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Author Topic: What can we learn from experience of previous franchise changes?  (Read 1790 times)
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« on: January 23, 2012, 06:48:00 pm »

I'm quoting this as a sideshoot of a discussion between moderators, to remind us what an enormous difference it can make when one company is replaced by another, and/or when the specification is wrong ...

W&W/Wessex trains were a did 'what it says on the tin' type of franchise. A sort of continuation of what was offered by Regional Railways. The best thing Wessex did IMHO was increase Cardiff-Portsmouth to 3 car 158s. Was a shame when FGW/DfT turned them back to 2 carriages despite warnings that that would be asking for big trouble ... [snip]

I'm sure Graham and a many in Melksham remembers Wessex Trains for other reasons such as providing a good honest service along the Transwilts line.

We do indeed ... and not just those of us in Melksham.  Wessex Trains increased services from 2 to 5 each way per day in 2001, and steadily built up the use of rail by passengers travelling from Frome, Westbury and Trowbridge up to Swindon, and also a surprising amount of traffic on such journeys as Chippenham to Salisbury and Southampton.

When I first got involved in "matters rail" in August 2005, just after the previous Great Western franchise consultation had been completed (and very few of the users had known it was happening!), I asked the ORR if they could tell me growth and usage figures for the line. They came up with "we don't have a measure for the line - the best indicator is ticket sales for journeys to / from Melksham" and quoted me figures showing a compound growth rate of 35% per annum ... and I knew when I looked at the SRA / DfT specifications for the future service, assuming a growth rate of less than 1%, that something, somewhere, wasn't quite right ...

It was sad - very sad - to see and hear some of the individual stories of regular commuters who had the services they had come to rely on AXED from under them in December 2006.  Rail staff may have been redeployed, but some of the railway's former customer lost their jobs because they couldn't get to work any longer / couldn't cope with the different and much less convenient public transport they had to use.   Others struggled on for a while - accepting the 90 minute longer day, or travelling from Frome to Swindon with us to 2 changes where previously they had had a direct train, and with a train performance so bad in January 2007 that we felt that someone had really failed badly in setting up the new timetables / diagrams / stock required.  A number of them stuck it our for a few weeks but had to give up and find new jobs too.

Rosy tinted spectacles over Wessex?   No - the service still wasn't advertised / properly marketed, and amongst users had a reputation for being late and not always turning up. With those two things fixed, my goodness it could have been growing even faster, and we might have known about the previous consultation and even managed to have retained the service that Wessex had grown.

Coffee Shop Admin, Vice Chair of Melksham Rail User Group, and on the board of TravelWatch SouthWest.
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