I use these pages to break free from the character limited world of Twitter. But if I’m going to post here I feel it’s got to be long enough to be worth it, so I set a nominal lower limit. That means that when it comes to commenting on local goings-on, I am faced with a choice of writing either less than 280 characters, or 1000 words. So here goes… 1000 words on the December 2019 train timetable changes with, hopefully, minimal repetition, hesitation or deviation – although the odd rail replacement bus service cannot be ruled out.
To get started, here are some words directly from Great Western Railway:
On 15 December 2019 we will be introducing the biggest timetable change on the Great Western Railway network since 1976, bringing faster, more frequent services with thousands more seats across the region.
Around three quarters of journey times will be different from how they are today as we add new services and change old ones as part of the improvements.
In fact, the changes are so significant that we want to make sure customers aren’t caught out – particularly customers who travel with us regularly and are used to travelling on a specific service.
Trains will arrive and depart at different times – There will be more trains, with more seats but to allow the new timetable to work train times will be different to today.
Trains won’t always stop at the stations they do today – Journeys will be faster, but we are introducing new services, and they won’t always stop at the places frequent travellers might be used to.
There’s plenty of press coverage picking up GWRs announcements on this, but I’ve taken the radical step of actually looking at the timetable to see what it means for the number of trains serving Reading.
Undoubtedly there have been huge improvements over recent years: the new station, electrification, and a fleet of new trains – all funded, to a significant degree by Reading’s army of season ticket purchasers. The December timetable change is the first major opportunity for GWR to take advantage of the extra track capacity created by having introduced faster electric trains and by having built the viaduct west of Reading station to physically separate the different routes.
I’m aware that the majority of local interest will be from London-bound commuters, so we’ll look at that first although I will go on to cover commuter services into Reading. Between 7am and 10am, we increase from 51 to 62 trains to London, although five of the additional 11 won’t call at Reading. That means two additional non-stop trains to Paddington and four extra stoppers. So, whilst occasionally seeing a train whizz past the platform, we’re still better off. And with some longer distance commuters from further afield migrating to those services, getting a seat should be a far simpler task.
The evening commute is a less rosy picture. Between 4.30 and 7.30 the increase in services from Paddington is from 49 to 59, however the number of those omitting a call at Reading rises to 13 from just two. With one additional stopper, that actually leaves a reduction of two fast services. Now, the same logic of seats being freed up by longer distance travellers selecting the new services still applies. But clearly benefits for Reading’s commuters are secondary to the principle focus of this new capacity, which is targeted at providing the wider network with dedicated evening trains protected from invasion from our vast legions of weary workers. This policy had been widely trailed, but the surprise is that it’s not limited to Bristol – now Oxford gets several trains heading there without a Reading halt. This causes further trouble locally, which I’ll return too later.
One of the most high-profile elements of the December change is the introduction of Crossrail to Reading. Crossrail once promised to deliver the new line serving Berkshire and Essex by December 2019. They could argue, tenuously, to have succeeded. Having already taken over services from Liverpool Street to the east, they will begin operating from Paddington to Reading from 15th December. In truth, without the underground route connecting each end, they don’t have the nerve to make that argument, or even to call it Crossrail (or The Elizabeth Line). Until the tunnels open, it will operate as TFL Rail, but with the underground’s familiar ’roundel’ logo.
The timetable provides confirmation of what we always knew: Crossrail services will stop almost everywhere, and journey times from Reading to Paddington are advertised at 58 minutes. Still, had Crossrail not been extended to Reading it would have wrecked commuting options into Reading, so we’d still far rather keep it than lose it. And Crossrail will ultimately still be of considerable use to Reading commuters heading for The City. With a change at Paddington from a fast service onto The Elizabeth line to get to Farringdon in just 8 minutes, you’ll be saving at least ten minutes, possibly more. So estate agents, don’t despair.
Details on fares for Crossrail services are still slightly unclear. But it does appear that this timetable sadly signals the end of off-peak tickets being valid on “semi-fast” peak services home from London. Off-peak tickets will only be valid on TFL Rail. With no toilets and a one hour journey, it does make those day trips to London with kids in the holidays somewhat less convenient.
Turning to commuter services into Reading, the story is generally positive. With a wretched road network, it’s crucial to enhance train services if central Reading is to win out over the car-focussed out-of-town business parks as an employment hub. December brings an unexpected increase in peak stopping services from Basingstoke, which also allow time for calls at the new Reading Green Park station when it opens. Crossrail, with its 4 trains per hour at peak, helps with frequencies from Twyford, Maidenhead and Slough, whilst South West Railway has snuck in a couple of extra services from Wokingham/Bracknell. Improvements from Farnborough and Guildford are postponed until May.
Oxford is the key link that is sadly travelling in reverse formation. Whilst the morning peak sees improvements, the evening peak is degraded thanks to the London-Oxford non-stop services. This means Reading losing not only some key connections to Oxford itself, but also a loss of direct journeys to stations north of Oxford, with GWR recommending that affected passengers crowd onto the short CrossCountry trains and change at Oxford. A google search on this subject turns up a discussion board theorising that GWR were actually in favour of maintaining Reading calls on these services, but Network Rail insisted on losing them in order to clear the trains from the Reading area more quickly to ensure the new Bristol Express timetabled moments later gets a clear run through too! This loss of connectivity is highly unwelcome, and surely it’s just a matter of time before some tweaks are made to re-introduce the Reading calls, although May will be the first opportunity.
GWR’s website has a section summarising the changes for each station. For Reading it reads:
- there will be significant changes to the calling patterns with some Inter City Trains not stopping in Reading
- there will be more trains on Inter City routes from this station
- the local services timetable will change significantly
- there will be fewer evening peak fast services to Oxford and the North Cotswolds
It’s fair to say that other stations on the network receive more positive summaries, but my analysis shows there’s still plenty of improvements to call out locally. Further enhancements are also coming down the track with the now-approved link to Heathrow being the most significant. Direct connection to the airport via a new link east of Slough will hugely enhance Reading’s credentials in the commercial property market, and hopefully convince more business to locate in RG1. Whilst the December changes are highly London-centric, I believe future developments should aim primarily to support sustainable commercial centres outside of the capital, rather than purely maximising capacity into Paddington. Let’s hope the powers-that-be are on board.Follow @readingonthames
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