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1  Journey by Journey / Heart of Wessex / Re: Heart of Wessex - should it be hourly, could it be hourly - issues and options on: August 07, 2019, 11:18:36 pm
The Saturday 'sand & cycle' service is scheduled to cover Yeovil to Dorchester in under 30 minutes - but then it doesn't stop at the halts south of Yeovil. There are a few logistical issues:

1. The speed limit from Dorchester to Yetminster is 75mph max with a fair few restrictions but a minimum of 55mph save for the loop at Maiden Newton. However the Yetminster-Yeovil section is only 45mph. Whilst the track seems to be slowly being converted to continuous welded rail I don't know if the speed limit will be increased at all afterwards, but I wouldn't count on it. Skipping Chetnole is a particular time saving both due to the 75mph speed limit and the fact it gives southbound trains a better run-up the 1 in 51 gradient to Evershot summit.

2. The points at Dorchester, Maiden Newton and Yeovil PM are all pneumatically worked, meaning a maximum speed of 15mph. Add in the token system at Maiden Newton and entering and leaving the loops tends to be very slow. Upgrading this system might well save more time than increasing the linespeed although I wouldn't claim to be an expert. However I wouldn't expect it to be upgraded until it's life-expired.

3. A major problem with the Bristol-Weymouth service is that it has to weave around the Bristol-Paddington, Cardiff-Portsmouth, Paddington-West of England and Waterloo-Weymouth services, whilst also being the lowest priority service out of all of them. This both means a fair number of services have long waits at various stations, and also that if there's any disruption, it's not going to be a priority. The opportunities for it to be delayed by other services are numerous - and then there's the fact it's largely combined with the Gloucester/Great Malvern service to give even more opportunity for disruption.

It might be possible to run an hourly service passing at Dorchester and Yeovil where one train skips the halts and the other doesn't, then vice versa the next hour (e. g. the halts get northbound departures at 09xx, 11xx, 13xx etc and southbound departures at 10xx, 12xx, 14xx etc). However the opportunities for something to go wrong wrecking a timetable requiring precision are so numerous I suspect its reliability would be appalling.

You can see the problem of long single line running by looking at the domino effect on the West of England line between Exeter and Salisbury when something goes wrong - and that's largely self-contained west of Basingstoke. It's quite common for a westbound service running 20 minutes late to be held at Honiton for another 15 minutes to keep the eastbound service on time, as that's the least worst option.

For now what would be nice is to at least fill in the longer gaps by ensuring 2 hours is the maximum between trains (there's a southbound 3 hour gap between 1149 and 1449 and nearly 3 hours between the 1730 and 2021 northbound). If there was a way of serving Yeovil at peak times so commuters could use the train that would help build numbers and improve the business case. The current options are around 0730 and 1820 in each direction - not much use for most people. Pen Mill is not a very well located station but it's less than a mile to the (edge of the) town centre so commuting is possible for most people. The fact that Dorchester West is better-used despite being unstaffed, serving a town half the size and once being called the worst station in the country (albeit it's much improved now) suggests there's room for improvement.

I would also agree that better connectivity at Castle Cary would help numbers as there are a reasonable number of people wanting to head west from South Dorset and vice versa. As the X53 / X51 has contracted to an hourly service which finishes early in winter and doesn't start on winter Sundays, reliable connections at Castle Cary would certainly be attractive for many. A good connection could allow a journey between Exeter and Weymouth in about 2 hours, which isn't greatly different from the time by road a lot of the time.
2  All across the Great Western territory / Across the West / Re: December 2019 timetable recast on: August 05, 2019, 10:34:06 pm
Whilst I'm not aware the Heart of Wessex is scheduled for any notable improvements, I'd be very surprised if the service was reduced as I haven't seen anything to suggest it would. Cutting first or last trains definitely wouldn't go down well.

Compared to the improvement on many other rural lines (Barnstaple and Looe for instance), it's striking how little improvement there's been on that line over the years in any case. All year round Sunday services (albeit having travelled on a few I can see why they didn't run before) and using a HST on the summer Saturday special were admittedly improvements. However my 1991-92 timetable shows the same number of trains running then as now, and an all stations service then took 2 hours 11 minutes. It's usually at least 10 minutes longer now despite stopping at the exact same 18 stations as before. Not exactly progress.

