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South West rail has oldest trains and poor access

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 10, 2013

By Phil Goodwin, WMN reporter, Twitter: @Goodwin_Phil

Comments (17)

South West rail passengers travel on the oldest trains and experience the worst disabled access in the country, according to a new report.

The region also came second from bottom of a league table measuring station quality, the comparative study by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) shows.

The group said there are now “huge disparities” in the quality of train services in different parts of Britain and blamed the Government for strategic failures.

The six-county region, where First Great Western, Cross Country and South West Trains all operate mainline services, came seventh out of 11 regions overall.

First Great Western admitted there was still work to do to provide step-free access to 111 of its 208 stations but said funding applications had been made to improve 53.

However, the company said it needed to prioritise efforts to upgrade an infrastructure which dates back 160 years.

Andy Allen, a spokesman for the campaign, said its report was critical of Whitehall rather than operators, many of whom are successfully fulfilling their franchise obligations and receiving high levels of customer satisfaction in surveys. However, he said the Government faced a 2017 deadline for compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act.

“It is a significant problem and Government faces legal action if it doesn’t improve,” he added.

Credo in association with the CBT, carried out the Effectiveness of the Rail Network Across Great Britain.

It found that services are best in London, south east England, north west England, the West Midlands and Scotland.

Welsh, east of England and north east England rail services perform much less well, with the South West rated seventh of the 11 regions.

A breakdown of the rankings showed the region fared better in other areas, such as future plans (second) and crowding (third). The CBT said it used figures from the Officer of the Rail Regulator (ORR) to determine the average age of trains running on the networks.

ORR figures show the average age of trains leased from the Government by First Great Western is 30 years old, while for South West trains the figure is 16 and for Cross Country the average age is 14 years old.

CBT chief executive Stephen Joseph said: “The research exposes the huge disparities in the quality of train services across the country.

“Importantly, it suggests the answer is to give local administrations more control over their rail networks. By devolving more decision-making we can make full use of local knowledge and target investment where it will bring the biggest benefits.”

First Great Western said the Government had announced last year over £14 billion investment in the Great Western network, including the electrification of the GW mainline, and in new Intercity Express trains, replacing FGW current fleet of High Speed Trains, beginning roll-out from June 2017.

A spokesman said the latest National Passenger Survey showed a positive step change in the upkeep and repair of stations, their cleanliness and in the facilities provided, and in the provision of information about train times and platforms.

“This follows investment during the last franchise (2006 to 2013) of over £85 million, by working with rail industry partners, the Department for Transport, and local authorities,” he added.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said its Access for All programme will deliver step free access at over 150 South West stations by 2015, with 105 already completed.

“In addition, we have announced a further £100m to extend the programme from 2015 to 2019.

“The selection criteria for this programme is the same across the entire UK and we will continue to work hard with the rail industry to make sure improvements are made where they are needed most.”

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  • hstmtu4000  |  December 10 2013, 7:29PM

    Hocus_Pocus I understand your frustration with XCs often "rammed" 4/5 coach trains. But there is a reason why XCs five 7 coach HST trains are operating on diagrams which start "up North" in the early morning and return from the south west in the afternoon. The financial case for XC to have those additional 7 coach HSTs was based on providing extra seats on the core XC route between Bristol /Birmingham/Sheffield "DURING THE MORNING AND EVENING PEAK PERIODS." Additionally the XCs HSTs have to be used on diagrams that see them returned at the end of the day to the contracted maintenance depots at Neville hill in Leeds and Craigentinny in Edinburgh. That's why they are not used on XC services to Manchester. Only Voyagers can be used on the XCs Manchester route from Devon and Cornwall. Not surprising there are no longer any drivers qualified to drive HSTs now between Birmingham and Manchester.

    Rate   3
  • Hocus_Pocus  |  December 10 2013, 4:48PM

    I think my gripe is the fact that XC know which of the Paignton Services will be rammed as they have years of historical ticket sales data. From a simplistic point of view why can they not have a spare set to make up 8 cars on a service that they know will be rammed and that set can be used across the the Exeter / Plymouth / Bristol area to alleviate overcrowding (yes I appreciate you also need a spare driver and a slot in the timetable to move the set around the Network). As for FGW yes the 8 car set can run very empty on Winter days, but you cant just split the FGW HST like you could 2 XC sets.

    Rate   1
  • nick113  |  December 10 2013, 4:04PM

    Guys, good to see some sane comments on the forum. The situation is half full or half empty, depending on your point of view. We could certainly do with some clarity on what to look forward to when the London - Bristol electrification is complete.

    Rate   2
  • hstmtu4000  |  December 10 2013, 12:52PM

    Hocus_Pocus The problem with rail services from Torbay and indeed Cornwall is that they are very seasonal markets for long distance rail travel. Between Cornwall and Plymouth there is a large year round commuter market to supplement the long distance market to fill those otherwise half empty off peak long distance trains. Commuter services even busy ones are heavily subsidised so it makes financial sense to combine the two markets in the south west where possible, which is what happens from Plymouth westwards and to a lesser extent from Torbay to Exeter. Stand at Newton Abbot station through the winter during the day and you will see a 378 seat FGW 8 coach HSTs coming up from Torbay to Paddington with only 30/50 people on board on average. These are the financial and operating realities that the TOCs have to face in a relatively sparsely populated region.

    Rate   3
  • hstmtu4000  |  December 10 2013, 11:51AM

    As you say nick regarding the XC rail route from Plymouth, it is the core Bristol and Sheffield section that is busiest. That is why XCs few 7 coach HST trains which supplement it main "Voyager" fleet are operating on diagrams which start "up North" in the early morning and return from the south west in the afternoon in order to maximise the number of seats available in the morning and evening peaks on the "core" XC route. The only reason I suggested that the class 222 "Meridians" could possibly find their way to south west /Paddington services is that they are 125mph high performance diesel trains and they have to go somewhere post 2019 and given all the main fast 125mph high speed lines are or being electrified they are an obvious "stop gap" candidate until electrification eventually reaches the south west hopefully.

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  • hello_world  |  December 10 2013, 11:38AM

    The DfT have confirmed that IEP trains are not intended to visit Plymouth. Laira TMD is not one of the depots being upgraded to service the IEP trains. Looks like we are stuck with the Muckspreaders for another few decades.

    Rate   2
  • Hocus_Pocus  |  December 10 2013, 11:20AM

    Hi nick113. I live in Torbay so my experience is the Paignton - Manchester service, which will usually get rammed at Torquay especially in the summer, I defer to your knowledge about the rest of the franchise area, is the Paignton route the exception rather than the norm?

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  • nick113  |  December 10 2013, 10:59AM

    @HocusPocus. The problem with the XC routes is that the trains are generally rammed between Bristol and Sheffield, but much emptier either side of that section; it's rare for them to be full between Exeter and Plymouth. So adding coaches would help on the central section but leave more empty seats elsewhere, increasing costs on what is already a heavily subsidised route. @hstmtu4000, I defer to your knowledge of IEP configurations. I doubt of GW passengers to Plymouth will regard ex-MML Meridians as a step forward if they get them. They may be marginally faster but the interior environment us generally worse than an HST.

    Rate   2
  • TopMinstrel  |  December 10 2013, 10:45AM

    So, some wizz kid trying to tell us what is glaringly obvious

    Rate   2
  • cornishwolves  |  December 10 2013, 10:42AM

    The buses in Falmouth are even older ,some still running on steam :-)

    Rate   1