Bedwyn Train Passenger Group has been campaigning for improved rail services from Bedwyn, Hungerford, Kintbury and Newbury since 2006. If you use these stations, we recommend subscribing to BTPG newsletters by emailing [email protected].
Despite its name, the Bedwyn Train Passenger Group is for Kintbury, and Hungerford, and Bedwyn. The only things it doesn’t campaign for regarding Kintbury and Hungerford are on-station facilities – though it’s always happy to pass comments on to GWR.
See here for an overview of the reduction of direct trains to Paddington and BTPG reports from 2021/22.
To complain about the appalling reduction in direct trains, please contact your MP: the more communications they receive about how these changes have adversely affected you, your family or your business, the more likely it is that they will continue to lobby to support the excellent work that the BTPG does in trying to reverse these cuts.
- Laura Farris (MP for the Newbury Constituency, which includes Hungerford, Kintbury and Newbury) – please click here.
- Danny Kruger (MP for the Devizes Constituency, which includes Bedwyn) – please click here.
Update 31 October 2023
Storm Ciaran – GWR travel update
[Note from Penny Post: the following information is probably of general use for any high-profile weather event, of which we can expect more and more.]
Storm Ciaran is due to hit the UK tomorrow (Wed 1 Nov) evening and is likely to cause disruption to rail services. GWR is encouraging all passengers to check before they travel at www.gwr.com/check or with their operator as alterations and cancellations are expected Wednesday (1 Nov) evening and throughout Thursday (2 Nov) due to high winds, heavy rain and high tides.
Passengers are advised to travel earlier in the day tomorrow (Wednesday 1 Nov) and delay their journeys on Thursday 2 Nov. Delay Repay compensation will apply for delays over 15 minutes, and customers who choose not travel can claim a refund – more information is available at www.gwr.com/delayrepay. Passengers with tickets for travel on GWR services tomorrow (Wed 1 Nov) evening will be able to use their ticket earlier in the day, and tickets for travel on Thur 2 Nov will be valid tomorrow and Fri 3 November.
People who live or work near the railway are asked to be aware of items that could find their way onto the tracks at any time, but particularly during high winds, when trampolines, gazebos and tarpaulin can be blown away.
Ticket office closures
You’ve probably already seen the news today that ticket office closures have been cancelled.
Our working relationship with Network Rail
GWR is now including us in discussions with Network Rail where infrastructure failures have caused disruption to services. It’s always good to expand our contacts and we are now also able to talk and engage with Network Rail directly on these issues. Regarding the poor service, Network Rail has written saying:
There is no hiding from the fact that train performance has not been good enough recently, and passengers deserve better.
Last week, we discovered an issue with our signalling system and our teams conducted extensive testing and implemented precautionary measures. Since last Wednesday, the signalling system has been functioning normally but we are continuing to monitor the situation.
More generally, we have had a maintenance backlog as a result of the industrial action last year. We have been working to improve this backlog now the industrial dispute has been resolved from a Network Rail perspective. By working closely with GWR and other train operators we are seeing some positive improvements, even with the fact we’re now running 19% more trains than we did in 2019. Some examples of this work include:
- Points, where trains change tracks, have caused delays to passengers. We focused on the top 25 most critical points in the Thames Valley where trains can be delayed when there
- are issues. As a consequence, we’ve managed to reduced delay minutes by 81% with 61% fewer incidents.
- We’re installing track monitoring equipment that tells us when tracks are giving off more vibrations, which is a good early indication that it is wearing out, at 25 critical locations in the Thames Valley. This means we catch more incidents before they take place. So far this has led to a 63% reduction in delay minutes and 50% fewer incidents.
- We’ve been recruiting and employing more signallers – increasing from 75 to 106 at our signalling centre in the last year – which has seen a 40% reduction in delay minutes and 19% fewer incidents.
These are just some of the improvements that we have implemented, but we know there is still much more to do to improve our services for passengers.
Hitachi (IET Train) door issues
In our meeting with GWR on 27 September, GWR reported that quite a few delays and cancellations have been due to faulty doors on the IET fleet. We’ve since asked what action Hitachi has been taking and GWR has reported back with:
Most of the problems are a result of passenger interactions or rubbish stuck in the door runners but these are decreasing. The incident at Twyford last week was a result of a sensitive door close switch. There is a programme underway to recalibrate these as the view is that are too sensitive. Those that have been recalibrated have shown an improvement. Once all doors have been recalibrated we should see a further decrease in door issues.
Getting our IET trains back
We still working on this. Today we put a more detailed proposal to GWR to swap 387s (electric only) from the Paddington to Newbury with the IET bi-modes running on the wholly electrified Paddington to Cardiff route. The IETs can then run to Bedwyn without the need to change trains at Newbury.
What we’ve found is that a 387 takes only two minutes longer to get to Cardiff than an IET. So the real stumbling blocks appear to be:
- Lack of first class on the 387s.
- Lack of buffet facilities on the 387s.
- Seating capacity.
If GWR can confirm the switch is technically possible then it’ll be an issue of politics. As Cardiff get a half hourly service from Paddington, what we are asking for will only affect half their trains.
