Motion to Wiltshire Council, for 8th November 2011 full council meeting, and responses.
Notice of Motion No. 27 – Rail Franchise
To consider the following motion submitted by Cllrs Jon Hubbard (Melksham South Division) and Howard Marshall (Calne Central Division)
1. Council notes that discussions are beginning on a new rail franchise affecting Wiltshire, including a future stakeholder consultation on the exact nature of the franchise, and meetings with short-listed franchise bidders in 2012.
2. Council notes the encouragement of Theresa Villiers MP, Minister of State for Transport, that Wiltshire Council “discuss the potential for a Corsham station and a new Oxford-Bristol service with all bidders for the franchise”.
3. Council recognises this as a unique opportunity to promote and improve the rail network in and through Wiltshire.
4. Council encourages the creation of a Rail Task Group to consult on the specific demands Wiltshire should make of this new franchise.https://cms.wiltshire.gov.uk/documents/s36908/8g.Notice%20of%20motion%2027%20-%20Rail%20Franchise.pdf
FULL COUNCIL 08-11-11
MOTION ON RAIL SERVICES
I welcome this opportunity to discuss in this forum our position regarding train services in Wiltshire.
Unlike buses, Wiltshire Council is not directly involved in providing any train services. Traditionally, we’ve had almost nothing to do with the railways. But I think, and some of you may agree, that rail services are an important means of transport and are very significant in supporting the economy of our towns and this city.
We have three major lines running east and west across our county.
* The Bristol – Paddington main line serves Chippenham and Swindon.
* The so-called Berk & Hants line serves Westbury, Pewsey and Bedwyn.
* The Exeter – Waterloo line serves Tisbury and Salisbury, which is our busiest station.
In addition, there are north-south services mainly between Cardiff, Bristol and Portsmouth serving Bradford, Trowbridge, Westbury, Dilton Marsh, Warminster and Salisbury and a minimal service on the Trans Wilts line through Melksham.
I should also mention the service to Weymouth on the Heart of Wessex Line as one of our officers, Eric Egar, is chairman of the Community Rail Partnership that is involved with the development of services and facilities on that line. It will have a big importance next year when the Olympics come to Weymouth.
Apart from the Olympics, there are four main issues that are currently arising that will have an impact or possible impact on rail services in the county.
First, Wiltshire Council is preparing a bid for a grant from the government from something called the Local Sustainable Transport Fund which, if we are successful, will be used to support rail-related improvements on the TransWilts line between Swindon and Salisbury. We will be asking for about £5 million, more than half of which would be Revenue funding. This would support a more-frequent rail service through Melksham, would improve bus rail interchanges at stations particularly Salisbury, Trowbridge, Melksham (where we bought land to protect it a couple of years ago) and Chippenham. The fund could also provide additional enhancements like bike hire at stations. The money would have to be spent before 2015.
If we are successful with this bid, and if we can use some of it to support rail services on the TransWilts line (although that is not as easy as it sounds), then the objective is that, when that money stops in 2015, this service should then become part of the railway operating company’s franchise agreement. That is the second main issue that we are dealing with.
It is generally well known that First Great Western, which currently holds the franchise for services in the north of the county, is giving up that franchise and that the government will soon be inviting bids for a new franchise in what is called the Greater Western area, to run from 2013. The new franchise opens up a number of opportunities for services to be improved or changed. For example, one possibility that we could discuss with prospective franchise holders is an extension of the hourly semi-fast service that currently terminates at Bedwyn to go further down the line to Westbury and then on, perhaps, to Bristol Temple Meads. This would relieve congestion on the line through Trowbridge and Bradford. It would also provide an opportunity to consider a new station at Lydeway, near Devizes.
We are also interested in the possibility of the franchise including a new service between Oxford and Bristol Temple Meads, which would provide opportunities for new stations at Corsham and Royal Wotton Bassett.
How much the operators can do depends, in part, on the third main issue, which is electrification. The Cardiff - Bristol - London main lines and the Berks & Hants line as far as Newbury are due to be electrified by 2016. There will be new rolling stock and new timetables from 2017. These changes will allow more trains to run on the same track, although passing loops would be necessary at any new stations at Corsham and Royal Wotton Bassett. Discussions which also involve Oxfordshire and BaNES have already taken place.
The fact that electrification will stop at Newbury is the reason why I am interested in the future of the Bedwyn service. We do not want the train operating companies to decide it is not worth running diesel services that are only necessary to serve Hungerford and Bedwyn.
The fourth big issue is that consultations are just beginning on Network Rail’s 5 year plan for the period from 2014 to 2019. It is important to ensure that all those infrastructure ideas that I have mentioned are not prevented because they are not in Network Rail’s plan.
For completeness, I should mention that we have not forgotten the line that runs north from Swindon towards Cheltenham passing Purton and Minety. That line has just been duelled and there may be the possibility of a station in Wiltshire which will also serve north Swindon.
All of these possible improvements are immensely expensive. I do not need to tell you that Wiltshire Council does not have any spare money. Therefore, it will be very important, if any of these projects are to be completed, that we have a robust evidence base to support the business case for new and/or improved rail services, stations and associated infrastructure. Together, this would support the LSTF bid, the consultation submission on the Greater Western Franchise and the input to Network Rail’s planning process.
In all this we also have to link in with the Wiltshire Core Strategy process, so the work we are undertaking involves Fleur de re Philipe and Alistair Cunningham’s team as well as Dick Tonge’s team under Parvis Khansari. We are also working closely and constructively with the nascent Local Enterprise Partnership, the LEP, on which the government seems to be setting much store these days, and with the Wessex Chamber of Commerce.
I believe the support of all these bodies, including Government, Network Rail, and the train operating companies is much more likely if we can show that our ambitions for rail services in the county are shared by all political parties. Therefore, I welcome this motion from the Liberal Democrats and am happy to support it.
The above is from full Wiltshire Council - in public - on 8th November 2011. I did not personally attend, but reproduce the statements here with
permission encouragement. They do not relate purely to the TransWilts line, but this board seems the most logical one in which to post them
Response from Jon Hubbard:
A Lib Dem motion challenging the Council to push for improvements to Wiltshire's railways has passed with unanimous support in November's Full Council meeting.
Cllr Jon Hubbard (Melksham South) explains 'The Council has made very clear that rail companies can have real confidence that Wiltshire means business on improving our railways.
'We've agreed to begin to gather opinions on what Wiltshire communities want from their rail service. We'll then pull that together, with partner organisations, into a policy for the Council to take to the rail companies.'
I am very encouraged by the more active role that Wiltshire Council are taking in rail than was taken by the previous Wiltshire County Council. And I'm doubly encouraged by the concensus. I feel it's a course which is a good one, considering how much has changed in recent years - in Wiltshire especially, which changes the balance of transport aspirations and indeed needs right through the next, probably much longer, railway franchise period.