|Letter from Derek Twigg
Department for Transport, 20th June 2006
to Michael Ancram QC, MP
Thank you for your letter of 30th May, enclosing correspondence from your constituent Mr Graham Ellis of Well House Consultants, 404 The Spa, Melksham, about the Swindon to Southampton train service.
We did look very carefully at this when we were drawing up the specification for new Greater Western franchise. Mr Ellis reports that trains on the route regularly carry thirty or forty passengers. The findings from our research were that, although the morning peak train to Swindon and the evening return sometimes achieved those sorts of numbers, average loadings were appreciably lower. The highest numbers tend to be found between Chippenham and Swindon in the eastbound direction and, in the mornings, between Trowbridge and Westbury westbound. Alternative services are available on both these sections of route.
Mr Ellis also asks about the timings of the remaining services. I was sorry to hear that the retimed services will be less convenient to him. I hope, though, he will understand that it is not always possible to satisfy all passengers with the train services they would like.
First Great Western have agreed to run the Westbury to Southampton "shuttle" service until December 2007. Mr Ellis suggests that this might be extended to Swindon. He acknowledges that this might need extra rolling stock, however, it is a cost that we could not reasonably justify.
I'm going to comment, and add in some pictures as I do. All these pictures were taken of services which are NOT the commuter train - i.e. of trains that are said to be too little used to justify retention.
I has seen the statistics quoted by the Department for Transport at the time of the original franchise specification, and noted they were taken over a relatively short period (8 days) which he suspects might have included the Easter weekend. As someone with a University Degree which included a major statistics element, I can assure the minister that a sample of this size is insufficient to be statistically significant - he would need the statistics from around 15 to 20 days, chosen at random throughout the year, to be able to read anything into the figuures that could relate to overall usage on a service which may well have a seasonal element.
Fortunatley, other statistics are available. First Great Western quoted a figure of 109,000 journeys for the year up to the franchise specification, and at 64 trains per week, that's an average of 32 passengers per train - very much in line with my observations to Mr Ancram, and (if gathered correctly), statistically significant.
That's not the full story. The line has suffered from numerous cancellations and a great deal of replacement of trains by buses in recent years, so the number of trains that actually carried the 109,000 passengers is somewhat lower that the number I've used ... pushing the average up to perhaps 35.
Me thinks the Minister is trying to blind us with figures!
It appears that Mr Twigg thinks that my quest for retiming the trains is a personal one, telling me I can't have what I want like some spoilt child. In practise, you would be hard pressed to find many of the current users of the trains who welcome the new timings/service. I'm not saying "none", but I know that it would be just a couple of percent.
I have learnt in the past year ... I have learnt that a station that LOOKS quiet can be busy. That train pulling out has 30 people on board. And the 10 who got off just 60 seconds ago have disappeared like water running through a grate towards their homes and work.
Written 2006-06-28 18:38:07
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