The October edition of Modern Railways magazine carries a report on plans to improve the line.
Revised timetable from 7th September closer to full service
From 7th September hourly through trains from Waterloo to Exeter will return. See SWR website and scroll down to 7th September section for more details. You can view or download the latest PDF timetable here, which includes the change to the 17:25 departure from Exeter St Davids which will call additionally at Whimple.
Network Rail Study The Continuous Modular Strategic Plan (CMSP) is Published
Network Rail have published a strategic document for the future of the Salisbury to Exeter route. SERUG strongly supports this initiative. It's a long document some of which is highly technical, however the Executive Summary provides a good overview.
You can download the Executive Summary (7 pages) here
You can download the full CMSP (80 Pages) here.
Emergency Measures Agreement
The Department for Transport has announced that the South Western Railway franchise has been replaced by an Emergency Measures Agreement due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Their release can be seen here.
SERUG 2020 Annual General Meeting with guest speakers
Our plans for the 2020 AGM have been put on hold. We will advise a new date when Social Distancing advice allows larger gatherings.
A letter from our Chairman has been published in the February 2020 edition of Modern Railways magazine.
SERUG statement on SWR performance. 14th January 2020
South Western Railway Performance shows no sign of improving
The speculation regarding the possible termination of the South Western Railway (SWR) franchise comes as no surprise. It follows another poor year of performance for the train operator, which operates many of the services in our area, including the West of England Line from London Waterloo to Salisbury, Yeovil and Exeter.
Bruce Duncan, Chair of the Salisbury to Exeter Rail Users Group (SERUG) paints a sorry picture: “The previous operator, South West Trains (SWT), certainly wasn’t perfect, but it’s clear that services have deteriorated since SWR took over in 2017. Given that the majority of the existing SWT staff transferred to SWR, with the timetables, rolling stock and maintenance depots remaining the same, the only real change was the senior management and the franchise agreement with the DfT which specifies the way the franchise is run – that is where the blame must lie. Staff morale is at an all-time low”.
Mr Duncan is quick to point out that not all the problems are the responsibility of the train operator. Network Rail, who control the track and signalling have also suffered numerous issues. “Even without the lengthy December strike, performance throughout 2019 was woeful”, he continues, “Analysis of on-time performance on the Exeter route shows SWR missed their on-time arrival target (89% of trains to run on time) on 271 days last year. Effectively, this means that there’s a 75% chance that you’ll travel on a day when SWR fail to meet their punctuality target!”
Although the much-publicised strikes and staff shortages have monopolised the recent headlines, Mr Duncan believes that the real issue on the Exeter route is the lack of investment in infrastructure and modern trains. Most of the line between Salisbury and Exeter is single track, so trains can only pass one another at the few “passing loops”. One late running train is likely to cause delays to many others.
He continues, “Since 2016, SERUG has lobbied Government and Network Rail as well as the train operator to make the necessary improvements. If just four new (or longer) passing loops with double track were to be installed at Whimple, Yeovil, Gillingham and Tisbury, a step change in performance would be achieved, offering better timetable resilience and faster journey times”.
Mr Duncan also believes that the current rolling stock is now the oldest in mainline service in the country, but there are still no plans whatsoever to replace these 30 year old trains. He advises that SERUG intends to draw up a train specification and lobby to enable cleaner and more reliable “bi-mode” trains to replace the 30 year old diesel units. He is seeking passenger input for the specification.
SERUG’s lobbying has not been without success. The group have been asked to join a study team, chaired by Network Rail, to research investment opportunities. However, Mr Duncan knows that the pipeline for infrastructure improvements is a slow one and believes it will be at least 12 months before any decisions on the Study Group’s work are made. (More details of SERUG’s plans can be found on their website at www.serug.co.uk and on Facebook).
Meanwhile, can rail users expect any improvements in 2020? “That’s very unlikely”, says Mr Duncan, “SWR have recently announced a new and experienced MD , Mark Hopwood. Clearly, his role is to turn the franchise into an efficient passenger focussed railway. I wish him every success but one can understand a degree of scepticism! Network Rail will also have to improve their performance. Fares rose again at the beginning of January and the RMT union is now considering further strike action in February or March over who closes the doors. Given that drivers control doors on many other routes across the country there is no justification in claiming that this is a safety issue. It seems that the hapless passengers continue to be the RMT’s pawn and will remain at the bottom of their priority list”.