Update 6 October 2023
Weekday Travel After 1900
Thank you to all those who contacted us, following our request in our 4 August newsletter. You gave us great feedback on your use of the post 1900 Paddington trains. Based on this, GWR have decided not to make any alterations as they appreciate our need for the direct 1906 off-peak.
We are following up an issue with GWR where a passenger was fined £91 at Paddington when:
- The ticket machine at Bedwyn was broken.
- There were cancellations and short formations making his short formed direct Paddington train packed, thus unable to purchase a ticket on-board.
The GWR rules are clear: “Where a station isn’t staffed, or the ticket machines aren’t working, you must pay for your journey at your earliest opportunity; either on-board or at the first available station.” The passenger in question had followed this to the letter, including trying to pay online (rejected because the train had already departed).
Our advice is (i) if the ticket machine is broken, photograph it (ii) if the train is packed photograph that too (iii) if you do get fined we’ll take it up on your behalf.
Fortunately such incidents are very rare, but very unsettling.
Meeting with GWR
On 27 September 27, Bill Wells and I met with senior GWR managers. Here follows the main topics, and outcomes, of discussion:
We discussed this at great length. There are some particularly poor performing trains (both directs and connections). Factors causing this are strikes, working to rule, infrastructure failures, trains failing, human error and lack of available IET trains. Lack of staff is not a significant issue, they do have reserve staff on standby (apart from on work to rule days), but sometimes, due to knock on effects of disruption staff, are in the wrong places. The IETs are ‘cut to the bone’ with Hitachi (who maintain them over night) not releasing enough on a day by day basis. GWR are improving their working practises with Hitachi so they are aware of what trains are needed where and when of a morning. Human error is a factor, eg releasing the shuttle from Newbury before the Paddington train arrives.
Bill and I were shown around the Control Centre. It’s an impressive setup with staff clearly dedicated to their jobs. But the systems are prone to human error: when Control request the shuttle to be held they have to (i) contact platform staff to tell the driver to hold and (ii) contact the signaller to keep the shuttle held on red. There’s no automated method for Control to force a hold. It must be stressed that the signalling system is more robust, so when we say ‘human error’ we are not referring to safety issues. One of the major problems with IETs (especially when in service) is door failures. Hitachi is working on this and installing upgrades.
Wrong information given to passengers
Like point 1, the staff in the Control Centre know what’s happening. However, getting it to the ground is an issue. For example, they can contact Paddington to put a message out, but it’s then down to the staff at the station to implement that. This again is prone to human error. Personally, I was rather surprised at how unintegrated the systems are. The bodies of people and IT are: Drivers, signallers, platform staff, Customer Information System (CIS), Control Centre and train staff. These are all loosely coupled so it does explain a lot of the problems we see.
Poor CIS information
The CIS is automated, working out messages to display based on electronic information. Control Centre staff have limited opportunities to override this. They don’t have access to station PA systems: all they can do is instigate pre-recorded messages or put short text messages on the CIS screens. Also they don’t have access to the PA systems on trains, instead they can only contact the train manager. For driver only, they can only contact the driver if the train is stationary and, even then, it’s just a message to ask the driver to contact Control (this is to not distract the driver).
Getting our three IETs back
This is the tough one.
GWRs relationship with the DfT is very good. However, behind the DfT sits the Treasury pulling the strings. The Treasury keep pressing for more cost savings. So, even though our three IETs have been taken away, the Treasury are pressing for even more cost savings. This means we are way down the pecking order. GWR described the situation as ‘A nationalised industry with shareholders’. GWR were more responsive to the possibility of getting one IET back to give us a three-hourly direct off-peak Paddington service (supplemented on the other hours by the shuttle).
GWR also said that we, as a passenger group, have had quite a few ‘wins’ in the past year. Aware of that as we are, this has come on the back of our off-peak direct trains (and some of our evening peak direct trains) being taken away. It is clear, however, that we do have quite an impact and GWR clearly do read and act upon all the customer complaints that we send in – so keep them coming.
We also asked again whether we could have some of the IETs used on the Paddington/Cardiff route in exchange for class 387s used on the Paddington/Newbury route. This would mean the IETs could come to Bedwyn, removing the need for the off-peak shuttle. GWR has promised to look at this again.
A series of complaints from passengers which are currently unanswered
We went through these and have emailed the passengers individually.
Reduction in availability of the £12 pre-booked fares
The number of discounted tickets and their price is based on a dynamic flow algorithm. There has been no deliberate reduction in the price and availability. Instead the services are being used more so the algorithm will not offer so many at the low fares you have previously been used to,. ie a less frequented service will have more discounted fares than a not so popular one.
The 0954 off Bedwyn does not allow the use of a Network Railcard
GWR has now resolved this.
Request for an electronic train information board at the foot of the bridge on the Newbury downside platform
GWR has asked for this to be done.
Request to have Newbury station staffed until the last connection is made (including bus replacements)
There’s no money to do this. We protested, saying that the shuttle has caused passengers to be left stranded late at night. We asked if more could be done, lighting, police patrols, CCTV etc. GWR have pointed out that Newbury has Secure Station Status.
The poor quality of the rail replacement (buses) service
We discussed this at great length with the manager in charge of rail replacements (ie buses). It was explained to us that the rail replacements are expected to work. GWR contract to First Transport who then get independent bus operators to bid. Unfortunately, given it is late at night, only one operator ever bids for Newbury. And they aren’t very good.
