Save the Melksham Train
Welcome for Michael Ancram and Chris Grayling

Looks like tomorrow will be a big day, with our MP and the Shadow Transport spokeman in town. There will be some press there, a representative of First, a representative of Wilts County Council, a representative of the South West Regional assembly and many more. I don't know whether we'll have anyone from Government Offices South West, or from the Department for Transport, but I would very much hope so.

As I'm not really used to organising these things, I don't know exactly what to expect; I'll have a couple of possible agendas to hand to be able to make the visti effective whatever the metrics turn out to be, and I've even started to write myself some notes / possible 10 minute intro so I don't have to "wing" it too much and leave something out.

ALL welcome. If you can let me know, so much the better. If not, just turn up.

If I find myself talking, perhaps this is what I might say:

1. Welcome

a) I'm Graham Ellis - I run computer training courses here in Melksham. Many of our customers arrive and leave by train from their homes all over the country, and me and my family use the train and other public transport whenever we can for business and personal trips.

b) Welcome to Chris Grayling, shadow Transport Minister, and Michael Ancram who represents the Devizes constituency, which includes Melksham, in Parliament.

2. History and current service.

a) Melksham's train service comprises 5 trains each way Monday through Friday on the Swindon to Southampton service, with 4 on Saturday and 3 on Sunday.

b) Ticket sales for journeys to and from Melksham rose from about 3,000 in 2000/2001 to over 27,000 five years later, with around 109,000 journeys made on the stopping service through the station annually. That works out at an average of 32 passengers per train. Some trains are considerably busier, and some are quieter. One of the features of the traffic flow is that passenger
numbers on the same train, same day of the week can vary dramatically from week to week.

b) Tickets to and from Melksham are bought to and from Swindon, Bristol, and Salisbury in significant numbers (over 5% of sales each). There is also around 25% of long distance traffic; I have spoken with travellers to and from Neath, Exmouth, London, Bolton, Edinburgh, Cornwall, Bognor Regis, Southampton and York amongst others all within a few days.

c) The single track section of the line through Melksham is frequently used for diversion of express trains. For example, for 9 days at the end of September the line will be used for express trains from Chippenham to London which will pass through Melksham nonstop, and the local service will be replaced by buses from Westbury to Swindon. The service operator has explained to me that they cannot stop their expresses at Melksham.

d) Engineering works frequently close the line for all or part of the weekend. We have had only a handful of "regular service" weekend in the past 9 months.

e) Replacement buses are much slower (journey times doubled or worse) and unpopular; they convey perhaps a quarter of the passengers that would ride the equivalent train. Tickets have rarely been collected on the buses in the past, and in many cases no-one is provided to collect fares at either end of the journey either. This means that bus users are often riding free of charge and are NOT include in the usage statistics.

f) The weekday service has a fearsome cancellation record, and publicity and information is almost non-existent even at Swindon and Chippenham.

g) The station site in Melksham is unattractively positioned in the back of an industrial estate. Land has been earmarked to provide improved access via the new Spencer's Gate housing area, and the shops and restaurants close by. This land also provides for a relocated station a few hundred yards to the North of the present one.

h) The line is maintained to a high standard and has a generous loading gauge making it ideal for freight trains, which are seen from time to time. I understand from people who live within earshot of the railway that it can be pretty busy at night.

i) In spite of the negative factors described, traffic has grown over the years to the extent that I've travelled on trains - and NOT the peak trains either - where I've not been able to get a seat.

3. Threats and case

a) The Strategic Rail Authority specified the complete withdrawal of the Swindon to Southampton service in their request for bids for the new Great Western franchise that was awarded to the First group last December.

b) An alternative service of 2 per day in each direction is to be provided, with a specification that one train arrives in Swindon in the morning peak and another leaves in the evening peak.

c) All bidders were invited to put additional cases in their bids to the Department for Transport, and there have been stakeholder consultations and some service modifications through the area covered by the new franchise since then.

d) The latest draft timetable shows trains leaving Swindon for Chippenham, Melksham, Trowbridge and Westbury only at 06:20 and 18:32, arriving back there at 07:44 and 20:10. Only the 06:20 train runs within 30 minutes of an existing service.

