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Author Topic: Heart of Wessex - should it be hourly, could it be hourly - issues and options  (Read 6747 times)
grahame
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« on: August 07, 2019, 07:36:17 am »

With very few exceptions in GWR land, train services should run at least hourly. Towns and cities linked are large enough, close enough, and economically linked enough with regular and frequent travel between them to make "hourly" an appropriate minimum threshold.

There are a couple of lines where trains are not running hourly (yet?) and one of those is the Heart of Wessex - the line from Westbury via Frome, Yeovil and Dorchester to Weymouth, on which traffic has exploded upwards over the years, but neither service numbers nor length of train over the whole line has. Some extras are run (by SWR) between Westbury and Yeovil, and GWR have been running an extension of the Swindon - Westbury service to Frome at lunchtime, though that ceases come December.

So - Heart of Wessex - hourly?

Current running time from Yeovil Pen Mill to Dorchester West is 34 minutes.  There's just one intermediate loop on that single line section, and that's at Maiden Newton - so for an hourly service, trains must pass at Maiden Newton.  With a 21 minute running time from Yeovil Pen Mill to Maiden Newton, that means that if a train leaves Yeovil at (say) 14 minutes after the hour, the one it passes at Maiden Newton will get back to Yeovil at 56 minutes after the hour.  So far, so good ... until you look north from Yeovil Pen Mill and find that the northbound train should leave there to continue towards the next passing opportunity at Castle Cary at around 58 minutes after the hour and find that the next southbound train needs to leave Castle Cary - also - at around 58 minutes after the hour, or there abouts. 

No option then. Passing trains at Maiden Newton if they're to be hourly. But that leads to a conflict on the single line section north of Yeovil.

Impasse?  Let's take a wider look at some of the options

1. Accelerate Yeovil Pen Mill to Dorchester services so that passing can be at both of those stations.  Not easy - you could propose skipping the intermediate stations, You could do major engineering to increase line speed including none-stop fast line with loop at Maiden Newton.  But you will still be perilously close to the half hour running time with a resultant lack of robustness, you'll bring in a very long turn around time at Weymouth - a train sat there for 40 minutes in every hour, and you'll effectively close four stations.

2. You could add an extra loop north of Maiden Newton ("move Maiden Newton") so that trains can pass at Castle Cary ... but again, you'll need an extra train because there won't be time to get the train down to Weymouth and back.

3. You could redouble Yeovil Pen Mill to Castle Cary.   Very attractive as that will help provide robustness and paths for trains headed for Yeovil Junction too - SWR and also GWR diversions.

4. You could split the service - Westbury to Yeovil and Yeovil to Weymouth. Operationally, it would work.   Traffic wise, I don't think that through passengers would appreciate the change of trains at Pen Mill and the time it took, even though it would disguise the problem. Would there be enough platforms? Excellent station buffet concession?

5. Could you go for a service every 90 minutes rather than every 60?

6. You could have one of the trains wait 20 minutes at Yeovil Pen Mill - or perhaps make a trip to and from Yeovil Junction and back. This may be more attractive than it sounds and (at the risk of loosing service regularity all day) look at the traffic flows and add the Junction trip to whichever direction is quieter at that time of day.

7. Please add your ideas ...
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Bob_Blakey
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« Reply #1 on: August 07, 2019, 08:19:35 am »

I would contend that the entire Pinhoe - Yeovil Junction - Yeovil Pen Mill - Castle Cary track should be redoubled so that we have a much more usable South West<>Paddington diversionary route. This would have the additional benefits of enabling an hourly HoW service and a much more reliable Barnstaple<>Axminster (or possibly even further east) 'Devon Metro' service.

One can but dream! 
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bradshaw
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« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2019, 08:34:41 am »

The Wessex RUS issued some time ago included the strategy for making the CLC - YVJ section more resilient to enable use as the diversionary route for the GWR. However, this seems only to have included some intermediate section signal which would allow services to be fleeted in a manner similar to that at  Crewkerne.
With the additional SWR services via Castle Cary one might question the need for additional services on the section north of Yeovil.
Can one justify an hourly service south of Yeovil? I am not sure. The line below Yeovil serves a number of different traffic flows but probably the main flow is leisure traffic to Weymouth.
One might look at connectivity at Castle Cary with the new two hourly service and develop the service around that.
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The Grecian
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« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2019, 11:18:36 pm »

The Saturday 'sand & cycle' service is scheduled to cover Yeovil to Dorchester in under 30 minutes - but then it doesn't stop at the halts south of Yeovil. There are a few logistical issues:

1. The speed limit from Dorchester to Yetminster is 75mph max with a fair few restrictions but a minimum of 55mph save for the loop at Maiden Newton. However the Yetminster-Yeovil section is only 45mph. Whilst the track seems to be slowly being converted to continuous welded rail I don't know if the speed limit will be increased at all afterwards, but I wouldn't count on it. Skipping Chetnole is a particular time saving both due to the 75mph speed limit and the fact it gives southbound trains a better run-up the 1 in 51 gradient to Evershot summit.

2. The points at Dorchester, Maiden Newton and Yeovil PM are all pneumatically worked, meaning a maximum speed of 15mph. Add in the token system at Maiden Newton and entering and leaving the loops tends to be very slow. Upgrading this system might well save more time than increasing the linespeed although I wouldn't claim to be an expert. However I wouldn't expect it to be upgraded until it's life-expired.

