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Heather Resource Management Ltd

Posted 25/09/2012


As you may already know, First Group have decided not to exercise their contractual entitlement to extend their existing contract for the Great Western rail franchise for a further three years from 2013. The Department for Transport (DfT) has started the process for procurement of the franchise and four bidders have been short-listed: Arriva/DB, FirstGroup, National Express and Stagecoach. Final bids are due to be submitted in October 2012, with the winning bidder being announced in February/March 2013 and the new franchise commencing operations in July 2013.

The new franchise will last for a period of 15 years and will cover several major infrastructure projects that will impact upon Gloucestershire, such as the redoubling of the Kemble – Swindon line. One of the key priorities for Gloucestershire's Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is an integrated and improved transport infrastructure. Given the impact that the new franchise may have upon this aim, the LEP Logistics Group have been seeking the views of the County's business community on how the new rail franchise can meet the requirements of local businesses and promote the growth of the local economy.

It is important for us all that the bidders consider how to develop rail services and related facilities to meet these needs, and your Chamber was pleased to make a submission with the aid of Chamber Rail Advisers Professor Frank Chambers and Willy Ford. Our comments will be collated with other responses and fed back to the four short-listed bidders. It is hoped that this feedback will contribute to a rail service that improves upon the current provision. "As Chief Executive of Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce, I am pleased to submit the following comments which have been drafted with the aid of the Chamber's Rail Advisers, Professor Frank Chambers and Willy Ford.

(1) For the duration of the blockade between Kemble and Swindon (August 2013), the successful franchisee MUST make available the same fare from Cheltenham/Gloucester to/from Swindon/Reading/London via Bristol Parkway as is normally offered via Stroud (which is cheaper than via Bristol Parkway). This is seen as a very important gesture to business passengers during the time of the disruption caused by the blockade.
(2) An important addition for business passengers would be hourly direct services Cheltenham to /from London Paddington as soon as the Kemble-Swindon line is doubled. These services should later be provided using the new InterCity Express Train, but we do not feel that business passengers should have to wait until that is ready before the hourly direct service is introduced.
(3) Access by rail to Heathrow from the West would be of great benefit to business and recreational passengers alike.
(4) It would be good if the TOCs could look creatively at providing a connecting service from Cheltenham/Gloucester via Swindon to/from Oxford, Bicester and Milton Keynes via the re-opened East-West rail link being developed. This might connect at Swindon for example (using the proposed new hourly Cheltenham-London service) with a re-introduced direct Bristol-Oxford service that used to exist a decade ago, and which could be extended from Oxford to Bicester and Milton Keynes.
(5) It would be beneficial for some of the new direct Cheltenham to London services to start from Worcester (and possibly Hereford), to provide a quality rail link between these towns and Gloucestershire.
(6) Fares from Cheltenham and Gloucester at peak time to/from London are extortionate. Substantial reductions are required in order to make the service attractive to commuters.
(7) An increase in the number of services stopping at Ashchurch would be of benefit.
(8) We would like the long-distance GW franchise services from London via Bristol to Plymouth/Penzance to be retained within the franchise, and possibly increased in number so as to compete with Cross-Country (whose fares are excessive)on the Bristol to Exeter/Plymouth/Penzance leg. From Gloucester/Cheltenham, these services can be accessed at Bristol T.M., using GW link services to ensure that TOC-specific fares are lower.
(9) Lastly, we feel it most important to mention the Cheltenham Spa Station refurbishment. This programme is not only about platforms - the whole station requires consideration in terms of: structure , facilities, improved parking, improved traffic flow and improved terminal facilities. These enhancements, together with the doubling of the line from Kemble to Swindon, will significantly improve the rail service provision in terms of quality, frequency and customer experience.

This will ensure that Cheltenham Spa station will be reinstated as a 'capital station' commensurate with the town's status as the recognised 'Centre for the Cotswolds'. We hope that LEP and the franchise bidders find our comments of benefit, and that they will make a valuable contribution to the discussions, ensuring that the new franchisee offers a service which meets the requirements of not only local businesses and their employees, but also the community as a whole. Yours faithfully, Michael Ratcliffe Chief Executive Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce"

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