Melksham remains a special case in terms of rail development. From no usable train service seven years ago, it moved up to a usable but poor service - minimal, with a single carriage shuttling up and down. At the time, the question was raised as to whether a service every 2 to 2.5 hours, or a service every hour, was "appropriate". We got the lower level ... and that was enough to tip the balance towards much better use. But it remains very low in usage for its catchment. Take a look at this table.
|Town||1997/8||2017/8||Population||Growth||journey per person|
|journeys||journeys||2018 (est)||1998-2018||per annum, 2018|
Why that figure of less than 3 journeys per person compared to about 20 in the next-least-used case? The towns are different, maybe - but they should not be that different. As a very conservative target indeed, should be not be looking to get Melksham up to just half the journeys per person of the next-least-used town over then next five years? In round figures, that's increasing our passenger journeys to 269,500 by 2024, which is 3.63 times the current usage.
In pointing out what a poor service and a miserable usage rate we have compared to other stations around, we must not overlook the staggering growth of passengers already to nearly 20 times the level of 20 years ago - other stations in West Wiltshire have done well, but they all report a figure of less than t rippling in size - no mean achievement there either. And this growth has been thanks to many - to Gordon Dodge and John Money, alas no longer with us. To Peter Blackburn and John Hamley, who are still very active indeed and carried the torch through lean and difficult years. To Lee Fletcher, and to the early and current admin team on the Coffee Shop forum (Bob Morrison and Chris Hankin), without whom the research would not have been done, and without whom strong technical cases and local enthusiasm would not have been raised. But local (Melksham based) campaigning hasn't been a lone driver. Paul Johnson, now chair of TransWilts CIC has been our "Santa" in more ways than one with his knowledge of local government. Wiltshire Councillors such as Richard Gamble and Horace Prickett (past and current transport portfolio holders, both on the TransWilts board now), and some of their officers who have been helpful may times beyond their call of duty. First Great Western, now Great Western Railway, ACoRP, TravelWatch SouthWest, the Department for Transport all deserve thanks and much credit too - without exception, each of them needed initial convincing that there was a case for even the single carriage shuttling up and down and put significant hurdles in the way of the early campaign, but came on board in full force as the campaign moved from protest to partnership mode.
So - we come to towards the start of 2020. We have a station in Melksham where passenger numbers have grown 20 fold in 20 years, yet traffic remains just a tenth of what it would be if it were a typical West Wiltshire Station. And that low traffic level means that the economic development and quality of life provided in and for the town by the railway is below par. An opportunity that we must take for the town, for the area, and for their future. There are three strings to this bow.
1. Strategic development
Ensuring that facilities are in place as traffic develops. A Station approach that suited 5 arrivals and 5 departures a day in 1998 has been somewhat enhanced for 100 arrivals and departures today, and needs to be able to cope with 500 arrivals and departures - that's 1000 passages - by the end of the next decade.
We're looking at journeys from home to the station, at the area of the station itself, and of capacity on the railway line for all those passengers too.
This is long term, hence "strategic" stuff - and Melksham is very much a part of the TransWilts
as far as this facet is concerned - development includes and is bolstered by through journeys on the train which is a strategic line, linking Swindon and Chippenham - the two biggest settlements in Wiltshire - to Trowbridge (the growing county town), Westbury, Warminster and Salisbury.
2. Tactical promotion and development
All the people of Melksham need to be encouraged to use their train service, where it's appropriate to them. Marketing, information provision, making the station welcoming, providing suggestions for tuning the service, telling people who to go to if they need help, supporting strategic development all fall in this category. It's classic "Community Rail" stuff ... but yet Community Rail, set up in the mid 1990s to persuade all the people to use the train which at that time were carrying fresh air in may parts of the UK, has moved on. Trains use has grown so well under community rail that the new strategy, from 2019, from ACoRP and the DfT has been much more focused on engaging hard-to-engage groups with rail, work (across the UK) with the generality of people is complete.
Where TransWilts is moving on to a new and more effective role in the new order of Community Rail, and looking at items (1) above and (3) below, the Melksham Specific Melksham Rail User Group
will be stepping up its activity in 2019; special events have been run every year for 20 years, but the group now has the opportunity to step in much more fully; there is a sea of people who - if asked - will help each in their own ways; until now, though, the things for them to do have been limited. With things like the planned Melksham Hub and the growing passenger numbers, now is the time where we can all have something to do - and enjoy doing. There will, I'm sure, be friendly interaction between TransWilts and the Melksham Rail User Group on these elements - TransWilts' Community Rail Officer, Sophie Martin, comes with a background and remit to help us with such things as overall advertising and management, and to be reaching the hard-to-reach groups up and down the line ... including (and welcomely so) those in the catchment of Melksham Station
3. Service enhancement
Train services and the needs for them change. This is very much an area where the community (be it the rail user group or the CRP) is very much involved in planning years ahead and acting as something of a cheerleader for good ideas, making constructive inputs to guide the wider area authorities and operators toward what's suitable for local needs. TransWilts
has a strong history in this area, which needs to look at all stations up and down the service and indeed tae a view beyond, so that's very much an area which remains their lead. The team changes of 2018 at TransWilts have helped move it from a smaller community organisation to one which is very much more local authority member lead, and that augers well for making strategic cases for an hourly service, services extended to Southampton Central and Airport, and probably from Swindon to Oxford too.
And so .. 2020 will see a lot more activity, and visible activity in Melksham, from the Melksham Rail User Group. TransWilts remains with many key / core activities to concentrate on, and we hope to be working closely together. It's the nature of their strategic direction and the new niche group targetting that we might not see them quite so much in evidence in Melksham, but we should be saying a big "Thank You" to Paul, Peter, Horace and their team up to 2019 and looking forward to great things from both TransWilts and the Melksham Rail User Group in 2020.