Save the Melksham Train
This is an archived page.
Please see [here] if you're looking for the current "Save the Train" home page.
Please see [here] for the TransWilts site.
Friday, 26th March 2010. Launch of TransWilts Community Rail Partnership. Bridge House, Trowbridge, from 19:30
An exciting new step forward to rejeuvenation of the line, its service and its use
BUSY, EXCELLENT MEETING ... see [here] for initial report
Train service remains dire - southbound from Swindon at 06:15 and 18:45, northbound from Westbury at 07:02 and 19:35. Please pledge your support if you would like to see an increase to six trains a day -
arriving Swindon at 07:48 08:53 11:50 14:50 17:36 and 20:19,
returning at 06:18 09:02 12:02 15:02 17:55 and 18:45.

Keynote for 2010

Forum archive ... Blog archive

Letter to DfT stating new case
Greater Western Franchise

Swindon - Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge - Westbury - Warminster - Salisbury - Romsey - Southampton service

I'm writing to let you know of recent increases in traffic level and local support for train services on the Swindon - Melksham - Westbury - Southampton line, and to ask you to consider these new statistics when fine-tuning the contract for the new Greater Western Franchise, using the mechanism discussed at the joint SRA/DfT planning and specification meeting of 6th April 2005 at 76 Marsham Street. (Ref 1)

Six new factors that should be considered

1. Ticket sales from and to Melksham station (served only by trains on that route) rose from 20390 in 2003-2004 to 27485 in 2004-2005 - that's a 35% increase in tickets. (Ref 2)

2. Weekend and offpeak use of the line has increased. As a long standing user of this service, I have felt that it has been getting busier. When I became aware of the proposed new frachise service level, I noted down some current figures and can tell you that weekend services I have used in the last couple of months have conveyed 35 and 22 passengers respectively. (Ref 3)

3. The local transport plan for Wiltshire puts this line at the heart of its rail strategy. "The Swindon / West Wilts / Southampton service should be developed as it has considerable potential to help relieve local transport and environmental problems". It is my understanding that this strategy was being revised at the same time as the franchise bid levels, and so it may not have been considered when the levels were being set for the bid requests. (Ref 4)

4. Consultations and Invitation to tender for the franchise were concurrent activities, so there was little or no stakeholder input into the proposed service levels. (Ref 1) (Indeed, there were discussions held as to how consultations might be minimised (Ref 5)) Such input has now become more available and should be considered. The fact that no input was received at a time that no input had been requested cannot be used to draw the conclusion that the local community does not care about the rail service! See next point.

5. I became aware as a private individual, and operator of a local business in Melksham, of the proposed level of service from a newspaper article in August, and it came as a surprise. In order to gauge support along the travel corridor of the railway, I wrote to the local paper and put up a web site (ref 6). In the following month, some 500 different people visited the web site and some 60 went to the trouble of completing forms of support to add their name to the cause. A meeting called with little publicity - and by me as a private individual - drew some 30 people to a meeting with a similar number of apologies received. (Minutes - Ref 7)

6. Business and housing development in Melksham, the removal or reduction of medical facilities at the intermediate towns served and their concentration at the end of this railway line, and the building of the County record office at Chippenham (as an offshoot of the council which is based in Trowbridge, also on the route) are all recent factors that will lead to a continued growth of use of this railway service over the next year ... and beyond should the service still be offered.

Personal Interest

I'm an education provider in Melksham. We - Well House Consultants (Ref 10) provide specialist adult training in Information Technology at our training centre on the outskirts of the town. Many of our customers arrive here, long distance, by train, Some of them cannot drive, some prefer not to do so.

The proposed service from 2006/7 would make access to our education services much more difficult.

On cost of services

I appreciate the need to give the taxpayer value for money.

I have been told that current patronage levels are low and that withdrawal of the services will lead to a saving in costs (Ref 8), but no figures have been put on those descriptions. Alastair Darling (former Transport secretary, a role now filled by Douglas Alexander) stated that that there was little point in keeping a railway line open if there were just two passengers per day; I agree with him, - but the figures I have (references above) tell a current story of several orders of magnitude times that - it's into the hundreds [per day], with the best part of 100,000 journeys per year on the line.

