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Author Topic: TravelWatch SouthWest  (Read 16528 times)
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« on: August 28, 2017, 08:28:01 am »

TravelWatch SouthWest (TWSW) is a social enterprise company which acts as an advocate for passengers to lobby for the improvement of public transport in the region and works closely with local authorities, business organisations, partnerships and other stakeholder groups. With the dissolution of the former Rail Passengers Committee for Western England in July 2005, TWSW is the representative body for public transport users throughout the South West of England.

TravelWatch holds a twice yearly general meeting where representatives of all interested groups come together; aimed particularly to encourage volunteer and user groups - important stakeholders not always afforded to ouch time by authorities and operator, these meetings are a real chance for groups to network, and to learn from speakers.

Much of TravelWatch's work is in quieter networking. But there's a need for some visibility within user and campaign groups too - especially new ones who seek help, support, and guidance at being effective.  As a board member of TravelWatch (voluntary role, unpaid and in my own time!), I'm helping widen that visibility;  the other week, I put together a montage of pictures to give a flavour of the areas of interest of TWSW, and I'm now in the process of describing each of them on the TWSW Facebook page.   Now about halfway through, I'm posting the first 15 texts here too.  Discussion very welcome / some of my comments are intentionally thought provoking or even a bit provocative - TWSW can growl and snap if it needs to  Grin even if it has no statutory bite.

montage - view

Here's a montage of pictures I've put together to represent the spheres of interest of TravelWatch SouthWest ... how many locations can you identify, and can you work out why I've chosen each picture to represent some aspect of what we're about?

... being followed up by daily postings to describe each picture.  Please feel free to comment on this thread about any of the pictures and the descriptions, or to do so on Facebook which is where the "real activity" is intended.

1 - Park and Ride - view

Wilton Park and Ride, for Salisbury. Salisbury has limited car parking - and five Park and Ride sites to encourage car users to leave their cars outside the city and travel in those final few miles by bus. Work in underway to plan for a railway station here too - allowing the same car park to be used to access trains to other stations across the UK. The Park and Ride bus (PR3) also provides a local service from Wilton into Salisbury, allowing for a greater frequency of service than could be justified either by Wilton or by the Park and Ride alone.

Number 1 of a series of 30 images in our montage that represent the diverse areas of interest of TravelWatch SouthWest

TravelWatch SouthWest (TWSW) is a social enterprise company which acts as an advocate for passengers to lobby for the improvement of public transport in the region and works closely with local authorities, business organisations, partnerships and other stakeholder groups. This is one of a series of pictures illustrating the wide range of public transport interest across the South West. See for our next general meeting at which all groups are welcome (but please book ahead).

2 - Regular bus services - view

Melksham Market Place - a regular commercial bus service to Bath that links major population centres. On many such routes including this one, travel-to-work tarffic that used to dominate has been overtaken by ENCTS ("Senior bus pass") users, creating a new traffic peak from 09:30. Commercial services tend to finish late in the afternoon, and evening services where provided attract a subsidy from the local council. On some routes, such as this Melksham to Bath route, there are two operators in competition, with tickets mostly not interchangable between the operators and fare information hard to come by. The bus services act, made law in May 2017, has provision for open access to fare data, but the act was rushed through before the general election, and it's not yet clear how this provision of the act will work in practise. In the meantime, the confusion is a dis-service to passengers, as is the habit of multiple operators running at more or less the same time rather than them spacing out.

3 - Unevern ended bus routes - view

Many passenger flows are into major towns and cities from suburbs, surrounding smaller dormitory towns, villages and rural ares earlier in the day, then back out again later in the day, with very limited traffic between the places along the way. This metric provides a real challenge for the commercial public transport provider, who wants to provide an efficient service with good loading rates so he can make himself an income greater than his expenditure.

I have stood in the bus station in Bath, seeing buses emblazoned with the destination EASTERTON as if it was some huge metropolis, when in fact it's the last village before Salisbury Plain ... I used to live there and in those days the population was 450, and First ran a bus from Bath every hour than turned around at our corner. Of course, it's hard to justify an hourly service just for the village, but cut that village off the route and truncate to Market Lavington, and the Market Lavington to West Lavington section looses its viability in a similar way, so cut back to West Lavington, cut back to Potterne, cut back to Devizes. Each cutback makes the rest of the route less viable.

Pictured today (photo number 3 in our montage of 30 representing facets of TravelWatch SouthWest) is the current Sunday "solution". First bus reckon they can mae a commercial route out of the Bath to Melksham section of the route on a Sunday, and their 272 runs from Bath to Melksham. From Melksham via Sells Green and Devizes, and on to the villages to Easterton, Salisbury Reds are running a service that has financial support from Wiltshire Council, and they're doing so (quote sensibly) with a smaller vehicle.

This is an interesting Sunday solution - not without its drawbacks. People don't like having to change in the middle of the journey and that will loose some traffic. Through tickets are not issued - you pay on each bus. Because the 272 runs a loop round the suburbs of Melksham, there's a wait on changing buses of up to 20 minutes. With one half of people's journeys being commercial (changeable at 56 days notice by the operator) and the other half being supported (contact to January 2018, then being re-let if budget and numbers stack up), there's little incentive for people to take Sunday jobs in Bath that would rely on public transport, so it becomes very much less of an economic driver. All this lot may sound depressing - but there ARE useful things that could be done with the crossover, such as covering another residential area in Melksham that presently doesn't have a Sunday bus, and using the supported service to provide a rail link from the villages, and from Sells Green where a major camp site beside the route has a flow out via Melksham Station.

