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Author Topic: Bristol - Birmingham corridor. Time for a service pattern review?  (Read 784 times)
grahame
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« on: November 18, 2019, 06:51:50 pm »

The Bristol to Birmingham corridor has changed out of most recognition since its low point at the end of 1971

New stations have opened ... Filton Abbey Wood, Bristol Parkway, Yate, Cam and Dursley, Ashchuch for Tewkesbury, University, and Five Ways.  Worcestershire Parkway opens in 4 weeks. Stations have seen  massive service changes ... Lawrence Hill, Stapleton Road, Bromsgrove, Barnt Green, Longridge, King's Norton, Bourneville and Selly Oak. Gloucester Eastgate on direct services has been replaced by Gloucester Central where through trains need to reverse. The only 'unchanged' station between Bristol Temple Meads and Birmingham New Street is Cheltenham Spa.

Many passenger service from those days remain recognisable. In 1968, trains from Bristol (and perhaps further south west) to Derby or beyond - perhaps as far as Newcastle - every hour or so. Every couple of hours or so, an extra train ran from Bristol to Worcester, mostly calling at Ashchurch (which closed in 1971, for 26 years!).  Those trains are still there. The Bristol via Birmingham service no longer calls at Gloucester, but does call at Bristol Parkway which opened in 1972. The local trains to Worcester have extra calls at Filton Abbey Wood, Bristol Parkway, Yate, and Cam and Dursley. They now reverse at Gloucester Central rather than a quick call at Eastgate, and they're stopping at Ashchurch again.

And there are extra trains too
... between Bristol and Cheltenham Spa, the service to Worcester that has become the stopper has been stepped up to hourly, with the extras reversing at Cheltenham Spa.
... an extra train (so that's every half hour now) runs from Bristol to Birmingham - stops at Bristol Parkway and Cheltenham Spa. Then on to Manchester.
... and a train from Cardiff joins the line at Gloucester and carries on via Cheltenham Spa to Birmingham.  Some stop at Ashchurch and most at University. Then on to Nottingham.
Towards the end of the line, Bristol to Filton (many carrying on to South Wales) and Parkway provide a local service.
At the other end, a few more trains from Worcester run to Birmingham ... joined by electric trains in from Bromsgrove and Redditch to serve those local stations that had minimal service 50 years ago.

Here is the northbound timetable from 1968, Monday to Friday - before Ashchurch closed.





As each new station (re)opens ... there are questions. What should stop there?  How will it effect the time taken by through passengers?  Will there be enough seats? Will it hold up other trains?   And as a new train gets slotted in, where to skip and where to stop?  Is this a local, a regional or an express train?

Times changes.  Passenger train journeys have doubled in 20 years, but that's not uniform. Very long distance journeys have, I think, not risen as much - they may even have fallen because of domestic flights.  Regional journeys have rocketed. Season tickets have actually started to fall.  Worcestershire Parkway opens before Christmas, and there are suggestions for more new stations ... we've chatted Stonehouse (Bristol Road) and Quedgeley http://www.passenger.chat/22459 .  There are significant gaps in through journey opportunities - Worcestershire Parkway to Bristol, the south to Bromsgrove.  And some journeys are really slow - Gloucester to Bristol or infrequent - Cheltenham Spa to Worcester.   Times change - and is it time to look at recasting and changing stopping patterns along the Bristol to Birmingham corridor?

Edit - just correcting a couple of small but irritating typos
« Last Edit: November 19, 2019, 04:19:52 am by grahame » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2019, 07:40:10 pm »

The simple answer to the question is "Yes, it is time."

However, services are operated by three different operators, (four if you include the services to Cardiff along the west bank of the Severn, which then brings in TfW services).  And any sensible rewrite would need to be coordinated across all the companies, which as franchises are let at different times tends to get put into the "too difficult" box.  One of the many difficulties now the railway is fragmented.

I would think that local services between Gloucester (or maybe Cheltenham) and Bristol should be separated from an hourly semi-fast type service between Bristol and Worcester, otherwise the journey times are too long.  Do I recall a proposal a few years ago to build some bay platforms at Cheltenham Spa so that trains terminating there didn't get in the way of other traffic?  That would probably help create space for more services, but I guess it was kicked into the long grass.

 
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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #2 on: November 18, 2019, 08:35:03 pm »

For the complete picture for the benfit of some younger members who may not know, perhaps you should also post the West of England to Manchester and Liverpool service that operated via Maindee East, Herefore and Shrewsbury in those days.

