December 09, 2013
TransWilts train services - up from 2 to 8 per day
The day that many people thought would never come has arrived ... there are more train services on the TransWilts line - currently running Swindon, Chippenham, Melksham and Trowbridge to Westbury, with onward connections including Dilton Marsh, Warminster and Salisbury - than there have been in living memory. Last week 4 trains per day called at Melksham, today and hereafter that's increased to 16 (11 on winter Sundays, 13 on summer Sundays).
Yesterday evening - Melksham's departure screen. Now a true service that's useful for the majority of passenger flows.
There have been a number of special events, but even between those the new trains were running yesterday. 35 passengers on this arrival at Melksham - some of the passenger got off, others carried on to Trowbridge or Westbury; really good to see people on the trains even on the first day. And this morning around 70 people in total took the commuter trains up to Chippenham and Swindon. We expected to be starting with the thin end of a wedge, but it's been thicker than we expected already.
The first new train - press call and official welcome. Horace Prickett, Wiltshire Councillor and West Wilts Rail User Group, Councillor John Thomson (responsibilities in Wiltshire Cabinet include public transport), myself as a representative of all the community people who have put so much into this, and Matthew Golton, Director at First Great Western. The service has been enabled by all groups working together, and we'll continue to do so.
Another key player - Duncan Hames, MP, without whom this would not have happened. It's hard to find words to say how significant his contribution is, and I'm always really impressed by his knowledge and understanding of the details - I don't know how he does it, but I'm very grateful! He's selling tickets - under supervision - on the new 07:48 Melksham to Swindon. A whisper from the conductor who I met again later told me that he only just had time. Perhaps we need ticket issuing facilities in Melksham?
And - in its 15th year - the Santa special. A train 3 times as long as the rest, ticket sales limited for health and safety reasons (Melksham platform capacity!) and a great time had by all.
There is much to do to help the service grow, and the community is making those little local inputs that can mean so much, and supporting First Great Western who are operating the services, and Wiltshire Council who are improving station facilities and integration with other transport (via a grant from the local sustainable transport fund) ... take a look at the community website at http://www.twcrp.org.uk ... with so much happening (and there are fare changes too which make some journeys much more attractive!) it may take a few days to get t totally kitted out - we have to remove all the "Campaining for more trains - 2 is inadequate" references as we've all pulled together to achieve that objective.
December 06, 2013
A THANK YOU to those who have brought the new train service to fruition
A new train service such as the TransWilts one doesn't just materialise out of thin air. All aspects of the service need to be checked and validated and good cases made and then a mechanism for delivery and promotion of the service has to be provided. This takes a long time, and a great deal of commitment from many people. It's rather akin to a marathon relay race, and spectators at the finishing line should be aware that although the people carrying the baton over the line are vital, there are many unsung heroes without whom it wouldn't have been possible.
In alphabetic order of forename, we should salute... Adrienne Westbrooke; Alan Baines; Alan Weymouth; Anne Lock; Bob Lee; Chris Hankin; Chris Irwin; David Philips; David Redgewell; Duncan Hames; Gordon Dodge; Gordon Edwards; Jean Harris; Jenny Raggett; John Crook; John Hamley; John Money; John Wilkinson; John Williams; Jon Glover; Julian Crow; Julie Boston; Lee Fletcher; Margaret Willmot; Mary Jarvis; Mike Williams; Nick Westbrook; Paul Johnson; Pete Jobson; Peter Blackburn; Phil McMullen; Richard Gamble; Rolf Brindle; Sheila Wilkinson; Sion Bretton; Steve Petty and Terri Welch. Each of these people has had... significant involvement as a campaigner or passenger, longstanding and initiated at least 8 years ago... or has gone greatly above or beyond what would normally be expected from their linked professional role... or has invested lots of time and effort - e.g. 150 days or 1500 new threads on our online forum... or has nurtured and encouraged others along in the same direction and providing support to those working towards improvement. Some of those names make uncomfortable bedfellows with each other, but it's very much the wide range of roles and people all pulling in the same direction that have made this possible. And the hard work only now begins - with the train operator, the local councils, and the community continuing to co-operate to ensure that the service is advertised, nurtured, tuned and developed so that it's not only been gained but will also be retained through strong use over the coming year or two.
Melksham station, and TransWilts train services, were withdrawn in the 1960s under the auspices of the Beeching report. Although extensive closures may have been right at that time, with 20 years it was appreciated that some were a step too drastic, and a number of stations were re-opened 20 years later, including Melksham where a limited service was provided for commuters to Swindon from 1985. That was no mean feat in itself, and groups such as the Melksham Railway Development Group and the West Wilts Rail User group provided input and volunteer community support. Service levels and timings changed somewhat over the years, but were patchy, and the Strategic Rail Authority, looking to reduce rolling stock needs in 2004, specified a service for the current franchise period that allowed the two return trips a day to be very poorly timed for daily commuters. And passenger ticket sales plummeted under the new service, in contrast to stations on other lines serving comparable population centres where they have grown 80% in the last few years. A line with only occasional trains, serving the five largest urban areas in Wiltshire, and with those few trains near-empty is only one side of a story; the other side of the story is the very real dampener on economic growth that's put on the communities along the way by lack of appropriate middle and long distance public transport. And thus was born the "Save the Train" campaign. The objectives were:
a) To make people aware that there was an issue to be looked at - what level of service was appropriate?
