Save the Melksham Train
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FGW - same old story - 3400/6837
Written by Steve Bray on Monday, 13th August 2007

Following the disastrous December timetable changes which resulted in all bar one Sunday service off the Cotswold Line having a connecting time of 55 minutes to a Reading/Gatwick line train (when it used to be 7 or 8 minutes), I have tried to avoid travelling from the Worcester area to Dorking on a Sunday.

However, being a sunny summer Sunday, I felt that I could live with a long connection at Reading, so I travelled. And regretted it. OK, I can put up with engineering work, and so caught the bus from Worcester to Evesham, but then of course, what happened? Yes, First cancelled the 1642 from Evesham to Paddington. No reason was forthcoming; however it shouldn't have been due to a lack of stock, as they weren't running any through trains to Hereford and there were plenty of units at Oxford sidings, so who knows?. Needless to say there were many cheesed off passengers as we all had to wait an hour for the next train.

You then start to look at all the little faults that manifest themselves on a daily and journey basis:

- Evesham station was unmanned, so no guidance was forthcoming there:
- One page on the station TV monitors advised "services running on Friday 3rd August" (This was on Sunday 12th!!)
- The unit doesn't get cleaned during its layover, so welcome aboard to newpapers, buffet items on your table or seat pocket (OK - that's our fellow passengers leaving the mess)
- The on-train dot matrix (?) indicators not working
- And then of course the overcrowding and Conductor's attitude

By the time Oxford was reached, the train was full (we're talking a 5 car Adelante), and then the Oxford day-trippers got on returning to London. The train resembled a peak-hour commuter service, standing all down the train. To add insult to injury, the conductor's main announcements were to tell people that the carriage with the tables and lamps was 1st class, and the

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6839
Written by Industry Insider on Monday, 13th August 2007

I can only agree with many of the sentiments expressed in your post, Steve.

Attention to detail, and getting the basics right are things that do appear to get a low priority within FGW as long as they have a way of trying to gloss over them. There is at least some light at the end of the tunnel as the use of HST's instead of Adelantes (which only have a handful of seats more than a 3-car turbo - but much more comfortable ones of course) will lead to many more seats being available for the next summer season.

Sunday's are an odd day for rail travellers - there has, for as long as I can remember, been very heavy loadings on the Cotwold Line trains towards London in the afternoon. With Oxford only having an hourly fast service the huge numbers of tourists/day trippers then try to converge on an already full train. Some trains do indeed resemble morning peak services to London.

With regards to the internal indicators, many of the Conductors prefer the driver to not enter the relevant destination code as the internal display comes with the automated voice announcements, which with the frequency of Cotswold Line stops get very irritating, very quickly. Also, there is sometimes no code available for the train if it is doing something odd due to engineering work!

Turnround cleaning is something that seems to be very hit-and-miss when there is engineering work and a train terminates where there are no specialist cleaning staff. It is left to the on-board staff to do it, and sometimes falls way short due to a combination of laziness and/or not having enough time (preference is always given to placing of seat reservation labels, window labels etc.).

I do have some sympathy for the Conductor though. Don't forget that the aspiration of First Class is to provide a superior service and if standard class passengers with no intention of paying extra converge on it, the Conductor gets it in the neck from those that have paid extra for their seat. Some of the Cotswold Line lot can be very elitist too!

Lastly, the dreadful punctuality record of trains on the Cotswolds means, if I was taking a trip to Gatwick (presumably for a flight), I would be much happier with a 55 minute wait than chancing a 7/8 minute connection!

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6846
Written by courgettelawn on Tuesday, 14th August 2007

With the current inconsistencies in punctuality, I would at a certain level agree about connecting times.  Having said this, it is clear that connecting times are not clearly thought through on inter-regional journeys and I would say more work could be done to identify key crossing stations, e.g. those that serve airport stations.  If 7-8 minutes is considered to risky and 55 minutes is clearly ridiculous, 15-25 minutes seems to me the most reasonable.

At the moment timetables seem to be designed to optimise punctuality records as opposed getting passengers moving.  I can add my own current bug-bear of travelling from Salisbury to Chippenham, no longer possible on the direct line that connects the two (50-55 minutes), but via Bath with a wait of usually 45 or more minutes.

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6849
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Tuesday, 14th August 2007

Sunday afternoon/evening is actually the peak time for long distance travel in the UK - as much as 15% of long distance travel is made in that half day.

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6861
Written by Steve Bray on Tuesday, 14th August 2007

Before the December 2006 timetable changes, I would plan my Sunday afternoon journey so that (in theory), I would catch the 1912 from Reading to Dorking/Gatwick. More often than not, the train from Worcester would be late, but at least I had the fall-back of a stopping train at 1935hrs. Therefore my wait would only be around 20 minutes.

Alas, the stopping service was cancelled in December and replaced by an hourly semi-fast 'skip-and stop' service.

Also, I speak from past experience about being in 1st class (albeit using a complimentary 1st class ticket given to me by FGW owing to previous poor journeys), where at Oxford, the carriage was totally filled by day trippers because the standard carriages were full.

