Save the Melksham Train
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An Update - option for five extra journeys (9 in total) from May 2010 - 8037/13021
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Sunday, 18th October 2009

Management Overview.

** Background

A1. The TransWilts railway line runs from Swindon and Chippenham, via Melksham, to Trowbridge, Westbury, Dilton Marsh, Warminster and Salisbury. Although the roads from Chippenham to Salisbury are congested, and the West Wilts (Trowbridge, Melksham, Warminster, Westbury, Bradford-on-Avon) to Swindon and Chippenham commute is listed as one of the top 50 in the South West, there are only two trains per day each way on the line from Chippenham to Trowbridge, with commute opportunities limited to overlong days on 11 hours in Swindon, 11.5 hours in Chippenham, and in the other direction 12.5 hours in Trowbridge. The station at Melksham, serving a town of 22,000 people, has no other service except the TransWilts trains, with a gap in services from 07:17 in the morning to 19:11 in the evening.

A2. The number of passengers travelling by train to / from Melksham is currently very low - about 1 journey per head of population per annum, compared to figures of between 20 and 50 for other Wiltshire stations, serving larger and smaller populations. This is not due to a huge difference in travel requirements - it's due to a huge difference is service available.

A3. Until Decemeber 2006, commuters between Trowbridge and Swindon could complete the journey each way in just over 30 minutes.  They now take about an hour each way, with a change at Bath.  A First manager told me they were surprised at how few passengers that had lost, and concluded that this was probably because the passengers had no choice as the road alternatives are even slower.

A4. The remaining few services are operated by First Great Western as part of their Greater Western Franchise awarded by the department for transport. The intent of this franchise was to provide a practical commuter train from West Wilts to Chippenham and Swindon, but it has failed to do so due to extended length of the day in Chippenham / Swindon.  By running the train in "marginal time" - starting it from Swindon at 06:15 and having it return there at 20:20 - First can avoid the need to hire a train for the line, but instead 'borrow' a train off the Cheltenham - Swindon line at a time of day it's not needed there.

** What service is appropriate?

B1. The Park report of 2000 recommended an hourly train service from Swindon to Westbury and beyond; possible extensions to Southampton and / or Radstock.

B2. The Jacobs report of 2004 recommended that the franchise include a true peak service and a train every 2 hours in between.  This was based on a growth factor of 0.8% per annum whereas growth from when their stats were taken (2002/2003) was between 10% and 35% per annumb depending on which measure was taken.

B3. Studies by Wiltshire Council's officers have concluded that an hourly service will be appropriate in the foreseeable future.  With population growth of around 50% is the SSCTs (Swindon, Trowbridge, Salisbury and Chippenham) and also the surrounding market towns such as Melksham, Westbury and Warminster ON TOP OF major rail passenger growth in recent years, this service level does indeed look to be an appropriate target for (say) 2014 to 2019.

B4. Network Rail's GWRUS (Route Utilisation strategy) has looked at the hourly service option and calculated a BCR (benefit cost ratio) of 2.8 - again for the middle ofthe next decade. Any BCR of over 1.5 is considered to be a scheme that should go ahead, and 2.8 is (I think) the highest in the 192 page report that covers all possible schemes from London to Penzance.

B5. Possible future traffic levels of 20 journeys per resident per annum for a 30,000 Melksham population (2015) and 3 through journeys for every one stopping / ending at Melksham (historic data) indicate 2.4 million journeys per annum. That is 10,000 journeys per day or 250 per train if 36 trains travel along the line each day. That's a full 3 coach train every hour each way from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.  In reallity, there are reasons why this figure would be dampened but it should be noted that it does NOT take into account any modal shifts from private to public transport.

** Options towards an appropriate service

C1. An hourly service would require an additional 3 trains (Salisbury to Swindon) or additional 2 trains (Westbury to Swinnon). A single extra train could provide an extra train every 2 hours between Westbury and Swindon, or an extra train every 3 hours between Salisbury and Swindon.

C2. By making use of trains which wait at Swindon (from Cheltenham) and / Salisbury (from London Waterloo or Romsey via Southampton, Eastleigh and Romsey), a two hourly extra service could be provided from Swindon to Salisbury with a single extra train.

