District Council responds to South Western Railway consultation on proposed new timetable

South Somerset District Council (SSDC) has responded to a recent timetable consultation by South Western Railway (SWR), in which concerns were raised to possible changes to their timetable from December 2018.

The consultation document sets out proposals for revised timetables on all the SWR routes including the West of England Line (Exeter to Waterloo via Crewkerne, Yeovil and Templecombe).

The proposals look at ways of reducing journey times and to achieve this, SWR are considering the possibility of omitting stops at either Clapham Junction or Woking.

Concerns have been raised in SSDC's consultation response that, omitting these stops will reduce connectivity for our residents wishing to make onward journeys to destinations such as Gatwick or Heathrow.

The Council has therefore requested that SWR considers the evidence in respect of current onward connections at both Clapham & Woking and that these are carefully assessed alongside realistic alternative journey options prior to any final decision being taken.

Whilst reducing the journey time is laudable, SSDC's view is that this should not be at the expense of connectivity and that infrastructure improvements are urgently needed on this route to achieve effective travel times.

SSDC is therefore actively lobbying for infrastructure improvements on the West of England line that would both reduce the journey time to Waterloo and enable the vital interchange stops at both Woking and Clapham to continue to offer onward connections for South Somerset residents.

The Council welcomes the proposals for additional trains via Yeovil Pen Mill, Castle Cary, and Bruton. The latter will enable visitors to have day trips from London to Bruton & Castle Cary providing a welcome boost to those economies. Similarly the suggestion to continue the current 21.20 departing Waterloo beyond Yeovil Junction will benefit Crewkerne residents. However, apart from Fridays, this remains the latest train that South Somerset residents can use to return from the capital. The Council also feels that consideration should be given to extending the proposed 22.25 beyond Gillingham on the remaining days and running a little later to allow for theatre visits and other leisure activities.

Ric Pallister, Leader of the Council said, "All improvements on the Waterloo line are extremely welcome as the economic importance of this route increases.  Greater use in line with the growth in working from home for part of the week is having a significant impact on working patterns.  On each occasion that improvements are made to capacity, frequency and quality of the rolling stock, usage increases.  We recognise that until full dual line working can be introduced west of Salisbury there is a limit but every little improvement helps.  However, timetable improvements should not come at a cost to established connectivity. Clapham Junction in particular is a very important and efficient link across to Southern Rail and the south east, whilst Woking as the Heathrow gateway is a long established route.  Neither should be lost to the residents of South Somerset."