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Seventh day traveller on the six day railway

On Sunday, I travelled from Melksham to Norwich, and on to the University there, where I've been working for a couple of days.

These days, the UK operates seven days a week ... but we seem to have a six day public transport system. On a Sunday,public transport is set in the past with below-par service for those dare to try and use it, and where the transport provider's own systems and needs take precedence over the day's travellers.

Melksham to Chippenham

No train from Melksham to Chippenham to start the journey - the very first Sunday service is at 17:20 - after dark in Winter, and too late to get to Norwich; And no buses either - there are two an hour on Mondays when most people are at work, and none on Sundays when most people have leisure time. So Lisa gave me a lift, heavy private car traffic on the road providing my first confirmation of the journey that people really do travel on Sundays.

Chippenham to London Paddington

Train just arrived at PaddingtonThe train from Chippenham to Paddington runs every 30 minutes during the week, and every hour on Sunday. Because of lower demand? No ... there were crowds on the platform, and when the train pulled in, it was already full-and-standing to the extent that I had to squeeze onto the train, causing an element of frustration as I pushed past those folks who particularly like to stand in the doorways.

Sunday evening is getting a reputation for being a busy travel time, but this was the 12:58 - lunch time - and already the train (a 125, refitted like a commuter train to maximise seating) was groaning under the luggage load.

I had bumped into our MP at Chippenham, and he was wondering why the service is only every 60 minutes on a Sunday when it's so overloaded. Fair question; my first (and let me be honest, cynical) answer was that there's more profit for the train operating company in a packed-and-standing train every hour than in one that's 70% loaded every 30 minutes. The second answer became apparent as we lurched onto the slow lines at Didcot and trundled through Cholsey, Goring, Pangborne and Tilehust to Reading; by the time you put the Bristol to London, the Birmingham to Bournemouth, the Swansea to London, Hereford to London, Didcot to Reading locals all over a single pair of tracks there simply wasn't the capacity to take the doubling of the service.

We've been told that Network Rail has been investing hugely in new equipment to maintain tracks more efficiently and quicker and that this will bring us the 7 day railway ... and yet at the last Travel Watch meeting, things with Network Rail seemed to have stepped back in the past with the Operations Director of First Great Western having some very critical words indeed about them, and the chair of Travel Watch reporting that Network Rail had agreed to attend the meeting to talk to transport users, but had then pulled out due to a policy change.


Paddington to Liverpool Street

The rail planner on which I had planned my journey told me to take the Circle or Hammersmith and City lines - a direct journey - for the cross-London leg, so I walked across the bridge to platforms 15/16 where this service leave from. To find them shut. "Due to engineering works, please use alternative services" and I dragged my case the whole length of the platform, and down into the tube.

Sunday on the tube - PaddingtonSunday - so it will be quiet? Wrong! There were such crowds for the Elephant and Castle service that I came to a halt in the entrance tunnel to the platform and only managed to get on once the tube was in and people flowed. I guess it didn't actually matter where I waited ...

Change at Oxford Circus, Central line to Liverpool Street. Two successive announcements "The Circle, Hammersmith and City lines and Metropolitan lines are closed at Liverpool Street today, but please change there for National Rail" and immediately thereafter in another voice "Please change at Liverpool Street for the Circle, Hammersmith and City ....". Pity the poor tourist - if they can't open all the lines on Sunday, at least someone could turn off the incorrect announcements.


Liverpool Street to Norwich Ingatestone

Liverpool Street's the station for Cambridge, Ipswich, Norwich, Felixstowe, Great Yarmouth ... yet nothing shows for these destinations. The arrivals board, showing only longer distance services, seems to have a stutter and be repeating "Stansted Airport" from top to bottom. Ah - it's Sunday, and we're being "bustituted".

My good knowledge of the railway network had me quickly pick out a service, leaving in a couple of minutes, for Ingatestone - not a usual turn back point, and where buses were running from. And I dashed onto it. Suburban stock - 3 + 2 seating across and decidedly below spec for long distance travel, but there were more seats than people (35% loading) and we were soon underway, and a reasonable enough journey out to Ingatestone.

