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Author Topic: The Westbury to Swindon line - a status update on enhancement proposals  (Read 1048 times)
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« on: April 07, 2019, 10:11:23 am »

From my Railfuture talk on Wider Wiltshire yesterday which included status updates for a number of current aspirations - ranging from improved and new services and through new stations and line improvements. In Wiltshire, I do not see any lines being (re)laid in the next few years.

Status update - Melksham

Six years ago, just a peak train each way - or rather morning pre-peak to Swindon and evening post-peak from Swindon, with even more extreme balancing workings - 06:12 and the 18:44 off Swindon ... result, hardly any passengers. From December 2013, extra fill-in trips about every 2 hours working well, and also completing round trip opportunities with established trains. Passenger numbers up from 3,000 to 75,000 per year, but should be 250,000 plus based on character and catchment. Lacks frequency, certain connections and "get home after evening out" services.

Trains and platform now longer so capacity not an issue, but safety of increasing passengers on the approach area will be.

GWR changes in December 2019 reduce southbound services by one per day and displace established services by up to 20 minutes, breaking many established and used connections. Done to fit around the more important London expresses at both ends of the line.

Proposals looked at in SWR consultation for hourly Southampton to Swindon and perhaps Oxford. Could step up from 8 each way to 12 easily without extra stock under this scheme, but hourly would need infrastructure changes. Two step process? Even first stage looks like parked as "too many changes at once" for December 2019. See also Go-op plans which would use those extra paths currently available for their Taunton to Nuneaton services.

Additional drop off / pick up capacity and connecting bus services for station most important. Extra car parking and better customer facilities in plan.

Direct service to Bath and Bristol would be nice but should not dilute services via Trowbridge; AOK for when there's a train every 30 minutes.

Status update - Go-op service

Proposal for a Taunton - Frome - Westbury - Swindon - Oxford - Coventry - Nuneaton Open Access service. Identified potential flows look good / fill some much needed gaps. But Go-op have been working on this / similar schemes for a number of years and deadlines have slipped even more than is usual in the rail industry. They have something of a credibility problem; as a service subcontracted to an existing operator (could be a Midland one headed south, or one of the two already in Wiltshire) the trains would be very welcome and supported.

It's unlikely that both this proposal and the Swindon - Solent one (perhaps extended to Oxford - Solent) could both run as proposed - capacity issues. It should be the fervent hope of the passenger who want to see the present poor service between Westbury and Swindon, and Swindon and Oxford, stepped up to a decent level the the two schemes don't slog it out to the extent that both are left mortally wounded and we get nothing.

Audience reaction ... a member of the audience attended the late afternoon presentation by the Go-op team in Frome and reported his concern that calls for funding might not attract the required investment.

Status update - Swindon to Solent trains

Proposal to link .. Swindon to Westbury, Westbury to Warminster / Salisbury / Southampton, and Salisbury to Romsey via the Southampton loop. Efficient trains, new regional journeys in addition to serving all existing traffic.

Would work - from December 2019 every 2 hours Swindon to Westbury and every hour south from there. No extra trains needed, but it would need cross-franchise agreements and co-operation which have, I'm pretty sure, been put on the "too difficult" pile as limited staff struggle to thread north-south services between the important east-west trains on their new schedules, at the same time sticking to what have - in some cases - become anachronisms in the service level commitments.

Best look to see what can be done May or December 2020.

Provision of hourly north of Westbury in peaks could be done; off peak, all day, clock face hits a capacity / robustness issue until works undertaken on the single line bottleneck.

Audience reaction ... A well known local campaigner suggested this is in the hands of the DfT, as an option they could choose, based on a proposal made by GWR and SWR.

Overall comment - when I was formally (and formerly) the Community Rail Officer for this line, I was on the Railfuture Branch Committee to represent the TransWilts CRP - a position which was passed to the new Community Rail Officer when see took over last autumn.  The AGM yesterday that preceded the presentation yesterday was attended by Wiltshire Council's Portfolio Holder for Public Transport and, as a board member of TransWilts, it was suggested he take the TransWilts place the committee as a regular and well informed attendee at RailFuture events.

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