June 25, 2016

Melksham Rail Development Group - a celebration of 20 years

On the evening of Friday, 24th June 2016, the Melksham Railway Development Group was renamed the "Melksham Rail Users Group".

In 20 years since the group's formation, passenger numbers using Melksham Station have risen 20 times - from 3,000 to 60,000 journeys a year, and the group has developed the station from virtually nothing into a facility used by hundreds of people a day. Looking after those customers - ensuring that they have the best service that can be provided for them, ensuring they're informed, and picking up and answering questions, issues and suggestions they have is a growing role, overtaking the continuing role of developing the station and services.

Mark Hopwood, Managing Director of Great Western Railway who operate trains to over 270 stations, writes "... has let me know about your plans to change the Melksham Railway Development Group into the Melksham Rail Users Group. This is another important milestone in the development of the line and recognises that the TransWilts, and Melksham station, are truly up and running and working well.

"Everyone at GWR is so pleased with the phenomenal success of the line since we worked with you, and Wiltshire Council, to provide the extra services, and we look forward to further improvements.

"The Melksham Group has worked incredibly hard to transform the provision of services. You should be very proud of all you have achieved and I wanted to formally record my gratitude and thanks; with your track record I know you will be an active, and enthusiastic Rail Users' Group and we look forward to continuing our work with you as Melksham continues to go from strength to strength."

Paul Johnson, chair of the TransWilts CIC, presented the chair of the Rail Development Group - Peter Blackburn with a crystal vase to celebrate the success of the group on this momentous evening, and congratulated the longstanding members present on their success. Present, and of service to Melksham's rail services for the majority of the life of MRDG were John Money, Peter Blackburn, John Hamley, Alan Baines, Rolf Brindle and Lee Fletcher. And there were sufficient newer and new members to fill our venue to capacity.

 
 

The Melksham Rail User Group is a member of the TransWilts Community Rail Partnership - the rail industry, local government and the community working together. "TransWilts" is constitued to look not only at the Swindon to Westbury train service via Melksham, but also connecting and other public transport to, from and within Wiltshire.

Paul Johnson (chair of TransWilts) looks after strategic development of services and facilities. He described to the meeting how passenger numbers have increased dramatically over the past three years, and how both services and station facilities need to be enhanced for the future. Although passenger numbers have risen 20 fold in the past 20 years, they should rise still further; if Melksham were to make the same use of its railway station as other comparable towns in Wiltshire, passenger numbers will rise another five fold in coming years - and that means we need more and longer trains, and substantial changes to the station. Early work looking at schemes, planning what's best and consulting with stakeholders is underway so that we can move towards a "shovel ready" scheme to be implemeted when an opportunity such as the Station Regeneration scheme (central funded / see 10.4.16 prss release) and to ensure that train service reflect gwoing local need as timetables change on main line electrification and cascade. Paul also talked about the recognition of the services as a "designated service" - currently being considered by government after a consultation earlier this year; if and when granted, that would give our community and council group some extra inputs and freedoms for local tuning of the service, a small additional funding stream, and a more formal seat at the table for certain national discussions which effect all lines including ours.

Graham Ellis (TransWilts Community Rail Officer and vice chair of the Melksham Rail Users Group) looks after tactical service development. He described his role in promoting the current service, ensuring that passengers and potential passengers have the information they need, and in feeding back comments, ideas and requests to the train operators (Great Western Railway) and local transport authority (Wiltshire Council). This is a very wideranging role, and user groups, passengers, volunteers (and rail staff) are Graham's eyes and ears. Graham reported that the new lunchime trains which started running last month are already seeing good passenger numbers, other offpeak trains doing well, with peak train getting nearly full. Car parking is free for train users at Melksham Station, with a few spaces remaining available every day for new users.

Issues raised at the meeting including the complexity of tickets, and the need for further trains, leaving Melksham between 07:50 and 10:05 for Swindon, and returning from Swindon at about 16:30, leaving Melksham at around 08:20 for Westbury, and a later evening train. Keeping the car park tidy, having buses stop near the station, and the difficultly of seeing the display on the ticket machne were also raised. But overall everyone's happy with the service and re-assured the the matters mentioned here are 'on the radar' if not easily or quickly fixed.

Next events

... TransWilts will be represented at Canberra on Thursday 30th June from 1.30 to 4 p.m., promoting activities for older peoplr in the community area - including trips by train

... on 11th July, Paul Johnson's discussing further strategic plans with local stakeholders for Melksham Station including better access, longer platform and more services.

... 16th to 18th July, we're doing passenger surveys of all TransWilts users to learn more about how the use of the line has changed, and people's journeys to and from the station, and aspirations.

... 23rd July, we have a conducted ramble from Melksham Station (at 10 a.m.) to Trowbridge - lead by WessexWanderers. Then in the afternoon it's the Melksham Carnival and we'll have a walking group in the parade

... on Sundays throughout July, why not catch the 09:52 train for a day at the seaside at Weymouth?

