Ask any of my friends and collegues and they will tell you, if you wanted someone to come out fighting for public transport then you wouldn’t pick me. Since my formative years I have loved all things cars, annual trips (then bi-annual) to the British Motor show, walking around car show rooms, playing the what can I buy from the auto-trader game… all these things were fascinating to me as a child. I didn’t bother with a 50cc bike when I was 16, I wanted to go straight to the car when I was 17 and I did. Before the days of the theory test and multi-choice questions I passed my test as soon after my 17th birthday as I could get an appointment, 15 days to be precise. I have been driving ever since. Then last year, after 5 long years of commuting to Reading from Romsey, a daily mileage of just under 100 miles but with varying travel time between 1& 3 hours each way, I decided to ditch the car and take the challenge of using public transport. For about 6 weeks I crunched the numbers, deciding that as long as I travelled 18 days a month to my office in Reading then the bus/rail combination would work out financial neutral with purely the fuel costs of travelling to Reading using my car. (so long as I took advantage of the annual season ticket discounts). So I did it, it has had it’s moments, when high winds & mudslides brought the network to it’s knees then I have been stuck. It doesn’t run on time but there was enough flexibility in the times to generally make it work.
It has till now been a resounding success.
This is all about to come to an end.
Tomorrow (7th December 2007), the very last South West Trains Rail Link bus will run between Winchester Rail Station and Romsey.
For the past 11 years, Romsey has been attached to the London Waterloo mainline by this vital transport link. A very real example of the fabled “integrated transport policy”. Extending the reach of the rail network to an area poorly served by mainline services.
In addition to the commuters, this service is also heavy used by key workers, teachers, nurses and Doctors, travelling to Winchester from Romsey and also vice versa, with both hospitals being on the route. Only this week a Doctor travelling on the Rail Link service was called into action when a gentleman was knocked down by a car in front of our bus. Being on the scene, our driver stopped the service and out jumped several first aiders and a doctor. I am happy to report that the gentleman injured by the accident is now out of hospital and doing well.
Tomorrow this service will end, plunging Romsey into the transport abyss,OK that sounds dramatic but the alternative’s presented by SWT are as follows:
1. A new train service from Romsey to Southampton as part of the new Salisbury-Romsey-Southampton Parkway – Southampton service. You don’t need to have a GCSE or Alevel in Geography, in fact my children at Key Stage 1 & 2 know that Southampton is in the opposite direction to Winchester and London. I am not aware of a single Rail Link traveller who upon getting to Winchester gets on a train heading south back to Southamtpon.
2. Take the X66 service. This service runs alongside the Rail link providing the other half of a currently half an hour service to Winchester. Unfortunately this service doesn’t begin till 7am and finishes at 7pm. Ask any commuter or worker at Royal Hampshire Hospital if this caters for their work schedule. It was only after severe public outcry and pressure that SWT agreed to temporarily fund two additional early morning services, the less said about the two extra evening services the better.
3. Take the car…….
Options 1 & 2 on average add an additional hour on the regular commuters travel time and the perverbial straw to break the camel’s back, the price for this reduced service goes up by about 8%. In some cases by a whopping 23%.
For the past 6 weeks I have been campaigning along with other disgruntled Rail Link users for a suitable compromise to this decision. Unfortunately users found out via mistake. There was no communication from SWT, not even to those of us who are their “Gold Customers”. There have been a few very interesting disclosures in the campaign, namely that the Department of Transport is responsible for removing the Rail Link service from the franchise renewal in early 2006. This being the direct result.
Our campaign has taken us to the streets of Winchester, Romsey, the council chambers of Hampshire County Council, the offices of SWT, Stagecoach South & even to Downing Street.
Tomorrow will be a disappointing day when the last Rail Link runs, but the fight is not over. The three alternatives presented by SWT are not the only alternatives. There are others.
The campaign is being organised through the website www.saveourbus.org Please take the time to view the website and read for yourself the issue.