TransWilts CIC and TransWilts Community Rail
Public and sustainable transport in Wiltshire

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Why has the hourly Chippenham to Trowbridge train been withdrawn?


From my postbag - letter to a new commuter

I understand you •[99]re commuting for work from Chippenham to Trowbridge (started in early August?) and are dismayed to find that the hourly train service - journey time 20 minutes - that you enjoyed that month is no longer available. Your colleague at Wiltshire Council copied me in on your letter to First Great Western (with your permission), and initially I suggest that we await their official answer; I •[99]m sure you •[99]ll appreciate this may take a few days for them to research. I am, however, going to give you some local / community background to the story. This won •[99]t bring the hourly trains back in the near future. But it will help provide you with some logic, and it provides us with a valuable case study into future service needs - which are currently being looked at in some detail for implementation when electrification is completed through Chippenham and other / connecting and regional services will be amended.

Operation of local and commuter trains in not a profitable business. Although many travellers will report trains that are well loaded, the sad fact is that the loading often happens only at peak times, and at other times of day (unseen by that swell of peak passengers) loading is light or worse. Fares are typically lower per mile than on long distance services, and miles are covered an fares collected at slower speed. Trains are typically short, which means that staff salaries have to be spread over just a carriage or two. So although the railways are operated under commercial franchise, service levels are typically government specified, and extra services rarely offered without incentive / contract by the train operator.

For the last decade or so, the government •[99]s franchise has required the operation of 2 trains each way per (week)day between Swindon and Westbury, which includes the Chippenham - (Melksham) - Trowbridge section. Timing rules on the requirement, and the time that driver and train haven •[99]t been in use elsewhere, gave us services from Chippenham at 06:28 and 19:11 - it was actually better business sense for First Great Western (become Great Western Railway in the last week) to run the trains when not required to provide services elsewhere than to provide services at the time they would be most used. For running them at a  •Üused •[9d] time would cost the hire charges for an extra train and extra crew - some hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum.

This service was deeply unsatisfactory, and a trial service of six extra round trips per day - using a single carriage train - was introduced for 2014, to run for three years. Seed funding is / has been provided by the Department for Transport under an LSTF grant, with Wiltshire Council also providing some funding, and both Wiltshire Council and Great Western providing considerable support services such as marketing and ancillary investment to help ensure the trial has the best possible chance of success, That •[99]s not only for their own satisfaction - that •[99]s also for the people who use the service, and for others in the area for which it brings commercial gain.

The trial service train takes around 2 hours to make a round trip from Westbury to Swindon and back by the time you consider  •Üturn around time •[9d] and the availability of the track between other trains - and the decision was taken at the time the trial was started to time it to provide a peak arrival into Swindon (around 08:20) and a peak departure just after 17:30. That •[99]s a tough decision on people who wish to arrive at our county town of Trowbridge at 08:30 and leave at 17:30 - simply because the train can •[99]t be in two places at once. However, it was possible to source and finance a single train for the trial, but requesting and holding out for 2 trains to give an hourly service would have been a step too far. It wouldn •[99]t have fitted into an LSTF grant, and it would have been a less good business case because indications are that 70% of the peak traffic is Swindon-bound and 30% Westbury-bound.

For August 2015, engineering works on the approaches to Bath Spa meant that the train service on the  •Ünext line over •[9d] - Portsmouth to Cardiff - was diverted into a Portsmouth - Swindon service, with South Wales passengers changing at Swindon. This resulted in the single carriage train being replaced for the month by longer trains with additional passengers not normally using the line. And those trains ran - as do regular Portsmouth - Cardiff trains - ran hourly, It was an excellent confirmation that the one could cope well, and also an excellent illustration that customers want a service south from Swindon / Chippenham all day, more frequent, and through beyond Westbury to Salisbury and beyond. But it was co-incidentally useful, and much as the community would have liked it to continue beyond 1st September, such was not possible - both financially and operationally (with a lack of additional trains and crew). So - regrettably - the immediate answer is that a really useful service ran for a month and then went away again.

Looking further forward, the Community Rail Partnership, Great Western, and Wiltshire Council all want the trial service to succeed, become permanent, and indeed grow as an appropriate service for the route covered. None of us want to see it drop back to pre-2014 levels. So the mechanism is in place for the trail service to  •Üroll in •[9d] to the franchise beyond December 2016; passenger number are (as has been observed - full and standing almost every day) very much in excess of the minimum needed to label the service a success, and indeed are so good as to suggest that an hourly service - plugging the southbound peak gap amongst other holes - would be appropriate.  •ÜTransWilts Vision 2020 •[9d] suggest hourly Swindon - Westbury services, linking into Westbury - Salisbury local services and indeed services on to Southampton Airport, and background work is being undertaken on the operational feasibility of this service and its commercial situation once electric trains start operating in the Thames Valley, services at Chippenham are recast, and diesel trains are released to be available in places like Wiltshire.

So - I can offer you the above as to why the busy trains you saw in August aren •[99]t running in September - basically, they were a co-incidental temporary improvement due to engineering. That doesn •[99]t provide you with the 20 minute commuter train to Trowbridge in the immediate future, I •[99]m afraid - but at least I can confirm that •[99]s on the agenda for the future - that it •[99]s being looked at - and indeed I •[99]ll be describing your requirement as a further example to help press the case for future years. In the meantime, yes, there are trains available via Bath Spa within the gaps - slower and more expensive, and there •[99]s a daytime bus service (route x34) which is also slower. Through and transferrable ticketing between train and bus is another whole subject  •æ there is a very great deal that needs sorting out in public transport. We have come forward hugely over the last couple of years, but have a long way to go.

You •[99]ll note that Wiltshire Council - for whom you •[99]ve been asked to move your work base - are very much involved in the positive (but longwinded) improvement in the service - it •[99]s hugely better now due in part to them than it was a couple of years ago. And I •[99]m sure that your input to their passenger and sustainable transport units to encourage them along further would be worthwhile - just as your input to GWR feedback and mine (copying to managers looking ahead) will be. And I would really appreciate it if your could share the response you get from GWR with us - it need your permission / action due to the various data protection issues - so we can all work ahead and reach a permanent southbound commuter services in  •ÜVision 2020 •[9d]

Graham

Graham Ellis - grahamellis@transwilts.org
Community Rail Officer, TransWilts Community Rail Partnership
TransWilts CRP 48, Spa Road, Melksham, Wilts, SN12 7NY
A division of the TransWilts Community Interest Company (CIC)
http://www.twcrp.org.uk - 0845 459 0153 / 01225 708225
(written 2015-09-24, updated 2015-09-25)

 
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  [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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Some other Articles
Course Schedule - October 2015 to June 2016
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Black dog day - and Bobby still seeks his new home
Looking ahead on the blog
Why has the hourly Chippenham to Trowbridge train been withdrawn?
An update - and my absence in recent weeks
Yesterday, Weymouth
Learning from the others - Community Rail
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