Save the Melksham Train
Archived Save the Train forum articles - 2005 to 2010. See below
Extra Penistone Line Sunday Services From May 2008 - 7420/12098
Written by Lee on Saturday, 3rd May 2008

From Stop The Train :

[quote="Stop The Train"]Because of ever-increasing passenger numbers on the Penistone Line, two extra trains in each direction will run from May 18th. This will mean more stops at stations on the Sheffeild/Leeds line between Barnsley and Sheffield.[/quote]

Re: Extra Penistone Line Sunday Services From May 2008 - 7420/12102
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Saturday, 3rd May 2008

[quote author=Lee link=topic=7420.msg12098#msg12098 date=1209811139]
From Stop The Train :

[quote="Stop The Train"]Because of ever-increasing passenger numbers on the Penistone Line, two extra trains in each direction will run from May 18th. This will mean more stops at stations on the Sheffeild/Leeds line between Barnsley and Sheffield.[/quote]

Lee - did they quote any growth rates?

The TransWilts service via Melksham grew at 35% compound per annum, and that resulted in a CUT of 60% in the service offered.  We now have just 2 trains a day each way, for a population of over 20,000 in this town alone ... and there are 4 larger towns on the line.

According to Wikipedia, Penistone has a population of just under 9000.  It appears that they have very different treatment to us here in Wiltshire - do you know why that is?

Re: Extra Penistone Line Sunday Services From May 2008 - 7420/12104
Written by nige on Saturday, 3rd May 2008

I think this is taken slightly out of context and I have a feeling I may get a backlash here.

The Penistone line has always been growing and over recent years at a very fast rate. It is not just Penistone that is on the line, there are also well used stations at Lockwood, Berry Brow, Honley, Brockholes, Stocksmoor, Shepley, Denby Dale, Silkstone Common, Wombwell, Chapeltown and Dodsworth, then add on major well used stations at Meadowhall and Barnsley.

There are 9 stations on an independent line between 2 VERY major towns, Melksham is the only town on a small branch line which is where I believe the problems start.

Id like to know if there has ever been a regular non peak service that has been rammed at Melksham (as I understand, most trains were just 1 CARRIAGE and barely half full, thats very few people).  I cannot imagine any regular daily service in Yorkshire matching those low levels of patronage (with exception of Wakefield to Knottingley).  The Penistone service is always at least 2 CARRIAGES and is frequently full towards the end of its destination.  Im not disputing Melksham has a case as it was unfair to rob it when it was growing but this is the reason why the Penistone line is getting the investment it deserves.

As a footnote, I am a great believer in reopening and enhancing railway lines but only where there is a benefit, e.g. Woodhead Route and Weardale etc.

It however made me laugh when I saw the "Save Our Stations" Campaign for Reddish North and Denton in Manchester, these stations have always been underused even when it was open and reduced back to 1 train per week for years so when Network Rail wanted to put the service out of its misery, so many people came out of the woodwork, people who never used the station and probably never will start campaigning to keep it open?!? and for what.. a new service to Manchester Victoria that takes even longer when there are already a plethora of duplicate services to Piccadilly.  I agree some railways need reopening / keeping open but not just for keeping open sake.

Re: Extra Penistone Line Sunday Services From May 2008 - 7420/12108
Written by Lee on Saturday, 3rd May 2008

The Penistone quote that I posted was "entire" and taken from the Stop The Train link below, so no growth figures to report, I'm afraid.

The next set of official ORR figures are due out very soon.

For the record, I am a great fan of the Penistone line, and the efforts made by those on the ground to try and secure its future, and I know that Stop The Train feel the same way about a line that is very much interlinked with their own campaign. The upcoming tram/train trial should be very interesting.

On Reddish South and Denton, there are 2 reasons why I disagree with your view, nige.

1) How do we know that a service into Manchester Victoria wont work? I do know that Andrew Gwynne and his supporters devised an excellent business case, which was sufficiently convincing to (along with the massive opposition) persuade Network Rail to drop their closure plans. Also, the documents I have read indicate that providing a decent service for Denton and Reddish South is now very much on Greater Manchester PTE/PTA's radar, in a far bigger way than it was before the campaign.

2) I dont think that anyone can argue against the fact that if (god forbid) we end up fighting a Beeching 2 or anything like it, then thanks to SOS - Save Our Stations we have a successful modern-day example that we can refer to for guidance.

I for one salute them for that.

I also recommend the following archive quote :

[quote author=Steve35 link=topic=975.msg2825#msg2825 date=1168305700]
A bit of history may be of interest:
Manchester has two main stations - Victoria in the north of the city and Piccadilly in the south. Until 1989 (give or take a year) trains from north of Manchester (eg Preston, Bolton) used Victoria and trains from the south (eg Birmingham, London) used Piccadilly. The Transpennine trains from Newcastle/Scarborough/Hull/York/Leeds to Manchester and Liverpool also used Victoria station, passing through Stalybridge en-route. If you were making a journey from the North into Victoria and required a connection to the south from Piccadilly you had to get across Manchester city centre either by walking, taxi or using a bus that existed specifically to link the two stations (this was a few years before the tram system opened). All in all a bit of a hassle.

