Save the Melksham Train
Meeting, 21st - notes

Friday 21st April, Trowbridge.

I arrived on the 18:09 from Melksham, walked in after Dr Andrew Murrison (MP for Westbury) had started talking; he was emphasising the through Bristol to Waterloo trains as that, he told us, what the big railway subject in his postbag. He did confirm that he'll be attending the debate on the Greater Western Franchise in parliament on Tuesday, and urged us to let him (if his constituents) know of our concerns by then. I've written to my own MP, Michael Ancram, to encourage him to attend too.

Main Meeting

South West Public Transport Users' Forum , Chris Irwin in the chair.

Chris introduced Andrew Griffiths, new General Manager for Bristol and Somerset for First, who was seated beside him on the platform. Andrew was formerly with Wessex Trains, looking after the Cornish Branch lines, and did a sterling job in growing use and traffic there. We welcome him to this part of the network.

In his introduction, Chris told us that any improvements would likely have to
be based on availability of stock, and that in the current climate it would be unlikely for the government to sanction any extra capital expenditure such as restoring track to the third platform at Chippenham or the fourth at Westbury. And he said that any changes would need to be based on strong evidence.

GORDON EDWARDS has analysed in some detail the draft timetables and replied to the 8th March consultation for SWPTUF. His reply stated that the draft timetable had so many holes in it, with two trains in opposite directions on the same single line at the same time, many missed connections and so little regard to current customer flows that it really wasn't fit for purpose.

He highlighted Keynsham, where the 4 three-coach trains that run from Bristol in the evening peak are reduced to 2 two-coach trains. He highlighted Frome, with an 07:04 departure to Bristol followed by a 2 hour gap ...

Gordon was unable to comment on First's planned changes of 3rd April as they're only proposals to be put to the DfT yet and so they're even more wooly in their definition than the draft timetables.

KATE HOARE. Head of Strategic Development. Planning Transport and. Sustainable Development. Kate highlighted how the new timetables abandoned the needs of the poorer sector of society; there's a much higher proportion of schools traffic and relatively local travel to work, hospital type traffic - as well as leisure and tourism - on the Portsmouth and Southampton to Bristol and Swindon lines, and their needs seem to have come below other user's aspirations.

ANDREW GRIFFITHS. General Manager for the Area, First. Andrew told us that the 9000 or so responses to the consultation basically filtered down to around 40 areas of concern. He believes that the 3rd April proposals solve around a half of these, and address to some degree a lot (but not all) of the other issues.

[[Speaking with Andrew personally, it seems that the Swindon to Southamton service and trains to Melksham is one of the issues that has not been dealt with. He offered a sympathetic ear, and a willingness to provide much more information to me which I have followed up already by email. He also took away a copy of our various reports which I think were new to him (could be wrong on that) and will read them through. Most notably, the report that Julian Crow said there was "nothing wrong" with that advocated a two-hourly service]]

The timetable from December will be available, subject to Network Rail and ministerial signoff, on the web from June. At that point it is said that major changes would not be possible.

First will consult again on services from December 2007, starting in January 2007.

The FLOOR WAS THROWN OPEN to questions (Chris Irwin is excellent at giving everyone a fair word at these events!) and many points were raised and discussed. One of these was the Swindon to Westbury Service, and it was notable that there was considerable support there for the line - I would say a sizable minority of the audience. There were some gasps of surprise when the new service was described from delegates from other parts. Several speakers spoke (including a professional Transport planner) spoke of moving to Melksham because of the current service, and having now to reconsider.

Andrew offered no hope / suggestions other than to keep writing and for the local authorities to work together on this one, which doesn't happen enough in this part of the country and is one of the reasons we're coming poorly out of this current series of reviews.
Officers from Wiltshire suggested that they co-operate across borders, citing the case of the Community rail line from Bristol to Weymouth even though they decided not to join the Severnside Transport Group; they didn't mention any co-operation with Swindon or Hampshire as regards the Swindon to Southampton line.

Written 2006-04-23 20:18:19

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