It's fairly obvious why - resources are concentrated at the busier northern end of the line and it shares tracks with the Great Western, Devon & Cornwall direct and South Western mainlines, so local trains have to be flighted between intercity services and have to travel over a 30 mile single line, meaning long waits at any of Dorchester West, Maiden Newton, Yeovil Pen Mill, Castle Cary, Frome or Westbury on numerous trains. I can understand that and the fact the line is never going to be a priority but it's still annoying. The Turbos are hardly a step up either with 2+3 seating and air conditioning which makes the 158s look reliable - and the higher 90mph top speed isn't going to make any discernible difference if you stop 19 times in 87 miles, particularly given that only Bristol-Bath, Westbury-Castle Cary and Dorchester-Weymouth allow over 75mph running anyway.

Ah well nevermind. The improvements on other rural lines are still welcome.
3  All across the Great Western territory / Across the West / Re: Great Western Main Line electrification - ongoing discussion on: October 18, 2018, 09:56:43 pm
There are plenty of aesthetically pleasing photos of the Lune Gorge on the West Coast Main Line or Burnmouth on the East Coast Main Line post-electrification which the wires haven't spoilt. The Woodhead Line wasn't too badly affected either. Plus virtually every line in Switzerland is electrified, and it doesn't seem to cause too many complaints about the view being spoiled inside or outside the train.

And if you're looking for human designed vistas, York or Manchester Piccadilly railway stations (much larger than Bath) look alright to me...
4  Journey by Journey / Portsmouth to Cardiff / Re: 165/166s on this route on: July 31, 2018, 11:38:00 pm
The original plan as I understand it was to run Portsmouth-Cardiff trains as 5 car units - a 166/165 combo. The 166 would be refurbished to have 2+2 seating, with the 165 remaining 3+2. Seat reservations would be put in the 166, so generally longer-distance passengers (who are more likely to book ahead) would have more comfortable seating. That was the theory anyway.

Unfortunately it appears the DfT have told GWR the 3+2 seating in the 166s stays to give more seating capacity. The fact that this is only ever a solution on paper seems to escape them. True there may be more seats with 3+2 seating but you can't sit comfortably in them. You also can't stand comfortably in the aisles. With 2+2 seating you can sit more comfortably and if standing is necessary, you have more room. It is very difficult for 3 average-sized men to sit in the row of 3 - and given this is probably to seat commuters for statistical purposes, it really isn't a solution in reality.

I believe if and when the GWR franchise is put up for tender that refurbishing the 166s to 2+2 seating may be on the agenda - no doubt presented as an 'improvement' to simply reinstate the long-established status quo.

Hopefully something might also be done about the air conditioning, which does seem to be utterly, utterly pathetic - it's been unsual to see one carriage on any 166 with the windows shut over the last few weeks. The 158 air conditioning has also long been notorious, but definitely seems to have improved - usually at least 1/2 carriages have had the windows closed indicating that it is actually working. Even when the windows on a 166 are open the internal carriage walls seem designed to stop any kind of external air flow - not a problem on a 158 at least. Added to the hot air being pumped into the carriage, I've felt extremely hot on them just travelling from Bristol Parkway to Temple Meads recently - I pity anyone doing a long journey on one in the heat.

If a 166/165 combo does turn up on a hot summer's day on this route, make a bee line for the 165 - at least there are more opening windows and the 'air-con' isn't pumping out hot air.
5  Journey by Journey / London to the West / Re: Name of the fastest line from London to Plymouth on: July 29, 2018, 09:34:06 pm
Neither option is there, but the Peninsular Direct, the Devon & Cornwall Direct or the Anglo-Cornish Mainline seem the best options to me. Any mention of 'Fast' is asking for trouble - I can't think of any route where fast is used for the whole route rather than a specific track e.g. down fast. Riviera line is already taken for the Paignton branch.

Whilst I won't deny being biased, the 'Plymouth Direct' hardly seems appropriate given that whilst it's certainly the largest place on the route, Exeter St Davids is used by more people than Plymouth, and Exeter Central isn't far behind. (To be fair, this is probably in no small part due to the fact it's far easier to commute into Exeter from multiple directions than Plymouth by rail, due to the lack of commuter options from the north and east such as Tavistock, Launceston, Plympton etc as much as London traffic might play a part.) I suspect the Cornish might have something to say about a line called the Plymouth Direct as well.

The Berks & Hants is the traditional name, despite the fact it never enters Hampshire. I believe bashers nicknamed it 'the Desert' due to the lack of points of interest between Taunton and Reading. It seems a little harsh - I once passed Athelney when it bore a strong resemblance to Poole Harbour. Although this was after the storms of early 2014.

