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Author Topic: Why I am driving and not taking the train for journeys at the moment  (Read 3210 times)
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« on: June 09, 2019, 03:22:34 pm »

A decade ago, I often drove to rail meetings, and drove away for work too. At rail meetings, an initially hostile reception to my telling people I had driven was met with a sympathetic chuckle when I told them I came from Melksham – a town with just two trains each way a day - describes as "too early" and "too late",  If you missed the quarter past six from Swindon, the wasn't another train until quarter to seven - the trap being it was quarter past six in the morning and quarter to seven at night.  Staring from London first thing in the morning, I could arrive at Fort William (population around 11,000, 520 miles from London, 16:24 arrival)  earlier in the day than Melksham (population around 28,000, 105 miles from London, 19:14 arrival). Hardly anyone used the trains to Melksham either.

Things have improved out of all recognition.  A dedicated train running up and down the line between the original services results in a combine timetable of a service each way every 2 to 3 hours, with an extra train in each peak.  Passenger numbers (Official Office of Rail and Road data) are up from 3,000 journeys per annum to around 75,000, and on a more personal note I have been able to reduce my annual driving from around 30,000 miles to around 3,000 miles.  It has made a huge difference to a very large number of people.

But do not be mislead - just because the service has been moved up from being a useless one doesn't mean that it's now appropriate for general use and the economy of the area. It remains a poor service, inappropriate and inadequate for passengers to, from and through Melksham in terms of not being well joined up, infrequent and unreliable.  On the positive side, it's run very safely, local fares are at a reasonable level and the staff running the trains are friendly and welcoming for the most part.  Can I quantity what it would need to bring is up to the same level as other lines / towns?  Well - I can define what the number of journeys should be for Melksham.   We've moved up from 3,000 to 75,000... and need to move up to around 380,000 to be level with the lowest figure per head of population for any other rail connected Wiltshire town ((that example is Warminster)). So that's over five times the number of passengers we have at present.

Let me give you some examples where are train service is not (yet) fit for purpose.  All three are personal examples – a journey I made yesterday, will be making tomorrow, and will be making on Tuesday morning.

1. Yesterday

Requirement: I required to be in Taunton in good time for a 10 a.m. setup for a meeting I was organising, and then to be able to return from Taunton having some flexibility in my return – late afternoon or early evening. 

Best Melksham option: Sadly, first train from Melksham not suitable – 09:02 on a Saturday, and not to Taunton until 10:37 (for some reason it was different to usual times yesterday, normally 10:09).  And, sadly, last train back 16:12 from Taunton, change at Westbury into the final Melksham arrival at 18:48.

Solution (1): Planned - Drive to Bradford-on-Avon, park there and catch the train at 07:50 changing at Bristol Temple Meads.  Plenty of services back via same route. Didn't work out (off topic story - unable to pay for parking) and ended up with...

Solution (2):  Drive all the way. About an hour and a half.

2. Tomorrow

Requirement: To be a couple of hundred yards from Bristol Parkway Station for a 19:00 meeting, allowing for a finish for a 21:30 train.  No need to be there early – not running the meeting.

Best Melksham option: 16:37 train, change Trowbridge, 18:47 at Parkway. Return - last connecting train would be at 18:56 (before the meeting even starts!!) ... only option is the train at 22:12, changes at Temple Meads and Bath into the bus - 00:01 arrival into Melksham.

Solution (1):  Could park at Trowbridge – 17:48 train arrived 18:47 Parkway, return train at 21:56 reached Trowbridge at 22:53, Melksham at (say) 23:15.

Solution (2):  Drive all the way. Mapping app says 45 minutes.  18:00 from Melksham, 18:45 at destination. Return 21:30, home at 22:15

3. Tuesday

Requirement:  Appointment in Milton Keynes (2 miles from Station) at 09:00

Best Melksham option:  By train via London, or by train to Oxford the X5 bus to Milton Keynes - neither will be early enough from first train in that direction.  Via London also very expensive indeed.  Best I could do would be a 10:25 arrival into Milton Keynes. 

Solution (1): Parking at Chippenham looks like an option, except car would need to be left there for several days. Taxi / lift to Chippenham, 05:30 from home, 05:56 train, risky quick connections at Didcot and a run across Oxford, rail to bus station.

Solution (2):  Drive all the way.  Only practical solution.  Mapping app says 2 hours.  I will set out at around 06:15 and stop for a breakfast and a freshen up when I get close to destination.


I drove yesterday - not planned, but I was left with no alternative.  I'm driving tomorrow as I have to drive partway anyway unless I want to take 150 minutes more than I have to, and taking the car all the way save me around 100 minutes in total even on driving to / from Trowbridge.  And I'm driving on Tuesday because I save half and hour, have a far better change of arriving in time for my meeting, and am saved the cost of taxi rides at both ends which will add up to more than my fuel cost.


Now ... public transport is about mass transit and I'm not a "mass", nor are any of these mass flows on their own, but it's so utterly disappointing that three times on the trot, I want to use public transport but for me living in Melksham it just ain't practical yet.  It helps explain why we're at 75,000 not over 350,000 journeys, doesn't it?

So - what are the systemic / medium and longer term solutions?   There might be some good news here in the options and ideas already floated and in some cases rather more than just floated...

1a. Go-op are proposing direct Taunton to Swindon services from December 2020, and if that comes about (big "if" in my mind) with train running a reasonably full day, Melksham to Taunton would become a very practical day trip.  Note that these trains would also meet a significant number of other useful needs!

