SOUTH WESTERN Railway was forced to issue alternative timetable options for its proposed December 2018 timetable midway through the consultation period, after the original published consultation prompted an angry backlash from passengers. Particularly adversely affected are passengers on the Weymouth line, where SWR’s proposals saw services to London reduced to hourly; certain stations on the Portsmouth line, including Petersfield; and the Basingstoke to Waterloo stopping service, where the peak frequency was proposed to be halved.
Commuters from Winchfeld and Hook mobilised in an action group, with over 650 members joining the group’s Facebook page, and a petition published by the local MP, Ranil Jayawardena, attracted over 2,500 signatures in the first week. At a recent meeting with Ranil Jayawardena, SWR directors presented an alternative timetable that showed additional Hook and Winchfield calls inserted into previously-proposed fast trains, whilst at the same time removing the Fleet and Farnborough calls from the same trains. This alternative timetable appeared on the SWR timetable consultation webpage later that day. The new proposal would reduce the proposed Fleet and Farnborough peak services by one-third, and local users suggest it appears not to take into account the significant local flows between stations along the route.
Even before SWR presented this alternative timetable for consultation, informed sources were suggesting to Modern Railways that SWR was starting to distance itself from the proposals and was shifting the blame onto the Department for Transport.
This was reflected in the company’s statement published in The Times, in which an SWR spokesman claimed the timetable changes were only put out for consultation based on feedback from ‘key stakeholders’ before it took over the franchise; insiders told Modern Railways:
‘For “key stakeholders” read the DfT’. Meanwhile, the Winchfield and Hook Action Group continues its campaign, highlighting that the DfT franchise consultation document made no mention of any possible service reductions, and that neither timetable option published for consultation matches the franchise Train Service Specification published on the DfT website. The Group’s spokesman continued: ‘We very much hope that SWR will listen to the feedback on their consultation and they will withdraw their proposals to revise peak services for Hook, Winchfield, Fleet and Farnborough. However, if they do not, then we will consider what further options may be open to us, as we believe the correct process has not been followed’. Tony Miles