User groups in TravelWatch SouthWest are useful to public transport operators, and to local authorities with public transport responsibility, in providing feedback to help those with the technical and financial skills, but inevitably lacking detailed local knowledge of the whole of their patch, to tailor future provision such that it benefits passengers, operators and local authorities.

4 - The Rural Bus - view

The rural bus - for example the Salisbury Red service from Devizes to Salisbury, crossing Salisbury Plain, often needs public subsidy. By running between centres, the sparse population of the area between gets a choice of two urban hubs, and mid-route the bus is dual purpose - dropping off from Devizes and picking up for Salisbury as it heads south, and Vice Versa.

The supported rural bus survives on a knife edge. At a frequency of every hour, it provides the flexibility people want. At a frequency of every two hours, many people can adjust their travel to fit the services on offer. Drop it to a lesser frerquency than that, and you give passengers travelling for business / leisure / shopping / appointments too few choices - 5 minutes is too little time in "X" for their needs, and 3 or 4 hours in "X" is far longer than they want, and in many cases far longer than their heath can stand. Transport planners who look to reduce frequency saying "people will just use the earlier of later service" don't understand this metric, or if they do, they're telling you the official line and not what they actually believe. A further problem with scheduling rural services like these is that early and later services tend to be the quietest, but if they gat removed from the schedule that has a knock-on detrimental effect on services in the middle of the day, as passengers who want to make round trips can't do so any longer.

In areas that attract leisure and tourism, the rural bus can / should / could also be used to carry those passengers. Our example of the Devizes to Salisbury bus could add a call at the new Stonehenge Visitors centre (we know there's capacity in the schedule, as GoAhead were able to cope with a major diversion a few months back that added about the same time to the journey). Advertised as an "explorer" brand, such services could generate income to help support the service, and also bring a boost to the tourism economy for those visitors who really don't want to have to drive.

5 - Horses and Polling - view

Transport isn't only about regular ways of getting around. I recall visiting my local polling station when I lived deep in the countryside, where at least one group of voters rode over on their horses, tied them to railings outside, and went in to vote.

Polling stations should be located convenient to the people who may vote at them, but that's sometimes far from being achieved. Voting at my unitary elections in 2017 was in the centre of the next but one ward, a town centre where rebuilding of the Market Place in front of said polling station made access difficult. TO add insult to injury, the road from home to the polling station passed directly by a polling station for voters in the intermediate ward. We wondered if the setup was done to encourage mobile voters and voters with time to get to the polls.

Voting isn't an every day travel requirement, but the horses picture and voting needs act as a reminder of just what a wide variety of travel requirements people have. The private car, where people have the health and wealth to run it, and where congestion and parking allow, can be a very attractive solution, and will remain so for many journeys for the forseable future. Things could change if we moved to a system based on autonomous self-driving vehicles, but that's not something for this decade and perhaps not for the next.

6 - Ferries - view

Dartmouth Station has never seen a train! Rather, it is (or was) the public transport access point for the ferry across to Kingswear. The ferry still runs, carrying road vehicles and foot passengers across to Kingswear. The train service there is a "preserved" one - since 1973 it's catered for the tourist trade on heritage trains, rather than being used for the daily travel of local residents.

There's a sprinkling of ferries across the South West which reduce significant land journeys to short water ones, and a few of them are useful in the public transport arena as well as for private cars. The Isles of Scilly, and Lundy, are offshore islands within the South West which are also accessed by boat; there has been some controversy recently with regard Scilly, where concerns that a single operator controls all access of the islands in a monopoly is countered by concerns that the islands cannot sustain two competing operators.

7 - On consultations - view

What do people want? Ask them! Consultations, surveys, informal chats all help to inform on people's aspirations, represented by this picture taken at a local consultation and idea gathering meeting in the South West. Whilst some elements of consultation are best conducted at or on the public transport being discussed, there's a further significant element that has to be done away from the trains or buses - there's a very serious need to reach the people who don't use public transport, but might if it were fit for their purpose.

Some consultations are dismissed as being a "box ticking" exercises. Where there's a statutory requirement on an organisation to consult. Where the questions are phrased to encourage a desired result, there can some justification in this view. However, user inputs of writeins can be effective on any consultation - making quality rather than quantity count. An idea from a single response can trigger a thought process even from a rigged operation.

Many consultations are genuine though - and far more genuine than the general public gives them credit for. Where an organisation is not statutory, and there's no box for it to tick, you may consider it to be a pretty genuine attempt to involve customers and potential customer - go get their views and ideas (and perhaps contact details!), or indeed to help them feel positive and engaged, and to help them appreciate the thought process that's being gone through.

Just because a consultation is genuine doesn't mean that what it tells can be implemented right away, or should be. Sampling methods often mean than consultations hear disproportionatley from one sector of the customer base, and the majority view isn't necessarily the view with the most votes. And most respondents are unlikely to have a depth of background to ensure they choose good combinations that work together, especially where free form inputs are available. For example, top two desires "seats for everyone whenever they travel" and "low cost" are likely to counter one another unless subsidy is increased which is likely to be beyond the scope of the consulting organisation.

TravelWatch SouthWest is not a statutory body - it listens to its member organisations who in turn listen to their members, and using the technical skills of the board and other specialists can put together joined up responses to tecnical consultations covering all but the most local of issues. Technical consultations of such topics as the future relationship structure between Network Rail and the Office of Rail and Road can have the most enormous implications, yet are beyond the 'ken' of the typical user of public transport who the effect of any changes would effect.

