The Cotswold Line Promotion Group’s 2019 Annual General Meeting heard that the reliability and punctuality of trains on the route had improved substantially over the past year.
Welcoming members to the meeting on Saturday, May 11, at the Women’s Institute Hall in Moreton-in-Marsh, the group’s chairman, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, said: “All the evidence is that reliability is substantially better.”
His views were echoed by the CLPG’s chairman, John Ellis, and Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines, who was the principal guest speaker at the event, but Mr Haines said that there was still room for improvement in performance and that the rail industry would not be resting on its laurels.
Mr Ellis, who was re-elected at the meeting, along with the group’s other officers, said: “Last year, I focused on the poor train service performance experienced for much of 2017-18. It is a pleasure to be able to report a much-improved performance position in recent months.
“The IETs (InterCity Express Trains) are performing well and cancellations are less frequent, as are instances of trains being terminated short of their timetabled destinations.”
He added: “I hope that passengers’ confidence in the reliability of the railway will also improve”, but noted that it was important for Great Western Railway (GWR) and Network Rail to guard against complacency when a new timetable is launched at the end of this year to take advantage of the improved performance of the IETs.
This will see improved journey times all along the line and on services to and from London, as well as a regular hourly service between Worcester and London seven days a week, with extra trains in the weekday peak periods.
Mr Ellis said the group had invested in GWR projects to improve stations – “putting our money where our mouth is” - with a new building about to open at Hanborough and the waiting room at Moreton-in-Marsh already in use. It is also a memorial to the CLPG’s founding chairman Oliver Lovell and long-serving membership secretary John Stanley, who both left legacies to the CLPG that helped to fund the project.
He also announced that a new Community Rail Partnership for Worcestershire should be operating from this summer, with support and funding from GWR, West Midlands Railway and CrossCountry Trains. A part-time partnership officer will be recruited to develop initiatives for community support of the rail routes and stations throughout the county.
Mr Haines, who lives in Oxfordshire and commutes to London on GWR services, gave a wide-ranging presentation, looking both at the Cotswold Line and the national network, focusing on the growth in passenger numbers since the 1990s and what that meant for the railways.
He told CLPG members: “I believe passionately in the power of the railways to stimulate our economy and improve what people do.”
He highlighted the growth locally at stations like Hanborough – with almost 400% more passengers each year than in 1997 - and Honeybourne, where custom is up 363% in the same period.
He said: “Looking at performance and reliability on the Cotswold Line, we are now seeing the benefits of the having reliable infrastructure and the investment in new trains,” but added: “Our baseline performance is still not what it ought to be and we’re not going to rest just because we’ve got a bit of an improvement, though there is no doubt that we are beginning to recover to better performance seen in the past.”
He added: “We must deliver reliability and certainty for passengers.”
Mr Haines noted the high level of demand for investment in improvements to the network across the country as a result of growth in demand, with only a finite amount of money available, and said there had to be difficult trade-offs as a result.
Looking at the proposals being developed for further infrastructure improvement and extra train services on the Cotswold Line being developed by the North Cotswold Line Task Force, which includes the CLPG, the rail industry and local authorities along the route, Mr Haines said: “People will not do this if it doesn’t not make economic sense. People will be fighting for scarce investment, so the robustness of the business case is really important.”
GWR’s Cotswold Line stations manager Tim King told the meeting that the platform extensions at the main stations between Oxford and Worcester were due to be brought into use the week after next, along with the new building at Hanborough station, which will be staffed during the morning peak period.
West Midlands Railway’s head of stations, Brenda Lawrence, gave a presentation about the company’s plans to develop its stations and train services, including details of new Class 196 diesel trains, which will replace the existing Class 170 units on the Birmingham-Worcester-Hereford services in 2021, and improved timetables from Sunday, May 19, and in December.
She said detailed proposals to redesign the street-level concourse at Worcester Foregate Street station, including the installation of automatic ticket barriers, are being drawn up after a consultation earlier this year and the company is also involved in talks about potential improvements to the city’s Shrub Hill station in conjunction with a major redevelopment proposed for the surrounding area.
One project that will be going ahead at Worcester Shrub Hill station is the provision of a footbridge with lifts, to improve access to platforms 2 and 3 for the disabled and passengers with heavy luggage, with funding from the Government’s Access for All programme.
- CLPG Treasurer Brian Clayton announced at the meeting that he would be stepping down from the post at the 2020 AGM. Anyone interested in succeeding him should contact John Ellis at email@example.com or call 01386 841253.