The Waterloo-Exeter line is shown here as a principal route:

A BR map included with the timetable book from 1991-92 shows Intercity routes (i.e. everything which was classified as Intercity) and Principal Express routes, the latter including the Waterloo-Exeter route together with Cardiff-Portsmouth, Cardiff-Nottingham, Transpennine routes etc. That's probably a fair description if you accept that routes generally average 45-60mph are express routes.

There was a train in the summer 1995 timetable leaving Waterloo at 1015 which arrived at Exeter Central at 1301, averaging over 60mph and calling only at Yeovil Junction, Axminster and Honiton west of Salisbury. However, any attempt to speed up most services over that line would inevitably involve worsening the service at some of the intermediate stations. Other than the suggestion which occasionally arises that GWR serve Axminster and pick up the stops at Feniton, Whimple and Pinhoe, allowing SWR to only call at Cranbrook between Honiton and Exeter, I doubt that will happen. There is a plan after the line reopens following works in September to strengthen the line's resilience to flooding that Templecombe and Whimple will only be served by buses for a few days due to speed restrictions, and I suspect that will prove controversial enough.
6  Journey by Journey / Cross Country services / Re: Cross Country Franchise on: April 16, 2018, 10:56:18 pm
Certainly Crosscountry's biggest problem is capacity. The Voyagers are too small (for all the abuse they get, if they were long enough most complaints would fall away - few people seem to complain about West Coast services formed of 2 X 5 car Voyagers) for the work they currently do. A 4 car Voyager has 164 standard class seats and 36 first class. In comparison, a 3-car class 158 may have over 200 seats (depending on which one it is) There really seems no point adding extra stops to services which are already overcrowded.

In addition, timings are important. Crosscountry have to make sure they are at major junctions such as Bristol TM and Birmingham NS on time or they lose their path, which can cause significant delays. Add in extra stops and the risk of losing paths is greater.

Theoretically you could try to stop HSTs only - but they accelerate slower and the services they are scheduled to work can change at times of disruption, so I can't really see how that would work. Exeter/Bristol-Manchester services generally seem to be a bit quieter than Cornwall-Edinburgh services, but the plan for an hourly service has been dropped due to opposition from Torbay and Aberdeen to Crosscountry's planned changes - instead there are going to be extra afternoon trains in peak hours.

XC have obtained the only 2 spare cabs West Coast have and are planning to make (if they haven't already) 3 4-car trains instead of 2 5 car trains. Not a huge capacity increase given the limited seating in the end coaches but better than nothing. It does also mean one of the units will have no Coach D with the luggage and bike spaces. I think they're also going to have 4 of their 5 HSTs in service per day rather than 3 on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays and 2 on other days as at the moment. There's also a plan to allocate longer trains to the most needy services - whilst HSTs and double Voyagers are I think allocated on this basis, I'm not sure how much planning there is over where the 5 car Voyagers go.

Taking the suggested stations in turn:

Bridgwater - only 12 miles from Taunton and I understand it has something of a regular problem with people believing they have a right to a free journey. I doubt it's a priority for XC
Weston-super-mare (or Worle for Weston) - Weston requires careful pathing due to the single line off the main line, adding time. XC do seem to serve it with most Manchester services which work south of Bristol. Worle isn't very central so I doubt it would be too popular for those going to Weston.
Gloucester - requires a reversal which adds a fair bit of time. If only they hadn't closed Eastgate...
Ashchurch - IMO Cardiff - Nottingham trains should stop here more often given Tewkesbury is nearby.
Worcester Parkway - I understand Cardiff - Nottingham trains will be stopping here. See how this works and possibly add Bristol-Manchester services if it proves popular.

Crosscountry can't serve everywhere though. If you start adding lots of extra stops even more places will demand services. I'm sure there are people living near Ivybridge, Teignmouth, Dawlish, Filton Abbey Wood, Bromsgrove, University, Tamworth, Burton-on-Trent, Rotherham Central (on a loop off the Sheffield-Wakefield line), Thirsk, Northallerton, Chester-Le-Street and Morpeth who think their stations deserve an hourly stop on the SW-NE services, but if you tried to add all those stations it would probably add an hour to the journey and be a pathing nightmare. A balance has to be struck somewhere and until Crosscountry services actually have sufficient capacity I don't see much point in trying to add lots of extra stops, at least to the longer services.
7  All across the Great Western territory / Fare's Fair / Re: Advance ticket becomes impossible on the same day on: April 11, 2018, 09:34:14 pm
Thanks. I have been there before - stood on an open terrace in pouring rain in December. Exeter won though which made it bearable.

