2018 came with its frustrations as electrification work saw the line through Melksham closed to local trains for 60 days to allow diverted long distance services a route to and from the West Country. 2019 opened with the optimism that with greater capacity and the engineering work completed passenger growth would again accelerate after being dampened by the previous year’s disruption.  There has been some evidence of this but frustratingly reliability of the service in the summer again hampered this.

A shortage of staff due to ongoing training and holidays, infrastructure problems – notably at Thingley Junction where the route joins the main line near Chippenham and rolling stock issues all contributed to serious disruption.   Working with GWR, TransWilts were able to ensure that where services were cancelled alternative road transport was proactively arranged rather than waiting for intending passengers to summon it via station help points.   Looking ahead GWR have worked to improve the staffing situation with revised holiday booking arrangements and a more efficient training structure.

The year has brought many positives however.  TransWilts has continued to nurture the rail user groups in Chippenham and Pewsey Vale.   Several meetings have been held in Chippenham as GWR works on its plans to improve facilities at the Grade II listed railway station in the town.  Work has focused on making better use of the space at the front of the station and reduce conflict between cars, buses, pedestrians and cyclists.  GWR asked TransWilts to assist with passenger surveys at the station. On some of the coldest days of the winter volunteers not only asked passengers where they were heading to on the rail network but also looked at the way people move around the station with its two footbridges and entrances at both the north and south of the station.  Such was the success of this that TransWilts were asked to do a similar survey at Swindon Station.

Working with others, TransWilts co-operated with GWR to make rail replacement service information better advertised at local stations and also helped to ensure a better connection for Sunday morning passengers heading for Swindon when the first train is replaced by a bus.

Masterminded by Community Rail Officer Sophie Martin, TransWilts volunteers took part in the Great British Spring Clean.  Over 60 bags of rubbish were collected from Chippenham, Trowbridge and Melksham stations – where the local Rail User Group got on board to contribute to the effort.  As well as improving the look of all three stations, the event saw more supporters join the TransWilts and be available for other projects.

Following a successful application to GWR’s CCIF scheme, work has continued to bring a disused storeroom at Westbury station back into use as a meeting room for both the TransWilts CIC and local community groups.  It is hoped that it will be available for use early in the new year.  Meanwhile TransWilts members were on hand last Spring to celebrate the opening of the car park extension at Westbury which added 150 spaces and has already proved much needed.

Chairman Paul Johnson has continued to lead the work on the Melksham Masterplan.  This will see an increase in car parking to generate income to set up and run a community hub which will provide facilities for waiting passengers and other local groups.   It is hoped the first phase of the car parking will be brought into use in the New Year.

The TransWilts CIC has also been able to celebrate being awarded ACoRP/DfT accreditation.  This expands the TransWilts remit to not only support the service from Swindon to Westbury but rail services in Wiltshire in general.

TransWilts staged its annual Stakeholders Conference in June which attracted keynote speakers from both GWR and SWR as well as the Swindon & Wiltshire LEP unveiling its strategy for rail.  Meanwhile the TransWilts website was redesigned and relaunched at the AGM to take advantage of new technology and provide a better shop window for the group’s activities and plans.  Work is now being carried out to improve the smartphone app.

Working in partnership with the local Lions club TransWilts helped take a group of 80 adults and children for a day out in Weymouth in the summer.  For many of the children it was their first experience of train travel and all thoroughly enjoyed it.

On 8th December GWR very generously gave families free travel passes for this years Santa Train. The Westbury Lions kindly provided each child with a Christmas gift which Santa distributed himself.  Santa’s elves dished out mince pies and a beverage throughout the return journey from Westbury to Swindon.

 

Accessible walks in Wiltshire from local train stations.

We have joined forces with UWE Bristol and took part in some research about working with people with disabilities and/or mobility constraints to evaluate accessible walks from three local rail stations (Yatton, Severn Beach and Bradford-on-Avon) and the return train journeys to these destinations. The aim is to gather feedback on the train journey and the facilities at the station and on board, and on the experience of the walk. We will be taking part in similar walks throughout 2020.

They say hard work brings its rewards – we await 2020 to yet more progress. If you would like to be involved in helping your local community, please contact Sophie – sophie@transwilts.org 07379 175055.

From all at TransWilts we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!