A big factor is the lack of money to fund it, thus you pay for what you get. We stressed all the complaints you have sent us (some of which are almost beyond belief). The drivers are poorly briefed, sometimes don’t turn up, don’t wait for connections, don’t know where they are going and the customer helpline isn’t able to actively resolve issues. We said it needs somebody on the ground from First Transport to make it work and to be a point of contact for passengers on the ground.
After a very lengthy conversation GWR agreed to get a co-ordinator for the next rail replacement, but subsequently have said only where there are a large number of buses involved. We have said a co-ordinator is needed for all rail replacements, but we would accept having a telephone number of a First Group duty manager made available to passengers. GWR said having co-ordinators might set a precedent for other rail replacements on the network. One of the reasons we are getting priority is that we complain so much. So it shows the passenger group (Bill, me and all of you who complain via us) is effective.
We asked for the hold times of the shuttles
GWR supplied us with the following. The left hand column is the normal train departure time, the right hand column the number of minutes the departure time can be delayed by. We hope it helps you to have it.
Update 24 September 2023
Some of the information in the BTPG’s 24 August newsletter, which we weren’t able to refer to at the time as we were away, has been overtaken by events. We include here the information that still seems relevant (as of 3 October).
The ASLEF union (train drivers) have announced further strike action on Wednesday 4 October at train operators across England, including GWR. As on previous strike days, this will have a major impact on services, with many parts of the network having no service whatsoever. Trains that are planned to run will be subject to short notice changes and cancellations, and will start later and finish much earlier than usual. GWR are also expecting there to be an impact on the days before and after strikes too.
GWR’s teams are working to get journey planners updated as well as their dedicated webpage at www.gwr.com/strike as soon as possible. GWR will also be making customers aware through station and on board announcements, station posters, and traditional and social media.
ASLEF has also announced a ban on overtime working from from Monday 2 to Friday 6 October. While GWR do not anticipate that this will have a major impact on their scheduled services, customers should check before they travel using www.gwr.com/check . There is also the potential for delays and cancellations due to short notice driver absence. The Night Riviera Sleeper service will not run throughout the period of the industrial action.
GWR stakeholder conference
Bill Wells and I attended the stakeholder conference in Swindon on 13 September. The Secretary of State for Transport was due to attend, but instead addressed by a pre-recorded video. This was met with a few comments that perhaps he did not wish to answer questions.
Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of Network Rail, spoke very well. He’s really on the side of the passengers and described the DfT’s micro managing the industry as ‘evil’. Strong words which showed his passion and concerns about how damaging the cuts are.
The MD of GWR, took questions at the end. This was our big chance to raise the removal of the IETs. Not only the three for Bedwyn but also another three have been taken away from Paddington services, causing cancellations and short formations to our directs and connections at Newbury. He tried to deflect my concerns so I kept going, asking if he was bidding with the DfT for more funds to get the six IETs back. Again I was deflected and I was then told to hand the microphone back. After the conference we again wrote to him with all of the issues and concerns.
Unfortunately, to date, we have not had a reply. We will continue to press for answers to these and other important questions relevant to the level of service for our local stations. It is clear, however, that most of these questions will need to be answered by the DfT and we are liaising with our local MPs, Laura Farris and Danny Kruger in this regard.
Meeting with GWR
We will soon having a meeting with the GWR senior managers and intend to raise the following:
- Poor performance
- Getting our IETs back
- Wrong information given the passengers
- Poor CIS information
- A series of complaints from passengers which are currently unanswered
- Reduction in availability of the £12 pre-booked fares
- Inconsistencies in the use of the Network Rail card.
- Request for an electronic train information board at the foot of the bridge on the Newbury downside platform
- Request to have Newbury station staffed until the last connection is made (including bus replacements)
- The occasional issue with change of platform announcements at Bedwyn.
- Inability to book seats via the GWR APP
- Can passengers with bookings on cancelled services be automatically notified by email / text?
- Can those with season tickets be notified about bus replacements?
- The poor quality of the rail replacement (buses) service.
- The issue where staff with manual ticket machines sometimes cannot sell tickets which work the London Underground barriers for cross-London transport.
If you can think of anything else we can raise then please let us know.
Update 21 August 2023
You may have seen that the RMT union (on board and station staff) have announced two further strike dates for Saturday 26August and Saturday 2 September at train operators across England, including GWR.
As on previous strike days, this will have a major impact on services, with many parts of the network having no service whatsoever. Trains that are planned to run will be subject to short notice changes and cancellations. GWR are also expecting there to be an impact on the days before and after strikes too.
GWR is working to get journey planners updated as well as on its dedicated webpage here.
There are further RMT strike dates affecting Cross Country services only on Saturday 9 September. For further information on this please click here.
A note about peak-time travel
During the evening peak, you can use the Elizabeth Line with an off-peak ticket from Paddington to Reading and then catch anything, including West Country bound trains originating from Paddington, on to Newbury, Kintbury, Hungerford and Bedwyn.
Trainline and refunds
It’s been pointed out to us that if you claim Delay/Repay via Trainline you will be charged a fee – up to £10. However, you can claim directly off GWR and avoid this fee.
