Thursday, 23 September 2021

Service will improve, says train firm boss

TRAIN services between Henley and London should become more reliable, says a rail company boss.

Mark Hopwood, managing director of Great Western Railway, says teething troubles following the introduction of a new timetable at the start of this year are being ironed out.

He was speaking at a meeting with rail users and passenger groups at the Christ Church Centre in Henley on Friday. About 45 people attended the event, which was organised by Henley MP John Howell.

Philip Meadowcroft, founder of the Wargrave User Group, pointed out that only 10 out of 27 trains from Twyford to Paddington had arrived on time that morning. The remainder were up to 20 minutes late with one cancellation.

Mr Hopwood said the disruption was caused by Network Rail work on the Crossrail project.

He said: “I don’t think anyone thinks that service is good enough. I don’t and it has to improve. However, a lot of the old signalling on the line has been removed.

“One of the challenges facing Network Rail is managing the impact of the project while keeping services going but I’m absolutely confident it will get better.”

He said there had also been some mechanical faults with the pantographs, which draw power from the overhead cables, as there wasn’t time to test the new trains before rolling them out. There should be significant improvements once these were solved.

Under the new timetable there are no direct trains from the Henley branch line.

This is because the Great Western main line has now been electrified while the branch line still relies on diesel units.

On the first day of the new timetable on January 2 only four out of 15 early morning services to the capital ran on time.

Mr Hopwood said electrification of the branch line, which has been postponed indefinitely, wouldn’t make much difference.

He added: “I accept that our diesel trains need to be upgraded and a full refurbishment will be built into our new franchise submission. We will look at new rolling stock as the cost of financing new purchases is getting cheaper.”

After the meeting, Mr Meadowcroft said: “I am far from convinced, despite Mr Hopwood’s smooth words, that what we experienced on Friday is as good as the new norm.

“Local residents using the Henley branch line have been patted on the head with promises of a better future too many times in the past. GWR can do little about faulty points, trains or signals, slow freight trains, lineside problems and the approach and departure out of Paddington becoming congested.”

Neil Gunnell, of Henley Trains, who also attended the meeting, said: “Mark’s presentation was right on point as GWR had considered the key issues and responded to them.”

Mr Howell said: “Mark answered some very good questions and I’ve had a lot of good feedback.”

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