Although I understand what the point of this thread is, it might give the impression that there were no through trains back then to and from the north west.
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Red Squirrel
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« Reply #3 on: November 18, 2019, 08:41:42 pm »

Do I recall a proposal a few years ago to build some bay platforms at Cheltenham Spa so that trains terminating there didn't get in the way of other traffic?  That would probably help create space for more services, but I guess it was kicked into the long grass.  

You do, and it was.

I think one of the arguments against it was that they were getting by just fine by shunting into the old Alstone Coal Wharf...
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grahame
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« Reply #4 on: November 18, 2019, 09:49:35 pm »

For the complete picture for the benfit of some younger members who may not know, perhaps you should also post the West of England to Manchester and Liverpool service that operated via Maindee East, Herefore and Shrewsbury in those days.

Although I understand what the point of this thread is, it might give the impression that there were no through trains back then to and from the north west.

Stressing - this in NOT the Bristol - Birmingham corridor.

At that time, all the Monday to Friday daytime trains reversed at Newport rather than taking the curve.



Edit - to clarify Newort reversals
« Last Edit: November 19, 2019, 05:20:43 am by grahame » Logged

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rogerw
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« Reply #5 on: November 18, 2019, 09:51:26 pm »

For the complete picture for the benfit of some younger members who may not know, perhaps you should also post the West of England to Manchester and Liverpool service that operated via Maindee East, Herefore and Shrewsbury in those days.

Although I understand what the point of this thread is, it might give the impression that there were no through trains back then to and from the north west.
The west to north-west services had already been diverted via Birmingham shortly after 1971.  If I recall correctly they ran via Worcester and were overtaken by a Cardiff - north-east service, giving connection between the two routes at Cheltenham or Birmingham
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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #6 on: November 18, 2019, 11:51:11 pm »

Ah well, as they say, every day is a schoolday Grin

When I was using the line regularly (up until August 1968, and many will know the significance of that date in railway history as being the end of steam traction on BR) they all ran via Maindee East. Some combined Cardiff portions at Pontypool Road.

I do note, however, that the overninght train from Bristol to Manchester, the one I used the most regularly, did indeed use the Maindee curve. Its equivalent southbound working did the same. I recall waking up in a blind panic on it one Sunday morning and finding there was an estuary on the other side of the window, and I thought I had been overcarried and was between Exeter and Dawlish. It turned out that the Severn Tunnel was closed and we were being diverted via Gloucester Grin

(And yes i know that the train would have been going in the "wrong" direction for it to have been the Exe estuary, but as I said I'd just woken up. When you had a compartment to yourself in that Mk1 stock you could get a remarkably good night's sleep. And also, after a jar or two in Manchester...
« Last Edit: November 19, 2019, 12:16:31 am by Robin Summerhill » Logged
grahame
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« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2019, 05:05:08 am »

Sorry - pouring yet another table in here. Dog woke me and I found myself wondering. Here's a typical hour's trains - a weekday after the December timetable change - for Cheltenham Spa.

passDaventry Drs (Tesco)1FRGTZZWentloog (Freightliners)1307
1314Nottingham11V08XCCardiff Central1315
1314Penzance21S47XCGlasgow Central1316
1322Great Malvern12O78GWWeymouth1322
1327Maesteg22G58AW
25L59AWsiding1328
1327Manchester Piccadilly11V53XCBristol Temple Meads1330
1331London Paddington21G13GW
25L78GWsiding1334
1339siding15L59AW
1338Bristol Temple Meads21M45XCManchester Piccadilly1340
12L59AWMaesteg1345
1345Brighton21V94GWGreat Malvern1347
1350Dundee11V54XCPlymouth1352
1356siding15L78GW
11L78GWLondon Paddington1358
1358Cardiff Central21M99XCNottingham1359

8 passenger train calls (4 each way)
2 passenger trains arriving and terminating from the south
2 passenger trains starting and heading south
---
2 shunts to siding
2 shunts from siding
---
1 freight train passing

Only difference in alternate hours is the lack of the Bristol (or beyond) to Worcester (or beyond) stopper - which in our hour is represented by the Brigton to Great Malvern train, and a Great Malvern to Weymouth service.
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Richard Fairhurst
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« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2019, 08:20:26 am »

I would think that local services between Gloucester (or maybe Cheltenham) and Bristol should be separated from an hourly semi-fast type service between Bristol and Worcester, otherwise the journey times are too long.