The Passenger Group picked up two awards at Railfuture’s annual awards – a gold award for our new look website and a silver award for the campaign we’ve mounted to reinstate our direct services to Paddington. To read more, please search for “Bedwyn” in this PDF.
Update 4 August 2023
Do you return from Paddington on weekdays after 1900?
Please could you get in touch with the BTPG as GWR wants to consult with us regarding these services.
Meeting with Network Rail (including a possible new service to Westbury)
On 26 July Bill Wells and I attended a meeting with Network Rail on the ‘Wiltshire Strategic Study’. This is to “consider the various stakeholder aspirations in the Wiltshire area and possible timetable and infrastructure interventions required to inform an incremental, integrated development programme.”
As you can imagine, we reiterated our case of restoring our direct Paddington services. Interesting for us is that Network Rail wishes to see an hourly Paddington to Westbury service with a stopping pattern of Reading, Newbury, Kintbury, Hungerford, Bedwyn, Pewsey then possibly Devizes Gateway before turning around at Westbury.
This would solve all our problems (and give us the westbound service we have always campaigned for). However, it’d be a minimum of six years away, would require IETs or further electrification, a new platform at Westbury and double heading (ie two locos) the stone trains so they move faster. Therefore, we are still campaigning for the restoration of our pre-Covid service.
Hungerford and Kintbury
Despite its name, the Bedwyn Train Passenger Group is for Kintbury, and Hungerford, and Bedwyn. The only things we don’t campaign for regarding Kintbury and Hungerford are on-station facilities – though we’re always happy to pass comments on to GWR.
It’s been mentioned to us a couple of times that there is a feeling that the non-stop 1321 from Newbury to Bedwyn (not calling at Kintbury or Hungerford) is a concession to us in the passenger group. This is not so. When the timetable changed in May 2022 there were two trains that were non-stop Newbury to Bedwyn. We protested on behalf of Kintbury and Hungerford and GWR managed to sort one of them out and add a Hungerford stop on the 1316 Newbury to Exeter departure.
The 1321 from Newbury remains as not calling at Kintbury and Hungerford. It has to provide a connection from the above Exeter departure and then ‘belt its way down to Bedwyn’ to not get in the way of a freight train. GWR is very aware that this is still a problem, but it can only really be solved by the reintroduction of a direct train from Paddington which would run ahead of the Exeter service.
Please claim and spread the word
If you get delayed by more than 15 minutes please always claim compensation: click here for details. It’s important that the poor service we get costs the rail industry. If we rest on a laurels things won’t change.
Please also ask others to do the same and, if possible, join our email list. The more protesting we do the better.
Buses to Marlborough
Wiltshire Council is now saying that changes which affect Great Bedwyn are now scheduled for 4 September (Marlborough and Great Bedwyn) then 30 October (Marlborough, Great Bedwyn and Hungerford). We do have some leaflets: if you’d like one then please let me have your address.
Update 7 July 2023
On 7 July 2023, GWR provided the following response to the BTPG’s question about short formations (see below):
“Currently we are seeing too many short notice short forms (e.g. five car IETs instead of ten cars). We have a train plan that allows for 13 IET sets to be out at any one time for maintenance, repair and regular required examinations. At the moment there are 19 sets out. This is due to a combination of higher than expected sets needing repair due to damage and vandalism and too many sets being out for heavy maintenance at the same time. We have spoken to Hitachi about this and the need for better planning.”
Update 27 June 2023
The RMT (on board and station staff) will strike on Thursday 20, Saturday 22 and Saturday 29 July. On these dates GWR will only be able to run a limited service, starting later and finishing much earlier than usual – and most of the network will have no service whatsoever. Trains that are planned to run will be subject to short notice changes and cancellations. GWR are also expecting there to be an impact on the days before and after strikes too, in particular Friday 21 July.
GWR’s teams are working to get journey planners updated as well as their dedicated webpage at www.gwr.com/strike as soon as possible.
ASLEF (train drivers) has also announced a ban on overtime working from Mon 3 July to Sat 8 July. While GWR does not anticipate that this will have a major impact on services, customers should check before they travel using www.gwr.com/check . As a result, the Night Riviera Sleeper service will not run from Sunday 2 July to Friday 7 July, restarting on Sun 9 July.
We note that a number of our nine/ten carriage IETs are being substituted for five carriages. We are complaining regularly to GWR about this. We suspect that extending IETs to Carmarthen means the IET fleet is under so much pressure we are now getting looted. We are pushing for clarification.
The train manager does have the option to declassify first class. So if your train is running with only five carriages with standing room only, then feel free to remind the train manager of this option. Obviously there has to be room in first class for this decision to be made. Also, if you are travelling in first class and they declassify it, you are due a refund.
Bus service to Marlborough
On June 20th we had a meeting with Wiltshire Council regarding the bus service. The new Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) bus service is now scheduled to come in to operation on 30th October. Therefore the current bus service will remain until at least the end of October.
The new service will have a route number 110 and be a mix of a fixed timetable and a bookable service. The fixed timetable has not yet been finalised.
Cracked crossing at Theale – impact for Bedwyn services until 0626 on 28 June.
Due to a track defect near Theale, Network Rail needed to take an emergency possession on 27 June. This means the 0534 and 0600 services on 28 June are cancelled. The first train east from Bedwyn will be the 0626, the first train east from Newbury will be at 0631.
