|Pivotal decison - to grow or to strangle?
Alison Forster, First Great Western's Managing Director, wrote to me earlier this month: "I regret that I will not be able to join you on the platform at Melksham on Friday [7th]. I will be in London appropriately enough negotiating on the December timetable!."
I replied "I hope the meeting in London has a good outcome for all interested parties, and certainly appreciate that such meetings are key.", and I briefly re-iterated the case for a service level / timing better than the drafts we have seen for the Swindon to Westbury and onwards services.
She followed up with: "Thank you for your email and for the information. We are aware of the MPs interest and that of other passengers and I will make sure you are fully updated as soon as a final decision is made."
And so, I wait with bated breath to hear of the next stage. A further week has passed, and no news - so perhaps they left their meeting, now over a week ago with work still to do.
This is at a time when Chris Grayling, the Shadow Transport minister, is asking the Government "what steps the Government has taken to improve rail services between Swindon and Westbury and at intermediate towns to provide transport alternatives for the new housing planned in the area" and "what the reason is for the delay in his reply to the letter of 24th April 2006 from Wiltshire County Council about rail services in Wiltshire".
This is also a time when reliability continues to be a real issue. We've had 4% of weekday trains (including the busiet train of the day) cancelled for each of the last two weeks. We've got rail replacement but services for at least some of the trains every weekend throughout July.
Yet this is also a time that the train use continues to flourish. I saw a dozen passengers waiting for the morning Southamton train on Saturday [8th] July, and when I dropped off a customer for the train of Friday [14th] ... waited for it, and it was crowded (I can't be more accurate - my prime role was to see my customer safely away, with directions on where he should change).
This morning, I've been reading a history of the Devizes line, closed on the same day in 1966 that Melksham originally lost its service. I quote:
"Further cuts in services were introduced from March 1962 ... this had a serious effect ... "
"It was apparent that BR's policy in cutting out the well used services was their covert way of making the line unviable, resulting in inevitable closure"
"By the summer of 1965, the branch and its services were almost dead ..."
The very last train from Devizes left at 20:57 on Saturday, 16th April 1966.
The population of Devizes rose from 8,495 in the 1961 census to 11,296 in the 2001 census. The population of Melksham (including Melksham Without) over the same period rose from 12,465 to 20,424. Today, it's estimated to be 24,000 and is projected and planned to continue to grow.
The meetings on 7th July and the discussions that have followed it may be pivotal. A turning point that - at the 11th hour - could retain the train services from Swindon and Melksham and on to Westbury, Salisbury and beyond. Usage statistics and observation are showing a strongly growing service. Forward projections and planning are showing massive growth of travel along the corridor.
And so, I wait with baited breath. On one hand, sense could prevail. On the other hand, it might be that a historian in 10 years time could paraphrase the authors of the Devizes book: "It was apparent that First / the DfT policy in cutting out the well used services was their covert way of making the line unviable, resulting in inevitable closure".
Written 2006-07-16 08:07:47
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