8 - High Speed Train calling at Westbury - view

A high speed train calls at Westbury on its way to the South West. There are many train journeys made within the South West, with trains running on a variety of routes and providing good connectional opportunities at a number of key interchange points - the major ones being Bristol, Exeter, Swindon and Westbury. There are many lesser interchange places too - you'll find interchange at dozens of other stations, whether it's "double backs" such as Bath Spa or Trowbridge for Bradford-on-Avon to Chippenham journeys, or at stations like Liskeard, Par, Truro and St Erth for passengers headed to and from branch line destinations.

Passenger numbers connecting can be significant, and this means that long distance trains sometimes call at stations that otherwise wouldn't justify the call. If it wasn't for the Newquay connection, Par might not have such a good service, for example. Train specifiers and operators need to schedule for good connections, and with a policy that doesn't leave people stranded where an incoming train is running a bit late. And the metrics are made all the more difficult to implement where connections are between rail and road transport. Some of these road / rail connections are well set up and advertised - such as services from Bristol Temple Meads to Bristol Airport, or Exeter St David's to Bude. Others, such as the connection at Swindon to Avebury and Devizes, leave much to be desired and with a little tender loving care could be positively transformed out of all recognition. And there are some stations that the buses don't seem to even know about, such as Melksham. These latter are where user group, and TWSW overview inputs, can help the operators who of necessity spread themselves over very large areas to make the best of local opportunities.

9 - New buses - view

Demonstrator bus - Bath to Chippenham. Buses have changed over the years, and continue to change. Requirements for wheelchair access, heating, a smooth ride, better fuel economy, the servicing of quite narrow residential streets, and the provision of WiFi mean that vehicles that were considered to be excellent and modern 20 years ago are no longer even allowed to run.

Bus manufacturers compete for orders for new vehicles, and national, regional and local operators have investment choices to make. And as part of this process, the manufacturers may loan vehicles to operators for them to try out. Here's a vehicle on loan to Faresaver, showing one of the options they could choose to purchase for the future, on Queen's Crescent in Chippenham.

10 - Open topped bus - view

iAn open topped bus at Weymouth. Once a common site, open topped tourist buses have become rarer in the UK in recent years. Our weather is such that vehicles which are not roofed may be popular with tourists when it's warm and sunny - that's a couple of months in the summer - but can't be practically used for year round traffic such as ENCTS ("free bus pass" pensioners) or school runs.

11 - Nearly Every Seat Taken - view

Nesting is "Nearly Every Seat Taken". The ideal public transport service runs with nearly every seat taken for as much of the time as possible. That ideal is a good balance between having space to welcome new passengers, and a service that really provides a sericea and is financially as sound as practical.

This illustration - taken on the TransWilts service between Chippenham and Melksham - shows a train that's busier than the NESTing ideal. There are people standing in the end of the carriage, and a count of the passengers and seats that day showed 115% loading. Early August 2017, by the way - a time of year at which peak passenger numbers drop in the peak, but strengthen off peak on this line.

Train capacity on services with frequent calls is officially a higher figure that trains seats - often 140% - but even then there's no stopping more people getting on if they can. On less frequent service lines, where station are open rather than gated, trains with more than a handful of people standing create revenue protection problems - the conductor can't get through to check tickets, nor to sell to those unable to purchase prior to joining. Services which are routinely full and standing also discourage further traffic growth. A scheduled additional carriage for the train shown - scheduled for May 2017 - has still not materialised; latest promise is January 2018. And there is presently little point in promoting this service to new passengers - until it's reliable and strengthened, adding passenger numbers now puts off about the same number of passengers, and all it succeeds in doing is generating a pool of dissatisfied ex users.

Off peak, there IS still capacity om the Swindon to Westbury service - current estimated are that around 34% of seats are occupied on the route section unique to that service. That figure may sound low, but it's very much higher than that achieved by most other services. For sure, you hear of a great deal of overcrowding at peaks, but reports of train loading are very much biased because of the busy trains being seen and reported by a lot more people! Typically, overall loading over 25% though all of a week is pretty darned good!

It is also worth noting that hiring an extra carriage for the peak service, which may only actually be overcrowded from (say) Keynsham to Bristol Temple Meads, costs money. And indeed is an expensive proposition for a train operator. The extra income from that 6 minute journey is unlikely to pay the cost, so it's in tran operator's financial interests at times to have trains far, far fuller than the public would like.

12 - London Waterloo - view

London's Waterloo Station. Although outside the South West, London is the destination for many of our trains, and the destination for quite a lot of our passengers too. But not for all passengers on these trains, as they generate massive intermediate journey numbers within the region.

London's like the hub of a wheel with spokes in the TWSW area of interest from Waterloo to Weymouth and to Exeter, and from Paddington to Penzance, to Weston-supe-mare, to Swansea (passes through), to Cheltenham Spa and on the border to Worcester. These spokes run broadly east to west, with other "secondary" services providing travel that's north to south. CrossCountry run trains from Exeter and west thereof, and from Bournemouth, to Birmingham and the north, and there's "the main line that everyone forgot" from Portsmouth across to Cardiff.