Posted by gje at 03:24 PM | Comments (0)
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June 23, 2016

Lisa writes - on the referendum vote today

Posting on my blog for Lisa, and in her words and in my full support of them

I cast my vote this morning. I was so nervous that I read the choices twice. Answered, then double-checked my decision twice to make sure I put my "X" in the correct box. Not because I was undecided. It was because my vote, my opinion mattered so much to me that I dare not make a mistake.

It's because I'm afraid. Afraid that all the political promises and feverish newspaper headlines might overshadow what this decision is going to mean for Britain.

No crystal ball here; just common sense. And I hope the British voters choose their common sense as well. Too often we have seen elections won by candidates who triggered emotions. Instead, we need to vote wisely and not as a "protest vote".

I voted to remain in the EU.

How you vote is up to you. I just want you to think deep and hard, and look beyond the rhetoric. My decisions about important matters start with a question, "Who is to gain from the outcome?"

When I look to the politicians, I see a group gathering behind David Cameron's back led by Boris Johnson. If we are no longer part of the EU, I envision him taking over the reigns of the office of Prime Minister, and Michael Gove becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer. Chris Grayling, who'd fallen from grace a few years back and lost his ministerial position, to then take a prominent role for his "devotion" --Home Secretary perhaps. This is not a government I'd like to see in place. (Nothing wrong with Boris Johnson, but London voters didn't want him back as Mayor which sent me a red flag, and I've met Chris Grayling who is a very charismatic and likeable man [very tall], but I lost faith in him over time. Michael Gove, well, look at his former duty for Education; enough said.)

Nigel Farage, very down-to-earth and I can see how he can connect with people. What concerns me about his waving of the European Passport and demanding it say "British" -- has he even thought about how complicated and expensive it's going to be to reissue 42.5 million passports* (and using Biometric)? I just renewed mine! How long will this take? Will it stop us from travelling until it's sorted? I just booked a November flight! * 2011 figures from Lightwater (from a very quick Internet search for an answer)

Immigration.

I can talk about this through personal experience. I am an Immigrant. I'm not a terrorist, and I did not take your job away from you. In fact, I helped to create jobs by a company started as independent consultation by my husband in 1995 and expanded to a full-blown company when I joined. You could say the addition of one Immigrant created an additional five pay cheques; which means an additional five sets of taxes (NI and PAYE) going to the government pot. Not to mention the business paying corporate taxes and next month starting to participate in the national Employee Pension Scheme.

But our business has also profited the town. We actually bring business in to town, whereas it had been lost before. We have a hotel, and have been told by several of our guests that even though they needed to be in Melksham, they usually stayed outside the town because the accommodation offerings were limited. And because they stay here, they eat in local restaurants and use local shops. Some, after coming on business, liked Melksham so much, they brought their family for holiday; they'd not really known how much Wiltshire had to offer leisure guests.

Employment.

People argue that Europeans coming over will take their jobs. Of those out of work -- would you happen to be the ones who email our company (using "info@") and ask "Hey, ya got any jobs going?" because if you are, I have no intention of hiring anyone who shows a lack of interest in what we do or who we are. Jobs ARE there, but you have to actually work. And not looking for a job is not excused by the headlines saying that Europeans are taking our jobs. If it's far too easy for you to say you get more by not working, then you cannot complain that "foreigners" are taking your job. There are jobs for everyone. They may not pay what you demand and they may lower your personal dignity. But if you take a lower-than-wanted position, and you do it well, you won't be in that position for long. You will either get an advancement, or you will meet people who know other people who can get you a better position. It's not rocket science. You want a dream job? Do your homework, knock on the door and offer to do *anything* there for free if necessary. It's better than sitting at home and reading the trash the newspapers will have you believe. I promise you, Immigrants are NOT taking your jobs. They are only taking the necessary jobs you don't want. And they are paying the taxes that support your stay-at-home lifestyle. Because they know that if you want a foot in the door to a better job/life, you have to start at the bottom.

You want a system like the Australians have? Fine -- they allowed more people in last year than Great Britain did. Great! The more people we have working here, the more they will pay in taxes.

Get it out of your head that Muslims are terrorists. Muslims are followers of Islam. Islam is a religion. The word translates to the word "surrender" with the same root word being "peace". When we greet each other in English, we say "Hello". When someone greets someone else in Arabic, they say "Salaam" -- which means "peace". Islam, being the second most followed religion of the world, has over a billion followers. Trust me, there are nowhere near a billion terrorists. Let's look at this in a logical way. If a store is robbed in Melksham, would you then say the entire town was filled with robbers? Would you let no one in your shop because they all could potentially rob from you? You'd lose a lot of business, right?

Yes, and that's my point exactly about Immigration in general. If you keep out people who are willing to do the work, you are losing tax revenue that could go toward funding schools, transportation, emergency services, healthcare...

We don't know if the EU will "punish" Britain for a "Leave" decision. We don't know if businesses will now take what remains of manufacturing out of our towns because of renegotiated trading deals. We don't even know if Boris, Michael, Chris, and many others, will take over the Ministerialships.

