Save the Melksham Train
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Answers to some difficult questions - 7047/11668
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Saturday, 19th April 2008

Well not really DIFFICULT questions ...

Here are some questions that crop up from time to time - the "yes but" questions when throughful people are asked to support an improved train service on the TransWilts corridor.

They're NOT difficult questions ... because there are realistic and sensible answers to all of them, and in answering them it gives a chance to show just how good and thought through the case really is!

*** People from West Wilts want to go to Bath and Bristol rather than to Chippenham and Swindon

There are strong traffic flows from West Wilts to BOTH groups of places; from Bradford-on-Avon the predominant flow is to Bath and Bristol.  From Melksham, it is much more to Chippenham and Swindon. From the remaining towns, the flow is not predominant either way - just look at the DfT's road congestion maps to show that both the A36 (for Bath and Bristol) and A350 (for Chippenham and Swindon) have severe congestion issues.

Current RAIL passengers are predominantly towards Bristol - and that's because there isn't another train from West Wilts to Swindon until 19:35 after the 07:02 - during which time some 25 other services have all departed to Bath / Bristol. Rail passengers don't use the trains because there are no trains to use, not because they don't want them!

The proposals for an improve TransWilts service would alter provision from a 25:1 ratio to a ratio of around 6:1, which still leaves the Swindon corridor with a sparser service per potential traveller than the Bristol corridor.

*** It will cost a lot of money

The figure being quoted to me is an 110k per annum. With over 110k journeys per year in the last full year before the previous service was replaced by just 2 poorly time trains, that would mean a cost of 1 pound per journey.  Growth rates have historically been between 10% and 35% on the line, and two years of growth from those levels at 10% per annum, with an average fare of 4 pounds, would plug that gap.  It should also be notes that 'local' fares on the line are cheap, and that an extra 50p or 1 pound above inflation could be added to fares with little or no loss of traffic.

Wiltshire County Council does not consider these figures to be a lot of money either - in talking about an expenditure of nearly a million pound on five top staff, ""Wiltshire County Council defended its pay structure, saying: "These figures represent 0.0005 per cent of the total workforce in local government." "" ( ).

*** It will take trains away from West Wilts to Bristol

I understand that 1 train per day from Bristol to Westbury might be reduced by 1 carriage ... and do note that First Great Western are currently adding an extra carriage to 7 of the Portsmouth to Cardiff train diagrams, each of which makes at least two round tips a day.  So that's a net GAIN of 13 coaches per day.

Also note that Trowbridge - Bath overcrowding will be relieved by people who can take the direct service rather than the dogleg route.

*** People can use the bus

Over longer distances, the buses are much slower and people will NOT use them. For short journeys, I agree, a bus is fine.  If you look at the current "metrics" of the line, the hourly bus and one of the two remaining trains both leave around 7 p.m. from Chippenham.  I was in Chippenham last Tuesday and saw both leave; the bus had 3 passengers, and the train about 20.  This defies the usual logic which says that if you have competing public transport providers on a route, the more frequent service will be busier per service.

Once bus journeys get over 50km in length, they are now being split. This has happened on Swindon - Salisbury, Chippenham - Bristol and Salisbury - Bath so far, and discourages through journeys because of the inconvenience, the extra time taken, and the fear of missing connections if either service is delayed.

*** Current traffic is low. Why increase it?

The use of the current service is low because it is timed poorly (06:18 and 18:45 from Swindon!) and there is no realistic commuter opportunity; most people work 8 hour days not 11 hours and do not want to have to hand around an extra 15 hours per week.

Usage in 2005/6 was around 120000 journeys per annum with 5 better timed trains. Our estimate is that the service is now used by around 8000 passengers per annum. By providing additional trains (Swindon around 08:45 and 17:45), you will have two new trains that provide a real service AND they will act as return commuter trains for the existing trains, boosing those existing trains.

*** Why should we support a tentative plan?

It isn't a tentative plan!

The timetable has all been worked out, the costings done, the train paths cleared and all the background work. It just needs your help to ensure it comes to fruition.

*** Isn't this just about Melksham?

No.  Melksham (population around 24000 and growing) is served only by trains on this line, so is deeply effected. But data shows that only around 25% of traffic on the line is / would be in journeys to or from Melksham.  To the north, you have Chippenham and Swindon (1st and 3rd largest wiltshire towns) and to the south Trowbridge and Salisbury (2nd and 4th).

The term "the Melksham line" has been, unfortunately, used to describe the TransWilts line as a whole in the past. This is unfortunate, as it fails to consider the real issues that people from Salisbury, Warmimster, Westbury and Trowbridge have in getting to Chippenham and Swindon, and vice versa.

Here are some more specific gains I documented a little earlier

Over the county/area as a whole:
* Some relief to overcrowded A350 and A36 trunk roads
* Some reduction in bus pass payments for long distance senior citizens using the new train service
* Boost to Salisbury, Warminster, Trowbridge, Chippenham and Swindon town centres - more town centre visitors (by train) without the need to add parking.

Town by town (in addition):

* Improved access to new County Archive from elsewhere in the county
* School and College services from Melksham, Trowbridge and South
* Direct public transport to Salisbury, Warminster and Westbury
* Major journey reduction times

* Direct Public Transport to Swindon, Salisbury and Warminster
* Ability for long distance rail travellers to reach Melksham at a practical time of day
* Major journey reduction times

* Direct public transport time to / from Swindon down from 95 to 35 minutes

* Services at a practical time of day to Swindon and Chippenham
* Additional services on overcrowded southbound route to Salisbury

Dilton Marsh
* Additional Salisbury services (not stopping short at Warminster)
* Services at Regular intervals to Trowbridge, Chippenham and Swindon

* Direct public transport services to Melksham, Chippenham and Swindon

* Practical public transport service to Swindon, Chippenham and Melksham
* Additional capacity North West from Salisbury (currently overcrowded)

Re: Answers to some difficult questions - 7047/11669
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Saturday, 19th April 2008

I've been asked what I consider to be a "short journey" ... as I said that I think buses are fine for such trips.

Well - journeys within Melksham are short journeys by my definition (for example) and indeed can and should be used to provide feeders to the station for longer journeys from there.  And I don't see myself advocating a rail or light rail service in Chippenham or Trowbridge either (although there is merit in Staveton and White Horse stations!)

Re: Answers to some difficult questions - 7047/11670
Written by Nick on Saturday, 19th April 2008

Buses are useless in our area for anything over 3 miles. They're horrendously expenisve (

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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