The new First / MTR franchise that's running all services from Waterloo covers a huge wedge of commuter belt within London and the South East, with the only electric line straying into the SouthWest being that to Weymouth. The sole diesel train depot of SWR (South Western Railway) is at Salisbury, with tentacle services out to Exeter and Bristol. Although a great deal of new stock is planned in the franchise, none of it is diesel, and no electrification is planned either - so the South West will see no major capacity enhancement. Concern has been expressed by the Competition and Mergers Authority about a potential lack of competition on Exter to London journeys, and that concern could also be echoed for Bristol to London, Yeovil to London, and for journeys from the huge hinterland of central and southern wiltshire, southern Somerset and eastern Devon. A further concern is the new SWR logo, which represents lines into London Waterloo. Look at their video showing how the logo is derived, and you'll see that it includes Weymouth and Reading, but services via Salisbury shrink to nothing. Maybe it's "just a logo", but perhaps it shows a mentality.

13 - Bath Bus Station - view

Bus Stations (pictured, Bath). Bath bus station was rebuilt as part of the Southgate redevelopment in the town, replacing the facilities from the previous generation. Although there's much good about the new bus station, there are elements of its design which really make you wonder if the team putting it all together had sufficient representation from bus operators or bus users. Similar questions are being asked at present about the new bus station for Exeter, and indeed at other places where public transport road hubs / interchanges are being re-engineered to be smaller, more efficient, cheaper.

But even having a bus station has become a luxury no longer afforded, rather than a logical interchange and central information point - even in cities like Salisbury, where bus stops spread over a number of streets and newcomers can be baffled by what's going to be found where. Perhaps it's no-one's responsibility to actually provide central bus facilities, with multiple operators limited in how they are allowed to interact, and with little desire to invest in long term provision where bus passenger usage numbers are largely stagnant.

14 - Barnstaple Station and the Community Rail conference - view

Barnstaple Station - and the rail community. Barnstaple, the terminus of the Tarka line from Exeter, is a community success story. Passenger numbers (ticketed journeys) have risen from 210,000 to 421,000 over 10 years, taking a line that was lightly used to one with some services pretty much at capacity and beyond, and a daytime service frequency that now has trains running at the maximum possible considering the now-sparse passing places. Longer trains are desperatley needed, but current rolling stock shortages are leading to some trains being shortened rather than lengthened. The line is a victim of its own success from this viewpoint, and from the success of many other services where traffic has grown much faster and further than experts had predicted, and provision had been made for.

Each year, GWR hold a community conference for its rail user groups, station friends groups, and community rail partnerships and local authority stakeholders. These conferences allow users to meet others from different parts of GWR territory to exchange throughs and experiences, to be briefed by GWR and other industry players on what's happening, and to meet with company managers and directors to take forward discussions on their specific plans and issues. This picture taken as we returned from Barnstaple; a very useful day indeed, although follow ups tend to get lost into the general business of running a railway - and one currently with some major service issues on resourcing and reliability.

15 - Cycles and trains - view

Cycles and trains. People will walk perhaps 2km to the station. They'll cycle twice as far. So that's a 12 sq km catchment on foot, and a 50 sq km catchment by cycle. Cycling is cheap (affordable) and cycling is green - so encouraging train passengers to use their bikes makes such common sense. But (as with everything) issues arise.

What do you do with the bicycle when you get to the station? Either you leave the cycle there, with the security and space issues. Or you take it on the train - again with space issues, this time on the train. With trains at busy times of day already crowded or overcrowded, there is little if any space for cycles, and as cycles are currently carried free of charge there's little or no incentive on the train operators to provide to carry more of them. The use of folding bicycles, reservation systems, cycles at both ends of a journey all help somewhat. But this is still very much an issue that generates a great deal of concern on many sides, and all too often there's a conflict between those who feel that they're doing the right thing in terms of using health transport to get to the train and those who think they're doing the right thing by not taking up too much space on the train.




Coffee Shop Admin, Member of Melksham Rail User Group, on the board of TravelWatch SouthWest and some more things besides
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« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2017, 05:33:31 pm »

16 - Filling seats on public transport(view)

Filling seats on public transport. People who travel by bus or train are likely to tell you how busy they are - but that's sometimes because far more people see the busy services. Imagine a bus with 40 seats that does 10 trips a day, 2 of which carry 42 passengers each and the other 8 each carrying 2 each. 84% of traveller will tell you that there are always people standing, but the real seat occupancy figure is only 25%. Our culture of a 9 to 5 working day leads to uneven loadings like these, and th provision on senior bus passes on journeys after 09:30 leads to an even sharper peak. Local authorities may tell you that they are saving money by limiting these passes, but in doing so they're creating a peak and a nightmare loading pattern for the bus operators. In extreme cases, that might even mean that more or bigger buses are needed, putting up rather than reducing costs.

In addition to timed loading issues, many public transport routes are from centres to suburbs and outlying smaller towns and villages, and traffic tends to be unbalanced in direction - inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon. And it tends to start lightly loaded at the outer end of the route and fill towards the centre. So that 25% of seat occupancy in the previous paragraph might come down to around 15% at any particular point on the journey. And now add seasonal variations ...

Without significant social change, there's no easy solution to some of these loading issues. Off peak fares and special deals can help (and can also produce other artificial new peaks if you're not careful). Much of the "trick" in improving overall loading comes in seeking new markets at the time that there is capacity.

Picture 16 in the montage of 30 which show the areas of interest of TravelWatch SouthWest (TWSW). TWSW is a social enterprise company which acts as an advocate for passengers to lobby for the improvement of public transport in the region and works closely with local authorities, business organisations, partnerships and other stakeholder groups. This is one of a series of pictures illustrating the wide range of public transport interest across the South West. See for our next general meeting at which all groups are welcome (but please book ahead).

