Save the Melksham Train
Lies, damned lies and statistics

Re-visiting a quote from nearly a year ago ... at a time I knew no better than to accept the figures issued by the now-defunct SRA

"Swindon-Southampton service discontinued (apart from 1 service in each peak the services were, on average, less than 25% loaded i.e. less than 20 people on each train). The peak services between Westbury and Swindon (calling at Trowbridge, Melksham and Chippenham) will remain."

The quotation and figures, I have come to understand, is based on the number of tickets sold divided by the number of trains shown in the timetable ...

November 2004 ... no trains apart from the 05:50 to Swindon ran for two weeks. No warning was given of this closure, which was because main line trains were being diverted along the single track and required all the capacity.

Since last Autumn, a full weekend service has only been run on a handful of weekends. For many weekends, there have been no trains at all and on others Sunday trains have been suspended, or other cancellation patterns have applied. I would estimate that only between 25% and 35% of weekend trains have run.

Concerned at a fearsome reputation for unreliability, I have been monitoring weekday trains via the web since January, and there are weeks where up to 20% of trains have been cancelled, with the figure rising to 25% of the "key" commuter trains being cancelled. Many services which I regard as being cancelled do NOT show in any official statics as such, since they are only withdrawn over a part of their route ... they do reach their terminus of Southampton ... it's just that they didn't serve Melksham

This August, the line from Swindon to Chippenham is going to be closed for 9 days, including over the Bank Holiday. I made several journeys over the Bank holiday weekend last year, and the train was very busy indeed. Note that although the sections that's closed is just one extreme end of the line (between the last two stations), it's to be cut back and services withdrawn for the period between the last 5 stations one of which (Melksham again) has no other train services at all.

Overall? I would estimate that of 64 services scheduled each week in the published timetable, an average or around 40 to 45 run - that depends on the period you take to look at. August 2 years ago, perhaps 25% ran. And THAT is a part of the period that's been used in so many statistics I've had quoted at me.

Bryan Drysdale, who committed suicide by stopping his car on the level crossing near Reading, caused 6 more deaths on the train he derailed. He has also provided the ammunition which certain parties are using to "rubbish" our train service.

* Traffic figure, I understand, do NOT include people travelling on rover tickets, children under 3 who travel for free, people who use the train but manage to get away without paying a fare, travellers who use the train for journeys where the "normal" route is not via Melksham, but who legitimately use the route because the timing is convenient for them ....

* ANY line has its quieter and busier services. Not withstanding all my comments above, I note that the statisticians have carefully chosen to slice the service up to skew the apparently poor figures they're highlighting.

Figures quoted to me by Andrew Griffiths of First. 109,000 passenger used the line in the year that's being used for all the various statistics. At 64 trains per week, 52 weeks per year, that's an average of 32 passengers per train. At 45 trains per week actually running, that's 46 passengers per train ... to which you must add rover tickets, Brit Rail pass holders, Inter-Rail ticket holders, toddlers ....

Quote from Greentourism.org.uk:

... many overseas visitors, especially visitors from Germany and the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Japan, and North America and Australia ....... do not wish to hire a car (and indeed who may be nervous of driving along what for them is the “wrong” side of the road). Many will have either a Brit Rail pass or an Inter-Rail ticket, committing them to extensive use of the rail network.

Written 2006-06-09 05:11:09

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