An appropriate TransWilts Train service ...

This web page is an FAQ concerning the TransWilts railway line that links the five largest towns in the county of Wiltshire in England, from which most trains were withdrawn in December 2006, and the campaign for the return of an appropriate service.

It's now commonly acknowledged that the cuts went one step to far and there are validated draft timetables which can be put into operation from December 2008 (once the Train Operating Company concludes the current refurbishment program for its trains and the training of additional staff). However, there is a need to keep this subject in the public eye as it could be too conveniently forgotten by the "powers that be", which is why we're asking as many people and organisations as possible to sign up to support the service (2009 pledge) in the months of March to May when critical decisions will be made. The pictures here were both taken from the same spot at Melksham station and show the difference that a train can make.

The TransWilts railway line links the five largest population centres in Wiltshire, which are Swindon, Salisbury, Trowbridge, Chippenham and Melksham, and it also serves other sizable towns at Warminster and Westbury. There's also a station at Dilton Marsh, a residential area which is expanding rapidly, with housing marching nearer to the station every week, it seems.

Swindon and Chippenham are in the North of the County, and Salisbury is in the South. And although there are good East - West links across at various points, the TransWilts in the only North to South railway, and the roads which run broadly along the same route - the A350 and the A36 - are notorious for congestion around Chippenham, though Beanacre and around Melksham, at Yarnbrook and south through Westbury and the Wyle valley to Salisbury. Both Swindon and Salisbury centres and their approaches suffer severe congestion

The railway line is well maintained to main line standards throughout, and as a result passenger trains can travel (example) from Trowbridge to Swindon in 35 minutes when the bus takes 95, and from Chippenham to Salisbury in under an hour when the bus, with a change en route, takes over 2 hours.

Diagram - thanks to Graham Ditte

There are currently just TWO southbound trains each way a day on the middle section of the line - leaving Swindon at a quarter past six in the morning and a quarter to 7 at night. Northbound, there are no through trains at all - you have to change at Westbury if you're travelling from Salisbury to Melksham, Chippenham or Swindon, with Salisbury departure times of 12 minutes after 6 in the morning, and twenty to 7 in the evening.

If you consider these timings to be rather curious, we understand that they are run this early so that the train operating company (First Great Western) can meet its contractual obligations to the Department for Transport in what is known as "marginal time", releasing the trains used for peak hour services on the lines between Swindon and Gloucester, and Salisbury and Southampton.

Prior to the current timetable, Wessex Trains operated a service of 5 trains per day each way - 2 around the morning peak, one in the middle of the day, and an afternoon peak and an evening service. According to the Office of the Rail Regulator, ticket sales at Melksham which is served ONLY by the TransWilts line grew from around 3000 in 2001/2 to 27500 5 years later - just before the plug was pulled on the useful services in December 2006. That is a 35% compound growth, as compared to a 0.8% growth figure assumed on 2002/3 figures by the Department for Transport as their basis for the new service level.

The current TransWilts train services run at a time of day when only a limited number of people want to travel, and they are so widely spaced that they make for an impractically long day for any commuter who wishes to use them. As a result, the five trains which had reasonable loadings prior to the service reduction in 2006 have been replace by 2 trains which are nearly empty - the line has lost 90%+ of its traffic.

Road transport is NOT an adequate substitute, with the A350 being congested already, and likely to get more so in large parts as heavy lorries are diverted away from Bath, and as the area develops. 140 hectares is earmarked in Melksham for development over the next 18 years, Trowbridge is to grow by 5000 homes (circa 12000 people), and a significant commuter flow from them will be to Chippenham and Swindon.

There ARE other trains running on the southern part of the route - Salisbury to Trowbridge - but the section north from Trowbridge only carries one half of the service level considered appropriate with trains overcrowded and passengers turned away from services. Travellers south from Dilton Marsh find many of their current services terminating at Warminster, with a lack of through trains to their natural destination of Salisbury.

Passengers from Westbury and Trowbridge to Chippenham and Swindon CAN double back via Bath, but the interchange is poor due to the station layout, and connections can be hit and miss. There is also overcrowding from Trowbridge to Bath via Bradford-on-Avon, again with passengers being turned away.

The gap in service at Melksham from 07:17 to 19:11 makes the service virtually useless for round trips, and the trains have a fearsomely poor reliability record.

A number of options have been considered and it has seemed logical to work with First Great Western, who provide the current service, to provide them. However, an improved service could equally well be provided by Stagecoach / South West Trains and in some ways that's even more logical as they company has a diesel train depot where suitable units are serviced actually at the Salisbury end of the line. They also have diesel services from Romsey / Southampton and London Waterloo terminating at Salisbury from the South/East which could be extended via Westbury to Chippenham and Swindon.