17 - Prestige bus fleets(view)

Prestige bus fleets. The Tinner bus fleet - running services T1 and T2 from Truro to Penzance - is an example of a fleet branded and promoted to a route. These 20 ADL Enviro 400MMC buses were all new in 2016 and are being used in promoting this route; although operated by First Kernow, they boast their own branding rather that the new green of First Kernow, or a standard First livery.

Where a route justifies frequent, quality buses, such branding is not uncommon. Other examples in our area are Oxford to Swindon, and Bristol to Wells. Reports suggest that on the right route, such a marketing and sales operation can be an excellent investment for the operator, with traffic growing well (and beyond the growth of seating) as a service that can be used on a "turn up and go" basis reaches people that less frequent, and less distinct, buses don't.

There is a concern with a "prestige route" that traffic may be sucked like from a sponge from adjoining routes, to their detriment - that the route will become an entity in its own right rather than part of a network. Current comment in Swindon and Royal Wootton Bassett about the services between those two points are showing that a fast, frequent service may be great, but West Swindon to Royal Wootton Bassett has has a lessening of service due to a concentration on the main flow to the exclusion of other, but significant, opportunities.

The Tinner bus in Cornwall is a case in point of this lack of integration. Th eauthor of this post was due to catch a train from Hayle to Penzance on a Sunday in July ... train cancelled (First group train), and advise was to wait for next one two hours later ("no alternative available" say the chap on the help point). But this bus ran just a few hundred yards away. Guess what - First group company too, but not integrated or branded into the network.

18 - Cornish Main Line(view)

Cornish Main Line. Pictured on the 06:00 Penzance to Cardiff in early July 2017, between Saltash and Devonport. Passenger numbers on trains across the South West have rocketed over the past 10 years, with the UK's railways now carrying as many passengers as they did at their peak, although there's now only half the route mileage left open. The rate of growth has been far higher than was planned for, resulting in overcrowded trains like this one, as new capacity is for the most part still a promise / in the pipeline rather than being with us yet in the South West. In the last year or so, growth has slowed down - but that's probably not due to a lack of demand. Rather that you can't get more people on the train!

The Cornish main line - Penzance to Plymouth - currently has an irregular service, with gaps between trains of up to 80 minutes. Plans are that in the not too distant future, there will be a regular 30 minute "clockface" service - so that the gaps will be filled - and that trains will be longer. This 06:00 off Penzance is currently scheduled to be the first service on the line replaces by a "pocket rocket" - a 4 carriage train that uses the the locomotives and some carriages from a pensioned off High Speed Train, fitted with automatic doors (to reduce the time spent at stations making sure it's ready to restart) and disabled toilets (for, obviously, disabled people - and also to ensure it's still legal to use beyond 2020).

We look forward to the increase in capacity - passengers cannot travel on promises, and we've had promised / scheduled dates for extra capacity broken far too many times to totally believe what we're told now. The proof will come when extra capacity is actually delivered on a daily basis, with minimal cancellations and reductions of train length due to "shortage of drivers", "shortage of train managers" or "more than usual trains requiring repair at the same time"

19 - St Erth for St Ives(view)

St Erth for St Ives. "Getting more people to use the train will reduce road congestion" is an argument you may have heard, but it's rarely true. Double the passenger numbers on a typical railway line outside London, and you'll reduce the road traffic by just 2%. But there are exceptions, and the branch line from St Erth to St Ives is one of them. In summer, a 4 coach train arrives into St Ives from St Erth and the park and ride at Lelant Saltings every 30 minutes, disgorges in the region of 350 passengers, and cycles around again. That's around 2,000 people arriving by rail not road over 3 hours - some 600 to 700 car movements in and out per day for which (in any case) there would be no parking.

This is an astonishing turn around for a line which was proposed for closure - along with other (still open) branches in the Beeching report. Had the closures gone ahead, there would be no trains today to St Ives, Looe, Gunnislake or even to Exmouth. In current times, there is less requirement to defend railway lines against closure, although bus routes are very much under threat and many are being lost. There are rail cases too where "change" brings about a significant reduction; some may be justified, others need robust analysis and perhaps defense. However, back to the growth at St Erth ...

A 2 car train in winter is replaced by a 4 car train in summer ... and that runs every half hour, with the bare minimum of time to turn around at each end of the line. A crowd control system is in place at St Ives, funnelling people out of multiple station exits to let the train get away quickly for the next load, and at St Erth the platform is to be widened in order to allow for better and safer waiting, and train egress. Pictured here are crowds from an arriving train from the east flowing over the footbridge to make the connection. Because there are currently significant gaps in the service on the Cornish main line, there's an uneven loading on "the branch" and interesting metrics with passenger flows at Lelant Saltings. Come the 30 minute service on the main line, due soon, this should even out.

20 - Lynmouth for Lynton(view)

Lynmouth for Lynton. As well as regular trains and buses, the South West has a few ferries, a sprinkling of airports, a good selection of heritage services, and a few the may not fit very well into any of these categories. In many ways, the Lynmouth to Lynton cliff lift (an inclined cable railway rather than a vertical lift) is a heritage line, with age and atmosphere promoted ahead of replacement by a modern system. And in many ways it's not just a heritage line, as it does the very real job of getting people back and forth between the two towns it serves, where there is little alternative and many of the passengers are there to get between the places, rather than because they want to try something unusual.

