How a hard-fought campaign secured Shropshire's direct rail service

It took more than a year, meetings with Sir Richard Branson, a 3,000-signature petition presented to Parliament, but Shropshire eventually won its battle for a direct rail service to London.

Shropshire Star competition winner Toni Williams, centre, from Telford officially names a Virgin train The Wrekin Giant with a whole host of famous London characters at Shrewsbury Train Station.
Shropshire Star competition winner Toni Williams, centre, from Telford officially names a Virgin train The Wrekin Giant with a whole host of famous London characters at Shrewsbury Train Station.

That was nine years ago, in 2013, but last week, without a moment's notice the route was suddenly no more.

The effort of campaigners, residents, local politicians, and the Shropshire Star, washed away without any warning.

When the service was originally introduced it was run by Virgin Trains.

Fast forward nine years and it is Avanti West Coast which is responsible for the 'umbilical cord' to the capital.

Set against the backdrop of a succession of strike action the company dropped the Shrewsbury to London Euston route from its daily routine, with a 'revised timetable' airbrushing the service from existence.

It comes after the service had already been downgraded at the start of the pandemic – reduced from two direct trains a day to one, yet to be re-instated by Avanti.

Thankfully a sudden U-turn has seen the service re-instated, but going back to November 2013 it was thanks to a Shropshire Star petition, campaigners, and lobbying from MPs that the county finally had its link to London.

Leaving at Shrewsbury at 6.39am and returning from London Euston at 6.23pm, the route, which stops at Telford and Wellington, has proved popular, and has been a vital line for businesses and county tourism.

Shrewsbury & Atcham Conservative MP, Daniel Kawczynski, said it would have been a betrayal of the efforts of residents to allow the service to be quietly cancelled.

Back in 2013 Virgin Trains wanted to re-establish the direct services from the county to the capital, but its plans were vetoed by the Government's Office of Rail Regulation.

The Government office had backed Network Rail's stance that the West Coast Main Line cannot yet cope with the extra services.

However, pressure from the campaign led to a re-think, and then victory.

When the route was confirmed the Shropshire Star had a further role, running a competition to name a train to be used on the route.

The competition was won by reader Toni Sian Williams with her suggestion of The Wrekin Giant – a name which was added to the side of a Virgin train.

Shropshire Star competition winner Toni Williams from Telford officially names a Virgin train The Wrekin Giant at Shrewsbury Train Station. She is joined by Phil Bearpark, Executive Director of Operations and Projects at Virgin.

She pulled the curtain back to unveil the name in a ceremony at Shrewsbury Railway Station.

Back in 2013 passengers had explained the inconvenience of the lack of a direct route.

Speaking outside Shrewsbury Railway Station, Ray Pullen, 28, from Welshpool, said: "I have had to wait around for an hour at Birmingham and an hour here at Shrewsbury to get to Welshpool.

"I left London at 7 or 8am and I'm still not in Welshpool at 1pm."

At the time Mr Kawczynski presented the Shropshire Star's petition to Government and met with Virgin, including Sir Richard, to press for the service.

Speaking today the Shrewsbury MP said the threat to the service had been a rare instance that united politicians across the county.

He said: "It would have been a betrayal of everyone who worked so hard on a pan-Shropshire basis, and also a betrayal of thousands of Shropshire businesses and tourists who come to the county, who depend on this line."

He added: "It was a huge campaign, we had to spend hundreds of hours of parliamentary time, with Network Rail, with Virgin Trains. I even had a meeting with Sir Richard Branson in my office in the House of Commons.

"We pushed and pushed and pushed and after hundreds of hours of negotiations we finally managed to secure the line and pre-pandemic it was exceeding all expectations.

"Now we hope that as we move towards economic recovery it will get even better, and we will continue to press for more improvements to the line, with the ultimate aim of electrifying the route."

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