Thursday, 28 October 2021

Village set to benefit from new half-hourly rail shuttle after all

WARGRAVE could get its half-hourly train service after all.

Trains have only stopped at the village every hour during off-peak hours since a new 30-minute shuttle service was introduced on the Henley branch line in May.

This was to give a more regular service to Henley and Shiplake but it had the opposite effect on travellers from Wargrave.

Great Western Railway, which introduced the new timetable, said the half-hourly service would operate on the whole line when the track was electrified but this project was deferred indefinitely in November.

Now the company says the shuttle service could be extended to Wargrave as it has proved to be a success, meaning all trains would stop at the village.

Passengers in Wargrave campaigned against the new timetable, saying it penalized them unfairly, and were supported by Prime Minister Theresa May, whose Maidenhead constituency includes the village.

GWR said the new timetable would benefit the majority of passengers using the line and any services lost during the day would be replaced by extra trains in the evenings.

It also pledged that if a service was delayed at Twyford, causing a missed connection, the following train would stop at Wargrave. Now senior officials at the company have told the Wargrave User Group about a change of heart.

Philip Meadowcroft, who founded the group, said: “GWR say they are in talks with Network Rail.

“It’s all about line speeds and a public access on the line between Wargrave and Twyford which limits the speed at which the train can go.

“There is also the ‘down time’ at each end when the driver has to walk from the back to the front of the train and have toilet breaks.

“On the positive side, because the 30-minute shuttle is ‘working well’, GWR say that in reality services are arriving at Henley and Twyford ahead of the official schedule. The fact is that GWR wanted a 30-minute shuttle and thought that to achieve this they would have to skip Wargrave but these trains are running ahead of schedule which has given them the confidence to do what we said was possible all along. I get the impression that GWR now have the feeling it can be done.”

A GWR spokesman said: “We are committed to a 30-minute service frequency for every station on the branch line. The new timetable has bedded in and is working well and we continue to discuss further improvements with Network Rail.”

Meanwhile, an early morning direct service from Henley to Paddington will have just two carriages as far as Twyford from next month until January. The 7.38am, which will stop at Wargrave, will replace the 7.42am from September 4. From Twyford it will have eight carriages.

Mr Meadowcroft said: “GWR promised in December that when we lost the through services from Paddington we would have a three-carriage shuttle service.

“Having now removed the second of the two morning peak through services, GWR has informed us that the shuttle will remain a two-carriage affair until January.

“The idea of everybody in Henley in the morning rush squeezing on to two cars and then it picking up in Wargrave and Shiplake will not be fun.

“They are going to squeeze people on to two carriages between September and January for the pathetic reason that they haven’t got enough rolling stock.”

The GWR spokesman said: “I can confirm that the self-contained shuttle will start as a two-car service in September and will then be increased to a three-car service in January, when we expect to be able to run more electric trains on the mainline and extend electric services from Maidenhead through to Didcot as we have promised.

“The use of more electric trains will free up diesel rolling stock and allow us to add the extra carriage on the branch line.”

A Network Rail pokesman forsaid: “We always welcome any opportunity to provide a better rail service for passengers and will continue to work with GWR to look at any potential opportunities to improve.”

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