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Author Topic: TransWilts - past, present, and possible futures  (Read 17668 times)
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« on: December 25, 2014, 09:33:04 am »

Some text from the souvenir booklet handed out on 14th December to celebrate the first year of the trial service

Complete booklet at / I have a few printed copies left too

The past

It began at Thingley

When originally opened, the line from Thingley Junction only reached as far as Westbury ^ and it was the first railway to Melksham, to Trowbridge and to Westbury. It was then extended in stages via Frome, Castle Cary, Yeovil and Dorchester to Weymouth ^ the Wiltshire, Somerset and Weymouth Railway.

Over the years, additional lines were built; Weymouth was also reached by the London and South Western Railway via Southampton, and Westbury was reached from London; first via Devizes, and then even more directly via Lavington in 1900. Various sections of the Wiltshire, Somerset and Weymouth faded in importance to become secondary lines.

Large amounts of traffic were carried during the Second World War, and even as late as the 1950s, Melksham Station had some 20 staff on its books. However, in the 1960s^ modernisation of the railways, many lesser used lines were completely closed, as were many intermediate stations. As people^s love affair with automobiles grew, they moved away from using the train. And in 1966, all intermediate stations between Chippenham and Trowbridge closed, with a solitary non-stop train linking the towns each way daily for a short while thereafter.

A new beginning - Back to basics

Come the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, it was realised that too much may have been cut, and there were some railway re-openings, including Melksham station in 1985, with a limited service to Swindon in the morning from Westbury, and back in the early evening. Various experiments were tried over the next 20 years, but local publicity was limited, and the service never reached a level which could be considered to be ^trains all day^.  Melksham^s services were supported through this period, and continue to be supported, by the Melksham Railway Development Group.

The ending of the Wessex Trains experiment in the 2005 First Great Western franchise, and its replacement by a limited and inappropriate service lead to the formation of the ^Save the Train^ campaign, which, while it did not save the Wessex service, laid the groundwork for the proper evaluation of what was an appropriate service, and to putting in place the mechanisms for starting such a service on a three-year trial from December 2013.

The present

Looking forward / Santa's wish list

There are eight trains each way per day between Westbury and Swindon, starting early in the morning on Mondays to Saturdays to provide commuter services and running into the early evening. The bus services on route 234 after 10 p.m. accept train tickets, giving in effect a ninth (late night) journey. On Monday to Friday, a commuter bus links the more distant residential areas of the station to the trains for commuter services to and from Swindon, pending provision of improved access and bus stops on regular routes for the station. On Sundays, trains start late in the morning and again run until early evening. There is no late bus service on Sundays.

The additional services during this three-year trial comprise a single one-coach train making round trips about every two hours (every three hours on Sunday) between Swindon and Westbury. Their timings are designed as best as possible to integrate with other existing services, and to run at times when there^s a maximum potential flow of passengers. They are also designed to be operationally robust and to not alter other services that were running prior to them starting, and at times this results in less than ideal timings and connections.

Strong marketing, with First Great Western, Wiltshire Council (under the ^Connecting Wiltshire^ brand) and the Community Rail Partnership all playing their part together, is promoting knowledge of the service, and all parties are co-operating in monitoring and tuning the marketing and the services that it^s promoting. Passenger counts and surveys in October, over a four-day period, and other inputs, tell us:
^ The service has achieved its third-year target passenger numbers in the first year.
^ Two thirds of travellers had not previously used rail for this journey.
^ 60% of passengers did not have a car available for this journey.
^ More than half the passengers walk or cycle to the station.
^ The growth in this year is the highest growth rate of any First Great Western line.
^ Some of the new trains are already full, and indeed over capacity, [but please don^t let that put you off travelling].
^ There is a very positive response from passengers to the new services.
^ Positive feedback, busy services and further requests indicate a desire for, and the likely success of, further rail and public transport improvements.

Santa Couldn^t have wished for a better start to the new service.