Update 18 June 2023
Please find some update below.
Glastonbury: minor changes to services on Wed 21 June, Thu 22 June and Fri 23 June
- The 0703 Paddington-Paignton will not call at Newbury.
- The 1035 and 1235 Paddington-Exeter St Davids will not call at Hungerford.
Let’s keep the pressure up
For any delay over fifteen minutes, you are entitled to compensation. Please do always claim. The more refunds the rail industry has to pay out, the more likely we will get our service back.
If you are being inconvenienced by poor service, or having to change at Newbury, please can you write to your MP saying how it impacts on your life (such as childcare arrangements, missing meetings etc)? For Bedwyn, it’s [email protected] and for Hungerford, Kintbury and Newbury it’s [email protected]. We need to keep our problems in the minds of our MPs.
There are still occasions when connections are not held at Newbury when they should have been. We always complain to GWR when this happens. Please do always let us know about missed Newbury connections. The more we complain to GWR the better.
1906 last week
Other than Friday, the 1906 from Paddington did not run beyond Newbury last week. We didn’t find out until Wednesday when a passenger emailed us. We contacted GWR straightaway and they apologised for not informing us. It was taken off due to engineering works. Had we known we would have asked for a bus replacement to serve Kintbury, Hungerford and Bedwyn. Bill and I are both retired commuters so we are dependent on information from GWR or passengers. So, if you see something in the timetabling that looks a bit odd then please do let us know.
On Thursday GWR ran the 1808 as a five-car instead of a nine-car set. Given, with the 1906 chopped, this was the last direct service that day it was very overcrowded. We protested to GWR. It feels like one thing after another as the lack of investment bites.
Getting our direct Paddington trains back
This is still ongoing. Like us, others are questioning GWRs decision to start to run IETs on to Carmarthen from Swansea. This is going to put pressure on IET availability at the same time as we are calling for the return of our IETs.
We are also concerned about terminology that GWR would ‘have to find three additional IETs’ to restore our direct service. We point out, each time, that we had three IETs taken from us and the use of the word ‘additional’ makes it look as if we are asking for something new.
Bill and I met with Railfuture last week. They offered some advice, including (i) contacting all candidates standing in the local seats at the next election (ii) researching the lost revenue in running shuttles instead of directs.
So, it all continues…
Update 1 June 2023
(Written by Penny Post, not the BTPG).
We’ve written many times about the pretty terrible rail service between Bedwyn and Newbury and highlighted the excellent work done by the Bedwyn Train Passenger Group (BTPG) to lobby GWR into doing something to improve this.
Local MP Laura Farris has recently issued a statement on this matter in which she says that she has asked for government time to debate “the adequacy of GWR’s performance” through West Berkshire. This, she explains, “follows changes to timetables that have seen capacity on the busy morning commuter service from Newbury to Reading slashed, resulting in overcrowding, in a move that Ms Farris has called “short-sighted”. Ms Farris says she was told by GWR that the decision to reduce capacity on this service was a result of a network-wide need to reduce fleet size due to financial constraints.”
The statement adds that “this intervention by the Newbury MP follows a continued campaign to improve local rail services. Last year, Ms Farris and her constituency neighbour Danny Kruger MP (Devizes) successfully campaigned for service improvements which resulted in the reinstatement of one direct evening service between Hungerford and Paddington.” This also includes a comment from the BTPG that the shuttle service “is causing missed connections, extending journey times and making passengers having to run at Newbury. The three stations have had the majority of their direct trains allocated elsewhere with no consultation.”
I contacted the BTPG about this and the group confirmed that it had recently had a Zoom meeting with Laura Farris’ office. “It’s good that she is highlighting this,” a spokesperson told me. “This is likely to form part of a wider campaign over the rest of this year to try to get our through services reinstated.”
I also asked to what extent the group had been involved in the restoration of the service to which Laura Farris referred. “The two MPs have made efforts to improve matters,” I was told, “and the evening service mentioned was one success. We did specifically ask for this train to be reinstated. Just to get this back took a considerable effort.”
We’re all being exhorted to use trains although there’s little in the either the simplicity or the prices of the tickets to encourage this. Having a perfectly simple journey to Reading or London split in two with an unreliable connection doesn’t make it stack up on timing or convenience either.
To some extent, this is down to the failure to electrify the line west of Newbury (the whole network could be been electrified for the cost of HS2) but I was more surprised by the reference to the “financial constraints” placed on GWR. This is, of course, a trump card for any organisation to play – don’t blame us, guv, it’s the government’s fault. However, I thought these companies were privatised, so enabling them to invest what they wanted in order to attract customers. Could it be the the Department for Transport is micro-managing their spending?
A bit of research suggested that this is exactly what’s happening. It’s less clear why. Perhaps the government doesn’t trust the rail companies. Certainly, several of them have been placed on the naughty step over the years. It also seems pointless privatising something if you’re then going to try to do everything yourself. Rail privatisation only created an artificial market in any case: if I want to go from Hungerford to London, I don’t have a choice of operators in the way that I do with telecoms or utilities. In this respect the rail firms are like those that provide our water.
