Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Half-hourly train service to return to village in new year

A HALF-HOURLY train service on the Henley branch line will be restored to Wargrave in January.

Trains have called at the village station only hourly during off-peak hours since a new 30-minute shuttle service was introduced in May to give a more regular service to passengers from Henley and Shiplake.

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

Now the company has announced that all services will stop at Wargrave from the new year after Network Rail agreed to amend its timetable rules.

The current rules state that journey times should be rounded up to the nearest minute, meaning that the 11 minutes and 30 seconds it takes each train to travel from Henley to Twyford is recorded as 12 minutes. This leaves just three minutes at each terminal for a turnaround in order to stick to the half-hourly schedule but no service should have more than three consecutive three-minute turnarounds as it would leave no room for unexpected delays.

Network Rail has agreed to alter the rules so that half-minutes are counted, which means the Henley branch line shuttle will have a three-and-a-half minute turnaround at each stop.

It suggested that Wargrave could be added as a stop on all services when the rule changes come into effect in May but GWR has opted to introduce it earlier.

A spokeswoman said: “We did not want to wait a further five months and, with Network Rail’s co-operation, we will be adding the extra stops into Wargrave’s timetable from January when customers return to work after the Christmas break.”GWR says the new timetable has worked “really well”.

The shuttle train will have three cars instead of two from January, while direct services to London will cease and new eight-car electric trains will provide connections from Twyford instead.

GWR managing director Mark Hopwood said: “We have always planned on being able to offer an half-hour frequency to all users of the line and I am pleased we will be able to extend these improvements to Wargrave from January with services connecting to new electric trains for the onward journey to London Paddington.”

Passengers’ representatives welcomed the move.

Philip Meadowcroft, who founded the Wargrave User Group, said: “My immense thanks to all those who sent punchy but eloquent emails to GWR, Network Rail and to the Henley Standard.

“Finally, thanks to Theresa May MP for her sustained and dogged support for WUG and for putting prime ministerial as well as constituency MP pressure on GWR, Network Rail and the Department for Transport.

“In essence, the accumulation of well-documented evidence won the final battle and the overall ‘war’.”

Neil Gunnell, of Henley Trains, said: “Well done and thank to you to GWR and Network Rail who have worked tirelessly on this behind the scenes from the very start to bring it forward, even in the absence of the electric trains that it had been hoped would solve the problem.

“It is good that we can move from 90 per cent to 100 per cent of local users having full service and the improved journeys that result, both locally on the branch and onwards to and from the main line.

“We look forward to the benefits that full electrification of the main line will bring after the Christmas holidays.”

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