Still, I'm not shedding any tears today for First not getting the ECML route!

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6879
Written by courgettelawn on Wednesday, 15th August 2007

Yes!  Thank goodness First were beaten away by National Express.  I hope we don't eat our words.  It would have been interesting to see a Virgin/Stagecoach partnership.  I wonder whether Virgin would consider the greater western network in the future.  Branson obviously has a feeling for historic railways (viz matching funding to save Flying Scotsman for the nation).  One can hope.

I have not had a single acknowledgement let along answer to my central question about the problem of the timing of the one direct journey I get per weekday from Salisbury to Chippenham (when running arrives 1905) with no return option.

When I regroup I will have to see if I can phrase this more obviously and simply in my letters.

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6889
Written by Industry Insider on Wednesday, 15th August 2007

[quote author=courgettelawn link=topic=3400.msg6846#msg6846 date=1187076120]
With the current inconsistencies in punctuality, I would at a certain level agree about connecting times.  Having said this, it is clear that connecting times are not clearly thought through on inter-regional journeys and I would say more work could be done to identify key crossing stations, e.g. those that serve airport stations.  If 7-8 minutes is considered to risky and 55 minutes is clearly ridiculous, 15-25 minutes seems to me the most reasonable.


Having 'good' connections is always a hot topic of course, but I don't think that many people fully appreciate just how hard it is to have good quality connections. Let's take a typical Sunday afternoon service from Great Malvern to London Paddington as an example.

In an ideal world it would have the following connections where you could argue that a 'reasonable' number of punters might be expected:

1) A connection from Hereford/Colwall/Ledbury into it at Great Malvern.
2) A connection from Birmingham/Stourbridge/Kidderminster/Bromsgrove into it at Worcester SH or FS.
3) It would connect at Oxford with Virgin services to the North and the South coast.
4) It would connect at Didcot Parkway with either a Bristol or Cardiff service.
5) It would connect at Reading with all sorts of places including Gatwick.
6) And lastly it would connect at Slough with a Windsor service.

Now, you try and work out a timetable that achieves good connections for those above, and, at the same time works with pathing, stock and crew, and of course includes the fact that all the connecting services mentioned also have their own connections.

In a word; impossible.

So, the end result is that you find that instances where you used to have a good connection off the Cotswolds at Reading for Gatwick cease when there is a major timetable change. But I bet some of the other connections mentioned above have improved as a result.

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6890
Written by Lee on Wednesday, 15th August 2007

Although you can undoubtably improve upon the current situation , I would agree that you simply cant do everything , and sometimes difficult choices have to be made.

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6893
Written by courgettelawn on Wednesday, 15th August 2007

I would agree.  It is not possible to please all or serve all in the way they would wish.  However, look at the improvements made by South West Trains when they did a major over-haul of their timetables.  Much better though I will always lament the loss of stopping services to London serving local stations - that is another matter.

My frustration is when short to medium length journeys like those between Salisbury and Chippenham have long changes of up to 45 minutes - even more so when you know a direct service would solve the issue!

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6903
Written by Lee on Thursday, 16th August 2007

Another example is that the first southbound train out of Melksham on Saturdays at 1545 misses the connection with the Cardiff - Portsmouth train at Westbury by 3 minutes , leaving passengers with nearly an hour wait for the next one.

No good for certain travellers..........

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6904
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Thursday, 16th August 2007

I have heard it said that FGW knew that the December 2006 timetable was going to be a major upheaval with a lot of old-established and well-loved services and connections going by the wayside.

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6906
Written by Industry Insider on Thursday, 16th August 2007

[quote author=Graham Ellis link=topic=3400.msg6904#msg6904 date=1187260551]

Now - Industry Insider may come up with a very good operational reason for these late changes - but as far as First's customers in this area are concerned, the late changes appeared to show a disregard for what the passenger needs, and could very easily have been interpretted as a kick in the teeth.  And I have yet to see any justification for a new market of passengers wanting to leave Swindon at 06:19 in the morning .... or to travel up there from Westbury / Trowbridge / Melksham to arrive at around 20:20 in the evening.

Indeed, Graham. As you may notice from some of my previous posts I am certainly not championing the cause of FGW most of the time. Far from it. I was just trying to point out the difficulty involved in having good connections all of the time.

I am certainly of the opinion that more could be done with timing of certain trains if 'what the passenger needs' was a prioity for First Group. It is a priority for them on the big money making routes from Paddington to Bristol, but isn't (and with the current franchising system never will be) on the loss making routes. They will do enough to try and stave off too much criticism. The conspiriacy theorists will say they deliberately make a service unattractive in order to say it's not well used with a view on withdrawing it completely - The white paper from the Government at least should calm their fears.

The trouble with Melksham is that it's in the railway 'wilderness' in so much as it's not on a direct route to London. It's stuck on its own on a section of track that connects towns that don't really justify a regular service in their own right, and so, depsite it being a town of reasonable size it will be a low priority for FGW. They (I presume) are quite happy to see it's citizens drive up the road a short way and use the pretty impressive service from Chippenham, rather than run a loss-making service (or put much effort into running a better, well advertised service that might just about break even) to connect into it.

