Dr Beeching took away train services from Devizes, Calne and Melksham in 1966. Grant Shapps is taking away through trains from London to Trowbridge, Bradford-on-Avon, Oldfield Park and Keynsham in December 2021. Let's help him find an alterative so that he's not remembered as "The New Beeching" in these parts.
Freedom of Information reveals that the decision to withdraw was made six months ago - prior to a really strong summer for leisure travel on the railways, and an urgent review is needed to include that data as it tips the balance.
What I am asking
Who is supporting this?
What YOU can do to help
Graham Ellis, Public Transport Advocate, wrote on 17 Oct 2021 ...
I am asking those of you who know me (shared on social media) and others who read this public post, to support my petition to ask the government to continue to run through trains from Bristol to Waterloo via Trowbridge. Those readers who know me well will appreciate my strong knowledge base, and just how rarely I put my name to anything like this, and may be happy to sign ((here)) on the Government petitions website without reading further. For others, I'll lay out the case below, provide links to a ludicrous amount of follow up material, and invite further questions should you have them.
If you have been on one of my courses - the IT world of Perl, PHP, and Python amongst others, please support me too - you probably came by train to my courses in Wiltshire. You will have used our local train services, one of which is under threat once again.
When I moved to West Wiltshire in 1999, we already had a well established through train service from local stations such as Bradford-on-Avon and Trowbridge to London's Waterloo station. At around 100 miles from London, this wasn't really a daily commuter service but carried - and did right up to the first Coronavirus lockdown at the start of last year - substantial numbers of passengers. People making business trips, visiting friends and family, going for day trips or on holiday. People making trips to medical centres, going to court, to specialist sports training facilities. Students coming to Bath and Bristol for their studies, laden with rucksacks; seniors who are less mobile than they used to be headed for the South East south of The Thames; Mums and dads with pushchairs and middle aged people with bicycles for all of whom a through service is attractive - so attractive that a longer journey time simply does not matter, and the alternative isn't a trip with multiple changes, but a journey by car or no trip at all.
Additionally, these through trains from Waterloo to Bristol have been very well used for intermediate journeys, providing much needed additional capacity above the more local trains along the way and it some cases filling vital gaps in the timetable - how many people from West Wilts have caught the morning train in SWR / SWT colours (that's "the Waterloo") into Bath or Bristol (and had to stand!) or caught their last train of the day after an evening out in Bristol or Bath - the final train south of Westbury, and filling a gap in the more local (GWR) service to other stations?
With very limited travel indeed at the start of Coronavirus, "The Waterloos" were natural trains to suspend. Alternatives were available for key workers, rail staff were in short supply, and the community understood. But now, people are returning to a new normality and services have been coming back to support that new normal. Mark Hopwood CBE (MD of GWR) was telling us yesterday that passenger levels are up to 65% of pre-covid levels, with some lines being at 130% (that's right, an extra third) above their summer 2019 levels during this summer of 2021. Commuter traffic remains weak, but other traffic is strong and growing - much of it "staycations" this year, and whilst it's anyone's guess how much that will drop off next year as people start taking international trips again, a strong growth in overseas tourists may be confidently predicted for next year, looking to travel from London to places like Bath and the Cotswold Town of Bradford-on-Avon, many of them not confident about driving on the "wrong side" of the road and attracted by BritRail passes at prices of which us UK taxpayers are jealous.
Some of "The Waterloos" have returned after their initial temporary withdrawal in March lsat year (2020), but it was an unexpected shock to read in the SWR consultation on December 2022 services across South West London and Wessex that "the Waterloos" are to be withdrawn, completely, from 12th December 2021. Page 37 of a 43 page document, about a different year, for a different area.
Whilst some modernisation for future times is appropriate, it seems perverse to withdraw a service that was very well used, without consultation (even the government's passenger watchdog, Transport Focus) was taken by surprise). A service, furthermore, that "majored" on the very markets which have come back stronger and people such as Andrew Haines (head of Network Rail and the new Great British Railways) are telling us are so important for the future. A service which provides the only direct link from London to three significant towns, and all services except one in the early morning to two others. A service providing journeys which, for many in 2022, will only be possible with a "connection" at Salisbury with a wait just short of an hour, or multiple train changes - not a viable option for many of those I have described above.