e) Trains from Swindon at 08:43, 14:23, 17:42 and 22:11 are withdrawn. Trains arriving back there at 06:20, 08:18, 14:01, 17:21 and 22:01 are withdrawn.

f) If the proposed new service replaces the current one, it will no longer be possible to travel by train from London to Melksham except leaving London at 17:00 or 17:33.

g) If the proposed service changes go ahead, it will no longer be practical for commuters and business people to travel from Swindon and Chippenham to Melksham, Trowbridge, Westbury, Warminster or Salisbury to work, nor for them to return by train at the end of the day.

h) Commuters from Frome, Westbury, Trowbridge and Melksham to Chippenham and Swindon face a much longer day - they will arrive in Swindon 34 minutes earlier than at present, and not be able to leave again until 42 minutes later than at present. The morning service from Frome will no longer be direct.

i) Train users who work part time or evenings will not have any suitable train service available.

j) Most of the weekend travel opportunities, including the option to work / spend the day in Swindon, will be removed under the draft weekend timetables. These have not been circulated as widely as the weekday drafts.

k) The First 234 bus service, which also serves Trowbridge, Melksham and Chippenham does NOT serve the station in Chippenham, even though there's a new road / rail interchange there, and First have promoted this as a part of their franchise publicity. Requests for the 234 bus to serve the station in Chippenham have been politely rejected on cost grounds.

l) New legislation (consultation was last April) relating to the complete closure of stations and services that do not meet certain economic criteria is likely to catch the much reduced Melksham service in its net. A service that continued to grow as the current service has done would most likely be safeguarded.

m) The British Rail Board Residual Body is planning to sell by auction on 31st October 2006 land which has been safeguarded for improved station access, and for the new station site.

n) Chippenham, Melksham, Trowbridge and Westbury all continue to grow, and are forecast to have some of the highest rates of growth anywhere in the UK. The road link between the (A350) is mostly single carriageway and has significant bottlenecks at Westbury, near Melksham Station, and at Beanacre. Road access into Swindon is congested and slow at peak times, and parking there is expensive.

o) Current train travel per head of population in Melksham is less than one twentieth of that of neighbouring towns such as Bradford on Avon and Chippenham, both of which have (and will retain) much more frequent services.

p) When asked to look at / review their decision, the Department for Transport quotes an SRA survey taken over a period of just over a week in Spring of 2005. Usage of the trains in that week was significantly lower than the averages revealed by section 2(b). Taking a short sample of traffic on a railway service that has significant peaks and troughs, and extending it to a complete year, is statistically flawed, and the evidence gathered is of little scientific and commercial use.

4. Discussion

a) With services cut back as proposed, I foresee a rapid drop in the number of passengers using the service.

b) If the current service was retained, I would see continued growth at the sort of levels we've seen averaged over the past few years. Such growth would be stimulated by a more reliable service (promised by First throughout the Franchise area), improved station facilities (also promised by First), and by better information and marketing.

c) If the current service was replaced by a regular interval (2 hourly) service leaving Westbury at 05:45, 07:45, 09:45 and 11:45, then 14:45, 16:45, 18:45 and 20:45, returning from Swindon 1 hour later, traffic levels would increase dramatically. This service could be provided by a single type "153" coach and could be run as an extension of the Southampton to Westbury service through 2007, perhaps being taken over by the new operator of the South West franchise at that point.

d) The economic case (best financial balance sheet) of these three cases is in favour of the regular interval service. This option also provides the best solution for passenger convenience and for the economics of the towns served, and encourages their continued prosperity.

4. Where from here

a) We strongly encourage the Department for Transport and the First group to provide an appropriate train service from this December. As a minimum, this service should be at the current level, but the better case, economically and socially, is for a train every 2 hours.

b) We request that the more detailed timetable review re-times the morning train into Swindon to arrive shortly after 8 a.m. and to leave on its return shortly before 6 p.m. so that it retains its utility as a commuter service.

c) We request that the land safeguarded for station access / improvements at Melksham remains safeguarded.