Chair, Salisbury to Exeter Rail User Group (SERUG)
Passenger Usage 2018 - 2019
Given the degree of disruption to the line it's not surprising to find that passenger numbers between Salisbury and Exeter have fallen between 2017 - 2018 and 2018 - 2019, using April to March data.
With the exceptions of the newish station at Cranbrook and Pinhoe, every station has lost passengers, over 200,000 in total. That's around 550 passengers per day.
This data includes Exeter Central and Salisbury at which some passengers are not using the West of England route, however it's a serious step back from many years of steady growth.
New timetables effective 15th December 2019
The national timetable will be updated from 15th December.
You can download Table 160 here.
The pocket timetable for our route from 15th December can be downloaded here.
One step forwards is a new last departure from Waterloo to Exeter at 21:20 on weeknights and Sundays, but not Saturdays. This train appears to omit Exeter Central, running through to St Davids.
PPM data for January to November 2019. Report by Nick Hurrell
Once again the PPM timekeeping report makes very unhappy reading. November (at 55.6%) was by far the worst month of the year, with the target being achieved on just one day. The data is in PDF format here.
The PPM (Public Performance Measure) is just one of the measures used to evaluate Train Operator performance – but it is probably the most widely used and understood. For South Western Railway (West of England line) the target is for 89.2% of all trains to arrive at their final destination within 5 minutes of schedule – it’s normally measured monthly.
Sadly, the monthly target has not been achieved for over two years now. The average so far this year sits at 77.2%, well below the National Average of 87.7% - which, let’s face it, isn’t great either! One might think that the December Strikes, for which SWR have an agreement that they will be measured against their reduced timetable, might meet the target, given that there’s less to go wrong. But no, the average so far this month (1-11 December) is still only 77%.
From 2nd December to 2nd January, except for Election, Christmas and Boxing Days most RMT Guards were on strike. Over this period a much reduced service operated over all of the RMT network. Our line was particularly badly affected. The full service restarted from Monday 6th January, with the new timetables which were due to come into effect on 15th December, see below. Celebrations should be subdued, the RMT is considering further strike days.
All change at First Group
First Group, operators of several UK rail franchises including SWR, have announced changes in their senior management positions. Current SWR MD Andy Mellors moves to a new position within the company and Mark Hopwood moves from GWR to SWR. More details here.
Christian Wolmar at Yeovil Railway Centre, 26th September.
Nick Hurrell reports:
Over 40 members and SERUG supporters attended a talk by Christian Wolmar about the current state of Britain’s Railways on Thursday 26 September. Although he may think of himself as “just another hack” (his own words), he is far more than that…a renowned railway journalist, historian, political commentator and also a very entertaining speaker.
The event started with brief updates from Bruce Duncan (SERUG Chair) and Andrew Ardley (SWR Business Development manager) on matters relating to the West of England line. It is pleasing to see that SERUG is now a recognised lobbying voice, with our views passenger improvements widely recognised and understood. SWR and Network Rail are now working with us, local councils and TravelWatch Southwest to design an improved timetable, with faster and more resilient journey times, which will identify where additional infrastructure improvements, such as passing loops, are required. Investment isn’t guaranteed, but we are moving forward.
Christian Wolmar’s talk concentrated initially on the history and development of the current CrossRail project – unsurprising as he has just written and published a book on the subject. He described the history of east/west travel across London, from the original Turnpikes to development of London Undergound’s original Central Line, right up to the present day, with the eagerly awaited opening of CrossRail.
He strongly believes that CrossRail will transform east/west travel across the capital, stressing that the “Elizabeth Line” is not an underground line, rather a mainline railway running underneath London, built to mainline loading gauge (not the narrower 12ft loading gauge of the deep tube lines).
He also highlighted that CrossRail is a good example of everything that is both right and wrong with our railways. The delays in its opening are (in his view) simply down to a major under-estimation of the time and costs required for the fit-out process. With the tunnelling completed virtually on time, it was thought that the fit-out of stations, signalling, etc, would be simple task. It clearly hasn’t been. Christian is also frustrated that his book on CrossRail isn’t really finished – it will need to be edited when the line finally opens!
The discussion turned to wider issues, such as the need for better integration of our rail bodies, where Network Rail needs to be (he’s a strong supporter of new NWR chief Andrew Haines) and of course HS2 (cynical and would rather the money is spent on better local tram networks, but doesn’t believe it will be cancelled).
Christian Wolmar doesn’t mince his words – and they are words well researched. The rousing round of applause at the end of his talk was well deserved.