To try make things easier for any Transpennine passengers travelling to and from the south BR ran a shuttle service from Stalybridge to Stockport via Denton and Reddish South. Stockport is on the line from Piccadilly to the south so by using the Stalybridge-Stockport train you could pick up a train to the south at Stockport rather than having to go into Manchester and make your way from Victoria to Piccadilly. So the shuttle was there basically for the convenience of passengers making a North-South journey across Manchester.

However in 1989 (give or take a year) the Transpennine trains were rerouted from Victoria to Piccadilly so now there was no need to make the awkward journey across Manchester from Victoria to Piccadilly. This re-routing made the Stalybridge-Stockport shuttle somewhat redundant and it was reduced to the one train per week service needed to avoid having to go through with the closure procedures.

I don't know how much traffic Reddish and Denton attracted when there was a regular service but I suspect it was just a bonus to BR, the end-to-end traffic from Stockport to Stalybridge would have been the reason for the service.

It's worth pointing out that even if Reddish and Denton were to close the line itself would remain open.

For the future it would be interesting to see if a Stockport-Manchester Victoria service via Reddish and Denton would be viable. In recent years there has been a lot of office development in the north of Manchester near Victoria so there's potentially a demand from commuters living south of Manchester who want easy access to the northern part of the city. In addition, looking at a map, Denton station is adjacent to the M60/M67 interchange so there might even be Park and Ride potential assuming it was possible to get from the motorway to the station.[/quote]

On Melksham/TransWilts, I know that Graham will want to answer your points, so I'll leave that to him.

It is good to see you posting again, though. The Leeds-Goole article was very useful.

Re: Extra Penistone Line Sunday Services From May 2008 - 7420/12119
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Sunday, 4th May 2008

I remember being interviewed on Radio Wiltshire (Swindon) last summer on the morning breakfast show.  I remember telling the presenter during a live broadcast that it would take him over 2 hours to travel the 40 miles to Salisbury - the second largest urban centre in the county after Swindon - if he went to the railway or bus station at that time and took public transport.  Clearly he thought, as someone who didn't personally make big use of public transport, that I was exhadurating, as he had his researcher check into it while we continued to talk.  And at the end he came back and confirmed - 2 hours and 3 minutes.  That's twice the time that a "TransWilts" train should take.

To the North in Wiltshire, you have Swindon (the largest population area in the county and Chippenham which is 4th, well linked by public transport.  To the South and West, you have Salisbury (2nd), Trowbridge (3rd),  and Warminster and Westbury too which are also substantial centres of population, and well linked.  But the connections between the two areas are poor (and that's putting it mildly!).  The route between the two areas, via the "TransWilts" railway line, or via the 234 bus service, takes you along the A350 corridor through Melksham - itself the fifth largest population centre in the county (so you have 1st - 2nd - 3rd - 4th - 5th on the route).

There are substantial through journey requirements between the two areas, in addition to the travel requirements to and from Melksham; various statistics that I have (and give a rough indication at least) show that for every journey to or from Melksham, the line serviced (and would service) a further 3 to 5 journeys that pass the place, and it's that significant extra traffic which means that Melksham is not just a small town on a branch line - it's simply that "via Melksham" has become shortened to "Melksham" in so many discussions and papers, and with such a change in perception the case is woefully presented, as per things you have read, Nige!

(This is going to turn into a long answer, I'm afraid - but the points are important ones, and you have given me an excellent opportunity to refresh the case and answer some all-too-ingrained suggestions and certain misleading data)

On the figures you have seen

The traffic figures that were quoted in order to specify the service that's currently offered on the TransWilts line were surveyed (as I recall) over a few days around Easter 2002.  At that time, the service provided by Wessex Trains was less than a year old, as it had been radically altered in May 2001.  When a service has major changes, it does take a time for the new services to settle down (you can see this more recently where the December 2006 changes lead to major problems that are only now being fully resolved) so to take those 2002 figures and portray them as "typical" is misguided at best, and seeking to distort the truth at worst. And statistically, they should not be relied upon - not enough samples.

But it went from bad to worse. An assumption (and remember that to Assume is to make an "ASS out of U and ME") of 0.8% growth was made, whereas the actual figures achieved from 2002 to 2006 where between 10% and 35% compound depending on which measure you take.  So that a service was specified for 2007 that would cater for around 20,000 to 30,000 journeys to replace a 2006 service that had carried 120,000 or so.

And worse yet - the specification was designed for a peak service from West Wiltshire (Westbury, Trowbridge, Melksham, connections from Frome and Warminster) into Swindon, and a return in the evening.  The draft timetable already shown an extended day, and we protested. Then - incredibly and in direct opposition to our consultation inputs - the SLC was relaxed to allow the morning train to run even earlier.  West Wilts commuters can now only use a train "borrowed" off the Stround Valley line before the morning rush hour, and can only return home when they "borrow" the same train back after it's completed its Stround Valley commuter run.  Result?  An absurdly long day and a service that's criminally worse that even the draconian SRA / DfT specification.

