Whilst most attention is focussed on the various electrification schemes across the North-West and Pennines, other work to upgrade lines in the North is going ahead with little fanfare. One such scheme kicked off this month with work starting on upgrading the Calder Valley line across the Pennines.
Work’s already been completed between Manchester Victoria and Rochdale, the highlight of which was the opening of a new Western facing bay platform at the end of October 2016. Now the focus moves East from Littleborough towards Bradford. Between now and October 2018 a series of work that includes station improvements, resignalling and track lowering (as well as the opening of the new station at Low Moor) will see speeds raised from 55-60mph to at least 70mph (and in some cases 90mph, although I’ve been told these could be too short for drivers to take advantage of). Whilst there’s been extensive track renewals along the line in the past decade, with the remodelling and renewal of Bradford Mill Lane Junction, renewal of Dryclough Jn and long lengths of the Up line either side of Mytholmroyd, some plain line still dates from 1966.
As well as adding capacity for extra services the work will reduce journey times, meaning that a Bradford – Manchester trip (with four stops) will come down from 58-61 minutes to 53-54 minutes. Whilst the time savings are modest at present, the increased linespeeds and smaller sections between signals will increase the resilience of the service and reduce delays.
Four signalboxes will be abolished and control of the line will be transferred to York ROC. The boxes to close are Hebden Bridge, Milner Royd Junction, Halifax and Bradford Mill Lane – where the junction will have new crossovers installed to enable more parallel moves and facilitate increased services between Halifax, Bradford and Leeds.
Network Rail has already confirmed dates for some of the work taking place between now and June. These are;
Sowerby Bridge and Luddendenfoot (26mp to 29mp)
25/3/17 – 27/3/17 Preparatory work for track lowering at Sowerby Bridge
01/4/17- 03/4/17 Track Lowering at Sowerby Bridge station (gauge clearance).
10/4/17 – 14/4/17 Sowerby Bridge follow up works
29/4/17-30/4/17 Prep works at Luddendenfoot
6/5/17-8/5/17 Track renewal at Luddendenfoot (West of Sowerby Bridge tunnel) and follow up work at Sowerby Bridge
13/5/17-14/5/17 Follow up works at Luddendenfoot
22/5/17-26/5/17 Follow up works at Luddendenfoot (Mid Week nights)
3/6/17-4/6/17 Follow up work at Luddendenfoot
Work on a new footbridge at the listed station of Hebden Bridge is expected to start in January 2018. The bridge (which will be fitted with lifts) will make the station fully accessible as the current subway ramps don’t meet the required standards. UPDATE: It’s since been confirmed that this was incorrect. Hebden Bridge won’t be getting a footbridge. Instead, lifts will be installed in the old lift shafts at the station. At a later date, the Down platform will be extended West to allow trains to stop within the modern signalling overlaps. As more dates are announced for other work, I’ll try and post them to this blog. There’s clearly a lot more work to do. Strings of new rail have been dropped just West of Milner Royd Jn and the ‘Orange Army’ have been busy around Halifax over the weekend. Sowerby Bridge has seen a lot of lineside vegetation clearance and there’s many sites in the Calder valley where new cable toughing has appeared.
Meanwhile, here’s a series of pictures of what you can expect to see, and what you already have…
The modernisation of the Calder Valley route reflects its new importance as a vital freight artery as well as a growing passenger railway. The last year has seen the line used by biomass trains from Liverpool Docks to Drax power station, stone from Arcow quarry on the S&C to Manchester and waste from Knowsley (Liverpool) to Wilton. There’s also daily trains moving the remaining coal stocks from the closed Ferrybridge power station to Fidlers Ferry.
Of course, it’s not just freight. The Calder Valley is an important diversionary route for Trans-pennine services when the Diggle route is closed for engineering work. When electrification of that line starts, the Calder valley’s enhanced capacity will be extremely useful.