5. Conclusion

a) I would like to thank everyone who has supported the "TransWilts" train service and the case for its retention; they are too numerous to mention, but I would especially like to thank to Michael Ancram and to Chris Grayling, for all their efforts on our behalf so far. They are truely appreciated.

b) We must continue to press the case for the TransWilts train. Although things may look bleak today, I'm reminded of the railway line to Looe that was within 2 weeks of complete closure in the time of Dr Beeching, but was reprived at the last minute. Today, trains are so busy in the summer that the conductor can't even get around to everyone during the journey. It CAN be done, even at this 11th hour.

Written 2006-07-06 10:05:27

Available entries ...

Welcome to News and Views
Welcome to News and Views
The story so far
Looking slightly wider
Don't let this become history!
Meeting, 20th September - getting nervous
Encouraging traffic not just warm words
Official (Government) view ... and I agree
Don't believe everything you hear
Old pictures. Not to be repeated event
Great meeting but just a start.
35% Growth in one year - Melksham ticket statistics
Swindon to Trowbridge
Regularity, Reliability, Realistic connections
Core meeting
Didn't you read page 52 of web document?
An easy timetable - Melksham to Chippenham and Swindon
Would this government close a station completely?
Quotes from Government
Tuesday, 18th October - Kiss and Ride day
Six NEW factors why the TransWilts train that serves Melksham should be enhanced and not cut
And more train users ...
Try the train on 18th October
Tracking codes for TransWilts stations
New stats prove it - the service IS used
Bump from Glasgow
Ready for Tuesday
Kiss and Ride report
A case of the tail wagging the dog??
The system is overcomplex - no wonder some odd things happen
Warminster Bus Running Day, 2005
The storm's eye?
A disappointing letter
Some scenes at Melksham Station
Monday morning, Melksham Station
Busy train at Melksham
Forum Archives available
A THOUSAND visitors
What does it cost to run a train?
Timetable - Melksham to Reading and London
Plus a footnote - Melksham to London
A bustle before the 17:02
STILL worth writing. To MP, To Dft, to bidders.
Keeping the campaign tail up
Don't drink and drive - drink and train.
Driving customers away?
Latest official answer
At Temple Meads today
Melksham and TransWilts train service - closure by stealth?
From the rumour mill
A Quandry
Santa Claus at Melksham Station
Train service fading away too?
Greater Western Franchise awarded
First Group - First answer on Melksham
First specific Melksham rumour ...
Virtually no service - or excellent service. Request the latter.
Should badgers be culled?
Melksham rail traffic up 33% in 3 months
Upside Down
Every journey has a story
New fares from 2nd January 2006
No final decision yet
Even new stations don't always survive
A comparison across the world
Christmas service - unrequired, or just unprovided?
New year, 2006
Bustitution - buses for trains on Saturdays and Sundays
New Sign
The Meeting Season
Reply from MD of First Great Western
Wilts County Council could save the Melksham / Transwilts train
What does First pay the government for Greater Western?
Railway statistics and Melksham comparisons - how do we stand?
Winners and losers in the Devizes constituency
First want to hear your aspirations
Repeat - PLEASE write in with your aspirations
Were they purchasing votes?
Current status ...
Further threats
Keep watching - coming to the boil!
Recent Correspondence
From my postbag ...
Timetable consultation coming up
Waiting, with baited breath
Meeting with a local MP
Today or tomorrow
Draft Timetable is here
Out with the old users, in with the new
On the 05:52 this morning
Background and opinion
Draft timetables (continued)
Three and a half answers out of 4
A week is a long time
Roger Jones answers 5 months later!
Safer current trains - the 06:56, 07:45 and 18:09
INPUTS NEEDED by 8th March
Meetings and Consultation Responses
A whole pile of responses
Ploughing back OUR money, not theirs.
New pages and information
On supporting other campaigns ...
Not just the TransWilts and Melksham ...
Service failure looses more customers
The Waiting Game
Real time train monitoring
Someone can't wait!
High emotion
UPDATE - new timetables
An update - BAD, BAD news for Melksham ...
First - transforming travel
Constituency Changes
Southampton to Westbury RESTORED
Friday, 21st, Trowbridge
Meeting, Friday 21st
Celebrating a closure