b) To look at the issue in some detail so that an appropriate service level was agreed
c) To gain that level of service
d) To retain the appropriate service (and "appropriate" may change over the years)
At first, many of the campaigners who's names are listed above felt like isolated voices, with the majority official responses being to back up the SRA's 2004 specification. However, it became apparent quite quickly that the growth figures forecast for rail use were woefully pessimistic, and that towns such as Westbury, Trowbridge, Chippenham and Melksham were all growing fast. It's become "cool" to travel by train again, and fears of climate warning, increasing road congestion and rising petrol costs have moved us into a very different scenario. By 2011, the community was ready, and with wider support from business organisations, the county and the rail industry to look at the case in some detail. It was suggested that an appropriate service would be an additional train from Swindon, at least to Westbury, every 2 hours, and analyses were undertaken to check that case
a) A business study showed a benefit to cost ratio of 2.74 to 1... an excellent figure
b) An operational study showed that the current infrastructure has capacity to carry the service, both before and after electrification through Swindon
c) A survey of local businesses drew 160 responses representing 11,000 employees - and 94% said that the service would make a significant positive difference
d) A public survey drew 1600 responses, with 600 people coming forward to say they would use the train for commuting, and many more for leisure
e) A trial service on 8 summer Sundays, challenging the community to attract people to trains, was so successful that the trains had to be lengthened all summer
Having checked from all aspects that the proposed service level should work (it still requires connection, information systems, reliability, prices, safety too), the question came as to how to achieve it - and at that point the community moved from a campaigning to a co-operation and 'work with' roll. The people at county, in national government and in the rail industry whom we had rightly had to convince of the case were now on board with it. So it was no longer "Save the Train" - it was the "TransWilts Community Rail Partnership". Such partnerships are a recognised structure, wherein the community works with government and the rail industry to provide combined marketing and intelligence support for train services. And although the three elements are already working well together, it has to be said it's not been an easy change for some. And the Association of Community Rail Partnerships has denied us membership, citing that CRPs are primarily to market existing service and at present (November 2013) ours isn't at a marketable level. But that's changing.
Under the new franchise that should have started in March 2013, and with a grant won from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, Wilsthire Council and the new franchisee were set to be running that "appropriate service" from December 2013. Alas, due to systemic issues with the franchising system that were highlighted on the West Coast, the franchising was cancelled and all improvements to service across the South West put on hold. It has taken extraordinary work by people listed above, and many many other too, to put all the pieces back into place, reprime the pumps, and its now all signed off for that appropriate service to start on Sunday, 8th December.
Running and supporting a service needs a lot more people and effort than the earlier stages of campaigning - the need for resources grows, and the CRP is making every encouragement to newcomers to join in supporting the line. Station groups are being set up along the line, links with First and Wiltshire Council getting even closer and it's no longer possible to tell the poacher from the gamekeeper. People who have been involved for many years - yes, that list above - stand back in awe at ties and say "wow" at some of the things that are happening, and we're all set for a fabulous launch, and for some busy services. Once the service is running, we'll be in a position to re-apply to formally join ACoRP and be able to start making full use of their skills and experience in marketing the line - perhaps unlocking further doors for us. Make no mistake - much hard work has been done, and another phase of hard work is starting.
You, dear reader, can support the service by using them. By telling your friends about them. By passing on idea to us of things that could improve the service. If you want to be more actively involved, watch this space in the coming weeks; just at present we're 10 days away from a launch and we're making sure that all the 'I's are dotted and the 'T's crossed. Adverts, editorial, leaflets, station decoration, Santa train, web sites, forums and much more. Do visit our website at http://www.twcrp.org.uk to find out more.
December 03, 2013
New train service - launch plans and timetable links
It's less than a week away... the start of an improved train service on the TransWilts line. The following are quick links to First Great Western's timetables:
Westbury to Swindon services:
London to Trowbridge and Westbury via Melksham
Southampton and Salisbury to Swindon and Chippenham via Melksham
... tell people about the service
... use it!
... send us feedback
** 5th / 6th December
Volunteers plan to travel on the early morning Westbury to Bath trains to hand out flyers and new timetables to commuters doglegging to Chippenham and Swindon. And on 5th December, we've got a final
lead-up meeting and Santa present wrapping session in the evening.
** 8th December
The first new train leaves Westbury at 10:30 on Sunday, 8th December. When it gets to Melksham (10:44), there will be a brief welcome before it's waved on its way up to Chippenham and Swindon. Please do come along and see the train off!
If you want a ride, further trains leave Westury at 13:32, 16:29 and 18:50 on the Sunday (5 minutes later from Trowbridge, or 15 later from Melksham), and each of these returns from Swindon after a few minutes there. Please avoid the 17:16 from Westbury / 17:30 from Melksham, as that train will be full of prebooked passengers and children coming to see Santa on the train.
** 9th December
The first morning commuter / business trains from Westbury - at 07:04 and 07:28. Duncan Hames MP joining at 07:38 in Trowbridge and will travel on train to Swindon, returning to Chippenham on the 08:49 to Chippenham.
** 9th to 13th December
** 16th to 20th Decemeber
Eight trains each way per day. Please try out the service
** Saturdays 14th and 21st December
** Sundays 15th and 22nd December
Saturday and Sunday service - last minute Christmas shopping? The Outlet Center in Swindon is just 10 minute walk from the station.
** Christmas and New Year period
24th December - normal service
25th December - no service
26th December - no service
27th December – the six new services run.
28th December - 08:20, 09:06, 10:33, 12:36, 16:01, 17:32 and 18:22
Return at 08:36, 10:36, 13:05, 16:17, 17:36, 19:36 and 21B00
29th December - normal Sunday service except final train is bus
30th December - trains into Swindon at 08:01, 16:48 and 19:36,
return at 08:22, 17:06 and 19:01. extra journeys by bus each way
31st December near normal service but First train not running
1st January - service starts with 10:34 arrival into Swindon
2nd January - normal service
Initial feedback as you use the service will be much appreciated - whilst there's been a lot of planning going on, things may crop up that we should be aware of.
Hope to see you in the trains or at the stations. Enjoy!