Save the Melksham Train
Archived Save the Train forum articles - 2005 to 2010. See below
Campaign update - we have a good option for December - 6038/10412
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Wednesday, 27th February 2008

"Save The Train" campaign - campaigning for an APPROPRIATE service connecting the five major population centres in Wiltshire - Swindon, Salisbury, Trowbridge, Chippenham and Melksham.

Background - and the loss of most trains in December 2006

Until December 2006, a service of 5 trains ran each way daily along the line, well timed to suit commuters to Swindon, to provide a service suitable for long distance visitors to Melksham, and to meet a dozen other identified travel flows. Then First Great Western withdrew all of those trains, and provided just 2 short journeys a day as far as Westbury leaving at the ridiculously unuseful time of 06:18, and just before 7 p.m. which is far too late for most people looking to go home at the end of the day.  Result?  A line that had carried 120,000 passengers a year and shown a growth of 35% per annum (figures from the office of the rail regulator) has lost over 90% of its traffic.  And the inconvenience caused is horrendous.  Melksham to Swindon - increased from 25 to 90 minutes by public transport. Swindon to Salisbury, 41 miles. Formerly about 60 minuyes by train, now 2 hours by bus (change at Pewsey) or train (change at Bath).

To be fair to First, they took the line over from a competitor and so had bid the new service based on badly out of date information, and a growth forecast of only 0.8%. The service they run would be at the correct for the traffic levels (circa 20,000 journeys) pointed to by the SRA reports (although the sanity of the timing could still be questioned) but it is totally inadequate for a route carrying six times that amount of traffic, growing, and set to grow for the next 20 years as the Regional Spatial Strategy anticipates population growth of the towns along the way by at least 50%.

What IS an appropriate service level?

An appropriate service level has been evaluated by Wiltshire County Council (who are one of the least pro-rail authorities around) as a train service on the line every hour.  First Great Western - just last week - described the current service as "scarcely an attractive proposition", and documents revealed under Freedom of Information showed that they are looking very seriously at the future travel needs of at least a part of the corridor and are in agreement that the service should be substantially improved.  The Department for Transport - the third "big boy" in any decisions, now take the view that the current TransWilts service needs substantial improvement to make it appropriate for the journeys required here abouts.

How can an appropriate service be achieved?

There are probably not enough resources available to step up to a full appropriate service, but the re-allocation of a single coach train (class 153) to the line - running extra services from Salisbury at about 07:25, then every 3 hours, and returning from Swindon 90 minutes later, would meet the needs of most of the travel flows identified.  It would give a commuter train into Swindon at around quarter to 9, a return trip at a quarter to 6, give us back the popular 17:00 from Melksham to Swindon that was always pretty busy, and the arrival into Melksham at around 09:00 too - another popular train.  Even the existing poorly timed trains would get much busier, based on the day trip options provided.

Can this train be found?  With the announcement of the extra 5 trains for FGW just made, yes it can - with one of those extra trains strengthening the 17:49 from Bristol, the 153 that's attached to that train at the moment can be released at the crunch time - the evening peak - to provide the TransWilts solution.

The extra running of the proposed train would cost around 50p per passenger for the remainder of the franchise and ON THIS LINE fares are curently lower per mile than elsewhere ... so that money could be recouped by First in due course. And my 50p figure isn't based on a huge growth forecast.

Timetabling details confirm that there are no major operating problems with tis scheme, and that it would also provide two extra Frome services a day at times when services there are also inappropriately light at the moment.

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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