1b. We have not yet seen a draft SATURDAY timetable from GWR for December 2019, but with an extended day (at both ends) on Swindon – Westbury contraflow, and an earlier Westbury to Taunton train, this could become practical by rail.

1c. Melksham to Taunton also possible via Chippenham, but not a "permitted route" so would require multiple tickets.  Evening waits of nearly an hour at Chippenham on the return trip at present make this doubly unattractive, but with timetable changes from December 2019 this might get batter. Statistically, it can't be any worse, can it?

2a. A further round trip of the Westbury -> Swindon – Westbury train - 21:32 off Westbury, 22:36 off Swindon would solve the return problem. On a Saturday it would also solve issue (1).

2b. Note that Melksham to Bristol Parkway is only valid via Bath Spa - and that's a slower route.  Perverse, as Melksham to South Wales ticket are valid via Swindon / Bristol Parkway! Sorting out this anomaly with not make a difference to what is possible, but would mean that journey planners offered the best route

3a. The 05:18 Westbury to Swindon train, due to start running this December, would allow a tight arrival into Milton Keynes for this appointment.

3b. East/West rail will make this journey about 45 minutes faster and much more pleasant.   Far too early for timetable details, but I look forward to being able to get to Bletchley, Bow Brickhill, and Cambridge in the morning rather than the night before is something I wish had been in place for years.

Other matters that discourage me - and probably others - from using the train:

i) The difficulty of parking at train stations. Note, I failed with both cash and phone in payment at Bradford-on-Avon and as the ticket office was not able/willing to offer help (in the form of change or in any other way).  I was shocked at £6.30 which I did not have in coins.  Machine won't take cards.  Texting required me to phone in new card details, but they only do office hours for than.  Ticket clerk - "Parking nothing to do with us - can't help even on giving you change".

ii) Research / data above has required considerable knowledge and research.   Heaven help the newcomer!
« Last Edit: June 09, 2019, 06:34:22 pm by grahame » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2019, 08:33:34 pm »

We talk about the problems of integrated transport but having seen the above about Bradford on Avon and heard more about it yesterday we do have a problem if we can’t integrate cars with trains let alone buses.
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« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2019, 06:52:14 am »

We talk about the problems of integrated transport but having seen the above about Bradford on Avon and heard more about it yesterday we do have a problem if we can’t integrate cars with trains let alone buses.

We do better with buses than with cars ... which you wouldn't believe if you look at offerings such as the one I got yesterday as part of my research and is attached to this post.  For a 21:30 departure from Bristol Parkway to Melksham
* Why hang around Parkway to the 22:12 leaving just 11 minutes to change at Temple Meads into the last avaiable service of the day that has any form of connection to Melksham? The 21:56 would be more sensible, with a note to use the 21:26 if you're a few minutes early at the station?
* Why walk 0.4 miles in Bath to the Guildhall when the D3 starts at the bus station - in the case of Bath, the bus and rail station are very close to each other!!
* Why get off at Roundponds for a 1 mile, 20 minute walk (from 23:57 to 00:01?) when the bus carries on into the town centre. For newcomers, advise - stay on the bus. You really don't want to be standing roadside outside the white van dealership in a bus stop with no onward map at midnight.
* What's the fare? Where do I get my ticket?  To be fair, below the chart attached were links to the operator's sites, but that would be another research job; you could (I believe) buy online tickets for both legs.
* What are the fallback options if a connection fails, or if I get held up?

With car-to-train ... oh dear.  I live at [postcode] which isn't right at a station. I need to work at [distant postcode].  I get in my car to a station, park up and take the train.  Which station should I choose?  Is there likely to be enough car parking there?  Can I pay for the car parking with my travel ticket online / book a space in the car park to be sure?   The 'best' options are not always the obvious ones. For me to London, meeting at (say) the Festival Hall, with an unknown return time, drive to Andover or Basingstoke then train is probably best. What site tells me that?  For the Paddington area with an evening return home, cheapest option is drive to Bedwyn for the train - but what is parking like at Bedwyn?   

Try another - with a car that can be left at a station for a couple of nights, from SN12 6QL to get to a workplace for two days at ML5 1ET. That's one of my trips; I will tend to get a lift to the nearest station but it always feels an endless slogas far as Birmingham, and I might to better if I could park up at Bromsgrove or (future) Worsetershire Parkway.  I have in the past parked at Warwick Parkway headed for Lancaster.

Public transport all the way sites are far from complete solutions.  Private car all the way sites are much better than the pubic transport ones. For journeys that involve a car (or taxi?) to a station, we need a truely intergrated web site ... anyone??

You can see why so many people use their cars as the simplest way rather than fight to find if there's a better way, can't you?  You can spend longer researching than you would spend driving!

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« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2019, 11:15:31 am »

You can see why so many people use their cars as the simplest way rather than fight to find if there's a better way, can't you?  You can spend longer researching than you would spend driving!

Clear real-time information is the key, and thankfully this is getting a lot better.

We were in London on the weekend, staying near Victoria. The Circle line was (as seems to be its wont on weekends these days) shut, and I was struggling to work out how to get where we wanted to go - until someone pointed out that the TfL app will tell you which bus or buses to catch. I've never used London buses before, because they've always looked impossibly complicated and my mental map of London consists of brown, red and black lines with circle symbols where they join up.

Suddenly a whole new world has opened up for me, in which where you can travel in daylight, see sights, and don't need a shower at the end of your journey! And as for the £1.50 flat fare... surely that's an idea whose time has come?
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