basis, the strategy identifies the Forster Square services as the most suitable to stop at the proposed new stations at Apperley Bridge and Kirkstall Forge.

Tim Calow, chairman of the Aire Valley Rail Users Group, said: “We are concerned that the report implies a reduction in peak train frequencies to and from Leeds from most Airedale stations, from six to either five or four trains.

“It is far from clear how these plans are consistent with a regular interval timetable and how the services from beyond Skipton will be incorporated.

“The mix of three and four car trains will complicate train planning.

“The report may well have found the cheapest way of increasing peak hour capacity. It does not, I believe, provide a strategic view of how the full potential of the railway could be exploited to serve the travel needs of local people.”bl.4 – Wharfedale line (Ilkley to Leeds and Bradford) Plans to increase capacity on the Wharfedale line are less complicated than the Airedale proposals – but equally vital to passengers on the route.

The line from Ilkley to Leeds and Bradford was electrified in parallel with the Airedale line and has experienced a similar high level of passenger growth.

Currently, trains have passengers standing during peak hours in the morning and evening.

The report said: “Analysis suggests that train and platform lengthening would be relatively straightforward on this corridor, and therefore as train lengthening is normally the most efficient solution where crowding occurs over much of a route, this is recommended.”

Network Rail believes that eight extra peak vehicle arrivals are required to meet overcrowding and the best way to deliver this would be to lengthen the four busiest services from four to six-carriage formations.

Peter Wilkinson, chairman of Wharfedale Rail Users’ Group, said members would be discussing the strategy in detail at its November meeting.

He said: “As an initial personal thought, the proposals seem to suggest a solution to the peak time overcrowding on the Ilkley– Leeds route.

“However, I am still concerned that it will not be sufficient to handle the increased passenger volumes created by the proposed large housing developments in the A65 corridor.

“Of course, aspirations will only be turned into reality if funding is in place and if the credit crunch continues to push the country into recession then who knows when the proposals will actually be put into place.”

The rail users’ group is keen for the punctuality target on the Wharfedale line to be raised to achieve 96 per cent on time or within five minutes, with the reliability target improved to 99.5 per cent.

Looking into the future, the group believes the route should be served by a minimum peak service of six trains at a 15 to 20 minute frequency to arrive at Leeds between 7.30am and 9am and depart between 4.50pm and 6.35pm.

People who use services on the route would also like to see the introduction of a peak hour through train between Baildon and Leeds via Guiseley, subject to infrastructure improvements.

The improvements needed to support the enhanced train plan should include improved signalling between Guiseley and Ilkley to permit four to five-minute headways and possible platform lengthening at selected stations.

The group said any new rolling stock should have at least the performance and passenger comfort specifications of the current four car Class 333.

In terms of station facilities, the group would like to see ticket offices and machines that are adequate to cope with peak demand at all stations.

Caldervale line (Leeds via Bradford to Halifax and Manchester) Rail users in Bradford believe the latest proposals for the Calder Valley route are “imaginative” and could have several positive spin-offs.

During high peak hours, the eastern end of the route is one of the most overcrowded in the region, with passengers on some trains standing for 39 minutes from Halifax to Leeds via Bradford.

To tackle this problem, the report recommends five extra four-car Halifax to Leeds services during each peak period.

Although this option would require an extra crossover at Bradford Interchange, Network Rail says it offers “high value for money”.

It is also more cost-effective than train lengthening, which would lead to longer trains travelling the length of the route with low occupancy for much of the journey.

A similar option is recommended to alleviate overcrowding at the Manchester end of the route, with up to six extra Todmorden to Manchester Victoria services operating during each peak period.

This option, which would require a new turnback facility at Todmorden, would have the added benefit of reducing the journey time of Bradford to Manchester trains, which would no longer need to call at all intermediate stations.

At present, trains between West Yorkshire and Manchester take much longer to go via the Calder Valley than via Huddersfield and local stakeholders believe this has a detrimental impact on the connectivity of Bradford.

Removal of peak-hour stops west of Todmorden, with the exception of Rochdale, is likely to reduce the Bradford to Manchester journey time by around six minutes.

Alec Suchi, of Bradford Rail Users Group, said: “Outwardly, it seems an imaginative proposal to tackle overcrowding and also to increase demand for rail services.

“I have experienced peak periods on the line and it isn’t very pleasant because people are already standing by the time they get to Bradford – and it’s another 20 minutes to Halifax.

“The steps they are proposing would improve the travel experience.”

Mr Suchi said the new shuttle-style services between Halifax and Leeds would be very welcome, so long as they did not compromise the main services on the full length of the route.

He said further improvements to journey times between Bradford and Manchester would further boost the case for a new station at Low Moor. One of the main objections to the new station revolves around timetabling difficulties, but Mr Suchi said time saved at Mill Lane junction and along other sections of the route would mean an additional stop at Low Moor could be accommodated.

Network Rail said additional work would now be undertaken to understand whether the journey time from Bradford to Manchester could be reduced by more than six minutes.

One option for this may include bespoke line-speed improvements. The £8 million engineering project to improve linespeed through Mill Lane junction, at the throat of Bradford Interchange, is an example of the type of work that may be needed on other parts of the route.

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