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Public and sustainable transport in Wiltshire

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Rail services back to Radstock?

Radstock used to be a hub of railway activity - with the "Somerset and Dorset" carrying expresses such as "The Pines" from Manchester to Bournemouth through one station (Radstock North), and the line from Frome to Bristol via Radstock (West) and Pensford the other - the two routes parallel through the valley bottom for a short distance. Passenger traffic on the Frome to Bristol line ceased in November 1959, and the Somerset and Dorset closed on closed 7th March 1966; Bristol-bound freight ended in July 1968, but occasional frieght traffice remained to the wagon works in Radstock from Frome until 1988.

Today, the section from Frome to Hapsford Quarry Junction remains in use for traffic from Whatley Quarry. From the junction to the outskirts of Radstock, the track remains in situ, though derelict and heavily overgrown in places. Once you get towards the town centre, the rails disappear under a high timber fence - virtually a wall - that it's hard to see over, into an area labelled Norton Radstock regeneration company. Looking at their web site, there are "approved plans" in which a railway is conspicuous by its absence (although I think it would fit past the upper housing area?) and appears to have been very active until August 2008 and not updated since. I'm also aware of objectives to run heritage trains on the line, and aspirations for a train service to provide significant public transport too.

Yesterday, I was invited by the Radstock Action Group to their "What's next for Radstock?" event - to sit with others with rail campaigning experience and answer some questions - and I took the opportunity to have a look around prior to the event.

Norton Radstock DevelopmentThe Norton Radstock Regeneration Company's sign looks a little uncared for, and the high fence behind makes the town centre car park (which it borders) look like it's the parking lot for Fort Radstock. "What are they hiding behind there?" I innocently asked one of my contacts ...


Behind the high fence - the old Radstock station site is just a piece of wasteland ... not a lot is being hidden, it turns out. It looks to me as if the land was cleared and then the credit crunch hit and all work stopped. I can see nothing on their web site more recent than August 2008 (it's now November 2010). Listening to the speakers at the meeting I understand that new local council(s?) are being formed next May to take over running (some of?) the local stuff from BaNES (Bath and North East Somerset), with all sorts of differing views about resources, how the handover will be done, whether assets will be stripped prior to the handover, etc.


Disused railway to Radstock Beyond the areas of concern, into the countryside, the derelict line is now accompanied by a public footpath and cycleway that's part of The Collier's Way; although this picture shows the path alongside the railway, and with good clearance between them, I understand that at one or two places the path encroaches on the track.


What did I have to say? Not much ... there were others far more expert at rail matters than I on the panel (though each with his particular interests), and the discussions far too brief though they were, showed a wide variety of views, opinions and concerns. The speakers on both sides of me represent the major incumbent bus and train operator in the area, and listeners needed to be aware of the slant that would put on their inputs. But then they may have the best option for the line (and they certainly know about railways); it strikes me that the other options being discussed might not actually provide what the people of Radstock need or want.

In fact ... I promised one of my contacts a bit of further feedback, and my first suggestion is to look at the various options and decide what you want to go for - if anything - amongst yourselves. There's no harm in having a long term strategy that includes elements which are so visionary that people don't see how they're possible, but you must have practical short and medium term tactics along the way that will take steps forward towards those goals, and also provide worthwhile ends in their own rights. And as you do so, you need to identify and suggest plausible answers to some of the practical issues that arise at each of the short and medium term steps.

Some random thoughts / questions

Do you want the railway to run a service to get people from "a" (where a is Radstock) to "b", "c" and "d", where b, c and d are destinations that people want to go to, to get people from c, d, e and f into Radstock to visit the town on business / as part of their daily lives or as tourists, or to provide a tourist attraction which provides a draw to bring people into the area to help the tourist trade even if they mostly arrive by road? There are many examples of heritage railways which have set out with the aim of providing a true, daily service through the year for local passengers, but few examples of the succeeding in doing so, and certainly not without public funding of the sort that's hard to get at the moment.