How about other less common types of public transport in the South West? Whenever something new is proposed these days, the word RISK is shouted at us. How do we know it will work? How do we know it will bring the passengers? What effect will it have on other transport provision? The result of this caution, which some will tell you makes us too careful these days, is that of schemes that are proposed only a few make it off the drawing board. Amongst the more headline-grabbing ideas in the South West are a cable car from the centre of Bath to the hill on the south, a tram system linking the current heavy rail in Salisbury with the City Centre and park and rides, running guided buses in Bristol, and sharing the railway tracks to Minehead between conventional public transport and heritage services. The commonality between these is only in their ability to grab headlines - some turn out to be pretty impractical, and the occasional one goes ahead.

21 - Bristol Commuters(view)

Bristol Commuters. There are far more passengers travelling home each evening from Bristol Temple Meads than there are seats for them on the trains they're catching. The trains are old, and although there have been promises of more and slightly newer trains, we have actually seen a reduction on some services recently, with "more trains that usual requiring maintenance at the same time". It's not uncommon for Portsmouth trains and Cardiff trains to be reduced from 3 to 2 carriages, and Weymouth services down from 4 to 2 carriages. Some services to Gloucester and beyond have even been down to a single carriage.

GWR have been let down by delays in electrification in the London area which have meant that the "turbo" diesel trains that were supposed to come to the Bristol area are delayed, but at the same time GWR are having to return other trains to the leasing companies from whom they were hired, as those leasing companies have promised them elsewhere. So that's 150/1 trains and HSTs going - the first HST went on 31st August - and although the HSTs didn't run Bristol commuter services (except to Chippenham and Swindon), their loss before replacement delays means that turbos are having to be used as stand-ins on Oxford to London services, thus not releasing them for the Bristol area. Whilst there's some sympathy for GWR, there's also a feeling that better contingency planning might have helped - the electrification program isn't the first enhancement program to overrun, after all. And there's also a feeling that the commuters of "The West" have been let down - noting that that the trains being returned from hire are going on time to their new homes, and that reports from the Thames Valley talk of luxurious capacity on electric trains. GWR are retaining some trains that were due to go off lease without a new home (hence the heavy maintenance requirement, as they were being run down), but with one exceptional day there's been no extra short term hire of loco hauled stock like was done last time there was a shortage.

The good news is a promise of more "cascaded" trains coming along - a step change in January 2018. As there was a promise of a step change on the Swindon - Westbury service for last May, and that hasn't yet happened, there are those of us who look forward more in hope than in expectation to January; we'll believe it when we see it, having had promises of capacity and reliability made but not echoed on the ground.

To confirm though - this SHOULD be fixed in the next six months. And to some extent GWR has to carry the can for the failure of others to deliver, as well as for those elements it could have done something about.

22 - Bus to train connections(view)

Bus to train connections. Pictured at Chippenham. Some of the earliest bus routes linked railway stations to towns and villages which didn't have their own stations - famous across the South West as being one of the first was the service from Helston to The Lizard, giving access to Culdrose, Predannack and Goonhilly, which started in 1903. Buses swept in, in many places competed with trains, and indeed in the 1960s a number of rail lines (including that from Gwinear Road to Helston) were closed, leaving bus services as the sole means of public transport along that route. These days, more passenger miles in the UK are travelled by train than bus, but more journeys are made by bus than by train. That's a rather natural balance, since typically bus journeys are the shorter ones with stops every few hundred yards, where modern trains are more fitted to interurban, regional and long distance travel.

People's journeys are total journeys. Starting the day from home / friend's place / hotel/hostel / international arrival to work / town / shops / business meeting / hospital / court / leisure centre / cinema / seaside / country walk / friend's place. And in the majority of cases following up with a reversed / similar journey later in the day. These are typically not just station to station journeys on the same line, and even with buses there's a lot of journeys (most) that require more than a short walk to the transport stopping point at each end on the same route. So interchange is important.

At places like Chippenham, many of the buses serve the station, but there's still an element of the systems being disjointed in terms of information systems, timing of connections, and the effect of delays breaking connections. Things have improved at Chippenham since the days that the bus used to pull out as the train approached, but there's still the situation that the bus must leave on time (if it doesn't, the operator can be in trouble with the traffic commissioner, and none-train passenger will be unhappy about the delay too) even if the train is just around the corner. At a few places (Bedwyn, and on the Cotswold line) there are certain buses that will wait up to x minutes for a late running train, but they are few and far between.

If a bus calls at a station a few minutes before a train calls, that's great for connections from bus to train. And if a bus calls a few minutes after a train, that's great for connections from train to bus. But people make journeys in both directions, so how can connections be achieved in both directions? One way is to look at the important connection directions, and have the bus call just before the trains to "X" and just after the train from "X". But this is usually easier said than done.

Not offering any global solutions in this post - but triggering thoughs and awareness to help define the issues, many of which can be overcome through local priority decisions and innovation.

23 - Station and train catering(view)

Station and train catering. Privately run individual food outlets at stations to celebrate the locality, or chains to provide consistency? Should trains have buffet cars, restaurant cars, trollies, or food and drink vending machines? Is it right to take a pungent takeaway onto a train and eat it in front of the other passengers, and if not why are such meals sold at major stations as takeaways? (London's Kings Cross comes to mind, though it's not in the south west. By contrast, many bus operators ban eating and drinking on their vehicles - people have even been told off for sipping water from a plastic bottle.

Catering on trains and at stations is not at the top of most user group's agendas; they tend to be looking for improved or modified services, better fares, etc. But it's an emotive subject on various online passenger forums. Views are many and varied, and this is perhaps one of the most difficult areas for TravelWatch SouthWest to find a common position on.