The Future

In these sections, we set down some probabilities and possibities for the future.  The inclusion of items does not necessarily confirm support for the development being mentioned from the partnership or from its members

This year

We^re celebrating today the first full year of the newly improved train services between Westbury and Swindon. Later in the day, the trains will be carrying more than 200 people to see Santa, and in the early evening we^re running our first Folk Music train.

A new timetable starts today; the changes are small, but it still means that all station timetables need to be changed, web sites updated, and literature refreshed for 2015, and it provides an excellent opportunity for us to remind people about the train services and encourage their use over the winter months.

Network Rail^s Route Utilisation Strategy is out for consultation and lays out their suggestions through to 2043. It^s good to see them proposing an extra signal on the TransWilts (in about 10 years time) as that indicates an understanding that we^re growing, not shrinking. But whilst that proposal is in the right direction, it may be too little too late, and we^ll be making other suggestions for the coming years in terms of infrastructure provision.

Next year

In January, we^re setting up the TransWilts Community Interest Company from CRP (Community Rail Partnership) members, giving the community a more formally constituted basis to allow us to move community rail officers and press and publicity roles from amateur, spare-time jobs, to a part-time, professional, remunerated role. This will allow activities to expand to service the increased line use which has been running well in advance of forecasts, and will let overstretched volunteers do a little less but do it a lot better.  Station groups for Swindon, Chippenham and for associated transport links such as rail connections and bus services are part of this ongoing organisational upgrade, and we^ll continue to hold our twice yearly ^TransWilts Link^ meetings where all trans port groups from Wiltshire get together to learn each other^s aspirations and plan for co-ordinated inputs to operators and local and national authorities.  Marketing of the line will continue, with early Spring, May and summer campaigns.

2015 will see service changes, with, we hope, a recast of Sunday services from May to even out the currently erratic service, and re-introduce the summer-only, early- morning service to run all year.

Summer will bring six weeks of significant service changes while the dir ect line from Chippenham to Bath is closed for electrification work, and this will be challenging.  However, the parties are working together to minimise journey disruption, and to take advantage of extra opportunities offered during this school holiday period. Watch out for some exciting day trip opportunities. We^re also working together on a couple of special train opportunities, again as a promotional aid.

Community Rail Partnerships adopt stations, but you^ve seen little so far from the TransWilts in this field. That will change in 2015, with projects floated for the bay platform at Swindon, for Chippenham, and for Melksham where major upgrades are to be completed in the next three months, and we^ll have a stable canvas to work on.  There are plans for Trowbridge too, with Wiltshire Council, local developers, and the Heart of Wessex CRP taking the lead rather than the TransWilts CRP.

The TransWilts line has been a sleepy backwater for a number of years, and 2014 tested the infrastructure and operational limits. For 2015, we^re looking for reliability to be improved to industry targets, and for ticketing arrangements to be updated to ensure that everyone buys a ticket.

Bus services can change at short notice, and so every year there^s a need to look after our connecting services. The Melksham Rail Link bus is carrying around 3,000 journeys per annum and needs to be secured until service buses start calling at the station, the northern link to Foundry Close is opened, and the useful acceptance of train tickets on the late evening 234 services between Chippenham and Trowbridge extends from a 22:00 to a 21:30 start time. (All day would be useful.)

This Decade (to the end of 2019)

1.  The current trial of extra Swindon to Westbury trains runs to December 2016 and planning is needed in good time to ensure an appropriate service runs beyond that date. Other changes, such as new franchises, electrification through Swindon and Chippenham, and a recast of West of England services calling at Westbury (as that line is part-electrified), lead to both risks and opportunities. The communities, local authorities and rail industry need to work together to ensure a suitable service pattern is the outcome.

2. Continued urban growth in North West Wiltshire (new homes on the drawing board for a further 5,000 residents in Melksham alone, for example), increasing congestion and a requirement to follow a healthy and sustainable agenda will all continue to push traffic up along the TransWilts rail corridor. And the line has considerable growth to come in any case before it reaches even close to the road/ rail ratio of other train-served areas.

3. Current trains need to have universal access (doors and toilets do not). And they^re getting old. Newer diesel trains will be released from elsewhere by electrification.  Current trains are too short, and already overcrowded at times; we have seen 117 people on a 78-seat train.

