Report on TravelWatch SouthWest General Meeting 9 Oct 2010

I attended this meeting last Saturday, taking up the Cooperatives-SW invitation (we have been invited before, as reported on this blog). It was held, once again, at SCAT in Taunton.

First, we had introductions from everyone. The Go! Co-op rail plan for Yeovil-Oxford and beyond got a mention by the chair after I introduced myself – I didn’t realise it at the time, but C-SW member Co-Cars were next door at an exhibition in the Genesis centre and are preparing to launch in Taunton. Then there was a formal welcome from Christopher Irwin, TravelWatch SouthWest CIC Chair and a keynote presentation from First Great Western‘s operations director Kevin Gale.

Delays on the GW Main Line have returned in the last three months, with performance below targets. The blame was squarely laid at the door of not-for-profit infrastructure company Network Rail, but this area is still better than it used to be. The FGW 30 train fleet (refurbished Sprinters from London Midland and London Overground?) start arriving in about two weeks. There’s a new consistent company organisation. In the Q+A, I think we were told:

  • passenger information distribution will become a phone tree to cut the load on central control when there’s disruption;
  • central control with authorise station staff overtime when services are late;
  • the current 1960 signalling system will be renewed over the next 7 years;
  • The Reading area rebuild may be causing later failures;
  • FGW want more new rolling stock, not just the FGW 30;
  • network rail is basically good but has been cut back this yr;
  • they would like us to keep feeding back through travelwatchsouthwest and keep lobbying politicians.

Then there was a discussion asking: what should be the SW transport priorities in the era of 30% cuts? I suggested co-op-friendly right-to-try measures should be in those priorities. Interestingly, a reply was given by Duncan Hames MP (Chippenham, LD), followed by a talking point from transport portfolio holder Richard Gamble of Wiltshire Council.

After lunch came the “just a minute” speeches on: arctic oil, Devizes-Bath bus mistakes (change of operator, not serving Bath bus station), Local Enterprise Partnerships and bus cuts, a suggestion to require council transport officers to use public transport to get to meetings, the need for better integrated transport info for the Wessex area, senior citizen fares and CTAs (I don’t remember what this stands for…sorry), the big subsidy of High Speed 1, and the problem of Dorset’s main towns having poor westward rail links.

There was a quick summary of the report from the CIC board which can be downloaded from the TWSW website and a presentation on integrated smartcard ticketing system from Andrew Seedhouse of GO-SW. The West of England back-office system has been launched, but there is still more to do for the SW and to connect it to operators. The event ended with the second keynote address by TfL Commissioner Peter Hendy which I’m sorry to say I don’t really understand my notes about and have little recollection of the key points at the end of the day.

As before, I felt that the best bits of the event were the morning question-and-answer sessions and the “just a minute” points immediately after lunch. So, in that line: what do you think are the biggest issues and the priorities for mass transport in the South West?

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