CHRONIC overcrowding is blighting rail services between Skipton and Leeds and Bradford, it has been claimed.

And there is a warning for peak-time passengers that even new trains will not signal an end to the misery.

Campaigners are calling urgently for more investment on the Airedale line, which connects Leeds and Bradford to Skipton.

Anxieties about jam-packed carriages and unreliable services have been raised by the Aire Valley Rail Users Group (AVRUG).

Operator Northern says new electric trains should be running on the line by the end of the year.

But AVRUG chairman Tim Calow questions the impact they will have.

“While new trains are promised their introduction has been delayed – and they will have 80 seats less than four-carriage trains,” he said, speaking at the group’s annual general meeting in Saltaire.

“They will offer fewer but more roomy seats – and more room for passengers to stand in.

“We will still have very big problems with overcrowding in peak hours and on Friday and Saturday nights.”

He added that the promised launch of six-carriage trains between Leeds and Skipton had also been delayed, until 2021. The delay is attributed to remodelling work needed at Leeds Station.

Plus there are serious concerns about the degree to which the longer trains will ease problems.

Most platforms on the Airedale line, which carries around nine million passengers a year, aren’t long enough to take the new trains.

Only Skipton and Keighley stations would be capable of accommodating them.

Northern says that where platforms are too short, selective door opening will operate.

Pete Myers – the company’s stakeholder manager, who was at the meeting – said Northern would push for platforms to be extended.

But he stressed that the selective door opening system worked perfectly safely in other areas.

He added: “There are no plans at the moment by Network Rail to extend platforms, but the postponement of the introduction of six-car trains until 2021 gives us more time to press for it.

“However, we can still introduce six-car trains without the platform extensions. A longer platform is better, but we have the selective door opening technology.

“Demand is so high on the line, with passenger numbers rising, but capacity is tight. All we can do more is run longer trains.

“Existing trains are being refurbished and the much-hated Pacers will be gone by the end of the year. That’s terrific news.”

Mr Calow said six-carriage trains were “the big promise” from the new rail franchise, but offered little in practice.

“There are 360 seats on the four-car 333 trains and that only rises to 410 on the six-coach,” he said.

“They would only be deployed on peak services – and many off-peak services would be reduced to three cars, with barely more than half the existing seating capacity.

“Extending platforms is said to be too expensive. Selective door operation is a sensible measure for lightly-used stations but not for calls at stations as busy as Shipley, Saltaire and Bingley on a line where so many trains are — and will still be – grossly overcrowded.

“Different coaches will be on the platform at different stations and passengers will be totally confused as to where on the train they should be. Many trains will be too full for passengers to be able to make their way along them to access the correct coach to alight.

“Given the overcrowding that will continue to exist, something needs to be done about the platform lengths.

“We think it’s so important to the reliability of services on the line and we’ll continue to campaign on this.”

Mr Myers said it had been a challenging year, particularly with the problems that arose around the launch of new timetables last May and the long-running dispute with the RMT union over the role of guards on trains.

“The introduction of the timetables just didn’t work – it took the best part of three months to get that right,” he said.

“We have another timetable change this month and we are working hard to make sure what happened last year doesn’t happen again.

“The strike continued for the best part of two years and it was incredibly damaging, especially when it started happening every Saturday. It was horrendous.

“Thankfully, common sense prevailed. ACAS got involved, agreement was found and the strike suspended.

“We agreed there would be a conductor on each train and we are sorting out now what exactly they should be doing. Those talks carry on and we hope it will be finally resolved.”