Save the Melksham Train
Archived Save the Train forum articles - 2005 to 2010. See below
re-iterating support - 7622/12326
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Friday, 16th May 2008

From 26th April 2006

I was emailed a copy of this overnight / a good reminder of the issue, and the support from the local MPs too.  It's also good to see that over 400 people have signed up to pledge their support for improvements from this coming December.  If you have not yet done so, please sign up over the weekend at [url][/url]

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): My constituents are feeling pretty sore at the moment. Not only is the Secretary of State for Health pursuing a scorched-earth policy as far as our local community hospitals are concerned, but it appears that we face the prospect of many of our rail links disappearing, so we are pretty unhappy. I hope that the Minister will be able to cheer us up a little. I am grateful to him for meeting me last month with members of the west Wiltshire rail users group and representatives of the town councils. We appreciated that meeting and we hope very much that, as a costed option, the service that runs from Bristol to London Waterloo will be back on track.

I shall principally address two elements of the rail transport network that runs through my constituency. The Minister will know that Westbury is a railway town. People in Westbury and the surrounding areas feel strongly about trains. They are very much part of the local scene, as I hope he understands. Several lines / several little bits of the rail network run through Westbury. I want to mention in particular the Westbury-Swindon link. On Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting members of the south-west public transport users forum in Trowbridge. They put a number of points to me about the Great Western franchise, and the Westbury-Swindon link featured large in the discussion. There is concern about the high level of cancellations for that service, dirty dilapidated rolling stock, poor connections at Westbury and poor timetabling. That all leads to a general disinclination on the part of the travelling public to use the service.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): My hon. Friend mentions the service from Swindon to Westbury and onwards. That service goes through Chippenham in my constituency, where a significant number of people use that line down through west Wiltshire. Under the proposals, which, rather bizarrely, the Government are signing off. It should be First Great Western, but the Government are actually to blame. The trains from Chippenham down towards Southampton are being cut. Is that not a disgrace?

Dr. Murrison : Indeed it is. If the proposals go ahead, we shall see a massive reduction in the service: it will be down to about 20 per cent. of its current level. Basically, it will become a vestigial service. We are now several years into the 10-year transport plan, but goodness me, where are we going if we are seeing such a situation in an area whose population is growing all the time? We know from the regional spatial strategy for the south-east and south-west that we expect an increase of upwards of 200,000 dwellings. My constituency and those of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) will be heavily involved in that growth. In all our areas, the road network is creaking and is going to get worse, and corridors such as the one that I have described will be increasingly important.

As I said in the debate on rail transport in the south-east in January the Minister may recall it to get people to travel by train, we have to make travelling by train attractive. It simply is not possible to set up a train service and say, "Here you are, here's your train. Get on with it." My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes said that the Chinese would simply set up a railway. They may very well do that, but in our country the difference is that we have to make it attractive to people to travel by train. We do not have that kind of command economy. We have to make using the train attractive to the travelling public and unfortunately that is not happening.

Mr. Ancram : Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a real paradox here? While these trains may not be particularly attractive, I have figures from the Melksham ticket sales office, and over the past three years, usage has increased from 3,000 to 27,000. More and more people are using the trains, whether they are attractive or not. In the face of that increase, it seems perverse to start talking about cutting services when more and more people are using them.

Dr. Murrison : My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. No doubt he will have heard, as I have, from the redoubtable Melksham Without parish council about its concerns regarding the siting of Melksham station and its facilities.

The line from south Wales to Bristol to the south coast is extremely important. It runs through a number of wards that have some of the highest indices of deprivation in our country. The Minister probably shares the prejudices of many in his party in believing that such wards exist only in the midlands and the north. That is simply not the case. From the suburbs of Southampton right up to the Severn estuary and Bristol, such wards exist in large numbers. Public transport is important to many of our constituents.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): The hon. Gentleman refers to a line that has exercised me greatly. Is he aware that only in 2004, additional carriages were introduced on the Cardiff to Portsmouth route, which runs through his constituency, as a consequence of discussions with the Department for Transport? The new franchise timetable plans to make yet further reductions, however, making the service completely unusable for people who want to go to work, college or school.

Dr. Murrison : I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. The theme that she mentions seems to be a recurring one, because the Waterloo to Bristol service was commended by the Minister's predecessors. Following the network user strategy of 2003, it was scheduled to be enhanced. We were going to get more trains, but now we find that that particular service is going to be axed completely, unless it can continue through a costed option under the new franchise from February 2007. We are suffering from a stop-start service, and the difficulty is that once people are used to not using a service, they will not go back to it. We found that in west Wiltshire; there needs to be continuity so that people get into the habit of using rail transport.

The south coast to Bristol to south Wales railway route is the second most heavily used passenger railway in the west of England: its use is exceeded only by the M4 corridor route that links the west of England with London. That is a very important point, which the Minister must understand. More than 5 million passenger journeys are made each year and growth in use is about 8 per cent. per annum, but we find that this particular service is scheduled for wholesale reductions. That is simply unacceptable.

In the Bristol and Bath to south coast study, endorsed by the South West regional assembly and drawn up by Government office for the south-west, we saw that this route was considered important. I hope that the Minister has examined a letter on this subject dated yesterday.  He probably has not seen it yet, but I hope he will do so shortly from the Cabinet member for the environment, transport and economic development, Councillor de Rh

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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.

-- Graham Ellis, (webmaster), February 2021

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