As for the current government; shame on you for letting it get this far. People are angry. Cameron was so confident the British voters would back him that his little arrogant game of chess with Belgium may have backfired. If people are upset about Immigration, fix what's wrong. It's NOT that people are coming here, but rather that they are automatically getting benefits. I say the system is opposite of what it needs to be. Allow people to work and therefore gain from the taxes they have to pay. Don't allow for publicly funded benefits, or restrict them in some way. (Before I became a naturalised British citizen, I was not allowed to work for two years upon arrival to this country, yet my NHS was free because they didn't have a system in place to cover Immigrants in the NHS system. How backwards is that?)

To my way of thinking, in a worst-case scenario if we leave the EU, there are 101 things that could spell disaster economically. If we stayed, the worst thing that could happen is that we stay as we are, steady ship.

Posted by gje at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)
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Month, Day, Year number to day of week and month names in Python - English and Swedish

I had run a program (actually an answer to an exercise from our Lerning to program in Python course) which prints out a day and month number. And my group asked "how do I get the month by name?" and "What day of the week is that?"

Good questions ... and the answer in Python always starts ... "If you're doing something, think if someone's done it before, and if they have, the code probably exists and is available to you". With a common(ish) requirement, there's a probablility that the code you need is supplied as a module with the Python distribution, or is even built in via objects / methods / function calls.

Sample answer ... create a datetime object with the wanted day and month, and you can then enquire. Complete code is [here] ... the vital bits:

  dayinfo = datetime.date(year, moy[dayWanted-1], dom[dayWanted-1])
  print dayinfo.strftime("%B ... %A")

Then "Can you do that in Swedish?". Yes, if I set the locale before I do the formatting:

  import locale as l
  if not person in ("Gavin","Graham","Gary"):
    l.setlocale(l.LC_ALL, 'sv_SE')

(Ensuring that the results remain in English for the tutor, and delegates Gavin and Gary!)

Posted by gje at 07:03 AM | Comments (0)
Useful link: Python training
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June 22, 2016

Programming with random numbers - yet re-using the same values for testing

There are certain programming jobs where you want to simulate / model random occurrences - for example to shuffle a pack of cards, or (a manpower planning example from many years back) work out whether people leave an organisation duirng a year; it's no good working with percentages as you'll end up with athird of a person here and half a person there when you really want to look at what the organisation might look like. And you cetrainly want random numbers if you're going to run a series of simulations to see how consistent your results are ... this is done with (for example) weather forecasting, where random noise is introduced into readings which are likely to be of high granulatity / limited accuracy.

One of the issues you'll have with "random" values is that they're not really random. For all intents and purposes - under most ciscumstances the built in functions / modules within programming language suffice, but if you're concerend, please do read the individual manuals carefully. But the are, typically, pseudo-random returning a number from a sequence that looks pretty random, and staring from a "seed" point which will differ every time you run the program - usually the start point will be based on the system clock.

A second issue you'll find when using random numbers is how to test your program. You'll get one set of results and perhaps spot what you think is a bug, you'll fix it and say "does it work now". And a test will, indeed work correctly. But you have to ask "did I fix the problem, or did the test just happen not to use that logic because of the sequence of random numbers used?". Fortunatley, in most langauges you can set your own seed, so that you can record the sequence start point and replay the same sequence if the need arises.

[here] is an example, written in Python from yesterdays, Python programming course.

  now = int(time())
  
  # Are we using an old seed
  if len(argv) > 1:
    now = int(argv[1])
    print "replay"
  
  # Set the seed and notify the user
  seed(now)
  print now

The seed normally used is from the system clock (an integer so we don't get rounding issues when reseeding) and it's reported back. Normal runs of the program differ second by second; add the old time value (which was reported back) on the end of the Python command if you want to re-run a previous set of data.

Posted by gje at 06:50 AM | Comments (0)
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June 21, 2016

Melksham Rail Development Group becoming Melksham Rail Users Group

In 20 years, the Melksham Rail Development Group has helped improve (Develop!) Melksham station. Passenger journeys have risen from 3,000 a year to 60,000 a year – that's 20 times the passenger numbers. A consultation on our service becoming an officially designated community rail service has been completed, and we anticipate increased community input and influence in the future. On Friday 24th June at 19:30 at Melksham Town Hall, the group plans to rename to the

Melksham Rail Users Group

* The group, working with the local council, the train operator and other groups will continue to support station, environs and service improvements though marketing, campaigns, volunteer support and station adoption.

* The group will also provide a forum for passengers to feedback to and to be more informed by the train operator (Great Western Railway) and local transport authority (Wiltshire Council). We will be able to take up systemic issues where they arise, make suggestions for further improvements, and help market our line for the future.

ALL WELCOME on Friday Evening, 24th June 2016. Melksham Town Hall, 19:30

The Melksham Rail Development / Users Group is a member of the TransWilts Community Rail Partnership

Chair: Peter Blackburn. Secretary: John Hamley. Vice Chair: Graham Ellis. Treasurer: John Money.

See http://www.mrdg.org.uk or http://www.mrug.org.uk; call 0845 459 0153

Posted by gje at 06:28 AM | Comments (0)
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