COMMUTERS on the Wharfedale line should start to see improvements in their journeys to work in the next few months.

Firstly they are to benefit from the start of a £12 million investment programme in additional train carriages designed to bring increased capacity and comfort.

ARRIVA Trains Northern, working in partnership with Metro, the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, and train leasing company Angel Trains, has introduced the first two of 16 additional carriages planned to increase passenger capacity on its fleet of Class 333 trains.

The first two trains in the fleet, which operates MetroTrain services on the Wharfedale and Airedale lines between Leeds, Skipton, Bradford Forster Square and Ilkley, have been strengthened from three to four carriages with an extra 100 seats per train.

Peter Cushing, ARRIVA Trains Northern's regional director said: "We are committed to improving the services we provide. The start of this £12 million investment programme to increase the capacity of our Class 333 fleet to four carriage trains is excellent news for our customers."

Metro Chairman Councillor Mick Lyons said: "Metro, working in partnership with ARRIVA Trains Northern, initiated the Rail Passenger Partnership bid lobbies to secure these vehicles which West Yorkshire needs and deserves. These first two extra vehicles will begin to provide the much-needed improvements for passengers on the these lines and I look forward to the rest coming into service."

Tom Wesley, Ilkley's chairman of the Wharfedale Rail Users' Group, said that the Class 333 trains introduced in January 2001 had only slightly more capacity than the old electric trains, so passengers, particularly those at Guiseley and Menston joining the morning trains to Leeds and Bradford, had to stand all the way.

"Overcrowding in peak hours was repeated on the new trains," said Mr Wesley.

The two new carriages were part of a bid for cash to increase the capacity of half of the 16 trains running on the line to four carriages. A move which should be completed this summer.

Mr Wesley said that should solve the problem of overcrowding this year if complicated time table arrangements, to make sure that the longer trains were running at peak times, were implemented.

But Mr Wesley said that another successful bid for cash should see all the trains on the line being increased to four carriages sometime next year.

"That will make an enormous difference to the overcrowding," said Mr Wesley.

Another boost to rail travellers, according to Mr Wesley, will come in two months when long-running engineering works at Leeds Station comes to an end. The completion of the improvements should lead to an improvement in reliability.

Introduced to West Yorkshire in January 2001, Class 333 trains have proved very popular with passengers.

With ergonomically-designed seating and temperature control for passengers - as well as safety features such as sliding, centrally-operated doors - they offer a far more comfortable journey than the previous Class 308 trains.

The trains are also equipped with up-to-the-minute information technology which offers comprehensive passenger announcements, and have been specially designed to easily accommodate wheelchair users.

Despite a new report suggesting that rail services nationally had got worse during the final three months of last year, Mr Wesley said that so far this year the Wharfedale line seemed to be operating acceptably.

"I believe the Wharfedale line is running smoothly, hopefully things will start going forward. Things are beginning to get better," said Mr Wesley.