Meeting, tonight
Friday's meeting
What SWPTUF says
Meeting, 21st - notes
Parliamentary Debate, 25th April
First back down or buses too.
Diary Date - 12th May
RailFuture meeting today
RailFuture meeting - some gems
First way to get rid of customers?
Friday meeting - invite and details
It gets worse
Every so often, stop and look
Bus service costs 25 pounds per passenger to run?
Carrying fresh air around?
Home soon.
Put yourself in their shoes
Lies, damned lies and statistics
Our battle ....
... is part of a planned war
Political pressure - press release
How to catch the 18:48 from Chippenham - the DfT suggests
Internet connection issues
Selling off any possibility of improvement
Letter from Derek Twigg
Important but not refreshing meeting
Visit by Chris Grayling and Michael Ancram
Friday, 7th July - Melksham
Rail future - the First Alternative
Pivotal decison - to grow or to strangle?
Bad news coming?
In praise of estate agents
Press Release - Open Access operator negotiations
Open Access case strengthened
A desire for honesty
Flowers for Melksham. Flowers at Melksham.
Has our publicity reached the right people?
One year on
A year on - an empty bank holiday
Bus connections to Melksham from Chippenham
Is this train used?
If its working well, change it so it doesnt.
20% service cut = 40% traffic cut?
A difficult choice for voters
Consultant's reports recommended a modest INCREASE
From Ystrad Mynach
Taunton meeting
More cancellations
Passenger or lemmings
Behind the new timetable
Is this fare?
Returning from their UK course
End of term - don't care
Current and future summary
2 weeks to go
Fading away?
Coming to a course in Melksham
Last Week - Press Release
They're gone ... but ...
New service - first impressions
"Told you so"
Christmas, 2006
Welcome to 2007
PLEASE LOBBY - First, Dft, County Council, your MP
Key players
Keeping the diary rolling
End game?
Save the Train v More Train, Less Strain
Invite letter - 5th March 2007 meeting
Passengers or Customers?
A fast-moving story?
The traveller, not the train!
Report - Monday night's meeting - press brief
What is happening?
Reply to Petition
Petition Response - detail, opinion, context
Government pressure to shut up. But let us look forward.
Asking for the political and part views
Helsinki and Heathrow to Melksham - Saturday
Gordon Dodge, Rest in Peace
An update
The way forward - improved service and improved station
A roundup from a MELKSHAM perspective
Update being updated!
News Roundup - a LOT is happening
Diary notes
New faces - mayors and chairs.
We have another hill to climb
Radio - tomorrow morning?
Weymouth, Poor Provisional, and Sunday
A Comparison - travel in the USA by train
The Ghost Train, Purton
How to fill platforms, and railway company coffers too!
FSB - North and West Wilts Commitee - Federation of Small Businesses
Frustrated but not depairing
Front page update
Comment on December timetables
A First to Stagecoach comparison
Does the new man want to play hard?
And the week ends with two more cancellations!
Comparing a Wiltshire town with a Norfolk one
Commutes are longer, and in the west we may know why
Campaigning Mantra - Philosophy behind the case
30 late, and a bus not a train ....
Staffing-go-round - but the campaigners carry on
Rail user groups do NOT represent rail users?
Cancellations, Changes and Crass Christmas
First Great Western's Melksham service branded "a disgrace"
A pile of 160 train tickets for tomorrow
Santa Claus spotted at Swindon Station
TransWilts trains ceased a year ago. Lets look forward
Trains to and from Melksham - Timetable from Dec07 to May08
Happy Christmas everyone!
How have trains being doing in the last 48 hours?
Asda - an opportunity that can be used or squandered
Another slap in the face from First Great Western
On truthfully advertising the case
Fare Strike Day
Comparing a different part of the country
Where has our train gone?
Want to comment? You're welcome on the forum
An unusual journey for me - some observations
Milk producers
Meeting Season
The heart says "public transport", the head forces car
Not a Swiss clock railway this morning
Senseless service - could become sensible
Terminal 5 - a portent for the Olympics?
Loss of train - loss of job
Population growth, but congested roads
Road - busy ... railway - no trains, so no users
One long journey ends and another begins
Campaign update - news for December 08 / 09 / 10 / 11 ...
Preserved Railways - a look forward
Spring 2009 Campaign update

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