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Paging Martin Noke, who petitions for more trains from Trowbridge to Swindon

Update, 2nd Feb 08 - see base of article

It was about a year ago that I ran a petition on the Prime Minister's web site, calling upon Tony Blair (our then Prime Minister) to provide an appropriate train service from Westbury to Swindon, and other routes which are operated using the same fleet of trains. You can see it here with the 1700 + signatories that we got - the highest number of signatures on a domestic public transport issue up to that point, which wasn't at all bad for a petition run for the minimum period of three weeks, and without any organisation behind it. It showed the strength of the case and I was delighted to have the names of MPs, MEPs, councilors and other notable people on it - people who have to think longer and harder about signing it that those of us who are not in the public eye.

Here's an admission - I didn't know what I was letting myself in for when I put the petition up. I had an idea, but I didn't realise the enormity of exposure, nor fully the responsibility I was taking on. Fortunately, I checked my working very carefully indeed and came up with what I believed to be a case that was sensible and practical and that everyone could unite behind, and I knew (and was know) to enough people with an interest to make the whole thing get significant support.

Yesterday, a good friend and fellow campaigner pointed me at a new petition which states We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Create a rail franchise to provide a hourly direct train service between Trowbridge and Swindon.. I applaud the quest for an hourly service - I do believe that a service of about this level (if serving the intermediate stations at Chippenham and Melksham too - thus taking in 4 of the 5 largest centers of population in Wiltshire) is appropriate. And it would need to follow on to Westbury - that's just 5 minutes - for connectional and operational reasons. But I have a number of reservations.

• I don't (yet, I hope) know the petition originator - a Martin Noke - and inquiries yesterday afternoon failed to find a backup website or publicity backing up his quest with supporting documentation. I think I have come across most campaigners who are working in parallel with us, so this one comes from left field. If it's a good petition and he's looking to achieve a large number of signatures then I would have expected to at least have known the name .. Martin - if you're reading this, please get in touch at least.

• The period of the petition runs for is 9 months, which means that any outcome and answer probably wouldn't be acted upon in timetable changes until December 2009 - such are railway timescales.

• The call for a new franchise to be created worries me; Government policy is to have quite large franchises these days (Island Line is merged, as even is Wessex Trains) so I fear that the service requirement and the patent obviousness of its use could get lost under the "change the system for us" element of the request.

• The text goes on to add that "There are currently only three passenger trains a day running between Trowbridge [snip] Swindon". Alas, there are just 2 trains each way (total of 4 single trips if you like) scheduled from Monday to Saturday - although there ARE three single trips on a Sunday. The choice of the wording makes the petition text (at first glance) look erroneous.

This posting is - unusually - an attempt to reach a person. I do not normally publish names, but Martin has chosen to thrust himself to public attention so I am fully justified in repeating his name - "Martin Noke" - and asking that he (or anyone who knows him) might like to get in touch. Where it goes from there, I don't know - the save the train and Coffee Shop may be able to work "with", or even help, or we may decide that he has a political agenda based on a fresh franchise, and we can then differentiate our causes to the mutual benefit of both.

Full text of Martin's "more details": There are currently only three passenger trains a day running between Trowbridge which is the county town of Wiltshire and Swindon which is the county's largest population centre. No additional track investment will be required. A regular train service would have a significant impact upon road congestion in the area.

I completely agree that a regular hourly service would have a significant effect on road congestion. And on the economy of the area too, with direct public transport times from Trowbridge to Swindon cut from around an hour and a half on the No 49 express bus to around 35 minutes. Martin, I hope that everyone can work together to achieve this level of service or something closer to it than we have at the moment. My email is graham@wellho.net, my phone is 01225 708225!

Update - 2nd Feb

I have now come across not one but two "Martin Noke"s in Wiltshire. One has kindly replied to an email I sent him letting me know he's not my man. I don't have an email for the other (but I do have an 01373 phone no.) and I have left a message inviting him to get in touch. However, further research suggests the petition has been running for 3 months already.

I believe that the petition is flawed in that it calls for a very specific mechanism which is totally contrary to government policy to be used to reach a very sensible objective, and the petitioner is not actively pressing it forward. So ... I will NOT be signing it (and that is my recommendation to others too) nor give it the oxygen of publicity, which is why I am following up with an obscure update here, NOT adding a link for once, and keeping my fingers crossed that it will quietly fade away.

Anyone who happens upon this ... lots of other campaign stuff for this service around. Have a look at West Wilts Rail User Group, Melksham Railway Development Group, Save the Train and the First Great Western coffeeshop
(written 2008-01-28, updated 2008-02-02)

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