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Severnside Branch

Area

Gloucestershire, Greater Bristol, Somerset, North Wiltshire.

Forthcoming Branch Meetings

The Branch AGM was held on 8 April at Gloucester, where Branch Secretary Nigel Bray gave a digital presentation on rail developments in the West of England.

The next Branch meeting is on Saturday 8 July at 2 pm at Kilkenny Court, Taunton, a few minutes' walk from Taunton station. Guest speaker Gideon Amos will talk about the Felixstowe line upgrade in Suffolk.

Railfuture Conference, “Rail Resurgence in the West of England”

Railfuture held a major conference in Bristol on Saturday 7 November 2015 with speakers from Great Western Railway, First Bus (on transport integration), the West of England Partnership and local campaigners. Click to download the full report.

Some recent campaign successes

Yeovil's two railways connected. For the first time since 1968, there are now regular train services linking Yeovil Junction station (on the Exeter-Waterloo line) with Yeovil Pen Mill station (on the Bristol-Weymouth route). Although initially operating only on Monday to Friday afternoons and evenings, the new services introduced by South West Trains on 14 December 2015 represent another milestone towards a more joined up railway. They also give Frome another direct train to London, while Bruton gets its first through service to the capital since the early 1960s. We shall be pressing for the new services to be extended to mornings and weekends also.

Redoubling of the main line between Kemble and Swindon was completed in August 2014, removing a major bottleneck from Gloucestershire’s main rail artery to London and October.

When the scheme was turned down by the Office of Rail Regulation in 2008, we wrote to local papers, saying “the fight must go on. The route is of immense strategic importance in the national network.” We emphasised that the line was the only realistic alternative route between London and South Wales whenever the Severn Tunnel was closed. It may well be the Government’s decision to electrify from Paddington and Swansea which resulted in the Kemble upgrade getting the go-ahead in 2011. We are pleased that our suggestion for more signalling sections (to allow more trains to run) between Standish Junction and Swindon has been incorporated in the scheme.

Site clearance begins for Filton Bank quadrupling

Railfuture and Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways have campaigned for years to get four tracks reinstated between Dr. Day’s Junction and Filton Abbey Wood, part of the main line from South West England to Birmingham and South Wales. The 3 ½ mile section was reduced to two tracks in 1984 and has become a serious bottleneck as Cross Country, regional and local train services have increased in frequency. Four tracking is essential for the Metro West project to expand Bristol’s rail network. Both this and the Kemble-Swindon upgrade will give the West’s rail system greater operational flexibility.

A contract has now been let and site clearance work has begun between Filton Abbey Wood and Ashley Hill. The project includes reconstruction of four bridges for Great Western electrification.

Quadrupling of the train service between Swindon and Westbury.

From December 2013, the TransWilts train service between Swindon and Westbury via Melksham was increased from two trains each way to eight each way on weekdays and five on Sundays. In 2012 we had written in support of Wiltshire Council’s bid for £4.25 million from the Government’s Local Sustainable Transport Funding, which was subsequently approved and which will underwrite the scheme for three years. According to First Great Western, 183,000 journeys were recorded on the central section of the route (Chippenham-Trowbridge) in the first year, against a forecast of 45,000 in Year 1 and 108,000 in Year 3. Download the Railfuture response to the TransWilts consultation on designation of Swindon- Westbury as a Community Rail service.

A better service on the 08.50 Great Malvern - Westbury and 08.00 Cardiff-Paignton

The Department for Transport’s Great Western Franchise Specification Consultation, which closed in June 2014, invited comments on how services might be developed during the extension of the franchise until 2019. In its detailed response, Railfuture highlighted the 08.50 Great Malvern as a train whose performance needed special attention. This train is conveniently timed for day trippers from Worcestershire and Gloucestershire to Bristol and Bath but had often been delayed by Cross Country services at Abbotswood Junction, where the Worcester loop joins the Birmingham- Bristol main line. Use of a Class 150 Sprinter with a top speed of 75 mph had made recovery of lost time difficult but in recent months a 90 mph Class 158 set has been deployed instead, with much improved timekeeping. Since December 2014 the 08.00 Cardiff - Paignton has been operated by a Class 158.

Current campaign issues

Our campaign to expand rail services in the South West, including more and better rolling stock, was featured in the Western Daily Press on 21 January 2015 - see Rail's forgotten region.
1. Making the most of Great Western electrification
We are concerned at the deferral of electrification to Bath and Bristol Temple Meads. We believe this should be undertaken as soon as the track and signalling upgrades currently in progress in the Bristol area have been completed. We support extension of electrification, eg Newbury-Westbury-Bathampton Junction, Bristol suburban routes, and Bristol-Taunton, as logical next phases after the current scheme is completed.
2. Enhancement of the Greater Bristol rail network
We support the MetroWest vision, even if a half-hourly service is not possible initially on all routes. We do not accept that £145m - £175m is required to deliver Phase 1, as much of this latest (March 2017) estimate is for contingency. A 40mph or even 30mph service on the Portishead line would still be faster than road transport and would avoid costly realignment of the track in the Avon Gorge which is said to be needed for a 50mph service. A more pragmatic approach is needed to get the line open to passengers, although it is important to avoid a minimalist design of the new stations. Bleak platforms with bus shelters are not the way to make savings.

