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My thoughts on the December 2007 Cotswold Line Timetable - 4626/8447
Written by Steve Bray on Sunday, 4th November 2007

OK, here goes.This has been touched upon previously, but I finally have a few moments to expand on this.

In fairness, this line must be one of the hardest to timetable, due to the 3 long sections of single track between Oxford and Worcester and further sections beyond Worcester to Hereford. First took over all services from Thames with the commencement of the Dec 2004 timetable I believe (I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong). This timetable saw Adelante's on most off-peak services which in theory was an improvement over the Turbo's - and increased frequencies. Unfortunately, the Adelante's have not been the most reliable unit, and the timetables didn't have enough slack in them, when delays occurred. And more often than not, one delay leads to another, leads to another, leads to another etc .So over the last 3 years, all had not been well for regular users on the line.

It is clear from this timetable, that the single sections have won the timetable battle, and some journeys have been massively extended; at other times, the lessons from previous timetables have not been learned.

In fact, timings wise, in 1978, the fastest train from Hereford to Paddington was the Class 50 hauled 0712; this arrived Paddington at 1013. 30 years on, the fastest train, an Inter City 125 operating the 0643 from Hereford, will arrive Paddington at 0947 - 3 minutes longer than 30 years ago. To be fair, the 2008 train will make 3 extra stops - Pershore, Honeybourne and Reading, but this doesn't say much for progress, Indeed, 10 years ago, the same train, then departing Hereford at 0705, was scheduled to arrive Paddington at 0950.

Of particular interest in the 2008 timetable, and bound to be making regular appearances on FGW's service update page will be the 0630 from Paddington to Worcester FS. Due off Oxford at 0801 this new (it operated in 2005 and 2006) service will only add pressure to the single track from Wolvercote Junction to Ascott. If the 0542 from Hereford, and the following stopping service from Worcester to Oxford are running late (and they will from time to time), then, the subsequent late-running of this service will delay, one of the most heavily used trains, the 0643 from Hereford to Paddington. So if there are delays of 10 to 15 minutes or so, a decision will have to be made - does it run with a couple of dozen passengers and delay say 10 times as many passengers travelling to Oxford; or will it be terminated at Oxford? (It has nowhere to hide as the next train from Oxford is at 0849). Of course, if it is terminated at Oxford, then the return working from Worcester will similarly be cancelled, or at least I reckon the stock could leave Oxford at 0910ish and run empty and fast to Moreton, and start from there. The Charlbury Commuter Log will erupt, I predict!!

There's nothing amazing to report on later trains although the 0751 Paddington to Malvern will stand at Evesham station for 16 minutes (frustrating for those on board) and the 0951 will stand at Evesham for 12 minutes. Also, in the general decelleration of trains is the difference in timings from station to station. Pershore to Worcester Shrub Hill journey times vary from 11 to 22 minutes. In the opposite direction, from Hanborough to Oxford, journey times vary between 11 and 23 minutes.

In the evening, I do have a problem with the 1751 Paddington to Worcester. This train, squeezed in from the December 2004 timetable has a slowing down effect on other services. I believe it should be terminated at Moreton in Marsh, at which stage it's only 17 minutes ahead of the 1821 Paddington-Hereford. Indeed, that train has to stand at Moreton for 4 minutes to allow the 1751 to clear the single section to Evesham (and again 2 minutes more at Evesham). This is another example of trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot. Finally, why oh why is the last train still at 2148 - surely this could run 30 minutes later?

In the early morning, I have an issue with the 0611 Evesham to Worcester; The specification says that a train must be provided to allow (with a change in Worcester) passengers to arrive Birmingham by 8am. But why so early? - what's wrong with 9am - and if you work in Worcester and have to be there by 8am, well you'ld be there by 6.40am which is far too early.

Travellling to London, the early trains keep getting earlier (mainly to accommodate trains like the 0801 from Oxford...). We've seen engineering overruns in the last couple of weeks and this may become more frequnt as trains leave depots earlier and earlier. The first train from Gt Malvern is now scheduled to depart at 0515 (currently 0534 and in previous incarntions some minutes later), and if as I have read, this is an HST, what time will this depart from St Phillip's Marsh? Maybe some sympathy is due towards Network Rail, who have less and less time to work on track at night?

There's nothing too significant until we come to the 1324 from Hereford to Paddington. Some years ago, the equivalent service was scheduled to travel from Worcester Shrub Hill to Oxford in 59 minutes; from December, wait for it, it is scheduled to take 104 minutes (albeit with 3 extra stops) (I'm surprised the specification allows this). Why, passengers could be taken on tours of Evesham and Moreton in Marsh during the station stops here! (Having said that, this isn't the slowest - that accolade falls to the 1927 Foregate Street to Oxford which takes 109 minutes, including a 30 minute stop at Evesham). Another train with extended station stops is the 1706 Great Malvern to Paddington (16 minutes at Evesham and 13 minutes at Moreton, but then whizzes from Charlbury to Oxford in just 12 minutes - is that feasible?)

Finally, there is the laughably late 2233 from Great Malvern to Paddington which conveniently dumps its crew and passenger (sorry, passengers), at Paddington at 0116. I'm sure First's marketing have a solid case for operating this train so late due to customer demand (Actually, I shouldn't mock, as if it was an ecs working we'ld be up in arms, saying "what a shame it can't pick up passengers".

