Save the Melksham Train
TransWilts trains ceased a year ago. Lets look forward

A year ago today, I saw Andrew Griffiths being verbally attacked by an irate woman who had just got on the train to travel home and learned that it was the very last time the train would run. Come the following Monday, it was to be gone. And I'll admit to being rather happy that FGW's managers were seeing, First hand, just how much they about to mess peoples lives up.

Andrew is First Great Western's Severn and Solent Manager - largely managing customer relations - and he was on the final 17:43 from Swindon to Southampton, pretty well packed as it pulled out of Chippenham to leave the main line and head South for the Stragetically Significant towns and growing urban areas and cities of Melksham, Trowbridge, Westbury, Warminster, Salisbury, Romsey and Southampton.

Famous quotes from around that time:

"We can't run any more trains because the DfT has laid down this specification".

"The train has to run at the new time because it also has to provide a commuter service on the Stroud Valley line"

"I know you think the current service is unreliable, but at least that should chance when we cut out most of the trains"

How do we stand a year on? We have an appalingly timed service on this line now, and the passenger numbers have plummeted. Some people have given up their jobs, some use the bus, some drive to a railhead. Businesswise, some of our customers now stay over as they won't commute any more. From 40% of our customers using the train in the last half of last year, we moved to just four customers using in the first half of this year. The railway line lies as a dreadfully underutilised resource, and travellers up and down the corridor have a great deal of their time wasted. It gives me no pleasure in telling First Great Western I told you so.

And yet ... I see mixed signs, rather than all negative signs, looking ahead. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in the past year, even if it's happened being doors and not on the tracks. Let me get the negative one out of the way first.

You were correct Andrew, we did see a change in reliability. Downhill. Up to 40% of remaining scheduled services cancelled in January. Of course, since no-one really wanted the 06:19 from Swindon, it's a moot point as to how much harm that cancelleation did! And you're getting better now - only 2 out of 26 cancelled in the last week, i.e. only 8%.

And I applaud your attempts, although they were stillborn, to re-use the remaining trips of the Westbury shuttle to provide a TransWilts service as from next Monday. It shows that the service can be uncoupled from the Stroud Valley and that you can, once again, run a train at times that are appropriate for your customers.

Better still, on Sunday you introduce an extra service that's above the DfT's specification and provide, once again, a Southbound Sunday service. That's an excellent (if token) demonstration that it can be done ... (although a pity that engineering works this Sunday will have it start just from Chippenham).

I'll be at Melksham Station on Sunday. I'll be meeting a customer off the train ;-). And, no, I didn't have to "engineer" that. Let me reassure you that if you provide an approrpriate service, it will be used.

I look forward to working with Andrew, and Andrew, and John, and Fleur, and Peter, and others over the next year. And to be writing a further annual report 52 weeks from now that is telling you about all the new travel opportunities you'll have as from the coming Sunday. A year ago I would have said that was foolish optimism, but today I'll tell you it's a realistic possibility.

Written 2007-12-07 18:15:55

Available entries ...

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