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Author Topic: Should Heart of Wessex step up to hourly, clock face? How can it?  (Read 1037 times)
grahame
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« on: February 01, 2021, 04:49:31 pm »

As people's lifestyles change, they've moved out of London, attracted by more space and lower cost housing in spite of longer commutes into their offices in the capital. And these changes are only being accelerated by the current pandemic, with people 'forced' into a realisation that they can do a lot of their work from home and only need to visit the office from time to time.  Dorchester and Weymouth are commutable to London one or two days a week, even if 5 days a week would be a bit much.

The same has been noted for people living in the Exeter area, with strong reports of a relative growth in travel to work from as far east as Yeovil on "The Mule" - the South Western main line from Waterloo.

From the Bristol and Bath area in the north, the conventional commuter land which runs out at Frome is extending southwards too.

This is not a totally new phenomena, with two early morning trains from Weymouth into the Bath / Bristol area, extra commuter services above the hourly clockface into Exeter, and changes to the pattern off Weymouth towards Waterloo to facilitate these long distance day returns.   The application of "peak fares" to these earlier trains is an indication that these services really are needed and that people are prepared to pay a premium to use them.


And so - for all of the railway lines mentioned - what services do we have now, and what should the zero carbon future be for them once we move ahead beyond the pandemic? This post is looking at the Heart of Wessex line - that runs from Weymouth, via Dorchester and Yeovil to Frome, then onward via Trowbridge to Bath and Bristol, serving an eclectic mix of intermediate communities.

The Heart of Wessex line was engineered as a double track main line, leaving the GWR (Great Western Railway)'s London to Bristol main line just to the west of Chippenham and headed south with some west all the way to Weymouth. But come the reduction in rail in the middle of the last century, London to Weymouth traffic was routed via Southampton and the Heart of Wessex was reduced to a single line with a few passing loops.  Maintenance was minimised, services slowed and became very infrequent, and indeed the line only just avoided complete closure in parts.  Indeed, services were redirected to Bath and Bristol rather than Chippenham, and the section of the line north of Trowbridge lost its scheduled passenger services in 1966.  There have been improvements since - the Heart of Wessex Community Rail Partnership has done an excellent job of promoting inward and outward travel (and not just the "honeypot" of day trips to Weymouth in the summer) and that's on top of the other regrowth due to the up-coming area and the natural increased use of rail nationwide. All of which means we have a creaking system at present - far fewer trains than are really needed, inconvenient gaps, slower than we would really like, and some perverse operating structures and layouts.

* What sort of service should we be looking to in the future?

* What sort of infrastructure improvements would be needed to accommodate them?

- South from Westbury ... the service must be hourly at least to Frome and to Yeovil
- From Yeovil to Dorchester and Weymouth, an hourly service too; odd gaps may be tolerated
- Services should connect at Yeovil with the Salisbury - Exeter line
- Services should connect at Castle Cary for Taunton
- Services should connect at either Castle Cary or Westbury for Reading and London

Let's take a first look, starting with what could be achieved without new infrastructure.

* An hourly train from Weymouth to Westbury and probably beyond, calling at all stations
* This train to pass the next train at Maiden Newton, where there is already a passing loop
* The train to reverse at Yeovil Pen Mill, up to Yeovil Junction, reverse there again back to Pen Mill
* The next train (2 hours behind) will be arriving at Pen Mill at that time, and they pass
* Service carries on to Castle Cary (3 min stop), Bruton, Frome, Westbury
* Passes next service on double track between Witham and Frome

* An hourly train from Westbury to Weymouth calling at all stations (NOT Yeovil Junction though)
* Passing northbound services as shown in the bullets just above
* Around 10 minutes for train to reverse at Weymouth

The doubling back of the northbound train at Yeovil will irritate some passengers but
- It allows an hourly service without the need for extra loops anywhere
- It provides a connection from Weymouth to Exeter via Yeovil Junction
- It provides an Exeter to Weymouth connection (change at Junction AND Pen Mill - cross platform)
- It provides hourly services all the way from Yeovil northwards with minimal operational delays



With Infrastructure imporvements, could the service be bettered?

