Save the Melksham Train
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Just what are FGW obliged to provide - 7973/12897
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Friday, 13th March 2009

There seems to have been some confusion as to just what the franchise commits First Great Western to provide on the "TransWilts" line, and how it has changed since the franchise bid.    I'm posting up here the current (dated May 2008) Service Level Agreement, then I will add comment.

I have emails from a former manager at First Great Western (written when he was the manager for this area) stating that if it's in the SLC it's safe an unchanging for the life of the franchise.  Sorry - I might have believed him at the time, but since the SLC was initially drawn up there have been changes, including one which makes the service significantly less useful that had it been run to initial specification, and other changes which have frozen some very odd scheduling.  At the same time, I am aware of an area where the specification is broken (but which I regard as positive) and another where the specification is exceeded, and for which we are grateful.


The "One must arrive in Swindon between 07:30 and 08:30" is a change. The original requirement was for one to arrive between 08:00 and 08:30, and the running of the morning train to complete its joureny before 8 O'Clock makes for an impractically long day for commuters wishing to make the round trip, especially when the return service runs close to its 19:00 limit.  "The other must arrive between 20:00 and 20:30" is an addition to the specification and - well - what a daft time!

"One service [Southbound] shall depart between 06:00 and 07:00" was an addition to the specification.  Again - that timing would have been valid on the initial specification, but it's certainly not what was suggested to FGW when they asked for consultation inputs prior to the December 2006 timetable.  The ONLY weekday change for which the specification has NOT been changed is the evening train from Swindon - between 17:30 and 19:00.  Consultation requests asked for this to run near the start of that allowed time slot ... so we have ended up with the train near the end of it.

"Services may be joined ..."  Some are, indeed, joined as allowed to Cheltenham to Swindon and apart from the inappropriate timing that has lead to, there is no reason why not.  Both southbound trains are actually joined on to Westbury to Southampron services which the SLC does NOT permit ... but actually is a good idea and we would like the northbound services so joined as well.

The Department for Transport assured us that there were to be two trains each way on a Sunday and it was a shock to find they were northbound only.  After a gap, one southbound service has been restored on a Sunday and (if you're going to run just one service!) is is sensibly in the early evening.

I have been told by Department for Transport officials that the intent of the original specification was to provide a commuter service from West Wiltshire into Swindon ... and that could have been done with an 08:15 arrival and a 17:45 departure.  It could have been done well with 07:30 and 08:30 arrivals, and 17:30 and 18:30 departures.  However, the 11 hour gap between the morning arrival and the evening departure is too long for most working people - 'peverse' is the term, I think, for the service that FGW choose to run as it flies in the face of things like working time directives which are trying to cut out excessive hours - but it is their choice to make it peverse and unfit for even the intended purpose.

"what they are obliged to provide" and "what is appropriate" are not the same thing ... and this post is not intended to tell in detail what is appropriate.  The concensus is that an appropriate service in the medium term is at least a train every 2 hours - although in the short term, a carefully structure service based on a single unit making 4 extra return trips would make the most amazing of differences ... and that's as per all the hard work done and described here

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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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