Council Leader holds Northern Rail to account

Cllr Swift

The Leader of Calderdale Council has written to Northern Rail to express his grave concerns about the Calder Valley service following the introduction of the new timetable on 20 May 2018.

In an open letter to Managing Director David Brown, Cllr Tim Swift argues that the level of delays and cancellations on the Calder Valley line mean that ‘rail is no longer a reliable means of travel’.

Figures show that in the first three days of the new timetable, between 7am and 7pm on the Calder Valley line:

  • 25 services were cancelled
  • Over a third of services (36%) were delayed by three minutes or more

Visitors to the Piece Hall for the Father John Misty concert over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend were caught up in the disruption after a large number of train services were cancelled and the replacement bus service was cancelled, potentially leaving hundreds stranded in Halifax.

Whilst the earlier timetable changes have caused major disruption for commuters travelling to and from the borough, the introduction of the new temporary timetable on Monday 4 June is having an even greater impact, particularly on services to Todmorden.

Cllr Tim Swift said:

“The recent failure of Northern to deliver and maintain services against its franchise agreement, and to communicate properly with the public, is unacceptable and they must be held to account.


“I have asked Northern for an urgent response and reassurance that our concerns will be recognised and that we will see an immediate return to a reliable service on the Calder Valley line. The service which Calderdale has received since the introduction of the new timetable is simply not good enough.


“We have major employers in the borough, including Nestles International, Covea Insurance and SSP which have their global headquarters in Halifax.  The Lloyds Banking Group is also located here.  Our businesses and our residents rely on these vital connections with the major towns and cities across the North, including Leeds, Bradford and Manchester.


“It’s extremely disappointing, particularly given how relentlessly we have been working to bring key improvements to the rail network through Calderdale.”

The open letter sent by the Leader of Calderdale Council, Cllr Tim Swift, to the Managing Director of Northern Rail, David Brown:

Dear David

I am writing to express the Council’s grave concern with regard to the current standard of rail service across the Borough. Since the introduction of the new timetable the Calder Valley line has been beset by delays and cancellations to the extent that rail is no longer a reliable means of travel.

These cancellations and delays were experienced in just the first three days of the new timetables (7am – 7pm only)

Bradford Interchange (Calder Valley):

  • 25 services cancelled or 8.2% of all services due to run (9% in AM peak, 7.4% in PM peak)
  • 36% of services were delayed by three minutes or more.

You will be aware from your experience with Transport for the North of the critical importance of the Calder Valley rail service to residents and businesses in Calderdale. This service provides East-West connectivity across the central Pennines in the M62 corridor connecting almost 5 million people to the labour market.

These services are vital for businesses and residents in Calderdale. Major employers including Lloyds Banking Group and RSA main hubs are located here, while Nestles International, Covea Insurance and SSP having global headquarters in Halifax.  A fit for purpose rail service is essential for these businesses and their workforce.  At the same time many Leeds and Manchester companies depend upon employees living in our Borough and travelling to work by train.  Both access to the cities and access from the cities provides higher productivity and access to learning as well as providing in many cases- the only practical means of getting to work.

I expect that you are aware of the success of the recently re-opened Piece Hall. The Piece Hall and Square Chapel have generated over 2 million visitors.  Travelling on public transport, particularly rail is a must for the sustainability of this high profile and principal tourism attraction for Calderdale and West Yorkshire.  Recent major events at the Piece Hall have been threatened by the major rail service disruption and in one recent case, even the absence of any replacement bus service.

Calderdale has been working relentlessly to improve this service and identified the enhancements of the line as the most important contributor to economic growth in the district in its economic strategies. This was recognised in the Northern Electrification Task Force report (Northern Sparks, March 2015) which identified the Calder Valley Line as a Tier 1 priority based on the ‘scale of the economic impact’.

In the recent franchising of the route, many of the key outputs identified and agreed by Calderdale and the rail industry to achieve economic, environmental and social outcomes were incorporated. These included services that would support the c.50,000 daily commuters (11,000,000/annum 2011 census) through providing:

  • an extra train per hour, direct access to Manchester International Airport,
  • earlier and later trains,
  • improved Sunday services,
  • increased seating capacity and Wi-Fi.

These service improvements appear to be a distant dream currently, as even the former basic service with its ancient rolling stock, is no longer being reliably delivered. Indeed, whilst we understand that most of the service withdrawals announced on Friday affect the North West, we note with concern that this will have a further impact on services to Todmorden in particular.

Calderdale, based on these franchise agreements with the rail industry, has recently agreed to a fundamental shift in the provision of transport (Calderdale Transport Strategy 2016-2031) to meet the growth targets in our Local Plan. We have agreed to invest in high quality, seamless access to public and active transport networks to enable us to be at the forefront of innovation and new forms of mobility; to meet policy imperatives for reducing obesity, congestion, pollution and quality of place.  A well-functioning rail service integrated into a wider network is the foundation of our spatial, economic and transport planning.

The recent failure of Northern to deliver against the franchise objectives and to maintain service levels is unacceptable. We understand that the situation is complicated, and that delays in promised investments by Network Rail have contributed to your current problems.  However, we need a prompt response, which I hope you will be able to give within the next ten working days, and most importantly an urgent return to a reliable service, alongside re-assurance and improved communication to the public.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Tim Swift

Leader of the Council

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