Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Train company apologises to commuters for cancellations

A TRAIN company has apologised after travellers on the Henley branch line were delayed for hours on two separate days.

The early morning direct service to London Paddington was cancelled on both Friday and Monday, leaving passengers to find alternatives or squeeze on to a later smaller service.

Great Western Railway said the cancellations were caused by unrelated train faults which affected peak-time services.

But passenger groups have criticised the company for the standard of service.

Patricia Mulcahy, chairman of the Henley Branch User Group, said: “This has been a particularly fraught week for commuters, with cancelled trains and poor communication.”

In a letter to the Henley Standard, she said: “Monday’s experience has gone down as one of the worst. The temperature was sub-zero when I got to the station and heard that the 7.08am was cancelled. I opted for a taxi to Reading because I had early meetings, others simply waited for the 7.38am.

“The 7.08am is a six-car train, the 7.38am is now a two-car train. The result was predictable. I was sent a photo from one carriage, showing passengers crammed in and when they got to Twyford, the main line train was already at the platform, so there was a mad dash to get on that train.

“This is a very worrying and dangerous situation.

“Commuters pay about £4,000 for a season ticket and spend about 12 hours a day away from home. They contribute a huge amount to the local economy and they deserve a better service.”

Neil Gunnell, of Henley Trains, said that Friday’s train cancellation meant the next available service had only two cars to cope with eight carriages’ worth of passengers.

He said: “Friday and Monday were particularly painful. Some passengers arrived 70 minutes late on a 50-minute journey.

“I offered to take people to Twyford on Friday where the staff encouraged them to get a service from Maidenhead which was also cancelled.”

In September, the Henley Standard reported that passengers had criticised a new early morning train service on the branch line for being overcrowded after direct trains to London were scrapped.

The old 7.42am service from Henley to Paddington, which took 45 minutes, was replaced by a new service leaving Henley at 7.38am and requiring a change at Twyford but giving a total journey time of 43 minutes.

The service has two carriages as far as Twyford, where passengers change to an eight-car train coming from Didcot.

GWR said that due to a lack of diesel rolling stock, the two-car shuttle would run on the branch line until the New Year, when it would be replaced with three-car shuttles.

New electric trains will also be used on the main line in January when it will be electrified, although the project to electrify the branch line was delayed indefinitely in November last year.

Mrs Mulcahy said: “GWR assures us that things will improve in January, when electric trains will begin to run on the slow, or ‘relief’, line but many Henley commuters are still not aware that all through services to Paddington will cease in December because trains will no longer be permitted to switch over to the fast line.

“GWR does not have spare trains because leases on some of its trains have run out. The leases were due to expire when the main line was electrified but, as we know, the project was delayed and the planned electrification of the branch line was cancelled.

“The 7.08am train will terminate at Twyford and passengers must hope to find a seat on the electric train that will have originated at Didcot.

“GWR says that Didcot passengers heading to Paddington will have a much faster option, so are unlikely to be on that train. We will have to wait and see.”

Philip Meadowcroft, who founded the Wargrave Train User Group, said: “We had a very grim October and judging by the correspondence I’ve had with GWR their concern does not come anywhere near ours.

“There are lots of apologies but no details of what they are going to do about it. We are going to suffer until January at least.”

A GWR spokesman said: “Train services on the Henley branch line have been subject to two unrelated train faults which impacted peak time services.

“They are generally reliable trains and we understand our customers’ frustration.

“We are currently undergoing a huge fleet upgrade which will benefit Henley branch users. From January a three-carriage shuttle train will connect at Twyford with brand new eight-carriage electric trains direct to London.”

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