A single train in the morning rush hour from Westbury to Swindon, returning in the evening rush hour, ties up a train at the busiest time of day. Isn't the marginal extra cost of running that train during the day going to be more than compensated by the extra traffic generated for all services, with a resultant saving of road congestion, etc, on the A350 corridor? Were you planning to provide a rail replacement bus service? If so, wouldn't the cost of the buses outweigh the cost of running the train during the day?

I have requested (but have yet to receive) further statistic relating to traffic levels and cost (ref 9). Any additional information you can give me (surely it's all available under freedom of information, isn't it?) would be much appreciated so that I can ensure that my suggestions / requests are reasonable.

In Summary

In summary, the request for bids for the Greater Western Franchise in relation to the Swindon - Melksham - Westbury - Southampton line was based on information that rapidly went out of date, and the concurrent specification and consultation allowed little chance for service users and other parties to make their inputs and help tune the specification to current local needs.

Please take the opportunity offered by the variation mechanism to review and provide the service that's commensurate with the current and growing demand on this line into 2007, rather than baseing it on the historic 2003-2004 statistics which was all that you had available at the time the Invitation to Tender was drawn up.

Can you confirm that you'll take a further considered look at this line based on the fresh data, and please do let me know if there's any further data or input from me that would help you in this. Many thanks for your attentions to this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Graham Ellis

R Jones, Divisional Manager, Rail Franchise Specification
M Mitchell, Director General, Rail Group
J Gilbert, Divisional Manager, Rail Contract Procurement
P McCarthay, Head of Rail Customer and Stakeholder Relations

References - Letter Graham Ellis to Roger Jones, 2nd October 2005

1. Joint SRA/DfT Franchise Planning and Specification meeting Date: Wednesday, 6 April 2005 at link from:

"On GW, XXX noted that consultation being conducted concurrently with issuing of ITT would be unpopular with stakeholders, although some consultation was already being carried out through the Great Western RUS. It was agreed that simultaneous consultation and issuing of the ITT was the only viable option remaining. If any substantial changes became necessary as a result of consultation they could be implemented either at the preferred bidder stage or through the variation mechanism after the start of the franchise. Any minor changes could be implemented more quickly."

2. Figures from Wessex trains. Ticket sales for journeys to and from Melksham in the financial years 2003-2004 and 2004-2005.

3. This information was collected personally. I have documented this information (including details of exactly which services it relates to) and published it at our web site at

4. Provisional Wiltshire local travel plan 2006/7 - 2010/11 and appendix, produced by the transportation and development group at Wiltshire County Council. Also available electronically via

5. 6th April 2005, paper for discussuion with Dft by SRA at link from:

"DfT has asked for proposals on how consultation on forthcoming Franchise Specifications may be minimised, using other relevant consultation activities where possible. The purpose of this paper is to make proposals for consultation on the Greater Western and Thameslink franchise, and to highlight risks and issues to inform DfT's decision."

6. The web site is at

7. Presentation to meeting at Minutes at

"The meeting felt that the level of service being offered in the basic bid falls far short of being an attractive service that people would use. At the basic level, it was felt that the only users would be a small band of commuters to Swindon that the service happened to suit.

The meeting felt that a regular and reliable service with good connections would be used much more heavily, and looked to the evidence of growing traffic since the service increased from one to 5 trains a day in 2001. Reliability, connections and a "clock face" service were considered to be far better than a slight increase of service level at the cost of unreliability and a complex timetable."

8. Email correspondence from David Hibbs at DfT, 28th September 2005

9. Request of 10th September, receipt of request acknowledged by David Greeno of the office of rail regulation on 30th September, with an apology for the delay and a promise to look at it next week.

10. Well House Consultants Ltd, 404, The Spa, Melksham, SN12 6QL. We provide training courses in programming languages such as Perl, PHP, Python and Tcl, also on Linux and MySQL. Courses last from 2 to 5 days; trainees typically travel long distances to attend as these are specialist subjects. See

This site is hosted by Well House Consultants Ltd. (
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