Saturday, 20 April 2019

GWR rules out direct train to London during regatta

GWR rules out direct train to London during regatta

Henley Royal Regatta

A DIRECT train from Henley to London during the the royal regatta is unlikely to be introduced as it would cause too many problems elsewhere.

Mark Hopwood, managing director of Great Western Railway, said the company had explored running direct services from Paddington to the Henley branch line during the annual five-day event to deal with the large numbers of visitors.

But he said the idea was ruled out as it could cause disruption on the main line.

Mr Hopwood was speaking at a meeting of the Henley Branch User Group at Henley town hall on Thursday last week.

He explained that diverting a train from the main line to Henley would mean removing one that would go to Reading.

Mr Hopwood said: “There was the aspiration for us to try to run a through service on the branch line to Paddington.

“We have looked at this but the challenge we have got is that we travel quite a long way down the line and the capacity isn’t there.

“If we take a train on the main line and divert it to Henley we don’t have one to Reading.

“We are keen to try to avoid spreading disruption too widely and put pressure on the network so we will run the branch line as a shuttle.

“We are still investigating the best way to add capacity during the regatta.”

Philip Meadowcroft, who founded the Wargrave User Group, suggested that trains could travel from London on the slow line before crossing to the branch line at Twyford.

He said: “I am at a loss as to why you are not as enthusiastic about it as we are because it would relieve an immense number of problems at Twyford if you could do that.”

Mr Hopwood said that ideally he would like to have more tracks as it would allow more services to run but he doubted that such a project would be financed.

He said: “I can’t plan a train service on one line that completely obliterates the service elsewhere.

“The service patterns for the regatta will change in the future. Realistically, I’m never going to have a business case for extra track and platforms for the regatta.

“Some of the restrictions we face around the regatta could be overcome with improved technology. I’m keen to push the boundaries and see what we can improve.

“I get the point here that the regatta service is a compromise.”

Mr Hopwood also said that other direct services to Paddington in the morning were unlikely to be restored.

The direct trains were scrapped following the introduction of a new timetable at the start of the year, meaning passengers must change at Twyford to travel to the capital.

Asked by Henley town councillor Julian Brookes whether they would be brought back, Mr Hopwood replied: “If we moved other things out of the way it would be possible but the reality is there has been a lot of work and a lot of time spent looking at how to use the track capacity that exists.

“The track capacity is constrained. If we were going to build it again we would say we needed six tracks and we’ve got four. In reality we are not going to see the return of through trains — it doesn’t really work with all the other constraints.”

Mr Hopwood said mobile ticketing would be introduced to Henley trains by the end of this month, while sections of track around Shiplake and Wargrave would be renewed between next year and 2023.

He added that GWR was considering the introduction of a new compensation system called Delay Repay, a national scheme which compensates passengers who arrive 15 or more minutes late.

Mr Hopwood said he did not know what effect the delay of Crossrail, an 118-km line under development in London, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Essex, would have on the Henley area.

He said: “Performance on the branch line averages about 97 per cent. Our position in the league table is the same as it was a few years ago as everyone else has deteriorated as well. The Thames Valley performance is improving quicker than other areas.

“We are absolutely clear that there are a lot of things in GWR that need focus and attention. The number of cancellations has significantly reduced.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do to run a punctual and reliable service but we’ve put in place a lot of building blocks.”

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