I went to the Temple Meads travel office yesterday to ask what to do. The lady behind the counter agreed it wasn't my fault that the journey had become impossible and gave me alternative reservations on a Virgin West Coast service and a stamped note explaining the reason for the changed journey. Hopefully that'll work as long as the guard isn't a zealously proud Virgin employee, given they presumably don't get any of the original ticket money as the journey was with Northern and Crosscountry.

(Cue 'It was simpler in BR days.')
8  All across the Great Western territory / Fare's Fair / Re: Split ticket - classic example on: April 11, 2018, 09:30:07 pm
It needs to be remembered however you have to ask for the combination of tickets - the ticket office is under no duty to look for you. There are in some cases multiple splitting points so it could take hours which would annoy those travelling on the day. If you want to know the best split ticket options you'll have to do the research yourself.
9  All across the Great Western territory / Fare's Fair / Advance ticket becomes impossible on the same day on: April 09, 2018, 07:27:50 pm
Slightly out of the GWR area... but I do start and end in Bristol.

I'm travelling from Bristol TM to Accrington and back on Saturday 14th April. My return journey was booked for the following trains:

Accy-Preston 1723 on Northern
Preston-Manchester Picc via Bolton 1805 on Northern
Manchester Picc - Birmingham NS 1927 on XC
Birmingham NS - Bristol TM 2112 on XC

This got me into Bristol on the last XC service of the night. However, since I bought these, Preston-Manchester via Bolton has been shut down by NR for engineering works on Saturday, meaning I cannot get back to Bristol that night via this route, as the replacement bus service takes too long. I couldn't get any further than Birmingham.

I don't actually need to go to Manchester, I just booked it that way. There are 3 potential other routes - Preston - Birmingham NS direct on Virgin West Coast, Preston - Manchester via Wigan on Trans Pennine Express, and Accrington - Manchester via Todmorden on Northern.

Am I required to accept the fact I'd now need an overnight stay to use these tickets, or am I entitled to have the route changed to one which is feasible? The ticket is from Accrington to Bristol direct - there's no splits.

Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks
10  Journey by Journey / Heart of Wessex / Re: Heart of Wessex - 2018. Somerset and Dorset - 1963. on: March 25, 2018, 08:57:26 pm
Quite right. Considering I lived in Southampton for 3 years, I ought to have remembered that.
11  Journey by Journey / Heart of Wessex / Re: Heart of Wessex - 2018. Somerset and Dorset - 1963. on: March 25, 2018, 08:16:00 pm
I don't think there was any chance of the Somerset & Dorset surviving Beeching. Perhaps if it had been an early proponent of dieselisation and the 'basic railway', but not otherwise. On the face of it, it might seem surprising that the Heart of Wessex survived when the S&D served the large conurbations of SE Dorset, but the following were against it.

1. The S&D had terrible connections for interchange. No physical connection at all to the ex-GWR route at Bath or at Cole / Bruton. A very over-complicated arrangement at Templecombe with a time-wasting reversal (a Tamworth style high and low level might work today).

2. The S&D was pretty much self-contained from Bath to Poole and didn't carry any other services. The Heart of Wessex is essentially only on its own between Dorchester West and Castle Cary, and arguably on the Frome branch. Otherwise it shares infrastructure with the Weymouth-Waterloo, Exeter-Paddington, Portsmouth-Cardiff and Paddington-Bristol routes.

3. The S&D was built on a shoestring (which exhausted the owners). The Heart of Wessex was built by a company supported by the powerful GWR. The S&D featured long steep gradients over the Mendips, the longest unventilated tunnel in the country at Combe Down, sharp curves and a maximum speed of 60mph. The HoW was built for faster running. Whilst the maximum speed between Dorchester and Castle Cary is 75mph, I suspect this is to save cost and due to the elderly condition of some the track - it looks as though it could easily support faster running if there was the budget for higher maintenance costs. The S&D also needed double heading for many services which wouldn't have helped the accounts.

4. The biggest intermediate population on the S&D was I think Blandford. The HoW has Yeovil, Frome and Trowbridge in the middle, all of which provide a reasonable amount of traffic.

I think commuter routes from SE Dorset-Blandford and Radstock-Bath might thrive (although maintaining Devonshire and Combe Down Tunnels for rail traffic would be expensive), but I can't see any likelihood of the through route coming back. Within Dorset a far bigger loss is the line from Poole to Broadstone, Wimborne and Ringwood - 'Castleman's Corkscrew'. With Ferndown as well, a through service into SE Dorset would be very popular and very competitive with the roads especially at peak time.

