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South Western Railway Gillingham rail stationCouncillors in Gillingham are planing to make an official response to plans by South Western Railway to change the train timetable from next year.

The rail firm has launched a consultation over the changes, to be introduced in December 2022, which will leave Gillingham served by just one train to London an hour in the post-Covid era.

Under the proposals South Western railway is scrapping the three additional off-peak trains that were introduced back in May 2019.

At a meeting of councillors from the Town Council’s General Purposes committee, deputy town clerk Clare Ratcliffe suggested that members of the council’s Neighbourhood Plan group – who are updating the development blueprint for the town – would want to examine and respond to the proposals.

She told councillors on Monday: ‘Because as Gillingham grows maybe it’s a bit short-sighted to withdraw the service for Gillingham? That, though, is perhaps for someone on the Neighbourhood Plan group to comment on.’

Meanwhile a South Western Railway spokesperson told Gillingham News that their aim was to produce a more ‘resilient’ service for passengers after the pandemic, during which passenger numbers have slumped.

‘Our core frequency has always been one train per hour on this route, with additional services in the peak and that does not change under these proposals with the exception of some afternoon services between Exeter and Axminster,’ said the spokesperson.

‘We are not planning to reinstate three additional off-peak trains between Salisbury and Yeovil via Gillingham introduced in May 2019: they were lightly used and added to congestion on what is a primarily single line section of track. We are confident of delivering a more resilient service as a result.’

They added: ‘Our proposed specification responds to forecast levels of passenger demand. Longer term we are working with Network Rail and partners to enhance services along the West of England line through infrastructure improvements, as published in Network Rail’s 20 year strategic plan for the route …’

In a foreword to the consultation document Claire Mann, managing director of South Western Railway, and Mark Killick, route director Wessex at Network Rail, say: ‘We are acutely aware that in the past we have responded to ever growing customer demand by increasing the number of trains on the South Western Railway (SWR) network, often at the expense of the performance and reliability of our services.

‘But, as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to build back a better railway for the future. Since March 2020, we have been supported by the government to run a reduced service that has kept key workers moving. This period has shown that our performance improves significantly when we are able to run fewer trains while still meeting customer demand for our services. Customer satisfaction has also increased in this period.

They continue: ‘Even though passengers are now returning to the railways, all the forecasts suggest they will not return to pre-Covid levels for the foreseeable future. While we have had to adapt our timetable to changing circumstances at short notice over the past 16 months, now is the time to start planning for a long-term timetable that will retain and build on the reliability improvements we’ve made, meet the forecast demand and provide value for the taxpayer while balancing other local and national priorities.

‘We are proposing changes which, while resulting in a slight reduction in frequencies, will still deliver capacity at 93 percent of pre-Covid levels and improve significantly on the current timetable. This is well in excess of current demand and the forecasts set out in this document. We will do this by introducing 90 new Arterio trains, which offer greater capacity and the promise of
better reliability, as well as providing additional carriages on many of our existing services.’

They add: ‘The result will be a more robust train service across the SWR network that meets new travel patterns as we emerge from the pandemic.’

The consultation closes on 19 September 2021. For more information email:
[email protected]

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