An alternative view of our train services
Lucy Allan MP has talked about the “little villages” on the railway line to Birmingham. Many of her facts need amplifying to give a more accurate view.
Firstly the number of trains. There are 39 trains each day from Telford to Birmingham, which many regard as a reasonable service. Of these, there are four trains per hour at key times between 06:19 -07:13; 06:53 to 07:53; and 14:53 to 15:53. Many of these connect easily at Wolverhampton with trains to London, or go without a change to Birmingham Airport. The two Virgin services continue to London without having to change, getting Ms Allan to London Euston in 2 hours 15 minutes. The fast Arriva trains get to Birmingham city centre in about 36 minutes – try that in the car!
Secondly over 600,000 journeys were made last year from the five stations from Shifnal to Bilbrook inclusive, hardly “little Shropshire villages”, not least since only three of the five are actually in Shropshire, (and not in Ms Allan’s constituency) and two, Codsall and Bilbrook, are in Staffordshire, in yet another constituency. I can only speculate on Mark Pritchard MP's and Gavin Williamson MP’s opinion of Ms Allan’s rather disparaging comments about their constituencies!
Patronage at Shifnal station has grown by 25 per cent to 166,000 in the past two years, more than any other stations on the entire line. This is a result of the vast increase in housing in the town, with a population heading towards 10,000. About 126 Shifnal season ticket holders use the trains every day. The figures for the year ending 31 March 2018, are expected to show further growth.
In a report which I produced in 2015 for Shifnal Forward about the rail services for the town, I made several recommendations to cope with the anticipated continued growth in users of the line:
• That there should be an extra early morning fast train from Shifnal to Wolverhampton and Birmingham. This suggestion was enthusiastically implemented by London Midland in December 2015. The crowded platform at Shifnal at 07:18 every morning hardly equates to Ms Allan’s lack of demand at this “little stop”.
• That extra trains should be introduced to provide a “two trains an hour” service. It was appreciated that this would need three extra train sets, implying more drivers and maintenance costs. I discussed the proposal with the Department for Transport and persuaded them, with support from West Midlands Rail and Shropshire Council, to include the proposal as a condition of the specification for the new franchise. These extra trains were announced last August, and will appear in next December’s timetable changes. More than that, they will have to stop at Wellington, Telford and Shifnal as a condition of the contract, thus fulfilling Ms Allan’s ambitions of a more frequent, and at times faster, service to Birmingham .
• I also put forward the need for longer trains. Again the Department for Transport agreed the proposal for implementation by West Midland Rail: brand new, longer trains with greater capacity will start to appear in less than three years’ time in December 2020, replacing the elderly existing trains which will be some 30 years old by that time, helping to reduce overcrowding as well as improving reliability.
I trust these facts will re-assure Shifnal citizens, old and new, as well as Ms Allan’s constituents, about the forthcoming improvements to the train services on our line.
Retired member of Shifnal Forward Transport Group