* With re-instatement of the Clifton Maybank curve and completion of the west-south curve into Yeovil Junction, trains could call there in both directions with a single reversal.
- Trains would then pass each other at Yeovil Pen Mill as per the above (no infrastructure change) example.
- This would allow increased connectivity at Yeovil
- Journeys from Exeter direct to Dorchester and Weymouth would be possible
- Bringing an extra platform back into use at Yeovil Junction would improve options there




* A loop or redoubling much of the line from Yeovil Pen Mill to(wards) Castle Cary
- Trains to pass at around Sparkford
- would allow a clockface pattern that included neither waits nor diversions to Yeovil Junction
- This would also add diversionary capacity for when GWR Devon and Cornwall trains are running via Honiton



* A south to west curve has been suggested at Castle Cary
- No immediate benefit on current Heart of Wessex Route
- Would allow direct (no reversal) trains Yeovil to Taunton

Timetables are a sample hour
« Last Edit: February 01, 2021, 05:07:59 pm by grahame » Logged

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grahame
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« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2021, 09:56:00 am »

From our Facebook page - some feedback on this.

Quote
Yes it’s about time there was major improvements to services on HoW(resolve) line. Took many years to change the Sunday service to allow trains to run all day instead of from the afternoon for most of the year

Quote
YES, South Dorset need better connectivity to the Southwest via Yeovil and Castle Cary. Let's have the Cliffton Maybank spur to link the Heart of Wessex line to the West Of England line at Yeovil Junction.

I note here that long posts tend to generate stunned silence which, I guess, can be good if people are reading the content.  Make a short follow up post such as this, and I may get comment or likes.  Seriously - Heart of Wessex for the future is not necessarily "leave it as it is" ... thoughts welcome.
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bobm
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« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2021, 10:27:20 am »

One thing which leaps out at me is have you allowed sufficient time for the reversals at Yeovil?  They look a bit tight to me.
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grahame
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« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2021, 10:50:48 am »

One thing which leaps out at me is have you allowed sufficient time for the reversals at Yeovil?  They look a bit tight to me.

Yes - it is indeed a bit tight on the option which reverses at Pen Mill and then again at Junction. Relatively easy to add a couple more minutes into that schedule except it would then loose the Exeter to Dorchester and Weymouth connection by a couple of minutes, which would be a shame for passengers and good news for a franchise catering outlet at Pen Mill.

One option I did not write into the 'seeding' post was to skip some or all of the halts in alternate hours.   With the extra services proposed in the hourly timetable, even with alternate trains calling, Chetnole, Yetminster and Thornford would see a slight increase in services calling there if required and an extra 5 minutes in each cycle would make the whole thing much more robust.  Noting that the very act of slowing down and speeding up, even without a call, slows the trains at (Chetnole and Thornford) for - what - 5 passengers picked up per day each, and Yetminster with 10 picked up.

There is an alternative case for taking 2 minutes out of the schedule each way with the application of a "Lochluichart" solution at each of the three stations, and if it ever gets to the stage that so many stops are being made that its effecting the timekeeping, there will be so many passengers on the train that it's worth Network Rail improving running speeds or making the system at Maiden Newton more efficient.
« Last Edit: February 02, 2021, 12:06:36 pm by grahame » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: February 02, 2021, 11:32:23 am »

Looking at the first option, where northbound trains reverse between Yeovil Pen Mill and Yeovil Junction then back again, but southbound trains only call at Pen Mill, I'm wondering if this might be confusing for non-local passengers. Or even for locals who use the train irregularly. If an arrival from Weymouth or Dorchester got off at YVJ, they would naturally return to the same station for the journey home.
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grahame
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« Reply #5 on: February 02, 2021, 11:42:34 am »

Looking at the first option, where northbound trains reverse between Yeovil Pen Mill and Yeovil Junction then back again, but southbound trains only call at Pen Mill, I'm wondering if this might be confusing for non-local passengers. Or even for locals who use the train irregularly. If an arrival from Weymouth or Dorchester got off at YVJ, they would naturally return to the same station for the journey home.

Yes, there would be an element of issues to deal with.   The cost of an extra train to run the shuttle would rule that out, I suspect.   Return trips from WEY to EXC, on the way out change at YVJ .... on the way back, change at the same YVJ but also at YVP.     Return trips from EXC to WEY, on the way out 2 changes ... on the way back, train manager needs to make sure that people do not get off at YVP.   Challenge, but not insurmountable?