Yes, I agree. Hourly Bristol-Worcester would open up many more journey opportunities - certainly it would make some journeys I make much easier. I worry that the opening of Worcestershire Parkway may have taken some of the impetus away from improving Bristol-Worcester SH.

I'd be interested to know if there could be a market to run Bristol services north from Worcester, to Kidderminster and Stourbridge. It's a significant catchment (as demonstrated by Chiltern with its London services). Currently heading southwest means either changing at Worcester onto the very infrequent services, or going via Birmingham with all the attendant fun of New Street and CrossCountry. Most people, I suspect, use the M5 instead.

(As ever, the issue with running trains north through Worcester is that you can't then call at the city centre station, Foregate Street, because the track layout doesn't permit a reversal AIUI.)
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« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2019, 09:41:06 am »


I'd be interested to know if there could be a market to run Bristol services north from Worcester, to Kidderminster and Stourbridge. It's a significant catchment (as demonstrated by Chiltern with its London services). Currently heading southwest means either changing at Worcester onto the very infrequent services, or going via Birmingham with all the attendant fun of New Street and CrossCountry. Most people, I suspect, use the M5 instead.

I thought the Chiltern services are more to do with where the stock is stabled overnight, rather than meeting a market demand.

If we're looking at extending beyond Worcester, I like the idea of a Hereford - Worcester - Gloucester service, branded as the Three Choirs Express. But realistically, just getting a Bristol to Worcester semi-fast service would be a big step forward.
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Richard Fairhurst
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« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2019, 10:01:09 am »

If we're looking at extending beyond Worcester, I like the idea of a Hereford - Worcester - Gloucester service, branded as the Three Choirs Express.

I was going to post something along the lines of "Express" being a bit of a stretch for a 58-mile journey when it's 29 miles by road, but actually the time difference isn't that great - 1hr20 by rail (assuming a through service) vs 1hr-ish by road.
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« Reply #11 on: November 19, 2019, 10:35:31 am »

A shame the rail link from Gloucester to Hereford via Ross was scrapped. Think how useful that would be now. The glorious station at Ripple is well worth a visit, though now in private ownership, but alas its compatriot at Upton-on-Seven was demolished in unseemly haste.
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« Reply #12 on: November 19, 2019, 11:41:21 am »

If we're looking at extending beyond Worcester, I like the idea of a Hereford - Worcester - Gloucester service, branded as the Three Choirs Express.

I was going to post something along the lines of "Express" being a bit of a stretch for a 58-mile journey when it's 29 miles by road, but actually the time difference isn't that great - 1hr20 by rail (assuming a through service) vs 1hr-ish by road.
I do agree, so it was a bit tongue in cheek.  The bus is 1 hr 28 mins too, but I assume anyone that could would drive.

But to go back to my semi-fast idea, looking at the timings of the early morning service from Bristol to Stansted, taking out the 11 min wait outside Gloucester and a service could get from Bristol to Worcester in around 1 hr 16 mins.  So an increase in frequency from two hourly to hourly and a cut of 10 mins in journey time would make a much more attractive proposition, not only for the whole journey, but also for the various intermediate journeys too. 

It might not clear the M5 of traffic, but if we are serious about climate change we have to give people attractive alternatives to get them out of their cars. 
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« Reply #13 on: November 19, 2019, 11:47:27 am »

A shame the rail link from Gloucester to Hereford via Ross was scrapped. Think how useful that would be now. The glorious station at Ripple is well worth a visit, though now in private ownership, but alas its compatriot at Upton-on-Seven was demolished in unseemly haste.
IIRC Ripple station is now a pub. I was cycling through the village a few years ago, not knowing it had ever had a railway, and noticed the bridge and the buildings, then asked a local woman walking her dog: "Ooh yes, you used to be able to go everywhere by train from here." Perhaps a slight exaggeration but the spirit in which she said it was appreciated.
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Richard Fairhurst
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« Reply #14 on: November 19, 2019, 12:14:13 pm »

A shame the rail link from Gloucester to Hereford via Ross was scrapped. Think how useful that would be now. The glorious station at Ripple is well worth a visit, though now in private ownership, but alas its compatriot at Upton-on-Seven was demolished in unseemly haste.

Ripple and Upton are on a different line - the old Tewkesbury-Upton-Malvern line.

Then there was the Gloucester-Newent-Ledbury line (partly built on the old Hereford & Gloucester Canal), and as you say the Gloucester-Ross-Hereford line.
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