I'll say little more on the "heritage" side here - I'm not an expert - except refer you to some concerns that I have for the movement as a whole [here], and to ask if there's room for another line in the area with the East Somerset Railway and the Avon Valley Railway both within about 10 miles. But for sure there were some carefully written proposals [here] in November 2007 for the North Somerset Railway. That proposal does, though, give an insite into the differences between "heritage" and "main network". The heritage proposal for the station included "facilities such as booking office, tourist information, catering, public house, shop, cycle hire, toilets, offices, and storage; to create a concourse/access with bus interchange and short-stay parking; and to ..." and that's a very different direction for development than a National Rail connection with a straightforward platform and shelter. To balance the argument, I'm fully aware of the higher track standards - thus costs - and the complexities of the GRIP system as show to us at the meeting using Portishead as an example that will make the National Rail connection just as difficult - or perhaps more so - but in other directions.

On the National Rail side ... "where would the service go" is the vital question. And that's followed up by "what are your passenger flows, now and in the future". Talk to people in Radstock about where they go, and they'll tell you about Bath and moan about how long the journey there takes them by road. Fair enough - it's a short distance, but a slow journey. "Please give us a train" is requested ... but the line that's currently in situ from Radstock leads in the opposite direction. As the crow flies, you're looking at 12 km (and the road is just a bit longer). By rail ... 11 km to Frome + 9 km to Westbury + 6 km to Trowbridge + 5 km to Bradford-on-Avon + 8 km to Bathampton + 3 km into Bath ... it would be 42 km. To Bristol, it's 21 km as the crow flies, but 60 km by rail via Westbury. I get concerned when the rail journey has to be 3 times the distance by road - would people really use it?

But ... Bath and Bristol are not the centres of the universe and, in time, people's travel habits adapt to the provided rail flow. Radstock has what is a pretty straight run to the railway centre / junction at Westbury, and from there trains already head off in six different directions. Suggestions mooted at the meeting even included extending the London train that starts at Frome to start from Radstock (to bring an 8 coach HST down the track strikes me as a rather bold step, but it was suggested by one of the FGW folks as practical); he also suggested that a service extending Frome terminators to Radstock was possible on current resources, with up to ten round trips a day. And another suggestion was to extend a Transwilts service from Swindon to Westbury through to Frome (Market Place) and Radstock. With a two-hourly service, using the train that sits in the bay at Swindon for over an hour every 2 hours through the day and having it pass the return service at Chippenham, this would allow the provision of a train every 2 hours Radstock - Frome - Westbury - Trowbridge - Melksham - Chippenham - Swindon - Kemble - Stroud - Stonehouse - Gloucester - Cheltenham, at an extra operational cost of around 800,000 pounds per annum for a seven day service - cost to be shared between the various players along the way, which includes many areas where regenaration is needed it's already been established that there would be significant travel flows. Add to the mix an excellent interchange at Westbury for London, for Southampton, and for Bath / Bristol too, and you're starting to see an attractive service that would be operationally feasible. But - you need to look at / consider the moving world of the railways, where people are starting to look at the next franchise and whether any other services running on lines in this part of the world will be reshaped, and also whether the franchise will not be 7-10 years, but up to 20. That would certainly give scope for the TOC to invest.

One word of caution on National Rail option / train operating companies. I question one or two of the comments / suggestions made - both in public and to me in private at the meeting (and at last week's Warminster meeting too) and feel that we all need reminding that these are commercial companies, who's mandate from its shareholders is to make them money; in general, that parallels the public's need to be carried in higher rather than lower numbers, but it's skewed. And the commercial company will also go out of its way to push the options that suit it, and to put hurdles in the way of other options which it perceives as being competitive, even if those options might be better ones for the potential travellers.

Two other items I said I would note "for the record".

(a) We have found that when a train is replace by a bus - such as at times of weekend engineering works - only one tenth of the number of passengers who would have used the train actually use the bus. People do prefer trains; on a regular service, I would put the ratio less dramatic than 10:1, but not very much less!

(b) There appears to be room on the Radstock -> Kilmersdon and Frome section for the cycleway / footpath, and the railway, and without significant impact on wildlife. An appropriate fence to separate the trains from the walkers and riders would be needed, and indeed on the railway 'side' there could be gains for nature as the area would be less disturbed; there is certainly an impressive history of significant nature resources on railway land, where the general public cannot pass.
(written 2010-11-07, updated 2010-12-02)

 
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Z501 - Public Transport - Rail
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  [2395] From Lymington by train - last of the slammers - (2009-09-05)
  [2391] Great Western Route Utilisation Strategy - Draft for Consultation - (2009-09-02)
  [2372] Public Transport from (and to) Melksham on Sundays - (2009-08-23)
  [2328] Melksham - no trains, no southbound buses through the town - (2009-08-08)
  [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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