It thus seems even odder that whereas GWR would perhaps like to improve the service, the DfT is preventing it from doing so and telling it how to spent its money: whereas with the water companies, which have only recently woken up to the fact that they need to improve their services, the government and its agencies seem disinclined to force them to do so. Just remind me – why did we privatise these industries in the first place?
Update 21 May 2023
Anybody commuting over the last week will know how bad the service has been. Our evening direct trains have run at only 40%. We have been in contact with GWR over this and it was caused by a variety of industrial action, points failures and a fatality. GWR knows how unhappy we are.
Meeting with Newbury MP Laura Farris’ office
Bill Wells and I recently met with Laura Farris’s staff. Laura is planning to raise the loss of many of our direct trains in the House.
We discussed GWR’s reluctance to switch 387s (all electric) from the Newbury route to the Cardiff route, freeing up IETs (which can run beyond Newbury). We countered GWR’s claims, that as the 387s do not have buffet cars or first class they will lose revenue, with the costs they must be incurring to run a shuttle between Newbury and Bedwyn.
We also raised our concern that we really need late night staffing at Newbury to manage the changes of train now required for Kintbury, Hungerford and Bedwyn passengers. We stressed that Newbury Station is a lonely old place late at night and we have safety concerns. We also raised the point that people have moved here since a full direct service was introduced in 1992.
Hopefully Laura will get a chance to raise this.
The new timetable comes in on Monday 22 May. There are three things to note for Bedwyn commuters.
- The 0803 no longer calls at Bedwyn, instead you can catch it at Newbury by getting the 0749 shuttle from Bedwyn.
- On the upside we now have a new 0823 service, direct to Paddington.
- The 0729 Bedwyn departure has been downgraded from two x five car units to a single five car unit. On occasion, this has already happened for operational reasons and has led to standing room only from Hungerford. GWR have done this to free up an IET to use elsewhere. We have protested to GWR – our line has been looted of enough IETs already.
Please report to us all occurrences of not being able to get a seat on the 0729. We will then petition GWR with this. We do have a concern that the rail industry has a ‘trick’ to reduce overcrowding by removing stops. We know how important the 0729 is – Bill and I pressed for it since we formed in 2006, right up until we finally got it in December 2019.
Update 28 April 2023
Please note the following updates:
Dates have been announced for full strikes on Friday 12 May, Wednesday 31 May and Saturday 3 June. There will also be action short of a strike on Saturday 13 May, Monday 15 May through to Saturday 20 May and Thursday 1 June. Please keep an eye on www.gwr.com/strike
Please do always let us know of missed connections at Newbury. The more we complain, the more likely we are to get our direct service restored. Also, please always claim compensation for any delay of fifteen minutes or more. The more it costs the rail industry, the more likely we are to get our direct service restored. Please see https://www.gwr.com/help-and-support/refunds-and-compensation/delay-repay
Progress on Restoring our Direct Rail Service
GWR has been making certain commitments to IET trains which have caused us concern with regards to returning our three IETs for our off-peak direct services to Paddington. We wrote to GWR three times regarding this and failed to get a response. We therefore had a meeting with Laura Farris MP and Danny Kruger MP to share our concerns. They wrote to the MD of GWR, stating:
BTPG would like clarification on the following:
- Will the proposed Swansea to Carmarthen extension require the use of more IETs and, if so, are GWR prioritising this extension over the reinstatement of IET services on the Bedwyn route?
- Has GWR considered the BTPG’s proposal to switch bi-mode IETs from the Paddington to Cardiff route with the electric-only Class 387s on the Newbury route? These IETs could then come to Bedwyn, replacing the shuttle service.
- Is GWR planning to use IETs on the Bristol to Salisbury route, and other routes in the evolving MetroWest area?
- Finally, is GWR considering bidding for other rolling stock that might become available (namely Avanti West Coast’s Class 221s and East Midlands Railway’s Class 222s), which might free up IETs for the Bedwyn service?
Here follows Mark Hopwood’s (MD of GWR) response to Laura and Danny:
Thank you for your letter of 13 March (attached for ease) and for your kind comments about the improvements we have been able to make for Kintbury, Hungerford and Bedwyn to help with connections. Generally the timetable does now seem to be working well. There are still some occasional incidents, a number of which have been associated recently with rail replacement buses, and there has been some missed connections linked to disruption, rather than scheduling. The Bedwyn Train Passenger Group (BTPG) are very helpful in keeping us informed and we investigate each incident that they report. We also meet them regularly to discuss the timetable and performance.
We will be introducing more Intercity Express Trains (IET) on our Cardiff to Penzance route in May. This will mean we can continue to remove Castle Class high use diesel services from our fleet. This will reduce costs, helping us to meet the financial challenge of reducing public subsidy, as well as helping us to support Net Zero carbon emissions.
You will remember that it was the need to make financial savings that led to the initial change to services for Bedwyn, Hungerford and Kintbury. We needed to make better use of our all electric fleet Class 387 fleet. This also released IETs to begin the process of removing the Castle Class trains. We would have been happy to run the 387s through to Bedwyn, retaining the direct London services, but we cannot call beyond Newbury without further electrification of the line.
Further electrification would allow for the return of direct services and indeed would further reduce diesel emissions in Wiltshire and West Berkshire.