I travelled on the very last 5 p.m. train from Melksham up to Chippenham and Swindon, and on the last return commuter working. That's one "nonpeak" and one "peak" train.  They were busy; yes, I was able to get seated on both, but I could not have had a pair of seats on my own on either train. And, no, they were NOT single coach "153"s - I recall a 150, but could have been a 158.

On use of the current service

We now have a very curious service - with trains running at times that are designed to fit the convenience and profit of the train operating company rather than the requirements of the area.  I understand that the technical term is "marginal time".

Under the 5-trains-a-day regime of Wessex trains, the quietest southbound service was the first train off Swindon.  And the quietest Northbound was the last train back up to Swindon. Incredibly, trains still run close to these times! - an 06:15 from Swindon, and a train that gets back there at 20:20.  These services look as if they could have been calculated to fail.

And we don't have a practical commuter service in to Swindon at all. Quite simply, eleven hours in Swindon is far too long for a day's work.  On one hand you have working hour directives, and on the other hand you have the government specifying / accepting a train service that contradicts it.

Having said which, the need for the service is so critical that numbers are creeping up - but estimates are that over 90% of traffic has been lost.

On the future

All of the towns along the route are growing, and under the Regional Spatial Strategy that planned growth is to continue for the next 15 to 20 years. 5000 new homes in Trowbridge, 5000 in the rest of West Wiltshire ... towns with a population of 20,000 will be up to 30,000 by 2020.  Already, Melksham (quoted simply because I live here and know the figures) has grown from 18000 when I moved here to around 23000, and if you stand on the platform at Dilton Marsh - also on the line - you'll see what were green fields around the station five years ago being converted to housing.  I understand that nowhere else in the South West are ther so many "Stategically Significant Towns and Cities" on a 40 mile corridor.

Road transport rather than rail is the preferred flavour of the powers that be at the local transport authority - that's Wiltshire Council. I heard this stated by their representative at the Enquiry in Public into the Regional Spatial Strategy in Exeter, and it was the extreme view of all the local authorities (indeed, Wiltshire stuck our like a sore thumb!).  In a way I can understand this; traditionally, Wiltshire has been a wealthy and rural county where the car has ruled for the past 30 years, and the bus has been a practical way to provide a daily service to remote villages for those who don't have their own transport.  Times are changing, however, and a more multimodal approach is now appropriate.

Can you beleieve that in a study undertaken by a county official, an "appropriate" service for the TransWilts came out as being an hourly train each way?  That's not the universal view of everyone at County Hall, and I have been told that although they throw a lot of money at bus subsidies, they do not have funds to make any contribution at all to rail.

Why is such a high frequency defined for an appropriate service?

The A36 and A350 roads which run parallel with the railway are already overcrowded, with congestion spots all the way from Salisbury up to the M4 near Chippenham, and then into Swindon. Local improvements (such as the one around Westbury, which is going to a public enquiry very soon) would need to be carried out in considerable numbers to make a substantial difference to car journey times along the whole route - or even to maintain a status quo if road traffic grows in line with population growth plans.

Part of the issue is also access to town centres - Salisbury, Swindon and Chippenham, and other towns to a lesser extent, are already clogged and bypasses won't sort out the issues that people who are going to or from the town centres have. And public transport road services (i.e. buses) are unlikely to use the bypasses as they still need to serve the communities being bypassed; at the best, they'll get a spinoff effect from an easing of congestion.  But you have to counter this with a an acknowlegdment that bypassing "x" will suck traffic into the area and put more pressure on unbypassed "y", where the buses will be slowed down again.

Look at these other factors too ...

Chippenham to Salisbury - well over 2 hours by bus. Under 1 by train.
Trowbridge to Swindon - 95 minutes by express bus, 35 by train.
Usage - 5 people will use a train for every one who would use a bus.
Fuel Prices

Nige, there's an enormous case for the future here; looking back at the past gives some clues and direction as where we should be going, but it's not a level playing field - we're taking what was a 3rd division area at the turn of the Millenium and with the government's plans it's going Premier League - and it needs Premier League facilities in order to cope.

Now - let's be realistic.  We cannot get an appropriate service that will meet the needs for the next 10 years in the current economic climate - so let's look at something more modest that will move us in the right direction.  That's why I'm endorsing the suggestions - commonly accepted as being a step in the right direction - for an extra 4 services a day between Salisbury and Swindon.  The timings are substantailly good and in combination with the existing service provide a realistic set of commuter, irregular traveller and longer distance opportunities that will put the service right back  on track with growth in double figures (percantage, compound, annual). Two existing services, when linked to new services, provide round-trip commutes to their traffic will grow too. 

I'm going to suggest that - with the proposed service from December ... we might be looking at overcrowding of that service and looking to strengthen it far quicker than you think!

P.S.  You'll note I have not continued on with a Penistone comparison;  there's no "either/or" there, but rather an attempt to learn from what you're telling us.  Good - for - you on those improvements; let's use them as an example to do what's similar and / or appropriate for Wiltshire

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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