24 - Requests and campaigns for the future(view)

Requests and campaigns for the future - TWSW general meeting - Taunton

User groups, campaign groups and individual campaigners look to the future and say "Wouldn't it be nice if". This is excellent in that it generates ideas, questions, thoughts for the future. But it leads to a mixture of practical and impractical requests, and multiple solutions that contradict one another. It's also all too easy for passengers and groups outside the public transport industry to make suggestions which won't work, when other suggestions could be made which are practical and would fulfill their aims in a different way.

Public interest is a double edged sword to public transport providers. On one hand, the engagement and positive inputs are welcome, but on the other hand the resource taken to answer them all if they're un-coordinated is significant, and at times the professionals can feel that the amateurs are telling them how to do their jobs!

TravelWatch SouthWest holds a twice yearly general meeting, to which just about any and every user group, campaign group, special interest group, and sole-working campaigner is welcome. At those meetings, senior industry managers address the audience to help them understand how to make suggestions and inputs which are more likely to be tuned and work. Groups network in order to help with joined up thinking. And inputs to the TWSW board (all volunteers with significant background) help the board in their working with the industry between meetings in such things as consultation responses from across the South West.

25 - Celebrating growth at Salisbury(view)

Celebrating growth at Salisbury. Ten years ago, there were just 2 trains a day each way from Swindon and Chippenham to Trowbridge, Westbury and beyond. Now there are 9 each way, with peak and shoulder peak services full and standing. And in those same 10 years, passenger numbers at stations all across the South West have rocketed - examples include Plymouth up by 64%, Paignton up by 82%, Clifton Down up by 336%, Bradford-on-Avon up by 110%, Ashchurch for Tewkesubry up by 83%, Camborne up by 91%, and so on - these are typical and not exceptional figures for our region.

Infrastructure has been updated to support additional services. An extra loop on the line to Falmouth. A doubling of the track from Swindon to Kemble. Underway at the moment is an increase from 2 to 4 tracks from Bristol to Filton. And a number of new stations have been opened too - mostly in Devon, but with others in the pipeline too. Pictured here is the train that celebrated the designation of the TransWilts line, with GWR MD Mark Hopwood and Rail Minister Paul Maynard pictured in front of the "special", which had made a stop at the site of the proposed Wilton Station.

26 - Bus / Rail interchange - Gunnislake(view)

Bus / Rail interchange - Gunnislake. Take 2,500 stations in a railway network. Add at least 20 times that for individual stops in a bus network, and you have an extensive public transport system that links a huge number of locations with - if you get the interfaces right - a high speed core network with extensive local feeders. Problem is that bus and rail typically run under very different frameworks, with different change dates, and a reluctance on both sides to guarantee connections at times of disruption. Cornwall is moving forward with "one system" and they're to be applauded on that - though even for them, there's issues. The buses at Gunnislake have "changed" since this picture was taken, for example.

27 - Encouraging newcomers to public transport(view)

Encouraging newcomers to public transport - out in the community. Over time, people's travel habits change. People move home, change their jobs to new locations. Students move on from one educational establishment to another. New housing and industrial ares open, town centres become much less shops and much more social hubs for cafes and leisure. Seniors give up driving, and (we hope) may years later give up much or any travel. Children who have been used to Dad's taxi want to be independent, but probably can't afford the insurance on a car. And public transport operators need to reach those people who's changes could start to make use of it.

Advertising of public transport facilities at bus stops and stations is pretty useless in marketing services to people who don't currently use public transport (though it is useful to help encourage existing users to make better use), and passenger groups, community rail and community bus groups, and station and bus stop friends are well placed. Picture here - spreading the word about the local train service to an active senior's engagement event. Helping overcome myths that "you have to book well in advance to get a good price", "hardly any trains call here", "there's no parking at the station", "didn't the station close in 1966?", "it doesn't go anywhere worthwhile", "it's unreliable and could leave me stranded". Of course, there's rarely smoke without fire, but some of the smoke that generated those comments is from tiny fires, or fires that have been long since extinguished!

28 - Plane, Bus and Train(view)

Plane, Bus and Train. It's just 95 steps from the platform at Southampton Airport Station to the checkin desk, and buses are even closer as they stop on the road between the station and the airport terminal. Hampshire's not included in the "SW" of TWSW, but never the less this connection is a useful one, and you may see transport users in the South West green with envy of the closeness of rail and air; it's certainly nothing like as good for interchanges at Land's End, Newquay, Exeter or Bristol Airports, all of which involve an extra bus transfer.

Connectivity across "Wessex" or Central Southern England is typically good on east - west routes which are the spokes of railway lines coming out from the hub of London - to Bournemouth and Weymouth via Southampton, to Salisbury and Exeter, to Taunton, Exeter, and the rest of Devon and Cornwall, and to Bristol and Cheltenham Spa via Swindon. But connectivity between these various spokes is patchy. Southampton Airport as far as Salisbury is good (hourly train service) but then you're changing. Bournemouth / Poole to Bristol or Taunton or Exeter are so poor by train that they give rise to the old joke "If I was going there, I wouldn't be starting from here". And so the list goes on.

29 - Class 800 at Stoke Gifford(view)

Class 800 at Stoke Gifford. We are about to see the biggest change in trains across the South West for a very long time indeed.