A Freedom of Information request made in August brought a response this Friday gone (40 days after submission, 20 minutes before the time the law says they have to respond was reached). As ever, with FOI - it tells us in its 14 documents much of what happened, but too late to do much about it. It tells a sorry tale which I and others are just reading. It shows decisions based on incorrect and incomplete data, and minimal asking wider. Worryingly, other lines in a table of lines for potential cuts have been blacked out, so we're left asking "who else is for the chop?". But it would be very easy to divert our attention to the poor (!) performance of SWR and the DfT revealed by the document rather than concentrate on getting the decision reviewed - YES to save money for the treasury during rebuilding, but to do so in such a way that something remains to be rebuilt and we (all together - passengers and government) don't end up scoring an own goal.
What am I asking
1. I am asking that the pre-Covid timetable runs in full through from December 2021 to December 2022. It worked very well, loaded well (lots of through passengers, in spite of mixed evidence given), and was well liked. It will help rebuild confidence in rail travel, in the Department for Transport and our Members of Parliament if they put a "hold" on this hasty decision, which FOI reveals was made this Spring but already is seen to be incorrect and out of date with the strength of traffic this summer on those services that HAVE run.
2. I am suggesting that a thorough review, with public consultation and proper data feeds, takes place in winter, spring and summer 2022. I would ask that all experts and passengers are properly engaged and an open and perhaps pragmatic solution - certainly a solution fit for the future - is concluded, implemented - one that can be supported by all parties looking to move beyond Coronavirus into our new world where we're also looking at sustainability, clean air, and so forth.
2a. I am not a railway professional, but I do note that MetroWest is scheduled to add a second local service in each hour between Bristol and Westbury in December 2022. Trains of class 158 are amongst those used on this service at present, and they're often used on "The Waterloos" too. I really good approach to consider could, perhaps, be extending the extra Bristol Metro service from Westbury to Salisbury, from where it would form the 2nd train in the hour to Waterloo. This also saves the need to provide "ad hoc" local serviced between Westbury, Warminster and Salisbury.
2b. SWR Crew route knowledge has been raised as an issue for these trains. As both GWR and SWR crews drive 158s and 159s, both are First companies, and both are under contract to HM Government, could crews change at Westbury, where a there is already a staff depot?
You will note that I am NOT asking, and neither does the petition, for services dating back many years to be maintained without modernisation. What I am asking for is a service fit for current and future passengers which do not break existing journey opportunities.
And I am not looking for further explanations or excuses after which the campaign quietly fizzles - I am looking for real provision for 2022 which will produce fit evidence for 2023 and beyond.
Who is supporting this?
* As I write (midday, 17th October), 2441 people have signed the petition
* The West Wiltshire Rail User Group, Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways, Railfuture (Severnside Branch), TravelWatch SouthWest, the Two Tunnels Project and the Coffee Shop passenger forum - passenger groups along the line - are sponsoring a joint public meeting next Wednesday in support of the service.
* Other rail user groups on neighbouring lines / in neighbouring areas have also come back with words of support, signatures, etc
* I am asking for the same thing that Transport Focus have asked for - that's for the service to continue to run during proper consultation.
* I am asking for the same thing that Wiltshire Council are asking for.
* Various of us (depending on our constituencies) have support from our MPs - Michelle Donelan (Chippenham), Andrew Murrison (South West Wilts) and Vera Hobhouse (Bath) have all expressed concern at what's happening and asked the Department for Transport to explain and review.
* Even some of the Civil Servants and SWR staff, who's names redacted in the FOI response, have expressed disquiet at what was proposed and is being done, suggesting that something very much along the lines I am asking for is done.
What YOU can do to help
* Share this post and tell people about it too
* Speak on our behalf - many of you are senior railway professionals who are influencers and even decision makers.
* Sign the petition if you have not done so already - at The Parliament Petition Site
* Support us at our public meeting on 20th October in Trowbridge at 7 p.m., which is also on Zoom
Main case outline here
Individual case studies here
Public shareable Facebook thread here
Public discussion (careful - a long thread) here
Public meeting poster - here
And my 'signature':
Graham Ellis - email@example.com
01225 708225 or 0797 4 925 928
48, Spa Road, Melksham, SN12 7NY
* Well House Consultants Ltd
* Webmaster at Coffee Shop forum
* Melksham Town Councillor for South Ward
* Vice Chair Melksham Transport User Group