TravelWatch SouthWest General Meeting

Weeks ago, I was at a TravelWatchSW meeting in Taunton for Cooperatives-SW. The Chair’s theme for the meeting was “the journey was going so well, but is there trouble ahead?” contemplating cuts due to the debt crisis and possible change of government. Lots of good people were present, so it was quite an illuminating meeting.

First, we listened to Dr Gabriel Scally, Director of Public Health for the South West NHS, as he spoke on fat, exercise and transport… He’s a keen cyclist, so I asked for suggestions of how to get better parking at health centres and hospitals. Sadly, he had no easy answer. One tip: Primary Care Trusts control most money, so they’re probably the best ones to persuade.

The second keynote address was First Great Western’s Projects and Planning Director Matthew Golton. He spoke about railway development, unsurprisingly. Rail is vital for co-operatives in the South West, as it’s a greener way to travel the 250 miles length of this peninsula and avoids our poor congested roads.

The big news is that class 150s (Sprinters) will replace the Exeter area 142s (Pacers/Railbuses) and there will be grade-seperated junctions at Reading by 2016 to reduce congestion between the various routes that converge at that point. There’s bad news on the Intercity Express Programme and HST2 being delayed until after the election, but the original High Speed Train fleet should continue as reliably as ever.

After lunch, there were a series of “Just a minute” comments on topics including: west country commuter services, staffing, Taunton nhs parking, axminster peak times, a TransWilts meeting.

Finally before the reports and forum came the third and final keynote from Mike Lambden, head of corporate affairs for National Express Group. He outlined their plans including longer coaches, but asked for better coach stations. One strange mistake had been increasing the leg room on some coaches so much that they got complaints from shorter passengers that they couldn’t reach the footrest any more – oops!

The forum was a scary discussion of rail under-provision planned in our region. Even if we only continue to grow rail use at the last decade’s rates, overcrowding will increase.

The forum ended with applause for all the hard work done by TWSW and the next meetings will be 9 October 2010 in Taunton, 5 March 2011, 1 October 2011.

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