In order to take more Castle Class trains out of service on our Cardiff to Penzance route we are reducing a number of our ten carriage IET services to five carriages. This will impact services on routes across our network. It also means that we are making changes to where the IETs are stabled and maintained. This includes moving some IETs from North Pole depot (outside London Paddington) to Stoke Gifford (outside Bristol). As a result, we now have capacity to be able to meet a long promised extension of our Swansea services to Carmarthen. These are not new services but are existing services that will now run through to Carmarthen, giving West Wales a two hourly service to London. As the trains are no longer stabled at North Pole they could not be used in the Kennet Valley. I understand the frustration, and of course it is difficult to see improvements elsewhere in the timetable when there is a continuing ask to restore services here, but I have taken the view that if we can make improvements within budget, especially in this case, where we are making better use of the fleet overall, then we should do so.
This does not mean that we are not committed to the Kennet Valley, we are, and we do want to see the return of direct services. We are not yet able to do so, but we will continue to look for opportunities and we will keep working with BTPG to offer the best connecting services that we can until we can restore more direct services.
This will not however include bidding for additional rolling stock. You will know that we are now in a National Rail Contract with the Department for Transport. This means we need to submit an annual business plan that meets the budget set by the Treasury. Quite rightly, the amount of taxpayer subsidy is being reduced and we have been set a very challenging budget for 2023/24. Revenue is also not yet fully restored, and this does mean we need to reduce costs. In order to protect existing services, we are therefore making savings by reducing rolling stock costs. This comes both from the removal of our Castle Class fleet and from cancelling our plans to introduce a fleet of Class 769 trains. The savings we are making from reducing the size of our fleet have allowed us to protect more of our timetable and there isn’t any scope for additional leasing at present.
We have looked at using Class 387s on the London Paddington to Cardiff route, which is fully electrified and we do have one service a day currently operated by a 387. This ensures we keep crews competent for special events at the Principality Stadium where we use Class 387s to move larger volumes of customers in up to twelve car formations. These trains do not have First Class or catering on board and they are not therefore suitable to fully replace IETs on this long distance route. This would lead to a reduction in revenue, increasing the savings we would need to make elsewhere. I know it may sound harsh, but the number of customers using these services far outweighs the number of customers on our Bedwyn, Hungerford and Kintbury services. This is something that we do have to consider when making decisions about the deployment of our fleet. In addition, our peak time Cardiff services operate to Swansea, which is also off the electrified route where Class 387s cannot operate.
I should note that we are not using IETs on the route from Bristol to Salisbury. The new Metrowest services (funded by the West of England Combined Authority) will be operated by turbo services and our Cardiff to Portsmouth services will be operated in the main by Class 158 diesel services.
Our campaign continues!
Update 31 March 2023
there will be replacement buses to Reading Station (not Theale as before) over Easter (Friday 7 April to Monday 10 April) and on Sundays 16, 23 April & 14 May. Please see the following email from GWR:
“We just wanted to remind you of Network Rail improvement works taking place over Easter (Friday 7 April to Monday 10 April) and on Sundays 16, 23 April and 14 May. This work is vital to ensure the railway remains safe and reliable for operation.
“On the dates affected, no trains will run between Reading and Westbury, or Reading and Basingstoke. Buses will replace trains and journey times may be different to normal, with journeys also taking longer than usual. Our long distance services between Devon and Cornwall will also be diverted and journey times will be extended by around 30 minutes.
“Journey planners have been updated and we will also be making customers aware through traditional and social media, station posters, as well as station and on-board announcements.
“Customers should check before they travel on www.gwr.com/check and more information about the works, including where replacement buses will stop, is available at https://www.gwr.com/travel-information/travel-updates/planned-engineering/easter.”
Bill and I attended a meeting this morning where the case for the Devizes Gateway station was presented. In short, it’s only going to work if there is an hourly Paddington to Westbury IET service. This would then be our principal service. Network Rail and GWR were both quoted, at the event, as saying they do want our direct trains reinstated. This is all heartening, of course, and we continue to press for a restoration of our service (irrespective of extending it to Westbury).
After the meeting, Bill and I got a few minutes with Danny Kruger MP. This allowed us a chance to go through where we are with our campaign to restore our direct trains. Danny confirmed that he and Laura Farris MP have, at our request, written a joint letter to the DfT regarding our concerns:
- GWR committing IETs elsewhere before returning the ones taken away from our off-peak service.
- other diesel stock being retired, due to new electrification routes, by other train operating companies which could be used further west on the GWR network (where there is no electrification), returning our IETs.
- moves by the DfT to do away with the per station minimum service-level agreements.
Penny Post adds: for more information the Devizes Gateway project, click here.
Update 13 March 2023
The next set of strikes are on Saturday 18 March, Thursday 30 March and Saturday 1 April. Services on Sunday 20 will also be impacted with services starting later than normal, and anyone travelling on those dates should check their journey before travel. See www.gwr.com/strike for latest updates.
Following our complaints, GWR is making a better job of the holding services at Newbury. However, do let us know of any instances where a train could have been held and wasn’t.
