|News Roundup - a LOT is happening
This is an overdue update and I don't know where to start!
Gordon Dodge, such a big supporter and so much more, passed away in April. He's left some shoes that will be very hard to fill; I have posted a tribute on the "Save the Train" web site. And his passing has made me, and others, all the more determined to push for an appropriate train service from West and South Wiltshire up to the North of the country and Swindon, incorporating a service fit for use in Melksham, where the station has the lowest ridership per head of population in the county. That's partly down to the infrequent, badly timed and unreliable trains, and partly due to issues to do with the station's accessability.
I've started with Gordon, and the issues. And, incredibly, I see the tide starting to turn. Much of the following news comes from the AGM of the Melksham Railway Development Group last night, and as such is in the public domain.
1. After the Save the Train meeting in March, the County Council has agreed to set up an 'experts / professionals' group to push the service provision issue ahead, and this will be chaired by Fleur de Rhe Philipe. I also have a positive letter from Dr Keith Robinson, the chief executive, who I met in person recently.
2. The Department for Transport are now looking very seriously at improving the service - I spent well over an hour on the phone with one of the top civil servants, and I understand that he and several colleagues have had further long meetings with the local transport authority. The answer that *I* got (and the concensus) is no longer to tell me that the current service is appropriate, but to acknowledge that it's not working and needs major positive amendment.
3. At the AGM of the Melksham Rail Development Group (yesterday evening), Andrew Griffiths of First Great Western told that FGW have no extra resources to make available from this December, BUT they have worked up a draft timetable that would take out 3 duplicated trains south of Salisbury (the Southampton stoppers that would, if they remained, double up on the new SWT local service) and use those trains instead to run from Salisbury up to Swindon and back. I've not seen details, but I understand it looks excellent for the morning, and unravels a bit later in the day. Andrew confirmed crew shortages - that even if they hired another train, they would not have the drivers, who it takes a year to train. Andrew also confirmed that extra freight is using the line via Melksham, and that this could start to limit available paths for passenger trains
[[Aside - I applaud First in pushing this timetable forward, the DfT in their new and serious look, and the County for their actions and help too. All acknowledge this as being a step in the right direction rather than a final solution - perhaps that will come at December 2008?]]
4. There have been discussions between the officers of the Melksham Railway Development Group and the Save the Train campaign, as the activities of the two could be seen to be converging. We're working in close co-operation (I have taken on the role of Vice Chairman at MRDG, confirmed at the AGM), and of course Peter Blackburn - chair of MRDG - is vice of Save the Train. The groups are, though, and will remain distinct. "Save the Train" is very much concerned with train service across Wiltshire and Mendip whereas the MRDG, as the name implies, is very much Melksham based and extends from the service to the envoirs of the station too.
5. The Melksham Railway Development Group has submitted a bid for lottery funding to complete the road from Spencer's Gate to the station in Melksham. This would provide a circular route via the station over land already reserved for the purpose and allow bus services such as Melksham' s town bus to connect with trains. It would also easier access to the station from North Melksham, and bring a restraurant and conveninence store within a short walk for traveller's use. The bid is via "The People's Millions" - an ITV show where the shortlisted bidders are showcased and the winner is selected by public vote.
6. Asda have announced that they plan to open a new store in Melksham, at West Country Farmers (that shop will remain, though). This offers a good opportunity to work with the store to provide rail access and facilities for the mutual benefit of their customers and railway users, and I understand that the company has a good reputation for being a community player.
7. A suggestion that we run a seaside special this summer from Swindon / Chippenham / Melksham to Weymouth - perhaps by extending the first Sunday train from Westbury - has been declared a non-starter by First who have no capacity for specials, even at the weekend. We are currently investingating whether we can arrange a coach for a part yo join that train at Westbury, leaving from melksham station and returning to there by train at the end of the day.
8. There is every intention of running a Santa special this December; although advised to plan well ahead and use the current service, we don't feel its practical on the limited trains available (21:38 is too late to get the kids back to Melksham, and what WOULD they do through the early evening?). So this will probably be a last minute planning job.
9. MRDG now has a website - www.mrdg.org.uk - and a subcommittee will be working on content and publicity. Key subjects will be the lottery bid, the station's history and other Melksham Specific issues.
10. I have JUST (in the last couple of hours!) booked a table for the two campaigns at Melksham's "Party in the Park" on 14th July. We'll have a 5m x 3m pitch ("a lot of space") to put the case; I'm happy to be on the stand all day (open from 2 p.m. to "fireworks") and would be delighted to have any other VOLUNTEERS - please - along ;-). Excellent chance for publicity. Other events are fastmoving at the moment; we'll see if we're selling seats to Weymouth, congratulating the decision makers and publicising the new services to come, or handing people postcards to lobby with!
11. Sion has agreed (I think - you did agree, didn't you Sion?) to join the committee of the West Wilts Rail Users Group in order that they have a continuing voice / input from Melksham. I was delighted to see their new Chairman, John Ingram, along at yesterday's meeting - we're all pushing very much in the same direction.
12. Wiltshire County Council have provided extra subsidy / support to Stagecoach for the X49 bus service (Trowbridge to Swindon) which last year carried roughly the same number of passengers as used the train (WCC press release figures for bus, FGW's for train). It is good to see the county's acknowledgement of the importance and growth of this corridor. The bus takes 95 minutes and serves neither Melksham nor Chippenham; the train takes just 35 minutes. I applaud the County's decision - it should make a decision to support the train too into a no-brainer. Although the support for a train seat is said to cost three times what it costs to support a bus seat, the train is 3 times faster so that makes it a level playing field, doesn't it?
13. Some fares (including Melksham - Chippenham and Melksham - Swindon) have recently been LOWERED. This means that a Chippenham to Melksham single is now just 2.80. The lowest return fare offered to London if you book on the day / train remains 105.00. For booking ahead, the FGW site lists 20 different single fares - most of them "book ahead" and with very limited availability. These tickets must be posted (extra charge) or collected ahead of time from a ticket machine at Chippenham (or other more distant) station.
14. Melksham's Tourist Information Centre has put in a lottery bid to become a transport hub - allowing it to sell a wide variety of travel tickets (rail tickets too - PLEASE - including the "book ahead" ones I have just mentioned.
There's a lot happening!
I would like to thank all the officers / officials / politicians / Rail Industry people involved in all the thread above, and I'll be circulating this to them as a courtesy copy, and to show them just how the community is behind this - to regain AND RETAIN an APPROPRIATE service.
Feedback / comments / information welcome. You'll find more on much of this on the "Save the Train" website at http://www.savethetrain.org.uk and in due course I'm sure the Melksham elements will also appear on http://www.mrdg.org.uk.
And THANK YOU for your support / continuing help
Written 2007-06-09 18:51:47
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