Save the Melksham Train
Archived Save the Train forum articles - 2005 to 2010. See below
A miscellany of issues - 1063/2981
Written by Steve Bray on Saturday, 13th January 2007

Hello all,

I have spent many hours this week browsing many websites concerning the huge number of grievances concerning the appalling FGW. I live in Dorking Surrey, which is on an outpost of FGW, being on the Reading/Gatwick line. However, my main interest is the Cotswold Line (Oxford to Worcester/Malvern/Hereford). In the 25 years or so of having interest with this line, since FGW took over the timetable in December 2004, the service has been the most unreliable during that 25 years.  Therefore, I was dismayed, when in December 2005, FGW was "awarded" the Greater Western franchise, because, in my opinion, based on the service provided on that line, it simply did not deserve it. My opinion of First is that they are an extremely arrogant organisation and really, all they are interested in, is running a half-hourly service from Paddington to Cardiff, and a half-hourly service from Paddington to Bristol (and off peak, many of these trains aren't very full), and the rest of their franchise area, can just lump it.

I am in a fortunate position where the North Downs Line is, on the whole reliable service (as it was when Thames Trains ran it). However.....

In December, on Sundays, the timetable was amended with departures from Reading at either 00 or 03 minutes past the hour - previously the regular clockface departure was 12 minutes past. All (bar one service), from the Cotswold Line arrives Reading at about 4 minutes past the hour, so that means that I am likely to wait between 56 and 59 minutes for my connection. The exception being if I wish to travel from Great Malvern at about 9pm and arrive Dorking after midnight, which frankly I don't. So I'm not inclined to make as many weekend journeys "home".

I also have an issue with 2 peak hour services withdrawn from Dorking West station. For many years, the 1703 and 1803 trains from Gatwick to Reading stopped at Dorking West, and these were used by a handful of regulars. Needless to say, these services do not now call at Dorking West; instead, at the next station - Guildford - they wait for 5 minutes and 8 minutes respectively until they continue to Reading!!. I wrote to Glenda Lamont, to say that these services could still call at Dorking West, without creating any operational issues, but the response I received was "we can look at this for next December". Frankly, that is a pathetic and unacceptable reply, and shows little intent on FGW to meet the needs of the customer. These changes could be easily made tomorrow.

Talking of changes, in spite of not wishing to make changes before December, as we know, FGW have made some fairly significant changes to the Oxford/Didcot morning peak services. However, when I looked at the original timetable, there are trains which just do not make sense. For instance, there was, I think, an 0552 from Oxford and an 0602 from Oxford service, both to Paddington with different stopping patterns. This I don't have an issue with. However, both of these services stopped at all stations between Didcot and Reading at 6 minute intervals. I have to ask, is there really so much demand for trains from Cholsey to London at 0614 and 0620 in the morning? or Goring and Streatly, Pangbourne and Tilehurst? Very doubtful in my opinion. In fact, the sad thing is that there appears to be no real appreciation of when people with to travel, which is manifestly evident on the Melksham Line.

One of your forummers noted that Frome had a direct service to Paddington and felt that if that was the case then Melksham should have. However, I am fairly sure I read an article, that a certain A Forster lived in Frome!! Incidentally, I don't wish to make this a persional issue, but in the correspondence I have had with Alison Forster, I have been impressed by her responses.

A year or so Wessex extended some of their Bristol/Worcester trains to Great Malvern. Needless to say there was very little publicity for them. FGW continue to operate these trains; again I'm not sure there is any demand for them, and frankly they add to a congested stretch of track between Worcester Shrub Hill and the Malverns.  Today, and for the next few Saturdays there is engineering work between Cheltenham and Worcester, yet FGW faithfully runs a rail replacement from Worcester to Malvern, even though that stretch of track is unaffected. You can bet your bottom dollar that there is no-one (bar the bus driver) on these buses, especially when you look at comparative timings. To take one example, I could catch a bus from Great Malvern at 1311, and arrive at Worcester Shrub Hill at 1351 OR, I could take a Central Train from Great Malvern at 1330, and arrive Shrub Hill at 1343. Now which one am I likely to take?! It's a no-brainer really. Maybe that's why the fares went up, so that we can all pay for replacement buses which no-one will use, and just add to pollution and congeston. Again, no common sense.

The long and short of this ramble is to express my support for Save The Train, and all others here, to expose the stupidities of FGW, to wish for a common sense approach to the railways where they meet the needs of their "customers", and ultimately to see the demise of First on the Great Western franchise at the earliest opportunity.

Re: A miscellany of issues - 1063/2983
Written by Ruthg on Saturday, 13th January 2007

Being a Frome resident I have also heard that Alison Forster lives in a small village just outside Frome. Strangely in the 1.5 years I've been commuting from here, I have never seen her getting on or off a train at Frome. I am left wondering if she drives because the service from here is so poor, or whether she catches the train from some other station further away but with better links, whatever it's a mystery.  :)

Re: A miscellany of issues - 1063/2992
Written by Sion Bretton on Saturday, 13th January 2007

But do not forget they get free travel on FGW services if used to get to work.  ;D

Re: A miscellany of issues - 1063/2997
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Saturday, 13th January 2007

Hello Steve, and welcome to the "Save the Train" board.

Re: A miscellany of issues - 1063/3011
Written by Exestudent on Sunday, 14th January 2007

Interesting comments Steve! As an ex employee of FGW I can confirm that I've found them a very arrogant organisation as well, only interested in HST's as you correctly say, the rest seems an inconvenience to them.