3. A major problem with the Bristol-Weymouth service is that it has to weave around the Bristol-Paddington, Cardiff-Portsmouth, Paddington-West of England and Waterloo-Weymouth services, whilst also being the lowest priority service out of all of them. This both means a fair number of services have long waits at various stations, and also that if there's any disruption, it's not going to be a priority. The opportunities for it to be delayed by other services are numerous - and then there's the fact it's largely combined with the Gloucester/Great Malvern service to give even more opportunity for disruption.

It might be possible to run an hourly service passing at Dorchester and Yeovil where one train skips the halts and the other doesn't, then vice versa the next hour (e. g. the halts get northbound departures at 09xx, 11xx, 13xx etc and southbound departures at 10xx, 12xx, 14xx etc). However the opportunities for something to go wrong wrecking a timetable requiring precision are so numerous I suspect its reliability would be appalling.

You can see the problem of long single line running by looking at the domino effect on the West of England line between Exeter and Salisbury when something goes wrong - and that's largely self-contained west of Basingstoke. It's quite common for a westbound service running 20 minutes late to be held at Honiton for another 15 minutes to keep the eastbound service on time, as that's the least worst option.

For now what would be nice is to at least fill in the longer gaps by ensuring 2 hours is the maximum between trains (there's a southbound 3 hour gap between 1149 and 1449 and nearly 3 hours between the 1730 and 2021 northbound). If there was a way of serving Yeovil at peak times so commuters could use the train that would help build numbers and improve the business case. The current options are around 0730 and 1820 in each direction - not much use for most people. Pen Mill is not a very well located station but it's less than a mile to the (edge of the) town centre so commuting is possible for most people. The fact that Dorchester West is better-used despite being unstaffed, serving a town half the size and once being called the worst station in the country (albeit it's much improved now) suggests there's room for improvement.

I would also agree that better connectivity at Castle Cary would help numbers as there are a reasonable number of people wanting to head west from South Dorset and vice versa. As the X53 / X51 has contracted to an hourly service which finishes early in winter and doesn't start on winter Sundays, reliable connections at Castle Cary would certainly be attractive for many. A good connection could allow a journey between Exeter and Weymouth in about 2 hours, which isn't greatly different from the time by road a lot of the time.
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grahame
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« Reply #4 on: August 08, 2019, 07:56:26 pm »

A very useful post indeed, thank you.   I've only quoted small parts that I want to specifically add comment on - but the rest is valuable data too.

It might be possible to run an hourly service passing at Dorchester and Yeovil where one train skips the halts and the other doesn't, then vice versa the next hour (e. g. the halts get northbound departures at 09xx, 11xx, 13xx etc and southbound departures at 10xx, 12xx, 14xx etc). However the opportunities for something to go wrong wrecking a timetable requiring precision are so numerous I suspect its reliability would be appalling.

Agreed and I don't think it would / should be risked.

Quote
For now what would be nice is to at least fill in the longer gaps by ensuring 2 hours is the maximum between trains (there's a southbound 3 hour gap between 1149 and 1449 and nearly 3 hours between the 1730 and 2021 northbound). If there was a way of serving Yeovil at peak times so commuters could use the train that would help build numbers and improve the business case. The current options are around 0730 and 1820 in each direction - not much use for most people.

Agreed and very much noticed by the two train operators.    Reminds me of pre-2013 when the Swindon times of TransWilts trains were 07:48 and 18:44 and they were carrying fresh air.  Add an 08:30 and a 17:20 and you might find the new trains rather busy ... and the old trains growing too as passengers have move up from one 11 hour option to 4 options - with the three are ones actually suited to working day return trips.
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eightf48544
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« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2019, 10:31:42 am »

Very interesting thread. The   Heart Of Wessex (Transwilts) )ine is trying to be all things to all men.

Firstly it is a Regional (Express) serving Weymouth,  Dorchester, Yeovil, (Frome?), (Westbury for connections) Trowbridge, Bath and Bristol
A Regional Stopper serving the other intermediate stations South of Westbury .
A S Bahn serving Bristol Westbury.

What it shows is that it was the BR track/signalling  rationalisations in the 70s and 80s that did as much harm as the Beeching proposed closures. We are now faced with the tremendous cost of replacing the missing infrastructure.

Editted to take out Transwilts and make it Heart OF Wessex
« Last Edit: August 09, 2019, 03:24:15 pm by eightf48544 » Logged
grahame
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« Reply #6 on: August 09, 2019, 12:56:29 pm »

Very interesting thread. The Transwilts line is trying to all things to all men.

Not "TransWilts" in my terms in this thread - Heart of Wessex. 


Quote
Firstly it is a Regional (Express) serving Weymouth,  Dorchester, Yeovil, (Frome?), (Westbury for connections) Trowbridge, Bath and Bristol
A Regional Stopper serving the other intermediate stations South of Westbury .
A S Bahn serving Bristol Westbury.

What it shows is that it was the BR track/signalling  rationalisations in the 70s and 80s that did as much harm as the Beeching proposed closures. We are now faced with the tremendous cost of replacing the missing infrastructure.

Agree with all of that. The same story in many other places too ... from the longer distance arguments of where Cross Country should stop through to the very slim TransWilts (really!) since line between Trowbridge and Chippenham looking to pass regional passenger trains, heavy freight, and significant flows of diverted passenger expresses too at times.
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Timmer
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« Reply #7 on: August 09, 2019, 01:33:02 pm »

Not sure I would refer to the Bristol to Weymouth services as Regional Express bearing in mind they stop at every shack a long the line.
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eightf48544
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« Reply #8 on: August 09, 2019, 03:23:00 pm »

Not sure I would refer to the Bristol to Weymouth services as Regional Express bearing in mind they stop at every shack a long the line.


It's trying to be 3 different services without the capacity to run anyone of them successfully.
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