Looking for other examples of one way services - different outgoing at return journeys ... the one way loop in Liverpool, and (Satur)day trips from Pilning into Bristol.
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« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2021, 01:38:50 pm »

It's not insurmountable but it is unnecessary and avoidable. By the way, I don't know anything about the one-way loop in Liverpool, I'll have to look that up.
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grahame
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« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2021, 01:54:16 pm »

It's not insurmountable but it is unnecessary and avoidable.

I would love to see more alternatives ... looking for a hourly service, in this example without infrastructure enhancements and providing connectivity from Weymouth / Dorchester to stations west of Yeovil Junction.

I wondered about ...
* Low Level Junction platform on the Weymouth line, with a footpath to the South Western line platform OR
* Shuttle train between Junction and Pen Mill OR
* 2nd train per hour from Exeter (Devon Metro) extended to Pen Mill
but all three of those options take resource / enhancement and are more appropriate alternatives to the other suggestions I made, which also call up more resource.
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« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2021, 02:32:56 pm »

There was a plan in 1988 to provide a halt at 'Two Bridges', where the lines cross. However changes in specifications led to it becoming too expensive and dropped. (The March 1988 Modern Railways has an article I wrote on the Westbury-Weymouth Investment at the time p157)

If you are wanting Yeovil Junction to be served then I would have thought the best was would be to reinstate the 1860s Clifton Maybank line into the old down platform and lay a line along the abandoned formation, which was never used, to reach the Weymouth line south of Two Bridges.

That would avoid the double reversal at Junction and Pen Mill and keep the Wessex trains clear of the SWR» (South Western Railway - about) services. A new passenger bridge would be needed and there would be an impact on the heritage operation.
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grahame
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« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2021, 02:53:57 pm »

There was a plan in 1988 to provide a halt at 'Two Bridges', where the lines cross. However changes in specifications led to it becoming too expensive and dropped. (The March 1988 Modern Railways has an article I wrote on the Westbury-Weymouth Investment at the time p157)

Ah - thanks.

Quote
If you are wanting Yeovil Junction to be served then I would have thought the best was would be to reinstate the 1860s Clifton Maybank line into the old down platform and lay a line along the abandoned formation, which was never used, to reach the Weymouth line south of Two Bridges.

That would avoid the double reversal at Junction and Pen Mill and keep the Wessex trains clear of the SWR» (South Western Railway - about) services. A new passenger bridge would be needed and there would be an impact on the heritage operation.

Agreed - and that's the second option in my original post.  The first option was "what could be done within existing infrastructure to achieve hourly and connections"; the two alternatives were "with a bit (!) of investment, could we do better?
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PhilWakely
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« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2021, 02:59:45 pm »

If you are wanting Yeovil Junction to be served then I would have thought the best was would be to reinstate the 1860s Clifton Maybank line into the old down platform and lay a line along the abandoned formation, which was never used, to reach the Weymouth line south of Two Bridges.

That would avoid the double reversal at Junction and Pen Mill and keep the Wessex trains clear of the SWR» (South Western Railway - about) services. A new passenger bridge would be needed and there would be an impact on the heritage operation.

As SWR will shortly be opening a depot at Yeovil, wouldn't the simplest option be a Pen Mill-Junction rail shuttle service at times when the 'normal' SWR services that call at both are not running?
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Southernman
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« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2021, 04:13:43 pm »

The idea of using the formation of the never constructed South Chord has been around for as long as I can remember. Railtrack even got as far as getting an Act of Parliament to enable its construction before abandoning the plans due to viability concerns.Therefore since 1864 to the current day, no one has yet found the case to undertake the work.

The costs of infrastructure alterations can be enormous (signalling, new track, new bridge to start with). Will be millions and then you must ask where the numbers of interchanges going to come from? How many passengers (apart from summer weekends and holidays) will wish to take the train to/from Weymouth/Dorchester towards Exeter. Majority of the year will be very few I suspect. I should also declare an interest as Chairman at Yeovil Railway Centre.

Also, don't forget the extra time involved for the other passengers and staff to run up to the Junction, reverse ends and then down to Pen Mill. At a rough estimate 8 minutes a trip.