As an ex Wessex person I would like to confirm the Great Malvern situation. A few years back when Gloucester was appallingly wiped off the VXC map by the SRA, Wessex were asked to run a clockface timetable on the Bristol - Gloucester - Worcester corridor. The only workable plan lead to the unit spending 90 minutes at Worcester Shrub Hill each time. As Wessex and Central were both NEx TOC's it was decided to help cover Central's PSR, and save them a unit, Wessex would run down to Great Malvern in this time, at minimal cost. I believe the situation still exists today, so they are not extra services, they are replacing Central ones. As for buses, I agree it seems crackers running buses to / from Gt Malvern, but FGW are obliged to replicate the train journey the buses replace as far as possible, and somewhere in there you should find a 2120ish Gt Malvern - Exeter bus as the train its replaces is booked through to Exeter, thus still providing that journey opportunity (even if you do get back to Devon at 0300 in the morning!!!).

As for SLC2, I don't often give FGW credit, but they did work very hard to try and tweak the timetable as best they could...It could have been so much worse..Although had they actually bothered to work with ex Wessex people in Exeter it could have been alot better! My personal opinion is it was folly to try and make these major changes in Dec 06, railway timescales meant it always had to be a 'rush job'. If your going to do it, better to wait until Dec 07, to give more time for FGW ,if they wanted to, to understand the new passenger flows and new market. As Graham correctly points out though the SLC2 was flawed from the start. If it ain't broke why try and fix it?? The old timetable had been built up over a period of many years, each time tweaked and improved or amended to cater for differing traffic flows, and don't forget designed for efficient use of units and traincrew.  I also fail to see how cutting first / last services off routes saves money. These services were designed as much unit and crew moves, as passenger services. Without them, well crew have to travel by taxi to / from the start of their productive work. Gloucester depot is badly hit I believe, they seem to spend more times in Taxi's than driving trains, as alot of their work is on the Cardiff - Westbury corridor!! Alot of crew used to travel on the 0525 Glos - Taunton, and 2120 Soton - Glos from Bristol at zero cost....Having more time to design and tweak the timetable could have avoided situations like this...

Re: A miscellany of issues - 1063/3016
Written by Lee on Sunday, 14th January 2007

The origins of many of the timetable problems raised above can be traced back to the 2004 Jacob Consultancy reports (see quotes below.)

[quote author=Lee link=topic=577.msg1739#msg1739 date=1161877109]Here is a link to the Greater Western Franchise Replacement Outline Business Case Report.

Jacobs recommended for progression or further work , closure or "parliamentary service" options for the following stations :

Islip , Bicester Town , Tackley , Heyford , Kings Sutton , Combe , Finstock , Ascott-Under-Wychwood , Shipton , Shalford , Chilworth , Gomshall , Dorking West , Betchworth , Dilton Marsh , Dean , Dunbridge , Sea Mills , Shirehampton , Avonmouth , St Andrews Road , Severn Beach , Newton St Cyres , Yeoford , Copplestone , Morchard Road , Lapford , Kings Nympton , Portsmouth Arms , Umberleigh , Chapelton , Luxulyan , Bugle , Roche , St Columb Road , Quintrell Downs , Coombe , St Keyne , Causeland and Sandplace.

Interestingly , the option to close intermediate stations on the Exmouth line was rejected. Also , several service options were considered for Devonport , Dockyard , Keyham , St Budeaux , Saltash , St Germans , Menheniot , Lostwithiel and Hayle (including closure) but Jacobs decided to reject ALL of them.[/quote]

[quote author=Lee link=topic=595.msg1776#msg1776 date=1162223001]Had the Jacobs draft report (click on recommendations been accepted , then here is what we would have ended up with (in the words of Jacobs) :

"Service restructuring with linking of services across Bristol Temple Meads to provide through journey opportunities and relieve platform occupancy."

"Establishing a more regular two-hourly or hourly clockface repeating pattern of service."

"Withdrawal of most train calls at very lightly used stations, e.g. Thornford , Chetnole."

Along with the following Jacobs - recommended options :


link to index of articles

Save the Train was the campaign to bring an approriate train service back to and through Melksham.

Most big contributors are still around writing at the Coffee shop forum where new members are very welcome.

The train has been saved - sort of - we have stepped back up from an unusable service to a poorish one but it's doing very well. We did that through setting up the TransWilts Community Rail Partnership. That fulfilled its early objectives; it has been taken over by local and regional government types who are now doing medium and long term work. The team from this forun can also be found at the Melksham Rail User Group (which was the Melksham Rail Development Group at the time these articles were written and we had no users.

We mustn't loose sight, though, that the train service remains poor and needs our community support in marketing and campaigning to keep it going in a positive direction ... and all the more so when we're expecting to find a different normallity once we get out of the Coronavirus Pandemic and head for zero carbon via the climate crisis. Yes, it's saved ... it's now a key community facility ... the need for enhancement and the strong and near-universal local support remain, and the rail industry and goverment remain slow to move and provide the enhancements even to level us up with other towns. Please support the Melksham Rail User Group - now very much in partnership rather than protest with the rail industry and local government, including GWR, TransWilts and unitary and town councils. And please use the trains and buses, and cycle and walk when you can.

-- Graham Ellis, (webmaster), February 2021

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