How two men changed GWR’s train timetables to help people get Covid vaccines in West Berkshire

train going to vaccination centre

By all accounts, changing rail timetables is a formidably complicated business. Particularly on busy lines, adding even one extra stop can have a knock-on effect on numerous other services. Time was when this would have been done by specialists whose minds worked in the particular way that the problem required. Now it’s doubtless all performed by computer: however, as the chaos that followed the 2018 changes showed, perhaps the programme needs some tweaking. Either way, it’s a fiddly job. You can’t just call up the boss of a rail company and ask them to lay on some extra trains at short notice.

Actually, it seems that you can. If Covid has taught us one thing it’s that, when necessity knocks, things can be changed very quickly. It was this hope, albeit a very faint one, that was in the mind of Geordie Taylor from Hungerford when he pinged an email last week to Mark Hopwood, the Managing Director of GWR.

Geordie runs Hungerford’s Self-isolation Network which he founded in March 2020 to help people who were unable to get groceries and prescriptions during the first lockdown. More recently, he’s been helping organising transport for the town’s older and vulnerable people as they are summoned for their vaccines. Many of them don’t have their own transport so volunteer drivers were often making several return journeys a day and sometimes needing to be in two places at once. The jabs in the area are being provided not at the local surgeries but at Newbury Racecourse, about 10 miles away. One of the singular features about the Racecourse is that it has its own station, on the same line as Hungerford. The problem was that very few trains stopped there. Could this be changed? More in hope than expectation, Geordie got hold of Mark Hopwood’s email and spelled out the problem.

The reaction exceeded his wildest hopes. “I was prepared for a polite rejection,” Geordie said. “However, to my surprise and to GWR’s immense credit Mark not only agreed with me but also fast-tracked the initiative with Network Rail to make it happen in double-quick time. This minor change to a complex timetable will be a huge benefit to all residents of Hungerford and many others along the line during the vaccination programme. I tip my hat in thanks to all concerned.”

The new timetable improvements will start from Monday 8 February with an extra 17 trains a day stopping at Newbury Racecourse station, a few minutes’ walk from the vaccination centre. Please check GWR train timetable for details. You can easily walk from the racecourse platform to the Dubai suite in 5 minutes (fit) or 10 minutes (slowly). Cost is about £5.80 for a return. Cash, card & contactless are all accepted. You can buy a ticket on the platform at Hungerford or pay the conductor on the train (if there is one). There are no barriers at Hungerford or the Racecourse so you’ll not be restricted on that score.

GWR has also donated 40 bags of gritting salt to the centre after learning that it was struggling to obtain supplies.

Don’t expect that you’ll always get this reaction from a railway company. If you feel that the 6.46 express should stop at your village station on Thursdays then your request may still fall on deaf ears. It does, however, offer further proof that the pandemic has brought out the best of us, often in unexpected ways.

If an emergency is what it takes to get changes made quickly, Covid may prove to be a useful preparation for dealing with the arguably even more serious threat of climate change. Altering aspects of our travel habits will have an important role to play in this. Being able to tweak a timetable quickly to suit people’s needs and keep more cars off the road won’t change the world – but it’s certainly a stop in the right direction.

Brian Quinn


One Response

  1. I certainly tip my (proverbial) hat in thanks to Geordie Taylor for pursuading GWR to see sense in getting our local train to also stop at Newbury Racecourse!

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