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Author Topic: An update from SWR - notes from 5.11.2020  (Read 197 times)
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« on: November 06, 2020, 07:38:00 am »

Yesterday's SWR Stakeholder meeting online - attended by around 120 - provided a rich vein of update information, from which I will be selecting nuggets to share.  I asked no questions, but a real pleasure to have been at a meeting where the chair looked through the feed of enquiries that was opened right through, and acknowledged all the questions, even if the answers to some of them ("such as how much longer are you going to be interim MD there?") was "don't know".

The Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, put in a guest appearance at the start and one of his key points was to offer effusive thanks to everyone who has kept the railway and the vital services running through these difficult times.  One has to hope that with the railway providing such wholehearted government backing at present, that the government will in turn provide wholehearted backing to the railways in the future - and not just in word, but in deed too.

Here are some traffic and passenger number graphs that were shared with us, noting the considerable differences across the patch.  Guildford passenger numbers (pre second lockdown) rose to 35% of pre-lockdown levels, Bournemouth rose to around 85% in September as the end of summer overlapped with the start of a return to school and college, but Waterloo numbers have only crept a little above 30%. Together, these indicate a very much altered balance between passenger loadings from what we have seen in the past - it's not simply a uniform shrinkage but a change in where people are going, and almost certainly in why they are going and probably at what time of day / week they are going.

"When will people travel by train again?" ... "When they have cause to do so". Only a very few of us ("I can see some of us here" said Mark) travel by train for the sake of the journey - for most people it's very much the destination and what there is there.  It may be location-specific work, business meetings, office, education - also personal business and leisure, and it's going to be very much up to the railways in the future to provide transport to allow those destinations to be reached, well, safely, when people want, and at a sensible cost.  Those who have made rail journeys since the first lockdown are impressed by the way the railways have stood up to the mark in what they have been doing in making safe provision, but there's a significant proportion of people who have not taken the step of a first journey, and now can't do so for a further four weeks.

Long term, congestion, climate change and other factors will bring people back to rail - and indeed there are some indicators that people have not all been put off permanently, but there does need to be marketing / publicity / product review to ensure that it all works in the new normal, whatever that might be. The member of the youth parliament for north west Hants spoke of the need to encourage and involve young people, and indeed that is much to our future.  At the same time, projects like CrossRail 2 - a Transport for London rather than an SWR project - have lost funding in the TfL/DfT arrangements and could now be considered to be on the back burner; perhaps such projects will return, or perhaps a review will find that reduced capacity needs into Waterloo will push the project out further if it is ever needed.  On the other hand, with people now looking for more space in which to live, and at an affordable price that may mean further from London.  With office trips not 5 days a week but perhaps 1, 2 or 3, longer journey times will be far more acceptable and we may see an increase in long distance commuting; talk of my own home town of Melksham doubling in size from our MP on Wednesday evening somewhat aligns with this.

Much, much more in the rich 100 minutes given to us by SWR.  A number of familiar names and faces there, though perhaps not (m)any other Coffee Shop members, being SWR rather than GWR.  But there are many parallels between the wedge out of Waterloo and the wedge out of Paddington, and where things are not exactly parallel, they often overlap and indeed offered shared lessons.  A big "Thank you" to SWR for arranging the conference, and for the invite.

Coffee Shop Admin, Vice Chair of Melksham Rail User Group, and on the board of TravelWatch SouthWest.
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« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2020, 12:28:10 pm »

A very useful part of these meetings is the Q&A - especially where you have a chair / lead keen to address as many question as openly as he can.  Such sessions are very hard to note down - here's what I managed, with both Q and A being somewhat paraphrased though my notes:

Q: How are face coverings and enforcement going.
A: Generally good compliance with some pockets that are not. But we are not the enforcement agency

Q: Could you not carry [more] bikes in the peak now that passenger numbers are down
A: Probably but it would likely only be short term, as passengers will come back. We would then have a problem about re-introducing restrictions

Q: How do we get travellers back?
A: A need to travel is the root motivator - people will not travel is there is no need

Q: How are industrial relations going?   
A: No Industrial action this year. ASLEF deal done. The RMT strike mandate expired at the end of July and has not been renewed. We continue to have views that differ and are still talking.

Q: How are you set for IOW connecting with all incoming fastcats?
A: The loop at Brading allows for a 30 minute service and we are looking for seamless ferry connections, but timetable is still with Network Rail for validation. Also concerned to ensure best connections at Portsmouth Harbour.

Q: Are inner suburban trains such as 701 good / right / ideal for Bracknell to London journeys?
A: They may be something of a compromise - they are far better that inner London TfL stock - 2+2 seating not benches, toilets on all trains etc.  But many journeys on the route ARE short so quick loading with wide middle doors and plenty of standing and circulation space are provided.  If we used end door type stop for these trains, they would work at Bracknell but then be less that ideal further in.

Q: Lifts at stations are not as reliable as they should be. Action?
A: Q to NR (present on call) who are aware of and noted the need to do better

Q: [-]
A: Noting the need with more severe weather to take more action to make rail works safe from extremes

Q: Will Woking flyover funding be safe going forward
A: Don't know

Q: Will ticketing / fares be sorted out
A: We have done a lot of work on this and so have many others, but it needs DfT approval to take it forward and that is likely to be on a country-wide basis

Q: Battery powered trains on SWR?
A: This is at very early stages on SWR.  Suitable places would be lines that are not electrifed and where the distances are short and you can probably "work out for yourselves" where that could be

Q: Better luggage handling / facilities for Southampton cruise passengers
A: Very interested - for example luggage drop offs at SOA or even WAT, however with zero cruise traffic at the moment and so much else going on, not really high up our agenda

Q: Return of Station buffets?
A: Up to tenants and is their commercial decision. However, we have been working closely with tenants - especially those that are SMEs - to help with their business continuation.  We note some have re-opened, but then some may close again during this second lockdown.

Also (I failed to note detail) questions on Access for All, repainting all stations during the franchise, how much longer Mark will be at SWR, connections between trains and buses, Community Rail, and details about Ewell Station.

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