In planning to put items (1), (2) and (3) together, we anticipate a replacement of the current ^153^ single-coach trains with ^165^ or ^166^ classes (two or three coaches).  Services that continue north of Swindon will turn back there when that line gets all through London trains, and the current erratic local service from Westbury to Salisbury is ripe for recast when Westbury timetables change. The net result is an hourly Swindon to Salisbury TransWilts service, calling at all stations.

During electrification work, passive provision needs to be made for a station at Corsham, a station at Royal Wootton Bassett, improvements at Thingley Junction and for a loop at Chippenham to reinstate the old (currently trackless) platform to allow expresses to pass regional trains, and to hold late running freight. At Chippenham, provision of major new station facilities follow from this very quickly, with a view to Chippenham becoming the turn-back point for the Bristol-to-Bath and Bathampton Park and Ride (Bristol Metro) service. This also gives regional trains passing through both Bathampton and Corsham to provide the services there, and releases Bathampton turn-back money for providing other things there, such as platforms on all through lines. It is anticipated that these trains could extend to Swindon and Oxford, as proposed by a parliamentary group, and this is an excellent proposal with widespread support.

A new station at Wilton, to service the Park and Ride, and to provide linkage for Stonehenge tour buses now that the visitors centre has moved, is desirable. Other significant tourist draws are being built in this area too. Hourly Swindon-to-Salisbury services will be provided by extending the two services per hour that terminate at Salisbury from the east with long layovers. Off the TransWilts but in Wiltshire, a new station for Porton Science Park is anticipated.

Also within this decade, we look forward to improved information systems and integrated services and ticketing across buses and trains in Wiltshire and beyond

In the next decade (to 2025 and perhaps beyond)

Indications are that the TransWilts corridor will continue to grow in passenger use, and as a secondary freight route from the Midlands and North, to and from Southampton. It will remain a major alternative route from London to the West of England, and that will become more important as we move toward the strategic goal of a 24-hour, seven-day railway.

Extra signals and the Chippenham loop have already been mentioned, but it^s probable that many more improvements will be required over the years, and the following options are foreseen.

a) re-instatement of a through track alongside the currently unused platform face at Westbury
b) provision of double junctions with long enough double track sections at Bradford Junction and Thingley Junction to enable the longest regular trains to wait off the main lines for passage along the TransWilts, or to wait for the mainline while allowing a further service onto the TransWilts
c) redoubling of the TransWilts throughout from Thingley to Bradford, possibly with just a short single, or interlaced, section at the bridge over the river Avon at Staverton
d) Electrification of the TransWilts, and provision of longer distance services
e) re-instatement of the Bradford North curve (which was removed in 1990) for diversionary purposes, and for the provision of some direct trains from Melksham to Bath Spa and Bristol, Bradford-on-Avon to Chippenham and Swindon

The further ahead we look, the more difficult it is to forecast outcomes and timescales. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, and whilst all projects listed appear to be worthdetailed evaluation, most are at an early stage.


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« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2017, 11:42:28 am »

An update to this old thread - looking at where we are about three years later.  This is also cross posted to the TransWilts Community Rail Partnership board for discussion ((here)). That board is a "members only" area - we've done that so that detailed discussions about options don't get indexed by the search engines, with prospective customers turning up for trains that are shown on suggestions but don't actually run!  If you're a member of the forum and would like adding to that board, please let me know and I can do so.