Ingatestone to Witham

Bustitution - changing from train to bus in a hail storm at a remote and windswept stationTake an open platform, no shelter. Park a load of buses in the car park. Bring a train of long distance passengers in there and get them to queue in the heavy sleet to get on the buses. Get the staff to throw (and I do mean throw) luggage into the back of the bus, and then to push the cases against each other without a care in the world to get more in ... I really feared for my back, containing several computers needed for use in Norwich, in the hands of the Gorilla; I travel by train because I can look after my own luggage.

OK - should I say this - the bus journey was quite comfortable, and I got a chance to see, tourist-like, the towns of Ingatestone and Witham in Essex, which I had never seen before. And - 25 minutes later for what would have been under 15 by train - we rolled into Witham.


Witham to Norwich

Never on a Sunday - Witham station buffetI don't know if you've ever been to Witham? It's a nice enough station - 4 platforms, canopies ... and huge crowds on Sunday. Which is probably why the buffet / snack bar that could have been doing a roaring trade wasn't open. It's open Monday to Saturday only ... ah yes, the six day railway again.

The Norwich train *was* on the departure board here - but not leaving for nearly an hour. Again, it's a two trains an hour service during the week, and hourly on Sunday ... and because our bus had taken 10 minutes longer that a train would have done and the trains were running to their normal schedule ... we had this long wait. But the train was in for most of the time, comfortable seats, tables, ... the way it used to be under the previous regime on our line our of Paddington.

Slight grouch - too many (far too many) announcements; only slight grouch because they *were* accurate but - really the guard using audio equipment in the quiet carriage to tell the customers not to use audio equipment. Ah - one rule for the railway's staff and another for the customer passenger.


NorwichWhat more to tell you? "Uneventful" is good, and when (at last!) we got going the service ran very smoothly to Norwich; plenty of seats available, but no feeling that the service was carrying "fresh air" around. Long may trains such as this run - don't tell National Express (who operate them) that they could save money and provide the same number of seats by doing a rebuild.

Norwich Station to the University

Monday morning (as I stayed at a hotel by the station). First Bus, and showing us how it should be done (but then this wasn't Sunday any longer!). Two routes, each running every 15 minutes. Clearly signed to the bus stop at the station. Clearly listing departure times at the stop. Slight grouch in that it didn't say how long the journey was so in spite of lots of information one vital fact missing and I had to ask.

Well used, indeed a bit crushed (after all I was going to place of work for 9 a.m.) but that was acceptable. Clearly announced that we were arriving at the university without the over-announcement.


Lessons that could be learned ...

1. The Sunday travel experience remains awful; the 7 day railway we were promised remains just a dream

2. So much more could be done by providing accurate, useful, complete information. Contradictory / incorrect announcements and the lack of vital bits of information ("for Norwich and other East Anglia destinations, change at Ingatestone") may just be something I take in my stride, but I'm in the minority in being so well researched.

3. On Sunday, all three routes from London to East Anglia were bustituted ... I had a choice of bus from Ingatestone, from Stansted Airport, or from Royston. What monumental piece of un-coordination was there to let that happen. Did anyone think of the passengers?

4. When there must be buses, why can't trains be re-timed to connect rather than adding a whole extra hour onto a journey because five miles of it's on a bus.

5. The trains that could form the second train each hour are just sitting in sidings on Sundays and not doing anything. Is it beyond the realms of the system to actually use them? The capital asset is sitting there - you're supposedly only talking about running costs, which should be more than met by extra fares.

I hope the seven day railway proposal - with work done at night - isn't dead. We need it for sure, and the longer the railway industry provides a crap customer service on Sunday, the longer it's providing evidence for the road lobby of how we could do with fewer trains on Saturday .. and on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday too.
(written 2010-10-27, updated 2010-10-29)

