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Author Topic: West of Salisbury - answers from South Western Railway  (Read 204 times)
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« on: January 17, 2022, 08:43:46 pm »

Background - I was one of the team working (unsuccesfully) late last year to save through services from Trowbridge (county town of Wiltshire) and other places to London, which had been operated by SWR» (South Western Railway - about) for many years.  We were not asking for a "for ever as it is" outcome - rather for a "keep it for a year and work it out properly" result. One of just two concessions we won was a late connection from Westbury to Salisbury for the year, so that people could get home to Warmister and Salibury in the evening after the last long distance GWR (Great Western Railway) train had left.

We were - to put it mildly - disappointed when this concession was withdrawn after just 5 weeks.

This morning (17th January 2022) I invited SWR to comment:

Dear Andrew,

It has been brought to my attention that you (SWR) are no longer running 1O58 - the 23:12 from Westbury to Salisbury which you added into your timetable as a tiny compromise when you withdrew all your Bristol to Salisbury (and Waterloo) services in December. As no doubt you are aware, the Bristol to Salisbury train was often a very busy one, and was also the final train of the day into Salisbury from the Bristol direction. There is no "duplicate" GWR service that passengers can catch - which is why this service was being provided by yourselves, starting just last month.

I understand that you are running reduced services from Salisbury to Exeter (one train every 2 hours, rather than an hourly service) at present, and that you are running a reduced service from Salisbury to London (one train per hour, rather than two). That will be saving you a considerable number of staff 'diagrams' each day - more than enough, it has been suggested, to cope with staff who are off sick or isolating. It has been suggested that the halving of these services is more about reducing costs than staffing issues - that you have culled and broken far more through services than you need under any "emergency" pretext.

1. Please re-instate for the duration of the current annual timetable the late service which allows passengers to travel from Bristol and Bath to Warminster and Salisbury.

2. Please provided copies of correspondence between yourselves and the Department for Transport to clarify the background reasons for these new cuts - how the decision was reached to make such significant reductions, what consultation with Transport Focus and passenger groups was undertaken, etc - the data that would be available to me if I were to make a formal Freedom of Information request via the DfT» (Department for Transport - about).

3. Please provide comment (should you wish to do so) on the changes west of Salisbury (including the withdrawal of most through service to an from London) which can be shared to help passengers and community groups across Wessex understand where you are coming from and what your long terms plans are. There are very real fears that these latest changes are the precursor for significant further permanent reductions like the ones already implemented on your Bristol service, and re-assurance with data to back up that re-assurance would be most helpful to your customer base. The more informed ones amongst us understand that making passengers change mid-journey, slowing journey times significantly, reducing frequency, and having your website offer (by default) higher fares via an alternative route will be detrimental on fare-box income.

This is an "open" letter, Andrew, which you are welcome to share to help illustrate the issues and concerns to your team at SWR; I am also sharing for information to passenger groups of which I am a member and in context at . I very much hope that you'll be able to provide a response which is suitable to re-assure your customer base. 

I look forward to hearing

SWR have replied - and many thanks to Andrew and many thanks for such a prompt reply.Much appreciated! The whole background is in a much longer thread ((here)) but to help new visitors, I am posting it afresh here.  This thread will be locked - please reply on the main thread.

Dear Graham,
I will pick up each of your points in turn:
Emergency pretext – no this is not about saving costs. It is purely about staff availability – I’m sure you’re aware that virtually all TOCs (Train Operating Company) including GWR have had to make some quite significant changes to timetables. GWR have chosen to do it on a week by week spot basis for individual trains. We’ve chosen to give customers a bit more certainty by publishing a full revised timetable. Of course each TOC and depot is affected by different levels of sickness and base levels of crews – you’ll be aware that we were already short of drivers at Salisbury due to the impact of Covid on training over the last few years, so this just makes it worse, especially as we cannot easily move drivers between depots because of the traction knowledge.
1. I will ask our train planning unit to see what they can do. Inevitably there have to be compromises with first and last trains when introducing emergency timetables but given the context of this one I will ask whether a special case can be made. It will of course depend on whether crew and stock can be in the right place at the right time. I would point out that we are using the ‘spare’ stock to strengthen the remaining services – it won’t just necessarily be sitting at Salisbury.

2. Explained above. We write to DfT explaining the staffing sickness levels and a proposed outline timetable. They have to approve the proposals, which they did. I’m not sure what data you would be expecting – sickness levels by depot on a week by week basis? Obviously a decision had to be made some time in advance if we were to go with a full new temporary timetable across SWR – changing crew and rolling stock diagrams is a massive task, as well as ‘bidding’ for the revised paths through NR» (Network Rail - home page). We could only base this on the information and projections available at the time. To have done nothing based on that information would have been irresponsible – we were asked by Government to give customers certainty. For these reasons it was unfortunately not possible to carry out consultation – there simply wasn’t time. I’m aware that GWR did some limited stakeholder consultation on their plans, but as I said they chose to give customers less certainty over the next few weeks by making changes for individual services on a weekly basis which made that process easier. We have already factored in feedback on school and college services based on last year’s experience.

3. We have been clear that this is a short term emergency timetable, nothing more than that. It is the same one that we introduced and then withdrew early last year. We all acknowledge that the current timetable with the split at Salisbury is far from ideal but it is currently the only way of providing a stable pattern of services with the staffing levels available. There is absolutely no basis to suggest this is part of a plan to run the line down – indeed we have been putting in a lot of work with Network Rail and local stakeholders to promote the plans for capacity enhancements, improved performance and journey time improvements. Again I’m not sure what data you are expecting. Inevitably we, like all other TOCs, have to agree budgets with DfT on a year by year basis for the foreseeable future until GBR (Great British Railways) comes into existence. What services we can provide will subject to those negotiations and what DfT is able and willing to buy. In the immediate short term the plan is to go back to the December 2021 timetable as soon as staffing levels allow. I’m sorry but I don’t understand the point about higher fares – are you referring to GWR and Paddington? Fares along the West of England haven’t changed as a result of the timetable although I am following up queries about advance fares.
I hope that answers your questions and gives you the reassurances you require.

Replies, please, via the thread ((here)). And if you're not a member of this forum, new members are welcome to register and join in - you do need to register to comment, but not to read.

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