* Until December 2013 - 2 trains each way per day
Monday to Friday, southbound (Melksham call times) 06:38 and 19:14, northbound at 07:20 and 19:47
Saturday southbound at 15:48 and 21:38, northbound at 09:20 and 15:21
Sunday, southbound at 18:20 only, northbound at 17:20 and 19:20 (time may be a little off)
Annual passenger numbers - around 18,000 on line of whom 3,000 left / joined at Melksham
Passenger numbers low due to very limited round trip / day return opportunities
Due to ticketing irregularities, ORR» (Office of Rail and Road formerly Office of Rail Regulation - about) figures show much higher passenger numbers for Melksham

* From December 2013 to December 2016 - 8 trains each way per day
Existing service PLUS six extra round trips (4 extra on winter Sundays and 5 on summer Sundays)
"Target" to raise the 18,000 journeys to 120,000 over three years
Achieved 215,000 in year to April 2016 / 247,000 in year to April 2017
Melksham Passenger numbers up to 60,000 in year to April 2016. Year to April 2017 figure to be published December 2017
Ticketing irregularities largely removed, and in any case now far less significant in figures

* Sunday trains recast from December 2015 to integrate service with existing trains.
* Extra train added from May 2016 on Monday to Friday, breaking a lunchtime gap
* One service extended to Frome to fill a gap in service there.

As of now - May 2017
* New services are run using a class 153 single carriage train
* Train can only be in one place at a time.  Scheduled for good commutes to Chippenham and Swindon
* Busiest section of line Melksham to Chippenham
* 15:29 and 17:53 from Chippenham are full and standing to Melksham, and big gap between
* Onward connections at Westbury are key to success - via Salisbury, via Yeovil, via Taunton
* 07:49 from Melksham also full, but original 2 car train at 07:20 taking much of the commuter load
* Other "shoulder peak" trains also busy, including the original morning trains
* Saturday and Sunday services also very well used; much more even traffic but quiet in middle of day
* Service became a permanent part of the franchise in December 2016
* Service designated - rail minister visited March 2017 to celebrate

Looking forward
* Untapped markets identified for southbound trains (Melksham times about 08:14, 17:03, 23:03)
* Untapped markets identified for northbound trains (Melksham times about 08:54, 17:45, 21:36)
* Later northbound train desperately needed on Saturday
* Need for extra capacity (i.e. longer and / or more trains)
* Need for extra capacity (Melksham Station road approach and other safety issues)
* Desire for earlier Sunday train that runs all year
* Better address Swindon and Chippenham to Warminster, Salisbury, Southampton and Airport
* Connections from Frome and Weymouth and also to Exeter and West of to be addressed.
* Dilton Marsh issues - now with many residences close by, but still an odd service
* Desire for clockface and hourly services to allow the train to be always available as natural travel choice
* Connectivity from Melksham Station to town for those not driving to the station or having lifts
* Marketing for visitors to the area to get more passengers onto quieter services
* Resolving fare peversities left over from olden days - e.g. day return Chippenham to Salisbury
* Continue marketing travel options to residents; each town a different case.

Edit note: Several minor typos corrected, for clarity. CfN.  Smiley

« Last Edit: May 24, 2017, 07:52:34 pm by Chris from Nailsea » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2018, 05:27:15 am »

A fascinating link - mostly if not entirely authoured by our friend Guy Vincent - showing the history from photographic times through to the current time of the Bradford Junctions to Chippenham line.   Many thanks for posting that remarkable record, Guy.

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« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2020, 10:36:23 pm »

Looking forward
* Untapped markets identified for southbound trains (Melksham times about 08:14, 17:03, 23:03)
* Untapped markets identified for northbound trains (Melksham times about 08:54, 17:45, 21:36)

Not sure we've really discussed it on here, but the DA3 franchise award has a commitment for two extra daily return services on the TransWilts line, including a later southbound train from Swindon at around 22:10.

To view my GWML (Great Western Main Line) Electrification cab video 'before and after' video comparison, as well as other videos of the new layout at Reading and 'before and after' comparisons of the Cotswold Line Redoubling scheme, see:
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« Reply #4 on: June 02, 2020, 10:34:58 am »

Not sure we've really discussed it on here,
I didn't think anything had been published formally about the detail of the new direct award?  Or is stuff starting to come out now through more informal channels?
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« Reply #5 on: June 02, 2020, 11:04:58 am »

GWR (Great Western Railway) is concentration on emergency measures at the moment, with DA3 being in the future - both in terms of what it contains, and of announcements as to what it contains.   The objective that I'm aware of is to have services back to the December 2019 level by December 2020.   I will open up and fill in further here as I learn more.

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