C3. Without an additional train, and with only minor other alterations, some additional services could be provided between Westbury and Swindon.

C4. The subsidy requested by First Great Western for a service that requires an additional train from December 2009 was 380,000 pounds per annum which was beyond the budget of possible providers.  It was suggested (22nd May / meeting FGW, DfT, WC and myself) that we look for a lower cost stepping stone option using existing train resources, even if the resultant service was still below the ideal level - the idea being to step up the service to a level at which it provides a service that fulfills a number of passenger flows.

C5. An option along the lines was presented to Wilsthire Council on 17th July and subsequently discussed with their rail officer in more detail.  It was submitted to First Great Western later in July, but received negative feedback due to (a) a tight turn around at Westbury and (b) the need to delay a Bristol to Weymouth train giving better Bristol but worse Bath connections.  A modified proposal was then submitted to First Great Western, but my most recent feedback from them (when I asked for a report for a meeting) was only on the first 'low cost option' and we still await the outcome of the current proposal.

** Current Option in more detail

D1. An additional service from Westbury to Swindon between 09:00 and 09:10. Sourced by running the 08:13 Bristol to Swindon train via Westbury.

D2. and D3. An additional service from Westbury to Swindon at about 11:45, returning from Swindon at about 12:45. Sourced by using the train which currently arrives in Swindon at 11:36 and leaves again at 13:38.

D4. An additional service from Westbury to Swindon at about 16:40, formed of the train arriving at Westbury at 16:28, This train would then form the 17:45 Swindon to Cheltenham.

D5. An additional service from Swindon to Westbury at about 16:45, formed of the train arrived from Cheltenham at Swindon at about 16:35. This train would go on to form the 17.38 Westbury to Great Malvern.

** Side Effects of the current option on other services

E1. The 08:13 Bristol to Swindon is uneffected as far as Bath by the proposed changes.  Paseengers using that train to Chippenham and Swindon from Keynsham and Oldfield Park would need to change at Bath (as they do in the evening - there is no return working) and would arrive in Swindon some 10 minutes later.  We have counted spare seats on the 09:10 arrival in Swindon and confirmed that the service would not be overcrowded.

E2. The lunchtime round trip does not require any changes to existing services

E3. The evening return trip requires the withdrawl of the 17:08 Westbury to Warminster service - passengers from Westbury could instead make use of the 17:01. We note that as from December, an additional service runs at 17:54 from Westbury to Warminster, giving service to Dilton Marsh. We believe this is actually a BETTER option for Dilton Marsh (where ticket sales fell by 1/3 in the latest figures) as it gives them back a viable Bath / Bristol commute.  The 17:28 Warminster to Great Malvern would similarly start from Westbury.

E4. We have not been able to evaluate the effects of these changes on crew rotas, but believe that extra crew may be needed to cover one round trip.

E5. We have not been able to check pathing for these changes in relation to freight services as we do not have data to do so.  We note from the GWRUS that the single track is projected to support an hourly service in each direction, and that report DOES consider freight paths.

E6. We believe that we have overcome both of the major objections raised to the original draft low cost option (Weymouth line and a tight turn around of a cross-Bristol train) and look forward to a more positive response on this proposal

E7. Although we would prefer similar timings within the hour for as many services as possible ("clockface"), and such timings appear logical due to the clockface nature of other passenger services which these interface with, that is a preference only.

E8. I have seen it suggested that 11:07 Westbury to Southampton, which runs 6 minutes behind another train with just one extra stop, could be used to provide the lunchtime service, and that the train which arrives in Brighton at 16:14 and leaves at 17:00 (to / from Great Malvern) could instead turn an extra time at Southampton and provide a Southampton - Swindon - Southampton service.  This is NOT part of the proposal, but I commend it to the experts as a further option.

