Save the Melksham Train
Does the new man want to play hard?

I wrote a letter of introduction to John Curley, who is the new "Route Director, West" at First Great Western. One of his major concerns is the South Wales to Portsmouth service - running at a level of some 20 carriages in daily use on the express services, plus many more on the more local trains, and I felt it was important that he's aware of the TransWilts - services up to Melksham, Chippenhm and Swindon in his early planning days.

I get several feelings from his answer. I get the feeling that he wants to position himself as the hard man in initial contacts. I get the feeling that we've got to again go through with him the case for the TransWilts. Both less than great bits of news. But on the positive side, I concur with his statement that kneejerk reactions aren't the best fixes as they can crreate more problems than they solve, and I welcome his suggestion of a meeting to go into the facts and figures behind the headlines which he described as "emotive". Hey - that's headlines for you!

Oh - and here is what I wrote ...

Dear John,

Congratulations on your appointment as "Route Director, West" with First Great Western. I understand that your roll will be to "Champion routes and to act as lightning conductors, anticipating and reacting to issues before they surface" and that you have a "kickoff" meeting on 19th October, in relation to services on the South Wales to South Coast axis. Do I have that right?

And can I ask if you remit extends a little further - to issues that have already surfaced, but which need that little extra attention to help the team that's alraedy been trying very hard to come up with solutions. One such is the "TransWilts" train service, which shares the Portsmouth to Cardiff line via Salisbury up to Trowbridge, then turns off and serves Melksham, Chippemham and Swindon.

At this time last year, your company ran five trains a day each way on this line - a limited but useful service that had shown dramatic growth in the previous five years - the O.R.R. quoted growth at 35% per annum, but those figures are skewed by local ticketing factors and the real growth was more like 10% (compound).

Even with 10% growth, it was a very strange decision (forced on you by the DfT we are told) to cut over half the services, and an even stranger decision to reschedule the remaining trains away from the peak into the very early morning an early evening. Consultation inputs during 2006 suggested that the remaining trains should have been run, as provided by the SLC, to provide a commuter service in and out from Swindon - but instead of implementin the suggestion, First Great Western pushed the one remaining morning train even earlier, and the one remaining evening train even later. Net result - 100,000+ journeys last year, but less that 10,000 (forecast) this.

Uniquely in the South West, there are half a dozen SSTCs (Strategically Significant Towns and Cities) along the 40 miles or so from Swindon to Salisbury, with huge growth forecast over the next 20 years. Listen to the experts from estate agents such as Drewett and Neate speak in West Wiltshire, and they'll talk about the area developing as a dormitary area for Swindon, Bath and Bristol - and they'll put Swindon first on their list.

First's decision to nearly double the service to Bradford-on-Avon to twice and hour from December is a good one. But Bradford is only half the size of Melksham, served ONLY from Swindon at 06:18 and 18:45, and from Westbury at 07:00 and 19:35. Melksham to Swindon by train - 25 minutes. By bus - 95 minutes. Perhaps you start to see some of the latent market there; well - not THAT latent; the area is desparate for an appropriate service.

In the proposals for December 2007, as revealed by the Freedom of Information, are plans for three extra round trips a day from Salisbury to Swindon using a train that otherwise will provide a duplication of a service from Salisbury to Southampton (I understand there are 2 trains in 12 minutes in each case!). Although it's the 59th minute of the 11th hour, can I ask you, PLEASE, to use that train on the Salisbury - Swindon run? Passenger on Salisbury - Southampton will use other services / they have a big improvement anyway, but prospective passengers on the Swindon run will be gained, giving you a whole renewed ridership.

For December 2008, an extra two "cycles" of the same train - giving a 17:50 and a 20:50 off Swindon - would complete the picture of a shoe-string but very much usable service, fit to grow faster than even at the histortically quoted ORR rate of 35% per annum.

John, I think you'll find at your meeting next Friday that the Wiltshire County Council representitive is very much "on side" for these changes. I've spoke at length with Peter West at the DfT and he's very much in support or an improvement, and I know that FGW are keen to make a positive step forward too. This is an excellent opportunity for a win-win-win-win for everyone - The County, the DfT, the passenger and First!


Graham Ellis (on behalf of "Save the Train")
01225 708225
background reading:

And here is the reply

Dear Graham,

Many thanks for your impassioned missive on the need to correct the wrongs inflicted upon the citizens of Wiltshire by our recent timetable changes.

First the bad news.
There is absolutely no chance of making any changes for Dec 2007.
My first priority in the new role is to drive up the quality of our daily service delivery which has been poor for too long. One cause of this has been late and unstructured changes to the plan .The plan for this December has now been closed down.
More to the point I have not yet had time to form a balanced view of the competing aspirations from a wide range of stakeholders and interest groups for what is a very constrained pool of resources.
However I hold to brief to defend the status quo and would welcome the opportunity to meet and discuss your proposals and supporting arguments in detail as part of the process of consultation that will inform any changes for Dec 2008 .
If you would like to take me up on this please contact [details deleted] , I am spending much of my time out and about looking at our current services and would be happy to meet you wherever is convenient.

John Curley
Route Director West

First Great Western
First Rail Holdings Ltd
Registered in England number 5154485
50 Eastbourne Terrace,Paddington,London.W2 6LX

Forum discussion - John Curley's full letter of reply

Written 2007-10-18 08:13:29

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