CLPG’s 40th anniversary AGM hears about service improvements and plans for future

Pictured above with the mounted Sir Peter Parker 1924-2002 Cotswold Line 150 nameplate at the AGM are, from left, GWR managing director Mark Hopwood, CLPG president Lord Faulkner of Worcester, GWR’s regional development manager Tom Pierpoint and Oxford, Didcot and Cotswold Line stations manager Claire King, with CLPG chairman John Ellis. Picture: David Guy – see below for details

The 40th Annual General Meeting of the Cotswold Line Promotion Group heard that there had been welcome signs of improvements in the reliability and punctuality of services on the route after several months of cancellations and delays to trains.

The group’s chairman, John Ellis, told more than 90 members at the meeting held in Moreton-in-Marsh on Saturday, May 12, that the improvements came after a “serious deterioration in train performance” since the autumn of 2017.

Mr Ellis added: “We have been making vigorous and repeated representations to GWR about issues on the Cotswold Line that appear to have been overlooked by the operating team at GWR headquarters.”

He said: “It is pleasing that recent weeks have seen a considerable improvement in reliability of services, with more InterCity Express Trains in service and more drivers trained. Hopefully this will be sustained and there will be further improvements as we move towards the full IET timetable in January 2019.”

Mark Hopwood, the managing director of Great Western Railway, who was one of the guest speakers at the event, said: “We recognise the concerns of the CLPG and our customers on the line about the punctuality and reliability issues – they need to be addressed and fixed and they will be.”

Mr Hopwood pointed to the recent establishment of a drivers’ depot at Worcester as a signal of how seriously GWR took services on the Cotswold Line and its determination to continue to improve them.

He said that the new depot was the first on GWR’s network where all the drivers are now trained to operate the new Class 800 IETs, which started to appear on the route at the start of this year.

Mr Hopwood outlined a number of other changes that should help to improve performance over coming months:

  • IETs will take over more services on the line from June, including the first use of a nine-coach IET, working the 17.22 from London Paddington to Hereford
  • IET trains will be stabled overnight at Worcester from September as the phasing-out of HSTs and their replacement by IETs continues
  • All services on the route will be worked by IETs from next January, except for the morning and evening trains that call at the smaller stations in West Oxfordshire, which will be operated by Turbo diesel units
  • The fastest journey time between London and Worcester from January will be two hours, with sub-three-hour journey times on several Hereford services, aided by cuts in journey times between London and Oxford
  • The signalboxes along the Cotswold Line will all be open 24 hours a day from this June – GWR will explore opportunities for further late-night services in future
  • New signalling and track will be commissioned at Oxford this July, improving capacity and providing bi-directional working on all lines in the area
  • GPS satellite technology will be used to track trains on the Cotswold Line, improving live information for passengers and staff
  • GWR is working on projects to provide more car park spaces at Hanborough, Charlbury, Honeybourne and Pershore stations, subject to satisfactory business cases and funding being available
  • New waiting rooms will be built at Moreton-in-Marsh and Kingham stations later this year on the platforms used by passengers travelling towards Oxford and London

Mr Hopwood added that the introduction of advance-purchase tickets on the route had proved popular with passengers, with these now accounting for 23% of journeys made between Cotswold Line stations and London.

GWR is about to expand the range available, with the introduction of advance fares for travel between Oxford and Worcester or Hereford imminent and, in conjunction with West Midlands Trains, GWR advance fares will be made available for journeys using WMT services west and north of Worcester, from stations such as Kidderminster.

The other guest speaker was Brenda Lawrence, of West Midlands Trains, who outlined the new franchise’s plans for major investment in its services, including delivery of new diesel multiple unit trains from 2020, which will operate Birmingham-Worcester-Hereford services. Stations in the region will also see improvements, with new ticket machines among the work planned.

Mr Ellis and rail development consultant and former CLPG chairman Ian Baxter also outlined the work being done by the North Cotswold Line Task Force to develop plans for the future development of the route.

These include provision of a service of two trains per hour in both directions, reducing journey times and improving stations. Mr Baxter said the economic wellbeing of the areas the line serves was central to the project.

The task force, made up of county councils along the line from Oxford to Hereford, Local Enterprise Partnerships, train operators, Network Rail and the CLPG, is also looking at ideas such as extra shuttle services at the Oxfordshire end of the line to help ease road congestion around Oxford, the possibility of extending some services that currently only run between London and Worcester to serve Kidderminster or Bromsgrove and the long-term potential of a reopened link between Honeybourne, on the Cotswold Line, and Stratford-upon-Avon.

An inital report on the task force’s work will be published in the autumn.

John Ellis was re-elected as CLPG chairman, along with John Davidson as secretary and Brian Clayton as treasurer.

A presentation was made, right, to Jill Haycock as she stepped down from the committee after 16 years’ service as the member representing Evesham, but she will continue to assist with promotions activity.

John Ellis and his wife Jean, along with CLPG vice-chairman and past chairman Derek Potter, were made honorary life members.

And GWR made a special presentation at the meeting to celebrate the CLPG’s 40th anniversary.

In 2003, HST power car No 43127 was named Sir Peter Parker 1924-2002 Cotswold Line 150 in memory of former British Rail chairman Sir Peter Parker, who was a regular passenger at Charlbury station for many years, and to mark that year’s 150th anniversary of the opening of the Cotswold Line.

The power car has recently been withdrawn by GWR and the nameplates were removed before 43127 begins a new life north of the border with ScotRail.

One of the nameplates will go on display at the National Railway Museum in York but GWR had the second one mounted and Mark Hopwood presented it to the CLPG. The group’s committee will discuss where it should go on display.

A third nameplate was also cast in 2003 and it is on display in the ticket hall at Charlbury station.

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