** Commentary / effect on passenger flows of the proposal

F1. The proposal increases the commuter opportunities from ONE (which impractically long) to EIGHT of varying lengths from West Wilts to Chippenham and Swindon:


with the opportunities as follows (Swindon times quoted)

Arr. 07:48, leave 18:45 - 11 hours (useful for occasional long days)
Arr. 07:48, leave 16:45 - 9 hours (ideal length for daily work)
Arr. 09:48, leave 18:45 - 9 hours (ideal length for daily work)
Arr. 09:48, leave 16:45 - 7 hours (good for some shorter days work, also for days out shopping, etc)
Arr. 12:20, leave 18:45 - 6 hours (half day work / leisure / business option)
Arr. 07:48, leave 12:30 - 5 hours (half day work / leisure / business option)
Arr. 12:20, leave 16:46 - 4 hours (half day work / leisure / business option)
Arr. 09:48, leave 12:30 - 3 hours (half day work / leisure / business option)

F2. It also increases the outward opportunities from Melksham in both directions:


(i.e. 1 in each direction to 8 northbound, 6 southbound, also applying to Chippenham)

F3. There is neither an arrival in Swindon near to 08:40, nor a departure near to 17:30 - i.e. no true peak service.  This is a pity BUT people are much more flexible these days, and teh selection of 11, 9 ,7, etc hour days make the proposition very saleable

F4. Access to Chippenham from the other SSTCs in Wiltshire by public transport is greatly improved.

F5. Melksham sees the return of reasonable options for long distance journeys on weekdays - people don't want to set of on an "all day" journey at 7 a.m, not get to destination after 7 p.m.

F6. A Southbound service from Swindon between the 06:15 and 12:30ish departure would be welcomed, to bring passenger to Melksham and to allow people to travel from Chippenham to the rest of the county for the day, 06:30 departure being too early for most.  However, we have not seen an east way to provide this.

**  Financial and other comments

G1. This should certainly be a "low cost option" when compared to the extra train option. Although the gains will NOT be as great as an "appropriate service" would give, they are a huge marketable step in the right direction which should be affordable and give good return in the current climate.

G2. Fare levels are disparate between the TransWilts line and other lines such as Chippenham to London, and some levelling out of the price in pence per mile would be justified and would help keep prices in check.  I do not believe that several modest steps would loose much potential traffic.

G3. With part of the route being single track, there is potential for delay.  Is there some way that we can allow the TransWilts train to be (say) twice the normal amount late without there being any delay penalty - thus allowing a delayed service to let an express go ahead and avoid delay to that.

** Summary

H1. With the majority of the extra services provided as described, the TransWilts would return to providing a service which is fit for the purpose of meeting significant traffic flows, and would be marketable and popular.

H2. With all the publicity generated over the past several years, and ongoing publicity, the old problems of "no-one knows about it" would be largely overcome.

H3. Once a service that's somewhat worthy of the name "service" was scheduled, the line should be considered for Community Rail Partnership - be it done informally or formally, and be very much 'owned' by the communities it serves.

Re: An Update - option for five extra journeys (9 in total) from May 2010 - 8037/13026
Written by admin (Graham Ellis) on Monday, 26th October 2009

It has been sugegsted to me that diagrams of how the proposals made above fit in with existing workings would help, so here goes:

Morning - the 08:13 Bath to Swindon diverts to Westbury and the runs to Swindon, picking up its original diagram there at 09:54. Passengers for the dicontinued leg Bath to Swindon (arr Swidnon 09:04) drop back to the HST that arrives in Swindon at 09:10 - six minutes later - and had over 110 free standrad class seats when checked the week before last.

Lunchtime - an extra round trip from Westbury to Swindon, made by the train that arrives there at 11:36 and leaves at 13:38

Late afternoon - the train that terminates at Westbury at 16:28 runs up to Swindon, from where it forms the 17:54 Stroud Valley service. The train that arrives in Swindon from the Stroud Valley at 16:42 forms a Westbury service - it carries on from Westbury at 17:38 to Bath, etc ... that's picking up the diagram of the unit that has formed the train in the other direction.

The afternoon service 'kills' the 17:08 Westbury to Warminster.  Warminster passengers have a 17:01 service, and Dilton Marsh passengers have a new service within the hour, which starts this December and gives a good return journey (at last) for commuters from Bristol / Bath to DMH.  The 17:28 Warminster to Great Malvern now starts at 17:38 at Westbury.

I have NOT attached times to the new services on this diagram - I'm going to leave that to the professionals who tell me that (a) there is capaicty for an hourly service each way but (b) it cannot be clock face because of all the freight trains (30 a day rath last Tuesday?  Not sure if I believe that!).  The timings withing the train's availabilities are not critical.

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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