Save the Melksham Train
An unusual journey for me - some observations

A Single ticket window open, and a long queue; a mature couple making what seemed to be a refund enquiry for a lost ticket. Sign saying "Why queue twice" extolling value of tickets to include London Travel cards, and I wondered "why do have to queue at all - why not open more than one window at this busy time of day?" No, I didn't feel confident in getting the ticket I needed out of the machines! We moved eventually, and the lady in front of me asked for a Southampton ticket; I wondered why she had been particularly anxious, and now realised she was catching the 06:34 from Chippenham ... and the following train on that route isn't until 19:00 - it's a real "Third World" service!

An unusual journey for me this morning - I'm working in a suburb of Cardiff and taking the train. The first train out of Melksham wouldn't get me to my destination station until 6 minutes after I'm due to start talking to a class of 12 (yes, that's right - the first train was too LATE for me this morning!) so my via Chippenham adventure.

£23.50 fare - Saver Return, Melksham (for return there at end of day) to Cathays. I could have save myself about a pound by buying a ticket to Bristol and a Bristol to Cathays ticket, I know ...

The morning gave me a rare chance to look at the 05:29 from Gloucester to Southampton (via Swindon and Melksham) as it came through Chippenham and see how well it's loaded. It came through at about 06:39 - 5 minutes late. Single carriage. 2 passengers on as it pulled into Chippenham and both got off; five joined including a group of 3 clearly on a long distance journey rather than a daily commute (cases, baby), and (I think) the lady I mentioned earlier.

Joined 06:40 to Swansea - 5 late, 20 - 30 passengers per carriage ex Chippenham, of who most joined actually at Chippenham. I noted a one hour gap in following Westbound trains. Train cleaner through collecting rubbish between Chippenham and Bath. Lots of people on the platform at Bath (to join?) and yet we didn't seem to get too much busier.

I think the 06:40 is the only train from Chippenham direct to South Wales, and I was interested to see how many through passengers there were - how many people remained on the train at Bristol Temple Meads. "Some" is a fair answer; not a lot, but enough got on to make the ongoing load reasonably respectable. But it did strike me just how empty and cavernous Temple Meads appeared, and how crowded busy (steamed up!) the 143 that came in from the North headed for Taunton seemed to be. And at around 07:20 we were away and onwards.

"Coaches E through H for Filton Abbey Wood" - ah - we're using SDO, and as there won't have been Grandfather rights there, this must be a new service dating from just last December. It took time - 07:26:45 to 07:29:48 - 183 second stop - and we then gently pulled forward to stop again with the rear of the train in the platform. Final departure - 07:31:30 - 285 seconds. One heck of a slowdown compared to past times, where (on the London suburban runs where I was brought up), just 20 seconds was allowed for a station stop, and 3 minutes was enough time to stop at Pettw Wood and do all the station duties ... AND to do the mile and a half to Chiselhurt and complete station duties there too! I think the double stop was to get a cycle out of the rear 'van' - not sure how often that's done

No-one on the platform at Pilning as we dashed through in the semi-light ...

Severe Check on the approach to Severn Tunnel Junction, which we passed though slowly; cars in the car park indicated that at least some commuters had already left there, but we were clearly "between stopping trains" at 07:45 as the place look desolate.

And we ran into Newport at 07:55. More on than off ... perhaps a third of the seats occupied as we travelled on to Cardiff, and I found my self wondering how busy Bristol commuter trains were getting - it's not as busy in Wales, perhaps ;-). And just a minute to do the station work - what a contrast to Abbey Wood.

Written 2008-02-12 23:26:02

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