Our 40 year old High Speed Trains are to be replaced by class 800 and class 802 super-expresses, which can operate on both electric and diesel traction, changing over while on the move if required. The lines from London Paddington are being electrified - electric power is already available to Maidenhead and it will extend in the next couple of months to Didcot, then later via Swindon and Bristol Parkway to Cardiff, from Reading to Newbury, and from Swindon to just west of Chippenham (Thingley Junction) where the power's fed up from the National Grid at Melksham. The picture shows one of the first class 800 trains to be delivered in the new depot; currently under test, first passenger service is scheduled to be the 06:00 Bristol Temple Meads to London on 16th October.

Electrification of the lines from Paddington means new electric trains there, and releases the diesel trains that have got a few years life left in them yet to us in the South West. That will allow both the strengthening of some or our busiest services, and the release of trains which are end-of-life in the area.

However, the story - or life - isn't as simple as that.

The new class 800 and 802 trains are going to be quicker point to point on electricity, and potentially slower on diesel. Stations stops won't need to be as long as they'll have electric doors rather that prolonged closure procedures. They'll be in 5 and 9 carriage formats, allowing splitting and joining of trains along the way. And the carriages are longer, so that there are works to be done to get them round some corners, and places where those works are impractically expensive for the few HST trains that used to go on the route.

The class 165 and 166 units being released from the Thames Valley are in 2 and 3 car formations (versus 1 2 and 3), with top speeds of 90 m.p.h. versus 75 m.p.h., and acceleration and braking systems designed for fast start / stop between close stations, rather than longer runs with speed restrictions along the way. And at present the 16x units have only a very limited selective door capability. And whereas the current "West" fleet (143, 150/1, 150/2, 153 and 158) can all work in multiple with each other, the future fleet (150/2, 158, 165, 166, short form HST) will be three distinctly different train types for coupling. Like the 800 and 802 in replacing the HST, line clearance work needs to be done for 16x trains in The West, and in some places that may not be sensible.

Have I got you concerned at complexity already?

With trains faster in some sections of their routes and possibly slower in others, timetables need to be rewritten. There would be public outrage if faster trains were run slower that possible, or waited at stations for longer, to avoid a timetable change. But as soon as you change the timetable, you start breaking connections and creating new conflicting movements over junctions. Yes, it would be great for the 08:00 Paddington to Paignton to be 8 minutes earlier at Westbury and 15 minutes earlier by Paignton, bust if that means that it leaves Westbury 2 minutes before the connecting train from Swindon arrives rather that 6 minutes after, you're going to have some very unhappy customers indeed. All these consequences need looking at and planning in detail.

With the coming of (more) turbo trains - class 165 and 166 - to the Bristol area from 1st January 2018, class 153 and 150/2 should move further west, together with most of the class 158; some of those will remain on "the Brighton"s and on services from Cardiff to and via Taunton. Two cars will be enormously welcome replacing single car 153s on certain services, but will cause platform issues at places like Swindon where two trains (a 1 and a 2 car) currently share the 3 car bay platform.

During 2018, long distance services will gradually change over from HST to 80x operation, with a timetable to suit both. Then the timetable for 2019 will be revised to take advantage of the extra trains and running time improvements possible with the 80x trains. So that's a further set of interactions and connections to be considered. No easy task for GWR, or for other train companies sharing the lines.

TravelWatch SouthWest is listening to its members to help ensure that excellent inputs are made from its board and technical experts to GWR early in the timetabling process. Not everything will be able to connect with everything (just as it can't at present), and we probably can't expect every train to have seats available for all on every journey it makes - but we can help make those little tuning suggestions that will make a big difference, and we provide (and are providing) inputs to the next franchising process to help in the specification of services which are what's needed / required / wanted for the 2020s.

30 - Pulling it all together - each in its on way(view)

This is the final picture in my montage series of 30 showcasing public transport across the South West of England. Can anyone place where the picture was taken?

From the levels of Somerset to the heights of Exmoor ... from cities like Bristol and Plymouth to deeply rural villages like Imber and Luxulyan ... from islands surrounded by sea like Tresco to landlocked counties like Wiltshire, this is truely a land of variety. And we have a wide variety of public transport solutions too - buses and trains for the most part, but some ferries and planes too.

With such a disparate range of geographies, each and every area has its own unique flavour, and its own unique travel needs and aspirations. Organised and operated centrally for the most parts, the rail network, franchises, and bus fleet operations apply general good practise but can't always have the local knowledge to tune local provision. It's that local knowledge that's vital from user and campaign groups, often working in conjunction with local elected government, and their paid officials, which can bring so much more to the transport provision. Yet transport has an extra requirement - the requirement to co-operate across neighbouring areas. The who reason for public transport is to help people get around, and if you're travelling from (say) Frome to Bristol, co-ordination's needed between Somerset and Mendip, Bath and North East Somerset, and Bristol. If you're going by train, that journey will also involve co-ordnation with the London to Plymouth and Penzance trains that share part of the tracks, and the Portsmouth to Cardiff ones too.

So - there's a need for local knowledge to make the best of public transport. And there's a need of wider area co-operation.

Picture 30 in the montage of 30 which show the areas of interest of TravelWatch SouthWest (TWSW). TWSW is a social enterprise company which acts as an advocate for passengers to lobby for the improvement of public transport in the region and works closely with local authorities, business organisations, partnerships and other stakeholder groups. This is one of a series of pictures illustrating the wide range of public transport interest across the South West. See for our next general meeting at which all groups are welcome (but please book ahead).

Coffee Shop Admin, Member of Melksham Rail User Group, on the board of TravelWatch SouthWest and some more things besides
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