 Whilst I don't doubt there's a demand for Bristol-SE Dorset travel, it could probably be met by using the Wessex Main Line via Salisbury and Southampton. A curve over the Itchen at Redbridge could avoid the need for a reversal at Southampton - although that would be very expensive and I doubt (the modern) GWR would want to miss out Southampton. Even without that, it should be possible to run Bristol - Bournemouth in about 2 hours if there was a real demand for it and sufficient capacity over the Bath-Westbury section. If the Heart of Wessex linespeed is ever increased between Yetminster and Yeovil from the current 45mph and the points speeds increased above 15mph at Yeovil Pen Mill, Maiden Newton and Dorchester West then that could also be a potential route for a Bristol-Bournemouth service - but that isn't likely before the life expiry of the infrastructure, and I don't know how likely it is then.
12  Journey by Journey / To Oxford, Didcot and Reading from West / Re: From Swindon to Oxford and the north on: March 22, 2018, 09:06:44 pm
It got removed to relieve congestion - Turbos can only run at a max speed of 90mph over a 125mph capable route so it could cause issues when they were late running - not that surprising they were eventually canned altogether. Shame as it would be a useful service.

Melksham trains can only run at 75mph (or are timed for it) but they cover a smaller section of the route and there's many fewer per day.

If and when the inherent long term advantages of electrification over bi-modes (lower weight so less wear and tear, lower maintenance costs and they should be able to accelerate quicker without the diesel engine) are sufficiently recognised and NR can show they can reduce electrification costs (which should now be possible given lines have been electrified for the first time since privatisation - other than Stoke-Crewe - and they should now have rather more electrification nous than a few years ago),  then maybe both routes to Bristol TM and to Oxford will be energised and maybe a 110mph class 387 (or any newer equivalent) can run between them. Although I suspect the west to north curve won't be electrified to save a few quid, meaning it can't/won't happen.
13  All across the Great Western territory / Across the West / Re: Busiest single track lines on: April 22, 2017, 12:13:10 am
Whilst not the busiest in terms of numbers, I think Tisbury loop is used by almost all services all week i.e. almost everything is booked to pass there. As the loop couldn't be put at the station when installed in 1986 due to the westbound platform having been sold, it means about half of the total services between London Waterloo and Exeter are booked to spend a few minutes sitting in a field (well next to one) in Wiltshire. Redouble Wilton to Tisbury including Tisbury station and you could probably shave a fair few minutes off journey times as that's the biggest pinch point between Salisbury and Exeter. You could probably revise the journey times given west of Salisbury the only other line to fit in with is the Exmouth branch for about 1.5 miles from Exmouth Junction to St Davids. But I digress...
14  Journey by Journey / South Western services / Re: First / MTR win South Western franchise 2017 - 2024, and CMA raises competition concerns (merged topic) on: April 08, 2017, 01:06:34 am
In terms of moving stock around, my understanding is after sorting out the WC / XC split in 2007, the DfT don't like TOCs moving stock around. Any attempt by GWR to move 158s or 159s from SWT to GWR is likely to be stopped.

What I suspect is more likely is the end of Bristol-Waterloo services or the new services from Yeovil Pen Mill to Waterloo via Westbury given they effectively compete with GWR. I'd assume peak services from YPM via Yeovil Junction to Waterloo and back must have picked up some custom and would be safer, although the passenger usage figures for 2015/16 don't seem to show any improvement for YPM after the new services were introduced in December 2015.
15  Journey by Journey / South Western services / Re: First / MTR win South Western franchise 2017 - 2024, and CMA raises competition concerns (merged topic) on: April 08, 2017, 01:00:17 am
Full length HSTs wouldn't be able to keep to 159 timings west of Salisbury in any case due to slower acceleration than 159s. The HSTs might save a minute or two east of Basingrad with a 100mph linespeed, but with a 90mph max from there to Salisbury and 85mph Salisbury-Exeter, there would be an overall increase in journey times.

Another factor is reliability - one broken down train on a single line section can screw up the timetable for the rest of the day. The start-sprint-stop nature of the route with several inclines has defeated the class 42s, 50s and 47s over the last 50 years. Using 40 year old HSTs isn't likely to help. They are brilliant intercity trains - no-one can seriously dispute that - but asking them to accelerate rapidly to 85mph over an incline then brake to a halt every 7-8 miles isn't going to end well IMHO.
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