I think FGW regrets doing its big 'consultation' due to the sheer number of replies. They could never please everybody, but they could have pleased many more than they did. Perhaps it was a case of trying to appear the customers friend which backfired badly?

I will stress that I am not too aware of the service and usage levels at Melksham as it is not really 'on my patch' - but it has parralels with other similar places where the above is the case. I hate to be negative and as I have said before the efforts of you and other people on this site are to be applauded, as whatever difference you can make could be very important.

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6907
Written by Steve Bray on Thursday, 16th August 2007

Responding to Industry Insider, I had a look at the Passenger Timetable for the connections on Sundays and there appear to be more "misses" than hits.

1 & 2. First and Central have in recent timetables "banged their heads" together and quite often have agreed good connections.

3. At Oxford, the Worcester/Paddington service generally arrives at xx34 to 36; a Virgin northbound service generally departs at xx36 & 06 (so that's a miss in my book); Virgin's Southbound service generally departs at xx43 - but more often than not, that's the service which terminates at Reading, so no benefit there.

4. At Didcot, the service from Worcester arrives at xx49 and connects WELL with the xx58 from Didcot to Bristol

5. At Reading, as we know, the Worcester trains miss the HOURLY Gatwick services by a couple of minutes  :(

6. At Slough, the Worcester service generally arrives at xx23, just in time to see the xx22 departure to Windsor disappear (next one is at xx52)

As I said before it just annoys me that at Reading pre-December, there was a perfectly good connection Worcester/Reading/Gatwick, but now there ain't!

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/6933
Written by Lee on Saturday, 18th August 2007

[quote author=Industry Insider link=topic=3400.msg6906#msg6906 date=1187266940]The conspiriacy theorists will say they deliberately make a service unattractive in order to say it's not well used with a view on withdrawing it completely - The white paper from the Government at least should calm their fears.[/quote]

I cant speak for the conspiracy theorists , but with no change to the appalling TransWilts service from December 2007 and the line confirmed as being developed as a key freight route , I have to say that I remain rather worried about the future.

Some may remember the repeated assurances of people such as Andrew Griffiths that the Melksham service cant be withdrawn because FGW are committed to running it for the duration of the franchise. This is of course complete rubbish , as a whole host of alterations to the original franchise specification have been agreed by FGW and the DfT in the link below for December 2007 alone.

Who knows what changes might be made next?

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/7254
Written by Steve Bray on Thursday, 30th August 2007

This thread started with my troubled journey from Worcester to Dorking.

I've now received my reply from FGW Customer Services, and they are not prepared to compensate me, because my delay was not over an hour. Now I appreciate they have to draw the line at a set time limit (in their case 1 hour) for these payments to kick-in, but I can't help feeling that they are trying to wriggle out of this.

I should have arrived at Dorking WEST (which is closer to my home and the reason why I chose those particular trains), at 2003.

The next train does not stop at Dorking West, but stops at Dorking DEEPDENE (scheduled arrival 2102). So for all intents and purposes, I was delayed by an hour, even though technically, it was 59 minutes (I didn't check the exact arrival time).

Needless, to say I was not impressed by their reply, and will continue my correspondence to FGW on this journey, which occurred due to THEIR as-yet, unexplained cancellation of the 1642 from Evesham to Paddington.

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/7273
Written by Industry Insider on Friday, 31st August 2007

If you were intending to travel to Dorking West then that is the schedule you should use when writing in to claim compensation. Even if your ticket just says Dorking as the distination, YOU were wanting to travel on a scheduled service to Dorking West from Reading that you missed through no fault of your own, and the next service to Dorking West (changing at Deepdene) arrived some 1hr 31m later, meaning your intended journey WAS delayed by over an hour.

It matters not that I assume you didn't choose to wait for the train from Deepdene to West, as they wouldn't know that, or be able to prove that you didn't. In fact, the person dealing with your claim had probably never even heard of Dorking!

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/7308
Written by courgettelawn on Saturday, 1st September 2007

I would be interested to hear how far you get with your correspondence on the claim.  The customer service person who finally resolved a claim I made in early Spring this year was very kind and polite and kept saying that on this occasion they will make a 'good will gesture' compensation which in fact was half of half the fare for the over an hour delay. 

It does annoy me that to shut you up a goodwill gesture will be offered as it means they do not have to admit or record the shortcoming (perhaps).

I cherished my

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/7373
Written by Steve Bray on Monday, 3rd September 2007

I shall advise the outcome. Currently in South America, so won't see any correspondence from for a fortnight.

Re: FGW - same old story - 3400/7654
Written by Steve Bray on Monday, 17th September 2007

Well Sion, I am pleased to report a more than satisfactory outcome. I have received a subsequent letter from FGW acknowledging an error in their previous reply. So, I received vouchers for my entire return journey, which is more than they were entitled to give me.

So on this occasion, a bouquet to FGW.

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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