Let’s pretend the Calder Valley had a tram system

The Pierce Hall, Halifax. Imagine this with a tram. Image: Getty.

Another contribution to our occasional thread of speculative, and hilariously overy-ambitious, transport proposals from readers…

Dear Jonn,

I recently saw the piece about a fantasy tram system for Truro and, having been really interested in it, I wanted to get in touch and share my creation for Halifax and the Calder Valley. We’re getting all kinds of investment in the transport systems in this area lately, so I thought: why not take it up a level and have a tram line running through it all?

I’d have the line start in Brighouse in the Lower Valley, at the town’s railway station. The station is a little out of the way, so this would be a fast and easy way to get from here to the town centre. Once through Brighouse, it would begin to wind up the A644, which is usually heavily congested at peak times. At Hipperholme crossroads, it would then continue towards Halifax town centre on the A58, stopping at Shibden Park.

Once it has come down New Bank and entered Halifax town centre by travelling over North Bridge, it would then have an important stop just outside the main bus station. Once it has stopped here, I would split it into two one-way systems, much like a part of Nottingham’s NET system. Trams from Brighouse would skirt the southern edge of the town, stopping at the town’s main attraction of the Piece Hall, and the railway station; while trams to Brighouse would run through the middle of the town, stopping outside the Borough Market.

Continuing westwards, both tracks would come back together at the Shay Stadium, before carrying on up to Savile Park, where I’d locate another park and ride. From here, it would follow the A646 Burnley Road, through Friendly, across the top of Sowerby Bridge, and into Luddenden Foot and Mytholmroyd. I would put a third park and ride in Brearley, just before Mytholmroyd town centre. Finally, it would finish up in Hebden Bridge in the heart of the Upper Valley, at the railway station there. Here’s a map.

Click to expand.

I hope this would clear up a good deal of the congestion there is around the area, while also getting people from one side of the Calder Valley to the other and linking up the railway stations to their respective town centres. Of course, it’s all fanciful. But it would be good, wouldn’t it?

Thanks for reading this.

Matthew Whiley (@MatthewWhiley)

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What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.