Our support for a full cross-Bristol service via the Henbury loop was published in the Bristol Post on 14 July 2015. We are pressing neighbouring counties (Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire) to become more involved so that their rail aspirations are integrated with those of the West of England Partnership. Read Railfuture responses to Henbury Station and West of England Joint Transport Study consultations.

Railfuture Severnside responded as follows on 21 March 2016 to North Somerset Council’s electronic consultation on revised plans for Pill station, which are being proposed because the Council expects to secure land in Station Road.

“Options 2, 3 and 4 are an improvement on the original proposal (Option 1) because they offer a greater variety of parking spaces, helpful to people arriving at the station as car passengers or who are disabled. Option 4 would seem to be the best as it would provide three Disabled spaces and a larger drop-off parking area.

The money saved by dispensing with a footbridge (required for Option 1) could be used to improve the station waiting area, eg with better protection from the weather and better information screens.”

Until the suburban services are electrified, these need modern diesel trains built with passenger comfort in mind, for example Class 165 and 166 trains which will be displaced by electrification in the London and Reading areas.
3. The extended Great Western Franchise
Railfuture submitted unified responses from seven Branches and two of its specialist Groups to the DfT GW Franchise Replacement Consultation in 2012 and to the GW Franchise Extension Consultation in 2014.

Railfuture calls for train services to be specified on the basis of growth in passenger numbers and the need for upgraded facilities at stations. We strongly support retention of through regional services such as Cardiff-Portsmouth and Great Malvern-Brighton. We recognise that main lines such as London-Penzance serve locations with differing aspirations for their train services and press for two or three tiers of service, ie fast, semi-fast and all-stations trains where appropriate.

We consider that GW main line electrification and Metro West Phase 1 should be completed before another competition is held for the franchise.
4. New rail services
We will support local authorities working to introduce regular daily passenger services over the West Somerset Railway between Minehead and the national rail network at Taunton. Download the Railfuture response to the WSR Corporate Plan 2014-2023. We have briefed the promoters of a plan to reopen Cheltenham-Stratford.

We also support efforts to reopen lines such as Radstock-Frome, and our response to the consultation on the proposed 'park and ride' station at Bathampton called for it to be served by both Westbury and Swindon services.
5. Stonehouse Bristol Road
Reopening would enable rail travel between the Stroud valley and Bristol which is not currently served by Stroud's existing station on the Gloucester-Swindon line. The existing hourly local service between Cheltenham/Gloucester and Bristol could call at the station, improving access from Gloucestershire to the major centres of business and education in north Bristol, and attracting commuters out of their cars. Substantial passenger growth at other local stations improves the case for this new station. The case for Stonehouse Bristol Road and other potential stations in the county was examined in late 2015 by the Gloucestershire Rail Study Report. Read our responses to this and to the County Council's Draft Rail Strategy.
6. A better Cross Country rail network
Severnside Branch has contributed to a unified Railfuture statement of aspirations for the franchise sent to Cross Country Trains in the spring of 2015. It calls for improved XC services, including at Ashchurch, Gloucester and Weston-Super-Mare; reinstatement of some XC stops at Bridgwater; and conversion of the Cardiff-Nottingham service to Cardiff-York to improve connectivity between South Wales, Gloucester, Yorkshire and the North East.

Consultation responses

The main points made in the Railfuture response to the West of England Mayoral Combined Authority Consultation on 15 August 2016 were:

We agree that 'a Combined Authority would enable longer-term planning and allow for more ambitious schemes through guaranteed funding each year; would support the introduction of smart and integrated ticketing; and would integrate public road and rail transport across the region to speed up and reduce the environmental impact of longer journeys.’

Our additional comments under the Transport heading were:
  1. A Combined Authority would make it easier to set up an Integrated Transport Authority.
  2. The Combined Authority needs terms of reference and objectives including promotion of public transport and reducing car dependency, otherwise it could just become a means of building more roads.
  3. It needs joined up thinking to prevent disposal of land which could be used to reopen lines and stations, or provide additional car parking at stations. Land sold off at Severn Beach should have been retained for car parking.
  4. It needs to liaise with North Somerset Council and adjoining counties (Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire) to ensure that improved rail services are not confined to the CA area, eg services planned to turn round at Bathampton should extend into Wiltshire.
Under the heading of Housing, our additional comment was that the CA could reduce car dependency by designating new housing areas where they can be served directly or indirectly by rail.

In our response to the Kings Quarter consultation by Gloucester City Council, Severnside branch commented on connectivity between Gloucester railway station and the city centre.

Severnside branch responded to consultations by the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership on its Joint Transport Study and its Joint Spatial Plan.

Severnside branch wrote to Network Rail about the proposed closure of the down platform at Pilning, requesting that nothing be done to prevent its reinstatement in future, which will be necessary in the event of housing development around Bristol extending to there.

Severnside rail user groups

Rail user groups in Severnside are shown on Railfuture's Regional List of Rail User Groups. The Regional List can be downloaded in PDF format here.

Contact Nigel Bray, Railfuture Severnside, 23 James Way, Hucclecote, Gloucester GL3 3TE. Tel. 01452 615619 or 07817 367065, email nigel.bray at railfuture.org.uk.


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Railfuture is the campaigning name for the Railway Development Society Ltd, a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England and Wales No 5011634.
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