Save the Melksham Train
Archived Save the Train forum articles - 2005 to 2010. See below
Press Release - 1277/3632
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Thursday, 1st February 2007

From Graham Ellis, 1st Feb 2007 for immediate release.

Jenny Agutter, the actress who initially sprung to fame for her role as Roberta in "The Railway Children", 8 Members of Parliament, Members of the European Parliament, and many councillors from across the Thames Valley, Wessex and the West are amongst those who have signed up to a petition on the Prime Minister's web site calling on him 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"

Last December, new timetables were introduced by First Great Western on most railway services to the West of London, under their new contract with the Department for Transport.  Trains have been unreliable with some services frequently cancelled, and less frequent and shorter too. Stories of passengers being left behind because of overcrowding, and of trains running through stations where they were scheduled to stop, abound.  And passengers are abandoning the trains altogether where they can - sometimes out of choice, and sometimes because there's no longer a suitable train service available.

On 24th January Alison Forster, Managing Director of First Great Western writes "It is clear that we underestimated demand for our train services and too much capacity was removed from the timetable we implemented in December ..." and announced some changes.  But the new timetable was ten steps backwards, and the changes are just one step forward. I go to my local station (Melksham, Wilts, annual ticket sales over 27,000) at 07:30 to catch a train, and the next service doesn't leave until 19:08; the 07:45 no longer runs, nor the 09:12, nor 4 other services.  And this is a typical story.  From Bedminster to Filton, Keynsham into Bristol, Looe to Liskeard and Maidenhead to Paddington the new timetable, even after Alison's tweaking, isn't fit for purpose.

But First's hands are now tied - they negotiated a train operating contract with the Department for Transport to provide the pruned services that are now running and they need support and flexibility from the Department for Transport to put things right - to provide an adequate service that meets passengers travel requirments now and into the future, reliably, and at an affordable cost.

The petition - organised by Graham Ellis who runs a business that receives many visitors by train - calls on Tony Blair to instruct the Department for Transport to get together with First and provide a solution that puts the needs of commuter, the long distance traveller, the tourist, the voter back onto the agenda.

The petiton may be signed on line at
As of 1.2.07 we have over 1500 signatures, making it eighth out of 370 petitions relating to Transport and Intfrastructure.



1. Jenny Agutter (actress) has confirmed that it is indeed her that signed and has cleared the release of her name. She's also prepared to give interview quotes.

2. Please contact the petition organiser for further quotes / specific local examples, or look at any of the following web sites:  1000    Save The Train  1001    Saltash Rail User's Group 1002    Ivybridge Rail User's Group  1003    More Train Less Strain        1004    Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways    1005    Severn Tunnel Junction Campaign      1006    Max's Commuter Train Journeys      1007    Great Western Sucks      1008    Farce Great Western      1009    North Devon Rail Users Group      1010    Severside Rail Community Partnership 1011    I Hate FGW 1012 Oxford Rail Action  1013 By a customer, for customers (prelaunch)

3. Journeys effected by the changes

* Paddington to Reading via Slough and Maidenhead
* Paddington to the Kennet valley - Newbury, Bedwyn etc
* Paddington to Didcot and Oxford
* Paddington to Swindon, Bath, Bristol, Weston-super-mare Gloucester and Cheltenham
* Paddington to Newport, Cardiff and Swansea
* Paddington to Westbury, Taunton, Exeter, Plymouth and Cornwall
* Paddington to the Cotswolds, Worcester and Hereford

* Thames valley branches - Greenford, Windsor, Marlow and Henley
* Thames valley via Oxford - Bicester and Banbury
* Reading to Gatwick
* Reading to Basingstoke

* Swindon to Westbury via Chippenham, Melksham, Trowbridge
* Weymouth, Yeovil and Frome services
* Brighton, Porsmouth, Southampton, Romsey to Salisbury
* Salisbury, Warminster, Westbury, Trowbridge, Bradford-on-Avon to Bath and Bristol
* Bristol commuters - from Bath, Weston-super-mare, Severn Beach, South Wales and Gloucester/ Cheltenham
* Swindon and West of there to Didcot and Oxford
* South Wales local journeys

* Exeter to Exmouth
* Exteter to Barnstaple
* Exeter and Newton Abbot to Torbay
* Exeter to Plymouth local journeys
* Plymouth to Gunnislake
* Plymouth to Penzance - local journeys
* Liskeard to Looe
* Par to Newquay
* Truro to Falmouth
* St Erth to St Ives

4. Case study - what do we mean by an "Appropriate train service". 

The TransWilts line ran from Swindon, via Chippenham, Melksham and Trowbridge to Salisbury and on to Southampton, with 5 trains a day each way.  Swindon, Chippenham, Trowbridge, Melksham and Salisbury are the 5 largest population centres in Wiltshire, and use of the service grew by 35% per annum (Office of Rail regulator figures) or 8% per annum (country council figures) in the five years to last December.  The through service no longer runs at all, with just 2 trains a day from Swindon leaving at the highly inconvenient hours of 06:19 and 18:42, and only going as far as Westbury.

We understand from the Department for Transport that the report on which they based their new train numbers was written in 2004 based on data from as early as 2002, and assumed a growth rate of 0.8% per annum.  First tell us that the inconvenient new times are set to allow them to save the cost of hiring an extra train, and that the remaining services on the transWilts are timed to allow the same train to provide a peak hour service from Swindon into Gloucester and Cheltenham.

Traffic has dropped from 109000 journeys per year (figure from First) to, we estimate, around 8000 to 10000 journeys.  All 12 key passenger flows we had identified under the old timetable are now broken.  And even this limited service provided has been unreliable, with the service being cancelled on over 40% of occasions in the first two weeks of 2006.

By train, the journey from Melksham to Swindon takes 25 minutes. With no suitable train, driving to the centre of Swindon can take up to an hour, and using a bus / train combination via Chippenham it can take even longer, with an awkward crosstown walk at Chippenham for most of the day.

A single train, operating a round trip every 2 hours from Westbury to Swindon, would restore all 12 flows and more, and would continue to grow.  The cost would be around 300k pounds per annum, reducing the payment to be made by First to the DfT over the 10 years of the franchise from 1100 million pounds to 1098 million pounds - and that's based on conservative assumptions.

5. Please feel free to publish my contact details.

Graham Ellis
Well House Consultants, 404 The Spa, Melksham, Wilts
+44 (0) 1225 708225 (phone)  +44 (0) 1225 707126 (fax)

This information is for immediate release and circulation.

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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