Nick Hurrell, Secretary.
5th July 2019: Notes from the Chair
It’s time to consider our achievements over the first four years of SERUG’s existence, and to thank our members for their support.
After many months of analysis and research, our proposals for the future of the line were made in 2018 at the House of Commons. Our 8 MP’s, with constituencies adjoining the line, supported the phased incremental plan of delivering long term service improvements and passenger benefits. Our proposals can be seen in the Archive page of this new website. Feel free to share the link with your friends and colleagues.
Joining the West of England line Strategy Group (WESG) in 2018, as one of the two passenger groups (the other is Travel Watch South West), allows us formal input to the line’s long-term future, i.e. to 2043, assisting the County and District Councils, LEP’s, Network Rail and SWR (the TOC), to agree the way forward. There has to be an application to the DfT before anything moves, so there is much work yet to be done.
Our primary proposal is the provision of double track sections and signalling to improve resilience, capacity and journey times. Pending such investments current passenger services have been helped by our work with SWR, for example the May 2019 timetable’s additional services between Salisbury and Yeovil Junction.
We are concerned about the efficiency of the current 30+ year old rolling stock, and will soon be involved in considering their replacement, although new coaches will not arrive until after the end of this SWR franchise in 2024. Also under consideration is extension of the 3rd rail electrification from Basingstoke to Salisbury / Yeovil Junction together with bi-mode trains, reducing diesel usage and offering faster acceleration and more efficient stock use.
The Vision is for a 100 mph railway (currently 85 mph max west of Salisbury), with double track (ideally throughout), capacity for Devon Metro services and also paths for a GWR diversion service without alteration to SWR services. Also, improved car parking, and stations with integrated transport (e.g. connecting bus services).
Our AGM’s, with well-known speakers, have become very well attended and brought us valuable opinions and experience. Newsletters and brochures help the message, but we need continuous passenger input to provide evidential support to our Proposals. This will support our goals which are to influence the parties in the railway industry and lobby the DfT and Government to deliver a better railway and passenger benefits for the West of England Line. The Axminster doubling and platform works took 20 years to reach fruition – we need to do it faster.
Passenger support is required and we hope to undertake passenger surveys this year.
I have no doubt that we will be seeing the MP’s early next year – whatever the political landscape looks like then. In summary, we have set the ball rolling however there is much work to be done to realise our goals. Thank you for your support.
Please tell your friends about us too!
5th July 2019: Update on Train Punctuality: January to June 2019, by Nick Hurrell
Train punctuality is measured on a daily basis. For the Waterloo/Exeter line, a train is considered “On time” if its arrival is with 10 minutes of timetabled arrival at its destination. The PPM target is 89.2% of trains to arrive at their destination with 10 mins of advertised time. Sadly, actual performance has been below target every month so far this year:
February: 73.3% (GWR service diversions contributed to disruption)
March: 76.9% (GWR service diversions contributed to disruption)
June: 81% SWR Strikes and Glastonbury services skewed the figures – see below)
Interestingly, the June figures were affected both positively and negatively by the strikes and Glastonbury!
The averages for the strike days were good (89.3%), but of course SWR ran a very different and sparse timetable (and PPM is based on the timetable!), So on the 20th June, when the first train from Exeter to Waterloo was cancelled (it started from Salisbury), the rest of the day ran well, so a PPM of 90.7% was reported! Not much solace for passengers west of Yeovil, whose earliest possible arrival into Waterloo was 12.52!
Conversely, the additional services to/from Castle Cary for Glastonbury caused havoc with the timetable (PPM of 56.1% over that period). Trying to run up 20 services to/from Castle Cary per day rather than the usual 6 was bound to be risky, but credit must be given to SWR - at least they tried – and the prices on SWR to London are generally cheaper than GWR, which would surely have attracted a larger share of passengers. There were also delays/cancellations caused by staff shortages, at the same time.
9th March 2019 – Southern Western Railway announces May 2019 timetable changes.
SWR have announced the timetable changes which will come into effect on 19th May 2019. These include some modest improvements for services west of Salisbury. The changes affecting the West of England line can be seen on our Timetable page, together with the new timetable.
Follow this link for full details: SWR May updates
David Tozer visited Cranbrook station for its opening in December 2015 to record the first train to stop on the Sunday morning. Numerous signs were on display and one caught his attention. You would need a pretty long arm as the nearest third rail is Weymouth (if you’re a crow) or Worting Junction if you’re travelling by train. Needless to say the sign has long gone.