|Petition Response - detail, opinion, context
1. Train services slashed last December
2. Petition for appropriate train service submitted on 7th February
3. Reply by Government last Friday evening blames First, uses old forecasts that have proven to be wrong, and misses the point that we're looking for an APPROPRIATE service and not a return to the previous one!
4. Further timetable changes planned for December 2007, but no big consultation this time
5. Ten 2-coach trains (arguably the best in the fleet) to be transferred away from service operated out of Bristol from this December?
Last Friday, the Prime Minister's office has replied to the petition for train service improvements submitted by Melksham businessman Graham Ellis. Graham started the petiton on the Prime Minister's web site in January after regional and local train services throughout the South West of England were cut by up to 80% last December, with remaining trains running unreliably and often overcrowded.
The petition asked the Prime Minister to:
"provide a reliable train service with adequate capacity at times that travellers wish to make journeys from Swindon to Westbury, Bristol to Severn Beach, Portsmouth and Weymouth to Cardiff, Taunton to Cheltenham, Swindon to Cheltenham. This includes all intermediate stations and journeys in both directions."
The petition was signed by over 1700 people, making it the top domestic public transport petition at the time it closed. It was signed by 8 MPs (including James Gray, Michael Ancram, Andrew Murrison, Don Foster and Robert Key from our mmediate area), five MEPs, and dozens of councillors including council leaders and mayors.
The reply - published last Friday evening - reads as follows:
Thank you for your petition concerning the provision of rail services in the South West of England.
Ministers have raised the issue of improving train performance, including cancellations and short formation of trains, directly with First Great Western, which operates the train services in the greater Bristol area. First great Western have given assurances that appropriate measures are being taken, including bringing in additional rolling stock, and have accepted responsibility for underestimating the capacity requirements of the new timetable introduced on 10 December. First Great Western have already taken steps to restore capacity in some areas and expect the position to improve further in the coming weeks.
The Department for Transport will, of course, continue to monitor the performance of the FGW franchise to ensure that commitments given to Ministers and the public are met and that a significantly improved service is provided to passengers in future. Performance issues not directly under the control of First great Western itself are the subject of action plans between the company and Network Rail, which are monitored regularly.
The petition calls for the number of services at Melksham and other stations to be brought back to the levels provided before the timetable change on 10 December 2006. In planning the new franchise, the former Strategic Rail Authority found that usage of most trains on this route was very low, and set a minimum specification in order to achieve best value for money. First Great Western is free to operate additional services over the route subject to capacity on the track being available.
"It's sad to see that the Government is still quoting a franchise specification based on data from 2002/03 which assumed almost no growth" says Graham Ellis. "In practise, there was very strong growth in train usage over the past five years - growth rates as high as 35% per annum [ticket sales to/from Melksham] so we've been presented with - and look like we're stuck with - a totally inadequete service that's driving passengers off the trains and into their cars."
The government has walked away from a wonderful opportunity to provide an appropriate service in the region - it appears to have misread my request for an appropriate service (trains at times people need to travel, reliable, with adequate capacity) as a request for a return to the old timetable which it was not.
We understand that there's to be a further timetable review in December 2007, and that First (who operate the train services) have put proposals to the government already. Included within these discussions are:
* A further reconsideration of the Services from West Wiltshire to Chippenham and Swindon, where the two remaining daily trains are poorly timed (06:19 and 18:42 from Swindon, 07:00 and 19:35 from Westbury) and have lost over 90% of the traffic overnight on what had become a busy service.
* A further major re-arrangement of services bewtween Westbury and Bristol
We also understand that there will be another major reduction in the number of trains available to First Great Western on their "West Fleet" that operates our local services - indications are that 10 x 2 coach trains (of class 158) will be moved to the North of England.
Written 2007-04-03 10:29:30
Available entries ...
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