The First Great Western option is documented here and that timetable has, I understand, been validated crew wise and track availability wise. A question mark remains over the 16:24 from Salisbury and the 17:55 from Swindon due to possible requirements for the train to be on another (more profitable?) line in the evening peak, and the loss of that service from the plan would be a tragedy.

Some South West Trains options have been described on this website in the past; I wouldn't rule them out, but not as I previously described them as I understand there were pathing issues.

The extra options described assume the retention of the current service, which would be become considerably more useful as the new trains would provide services that would turn that current service into a useful extension of the new.

The financial case has been looked at in some detail, and is perhaps beyond the scope of this summary document; railway financing is arteficially distorted by a system known as ORCATS.

Timeline Inputs need to be made and timetables drawn up in the next couple of months. Department for Transport, County Council Officials and budget holders, and Train Operating Companies need to maintain focus. That's why it's important that everyone including elected representatives (there are Wiltshire Council elections next year, so the key people will want your vote) gets a strong support message in April and May.

From about August to December, it's a bit late as final planning is being done for the new timetables; it was May last year that a similar draft plan floundered for unknown reasons, but this year it is being looked at more seriously.

What would all of this mean for individual traveller groups?

A practical commuter and off peak train service from Warminster, Westbury, Trowbridge and Melksham to Chippenham and Swindon. No longer any need for the dogleg journey via Bath (hoping that trains will connect), or to take the car or bus or start at 7 in the morning, to get home at half past seven at night.

The FGW option adds two extra trains a day between Frome and Bath / Bristol, breaking up the current 3 hour gap in services on that line.

Huge improvements from Salisbury to Melksham, Chippenham and Swindon - and to Warminster, Dilton Marsh, Westbury and Trowbridge too - especially with the South West Trains option which brings us much closer to a half hourly service north from Salisbury.

Passengers on this route would see a reduction of overcrowding as travellers from West Wilts to Chippenham and Swindon diverted off onto the new direct services. Perhaps a small benefit, but never the less a significant one bearing in mind the recent issues with travellers being turned away from trains due to lack of space.

It's no less that the return of a practical, usable service - with EITHER option.

Remarkably like the PM's petition web site - in that we ask you to sign your name to this particular cause, and that's the ONLY piece of information which will be publicly associated with you here - ever!

But realistically, this is not a decision for Gordon Brown - it lies with Ruth Kelly and Tom Harris at the Department for Transport, with Miss Fleur de Rhe-Philipe who is an elected representative on Wiltshire County Council, and Officers there, and with representatives and executives at First Great Western and South West Trains. By signing up on our site, you an reach those appropriate people and they can hear the measure of our support much more directly than via a Downing street site

I (Graham Ellis) wrote the software, and I host it on one of my own machines; as my day job, I teach the technology involved to an impressive array of large organisations who come to Melksham to learn. See here and here.

But I am far from alone on this - you'll see an impressive array of support listed all over the place and there's a tremendous number of other involved - in fact, without that overwhelming help and support I would have given up years ago.

Great care is taken of your personal details, which will remain on the single server (backed up in Melksham). In any case, I the site does NOT gather anything sensitive at all, and my company is registered under the data protection act with myself as data controller. Data is safeguared, will only be kept as long as necessary and will not be copied elsewhere unless I am legally required to do so by the police or other law agency.

This application does NOT store any cookies on your machine, and will only send emails once at the time you sign up. If you miss your registration email to confirm your signature, please let me know.

If you've any questions .. please email me! -

Discussion Forum - All Wiltshire (and FGW) Services
Discussion Forum - TransWilts Services

The campaign for an appropriate service is supported by many groups including West Wiltshire Rail Users Group, Melksham Railway Development Group, Campaign Against New Beeching Report, TravelWatch SouthWest, More Train Less Strain, Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways, Railfuture, Severn Tunnel Action Group, Campaign for Better Transport, Save the Train, The First Great Western Coffeeshop and others. Over 1700 people signed a prime minister's petition on the subject last year for us. We are in good contact with First Great Western, Wiltshire County Council, the Department for Transport, Network Rail, local MPs and candidates, Local District, Town and Parish Councils, Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses, and many others to ensure that this practical option is adopted with everyone's agreement

This Website is operated by the Save the Train Campaign
email - • phone - 01225 708225 • post - 404, The Spa, Melksham SN12 6QL