 
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  [2318] For Lua Programmers AND for Town Planners - (2009-08-02)
  [2268] Westbury Bypass Refused - looking forward - (2009-07-04)
  [2133] Bigger and better this year! - (2009-04-20)
  [2057] Train and Coach fares from London (and airports) to Melksham - (2009-02-26)
  [2042] Wiltshire Rail Service Update - (2009-02-15)
  [2026] Melksham Climate Friendly Group - (2009-02-05)
  [2024] Carry on Training - in spite of the weather - (2009-02-03)
  [1999] How low can you sink? - (2009-01-17)
  [1966] Background to the TransWilts Train Fiasco - (2008-12-29)
  [1965] How much does a train service actually cost - (2008-12-29)
  [1964] Why hasnt the fiasco been put right - (2008-12-29)
  [1905] A Gold Star for First Great Western Customer Service - (2008-11-24)
  [1858] Camera with night vision, youth with no vision - (2008-10-28)
  [1848] 30th November - Santa Trip from Melksham - (2008-10-19)
  [1757] Preserved railways - struggling to the future? - (2008-08-17)
  [1729] Back from the future - (2008-07-30)
  [1708] A Train Service Update for Melksham Party in the Park - (2008-07-13)
  [1616] Not daring to be an anorak - (2008-04-19)
  [1567] Melksham - Swindon. Train v Bus v Car - (2008-03-07)
  [1558] Getting somewhere with the train service - (2008-02-28)
  [1530] Railway Acronyms and Abbreviations - (2008-02-03)
  [1452] Santa on the train to Melksham - (2007-12-01)
  [1428] Travel Across Wiltshire - the game - (2007-11-11)
  [1424] Closer than you think - the next step - (2007-11-08)
  [1382] First Great Western - information for customers - (2007-10-07)
  [1358] Look forward with a new broom - Wiltshire Train Service - (2007-09-19)
  [1314] Business travel by train in the USA - (2007-08-22)
  [1303] Heading Upstate New York - (2007-08-14)
  [1291] Day trip to Weymouth - (2007-08-05)
  [1274] Radio coverage for railway issues - (2007-07-23)
  [1273] Melksham or Weymouth? Meal or day out? - (2007-07-23)
  [1228] Some progress on the train campaign - (2007-06-10)
  [1139] Overcrowded trains around Bristol - (2007-04-08)
  [1097] Train and business balls all in the air! - (2007-03-02)
  [1093] Wiltshire Train - can YOU come on 5th March? - (2007-02-25)
  [1076] Save the Train - an update - (2007-02-12)
  [1069] Rail trouble forced me to buy hotel - (2007-02-07)
  [1063] Bradford-on-Avon - 150 years of passenger trains - (2007-02-03)
  [1045] Bang! Train campaign hits home - (2007-01-19)
  [1044] Call for appropriate train services - Swindon, Bristol, Bath, West Wilts, Severn Beach etc - (2007-01-18)
  [1033] Empty at Easleigh, Missing at Melksham, Overflowing at Oldfield - (2007-01-14)
  [976] Santa at the station - (2006-12-09)
  [974] The last commuter train through Melksham - (2006-12-09)
  [952] Coming from London to Melksham by train for a course - (2006-11-28)
  [877] Yes, but what do we do now?? - (2006-09-24)
  [814] Melksham Railway Calendar 2007 - (2006-07-25)
  [803] Not shouting - (2006-07-16)
  [790] Shadow Transport Minister to visit Melksham - (2006-07-02)
  [697] For any North and West Wilts and Swindon Readers - (2006-04-23)
  [688] Are you free on Friday evening? - (2006-04-18)
  [648] West Wilts Railway Users Group and trains to Lacock - (2006-03-16)
  [634] Real chance to make a difference - (2006-03-05)
  [632] Moral dilemma - (2006-03-04)
  [527] Greater Western Franchise Awarded - (2005-12-13)
  [524] Santa comes to Melksham - (2005-12-11)
  [521] Proof needed? Please just use common sense! - (2005-12-08)
  [488] Looking for railway groups and users - Swindon, Salisbury, Southampton - (2005-11-06)
  [486] Rail services under threat - Swindon, Melksham ... and Newquay and Bicester too - (2005-11-05)
  [447] Tomorrow's meeting. - (2005-09-19)
  [434] Through public transport connection, Chippenham to Salisbury, to cease - (2005-09-02)
  [428] Swindon - Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge - Westbury train service - (2005-08-29)
  [154] Railway train service, Melksham station - (2004-12-17)


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