Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Regatta trains must favour visitors not locals, says GWR

A GWR train in Henley

TRAINS coming to Henley during the royal regatta must favour visitors rather than people living locally, according to the boss of Great Western Railway.

The train operator was criticised by commuters in Wargrave last year for a “woeful” service during the five-day event.

The Wargrave Users’ Group, which represents commuters in the village, said trains failed to stop at Wargrave station during peak times on the first three days of the regatta and none at all was available on the Saturday.

This meant many passengers from Wargrave had to find alternative ways to travel to Henley, including a replacement bus which the group said was poorly advertised and only turned up three times on both Wednesday and Thursday. 

GWR managing director Mark Hopwood said the train service during the regatta was primarily intended to transport visitors to the event.

Speaking at a meeting of the Henley Branch User Group on Thursday last week, he said: “The reality of the regatta service is that it’s about getting people from Twyford to Henley. There are all other sorts of journey flows that we can’t accommodate.

“I do need to make sure we are not losing out on capacity to and from Henley. Over the last few years fewer people have been travelling to the regatta.”

Mr Hopwood said the regatta service could only use four coaches as that was the maximum number able to fit on the platform in Twyford.

But he added: “We are going to modify the trains so you can stop at platforms which are shorter than the length of the train.”

Edward Marshall, from Wargrave, said: “The disaster at the regatta has been going on for several years.

“I understand you have to put a long train on the Saturday for the crowds but I don’t understand why you can’t think outside the box and get this train to stop at Wargrave without people falling off.

“With no electrification this will carry on for several more years and I don’t understand why Wargrave passengers suffer so badly from a regatta on their doorstep.”

Mr Hopwood also spoke about delays on the Henley branch line, saying these were often not the fault of the branch itself.

He said: “A branch line like Henley ought to be able to operate reliably, especially as a self-contained line. Most problems on the branch aren’t actually on the branch, they are on the main line and then knock on to the branch.

“The actual reliability of equipment between Henley and Twyford is very good. The more we can do to improve the main line, the more improvements we will see on the branch line.”

Mr Hopwood said he hoped the new timetable that will come into effect on the branch line in May would improve punctuality and reliability. This will introduce a 30-minute shuttle between Henley and Tywford instead of the current
45-minute service.

However, through-trains to London will cease in December, with every passenger changing at Twyford on to a new eight-car electric train.

Mr Hopwood said: “It’s finding the right balance between good quality connections which are reasonably quick and building in contingency.

“We have got a timetable planned but we will continue fine-tuning it to get the details right. If there isn’t a strong focus on punctuality it won’t just be our network in trouble it will be London and other areas.

“If I come to meetings like this in the future and you tell me we’ve done it wrong then we will have to go back and look at it again.”

The timetable has been criticised by commuters in Wargrave, which will be missed out by every other service during off-peak, leaving them with an hourly service.

Mr Hopwood said GWR was looking at other ways to increase line speeds on the branch line.

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