I also think the balance of the timetable is all wrong; over the years, First have placed a greater emphasis on morning services from Paddington to Worcester, rather than the afternoon. For instance, this timetable sees trains from Paddington to Worcester depart at 0542, 0630, 0751, 0851 and 0951, but then we go 2 hourly at 1151, 1351, and 1551, before the peaks and evening departures at 1721, 1751, 1821, 1921, 2020 and 2148.

If you ask me "what do you suggest", then in brief, I would slightly abandon the rigidity of the clockface timetable. My departures  would leave Paddington at 0552 (change at Moreton); then 0805; 0933; 1052; 1152; 1333; 1522; 1622; 1722; 1803 (Moreton); 1833; 1933; 2052 and 2222.

Anyway, that's my rant over; as I said at the start, it's a difficult line to schedule, but as with most of First's efforts, there are some missed opportunities and it could be better.

Re: My thoughts on the December 2007 Cotswold Line Timetable - 4626/9272
Written by Industry Insider on Thursday, 3rd January 2008

Well thought out and argued post, Steve. I can't believe I missed it first time round until now!

The timetable is, as expected, causing problems, though (more by luck than judgement) it's the evening services rather than the morning ones that seem to be causing the biggest headaches.

Last night there was a lineside equipment failure at Hayes around 5pm (concerning the new set of points installed at Airport Junction which were replaced to improve reliability). A Network Rail failure, yes, but as usual FGW control went into meltdown and decided to try and run virtually all down services over a two track section from Hayes to Slough. It didn't work out too badly for the Cotswold Line though, as most trains were so delayed they nearly ran in the path of the following scheduled service!

A couple of points to make to expand on your post regarding the new timetable:

1) Charlbury to Oxford is possible in 12 minutes (with a nice clear run through Wolvercote Junction and into Oxford station). This makes the time allowed from Hanborough to Oxford on some services seem ridiculously long with several trains 'booked' to wait at Wolvercote Junction for minutes to allow an up XC service to pass and then also sit at Oxford North Junc. to allow a Bicester service to pass - what's more important!? Last night the 20:30 to London arrived at 20:15 and due to a signallers error kept the 20:15 XC service waiting behind it for over 10 minutes due to the inflexible layout at Oxford station!

2) The reversal of HST's at Great Malvern (Malvern Wells) does need the section beyond Malvern Wells to be clear and this is already causing issues with capacity - especially on a Saturday when it happens hour-after-hour during part of the day. Adding to the delays are the fact that many trains are given just 7 minutes to turn round at Malvern Wells. Impossible. It takes at least 2 minutes to properly immobilise the cab, 3 minutes to get down onto the track and walk back the length of the train, and then a further 7 minutes to mobilise the other cab. So that's a delay of at least 5 minutes straight away - even if you do it as quickly as possible!

3) The timetable just seems to have been thrown together. You point out the long waits at Evesham and Moreton on certain trains (don't forgot that invariably those waits are extended because the train you are waiting for is delayed!). As well as that there are silly things - for example the first train from Worcester to London doesn't stop at Pershore. If you want to travel from Pershore you have to leave 30 minutes earlier on the old ECS from Worcester to Eversham and change there - who wants to do that at 05:30? Why on earth doesn't the train leave Malvern a couple of minutes earlier so it can stop there (and also Worcester Foregate Street!). As far as i know the set stables overnight at Hereford now.

4) Selective Door opening issues have dominated the Charlbury commuters blog since the new timetable started. They are now 'trialling' the old system of running the 1st class carriages off the end of the platform on the three big commuter trains in the morning. I think that this might be one of those trials that lasts forever as it is eminently more sensible. Did anyone not realise that this would cause so many problems though?

There is ONLY one answer and that is investment in upgrading the route. I would be interested to know you views on this, and your opinion as to my suggestions posted on another thread?

Re: My thoughts on the December 2007 Cotswold Line Timetable - 4626/9302
Written by Steve Bray on Saturday, 5th January 2008

To Industry Insider, in an ideal world the single sections should be re-doubled as per parts of the Chiltern Line, the stretch near Truro and on part of the Salisbury Exeter section which I believe were all singled, then re-doubled. And it doesn't end there, with further inflexibility at Foregate St, and then between Malvern Wells and Ledbury and on to Shelwick Junction.

The fact is that those stretches of the Cotswold Line were singled in the early 1970's, and I don't like to hear excuses 30 years on about trains running late because of the single line. The singling didn't happen overnight in December 04, when frequencies were increased and suddenly the line couldn't cope. Thames and their turbos appeared to run a more punctual service, but First have been consistently poor. In fact I would reduce or shorten the overall number of services by 1 a day to better improve punctuality.

But if the line is not to be upgraded, then the timetable has to be worked around it better, and as I hinted previously, the nice idea of a clockface timetable that everyone can remember, will have to be thrown out. Even now, First have anomalies on the Oxford/Paddington services and on the Sunday schedules of Reading/Gatwick, so they do bend the fixed interval pattern of their own accord.

Actually, the 0801 from Oxford to Paddington doesn't appear to be causing the timetable disruption that I had predicted, although I note the morning Cathedrals Express had some long delays I think on Thursday this week according to the fabulous Charlbury Commuter blog (Andrew Haines would despair if he ever read that!!) 

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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.

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