Meeting with MPs
Our meeting with Danny Kruger and Laura Farris went really well. They will now write to the DfT on the matters concerning us: (i) GWR committing IETs (Intercity Express Trains) elsewhere before returning the ones taken away from our off-peak service (ii) other diesel stock being retired, due to new electrification routes, by other train operating companies which could be used further west on the GWR network (where there is no electrification), returning our IETs (iii) moves by the DfT to do away with the per station minimum service level agreements.
We’ve updated www.bedwyntrains.org.uk to be more useful when you are travelling. The home page now has the departure boards for Bedwyn and Newbury plus the arrivals board for Bedwyn. So when you go to www.bedwyntrains.org.uk you’ll get a snapshot of the current situation. The home page also has links to the GWR journey planner and GWR’s phone number.
Also from the home page you can use the menus to navigate to:
1. Realtime Info – the live departure/arrivals board (updated in real time) for Bedwyn, Kintbury, Hungerford, Newbury, Thatcham, Theale, Reading or Paddington. It also tells you where the train actually is, aiding your decision making. The idea is that when waiting at the station you bring this up for the latest updates.
2. Recent Performance – the last week of actual arrival times for weekday services from Bedwyn. For other stations, or weekends, select any one of the menu options, scroll down and change the search parameters. This provides evidence when putting in a claim and a link to the Refunds page is also included on this menu.
3. Timetables – select the printed timetable you’d see at the station for either Bedwyn, Kintbury, Hungerford, Newbury, Thatcham, Theale, Reading or Paddington.
4. More… – gives lots more information including: these newsletters, hints & tips, Marlborough bus information, local information and more information about the passenger group.
We are really hoping this becomes a portal to aid you when travelling. It is designed to be a single point where you can branch to the other information you need. We welcome feedback. You can put a link to it on your mobile device so it appears like an App. e.g. on the Chrome browser on Android, select the three vertical dots and then the ‘Add to Home Screen’ option. If you do this you’ll then be one click away from lots of useful information to aid your journey.
Update 23 January 2023
You may have seen in the media, that ASLEF (train drivers) will be taking strike action on Wednesday 1 February and Friday 3 February. RMT train drivers will also strike on the same days. This will mean no service for Bedwyn, Hungerford or Kintbury on those days, with a likely disrupted service on February 2 and 4 Please keep an eye on GWR’s strike page at www.gwr.com/strike
February and March Blockade
Network Rail will be carrying out track renewals in the Kennet Valley in February and March. Work will start on Saturday 18 February and the first stage of work will run through to Thursday 2March. During this period the line will be closed from Pewsey, through Bedwyn and Newbury as far as Theale. There will be further closures on Sunday 5 March, Saturday and Sunday 11/12 March, Friday 7 April to Monday 10 April, and on Sunday 16 and 23 April and 14 May.
Rail replacement bus services will operate from Bedwyn, Hungerford, Newbury and Thatcham through to Theale, where local rail services will operate to Reading and London Paddington. These will be hourly bus services, calling at each station. After 20:00 on weekdays and on Sundays the bus service will operate to Reading. We are currently pressing GWR for some more direct peak bus services e.g. Bedwyn / Hungerford then direct to Theale. GWR state they are finding it difficult to source buses. However, we will keep pressing this point.
A minibus service will operate from Kintbury – as the renewal work includes the level crossing at Kintbury station, there will also be a road closure. GWR will not therefore be able to operate full bus services for Kintbury. They will have a minibus (16 seater) that will operate from the car park of the Dundas Arms to Hungerford and Newbury only. This will allow for connections to the rail replacement bus service to Theale for onward connections. GWR are not able to operate a larger bus service given the narrow route into the village. Capacity for Kintbury is therefore very limited, and tickets valid to/from Kintbury can be used from Hungerford or Newbury.
Disruption to our service 30 April to 3 May 2023
Engineering work is taking place between Westbury to Taunton on April 30 to May 3. This means that through services will not be running down our line. In short this means the following Bedwyn departures will not run: 0651, 0729 and 0803 and the following Paddington to Bedwyn services will not run: 1808 and 1836.Passengers, who rely on the additional West of England services, calling at Hungerford, will also be affected.
We are pressing GWR for fill-in shuttles.
Please keep reporting delays and cancellations to us. We keep pressing GWR for improvements.
However, it does appear our requests for additional stops, on through services, when our trains are cancelled, is starting to have some affect. Thank you to those of you who have fed back to us incidents where GWR have put additional stops on.
Meeting with GWR Managing Director
Bill Wells and I attended a meeting with GWR’s MD, Mark Hopwood. Mark openly stated that the service was very poor at the moment and they, along with Network Rail, are addressing it. As there were 250 other people in the meeting, GWR didn’t have time for our question. Therefore we have re-submitted it via email and our awaiting the response. The question is:
With the announcement that GWR are planning to extend IET services to Carmarthen, how many extra IET trains will be required? Although it’s an extension of the Swansea service, the additional timing will require more units. Given Bedwyn’s three off-peak IET have been taken away, Bedwyn Trains Passenger Group are concerned GWR are committing further units before restoring Bedwyn’s. We have been repeatedly told that no IETs are available to restore our service so we would be very frustrated if GWR are able to find IETs for new services c.f. restore the service that passengers in the Kennet Valley have bought into.
We are also going to write to our MPs asking them to speak to GWR on this topic. We need to ensure GWR know we are monitoring their use of rolling stock.