Monday, 02 August 2021

New track would prevent loss of half-hour shuttle

WARGRAVE may not miss out when a new shuttle service is brought in on the Henley branch line in May.

Great Western Railway is considering ways in which to retain the village’s 30-minute service rather than introducing the hourly service planned when the new timetable takes effect.

The issue was discussed at a meeting between the company’s managing director Mark Hopwood and Prime Minister and Maidenhead MP Theresa May, who has criticised the effect of the timetable on Wargrave.

At present, there is a 45-minute shuttle service on the branch line. The new timetable will offer faster travel for residents of Henley, Shiplake and Twyford by alternate trains missing out Wargrave during off-peak periods, meaning the village will have only an hourly service.

GWR says the change will benefit the majority of passengers who use the line and any services lost during the day will be replaced by extra trains in the evenings.

It says Wargrave’s half-hourly service will be restored once the branch line has been electrified but this project has been deferred indefinitely. 

But Wargrave train travellers have criticised the move, saying they will have an inferior service.

Now GWR has offered a possible solution. In an email to Richard Wilson, a member of the Wargrave User Group, Mr Hopwood said that one way to improve the line speed was to replace the current jointed track, which uses small lengths of rail bolted together with steel plates, with a continuous welded line.

Welded lines can be several miles long and, as they have fewer joints, are stronger, smoother and easier to maintain but more expensive to install.

Mr Hopwood said: “I would prefer to be able to give Wargrave a 30-minute service throughout the day. The current line speed prevents that.

“I have asked Network Rail to look at evaluating line speed improvements that could come from track renewal. I believe that this, and a review of foot crossings on the line, could mean we could reduce the journey time and add extra services for Wargrave.”

Mr Hopwood also suggested that, once the new timetable comes into effect,  passengers travelling to Wargrave who miss their connection at Twyford due to a delayed train on the main line would have an extra stop at the village as “contingency”.

He said: “I have recognised that if there is a missed connection for Wargrave in the off-peak, customers would wait longer for the next service on the branch line than they do now.

“We would therefore build an extra stop on the next service into our contingency plans so that Wargrave customers do not incur any greater delay than Shiplake or Henley customers.”

Philip Meadowcroft, founder of the Wargrave User Group, said he had learned MP Hopwood had discussed these ideas with Mrs May.

But he warned that replacing the jointed track with a continuous one would take a long time and cause disruption.

Of the contingency idea, he said: “That’s all fine and dandy if you are the delayed passenger, but surely it scuppers GWR’s argument that Wargrave has to be omitted to permit a 30-minute shuttle.”

He called the new timetable “ill-conceived and barmy” and said he hoped it wouldn’t go ahead.

In a letter to Mr Hopwood last year, Mrs May said: “It is very disappointing that GWR intends to press ahead with cuts to the off-peak services at Wargrave.

“It is not acceptable for my constituents in Wargrave to be disadvantaged so that passengers in Henley can get a faster service.” 

Wargrave Parish Council has also written to GWR, calling for the existing services to be retained.

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