It is apparent that the extension of some services formerly terminating at Yeovil Junction (from Waterloo/Salisbury) and now going onto Yeovil Pen Mill usually contain 0 -5 passengers, even before Covid-19 struck.

There are other options to consider:-

a) a mention above of a new two level station located where the two lines cross. A possibility, but difficult in reality. The current Yeovil Junction station can also serve the diversions (both SWR» (South Western Railway - about) & GWR (Great Western Railway)) going down to Pen Mill. To reach a 'joint station', vehicles and pedestrians would entail crossing that spur, either by a level crossing (not in favour with HMRI (Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate)) or via a bridge (more capital expenditure on top of the new station and possibly signalling changes. A separate platform on the spur would also be required.

b) a platform on the Heart of Wessex line with a footpath to the Junction - again a possibility but getting on for 1/2 mile walk (in the dark and rain/ice?).

c) Should the new proposed stations at Langport/ Somerton and Wellington be built, consider a round service from Exeter up to the Yeovil stations, reverse at Castle Cary and run back to Exeter via Taunton (and vice versa). Two units and staff required for a basic service (add on to the Exeter metro?). Connecting the two largest towns in Somerset and also timed correctly forming an interchange with the Weymouth train at Pen Mill.

d) Run an Exeter service up to Yeovil, Westbury then onto Swindon/Reading? (calling at Melksham of course!). Timed correctly this would enable passengers to interchange at Yeovil Pen Mill onto a Weymouth service.

e) Run two units from Weymouth to Yeovil Pen Mill and then split - one to Westbury (and beyond) and the second to Exeter (and vice versa). Some signalling alterations may be needed at Pen Mill to enable two trains to join.

I am sure there are other ideas!

There will be a Dorset Connectivity Strategic Study issued by Network Rail in due course (as part of a series of Studies - one of which already issued was the West of England line).





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DaveHarries
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« Reply #12 on: February 02, 2021, 07:15:14 pm »

Should the new proposed stations at Langport/ Somerton and Wellington be built [.....]
All of those would be useful. Whether or not they materialise it is good to see Beeching being reversed.

Dave
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« Reply #13 on: February 02, 2021, 10:41:21 pm »

HELLO,

Sometime last year I read an article in Somerset Live about the lost of the direct rail service between Yeovil and Taunton.
Today its a journey of about 40 mins. I suggested to Jaime Rockhill, Senior Strategic Planning Manager for Network Rail that the Cardiff to Taunton service could be extended to Weymouth via Castle Cary.
I worked out the through journey would be about 10 mins quicker if infrastructure changes at Castle Cary were possible. It will allow a through Taunton / Yeovil service and the opportunity to travel from South Dorset and change trains at Taunton were the level of service is good to Exeter St Davids and beyond.
My suggestion had been taken on board with the Dorset CMSP in mind and the possible implications/ constraints using the Western mainline route.
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WSW Frome
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« Reply #14 on: March 20, 2021, 05:39:31 pm »

I have been meaning to comment on this post for some time, so here are some thoughts.

HoW(resolve) services should ideally become hourly but is the market demand really there? A more frequent service will presumably stimulate the market and generate new travel but it is a chicken and egg story just like at the re-opened Melksham. Historically (without checking) I doubt an hourly type of service was ever provided, except possibly Weymouth to Yeovil PM, at certain times of day.

Travel involving change of route at Yeovil Junction represents a similar story and very long-standing discussion point. Is the demand really there? Weymouth to Exeter might seem attractive but an alternative used by many currently is to change at Castle Cary. I have observed significant numbers opting for this and some easy connections exist. Journey times with a good connection might be faster than via Honiton. So this leaves travel options between Weymouth and Crewkerne, Axminster and Honiton. Others are also promoting eastbound journeys towards Salisbury and London. Axminster has a reasonable bus service from Bridport and Dorchester.

There was once a reasonable train service between the three Yeovil stations and I used this regularly in my wild mid-60s youth. Very few interchange passengers were observed then.

So in both cases the service has to be provided to stimulate the demand, which we hope is there to be met. An excellent proposition to aspire to these improvements.

On a more positive note, the Clifton Maybank Curve (seemingly now called Yeovil South by politicos?) has acquired a set of marker/survey pegs in recent months. So is this Network Rail carrying out some early survey work under the radar? Or do they simply mark out the line of some underground services? Here's hoping!   
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