Letter to First Great Western

I have recently responded to Great Western’s request for feedback on what people would like to see on their local railway:

Mr Graeme Hampshire
Bid Chairman
Stagecoach Great Western Trains
Stagecoach Rail
41-45 Blackfriars Road
London SE1 8NZ

15 August 2012

Dear Mr Hampshire

Thank you for the invitation to set out what I think constituents want from the Great Western railway.

People want a reliable regular service at an affordable price. The speed of the individual fast train is not a big issue. The use of diesel rather than electricity as a fuel matters little to most users. Door to door journey times and waiting times are big issues. Quite often it is the delays in getting to the station, parking, and finding a train that matter much more than the time it takes the train to do its part of the journey. Getting a seat is also a big issue.

There are three ways of improving journey times and reliability in the direct control of the franchise holder. The first is to provide more trains, so that the passenger has less time to wait for a train. The second is to improve efficiency and reliability so fewer trains are delayed or cancelled. The third is to have fewer stopping trains on longer journeys.

My constituents live in an arc to the south of Reading. They have to drive into central Reading and park their cars to be able to use the Great Western service at all. Car parking at Reading is expensive, and not geared to anyone wishing to take a long distance train and return on another day. Improving the parking options and lowering the charges would encourage more of us to use trains more often. Working with the Council to improve road access to station car parks would also be helpful, as it can take up to an hour to drive in from my area at peak times, park and buy a train ticket. This adds a very large time penalty to the journey.

The main services to London Paddington from Reading need more capacity at peak times. Too often my constituents fail to get a seat, which is both uncomfortable and dangerous.

I look forward to you producing plans to provide a better service which is more easily accessible from the Wokingham constituency.

Yours sincerely

The Rt Hon John Redwood MP
Member of Parliament for Wokingham


  1. Lord Blagger
    August 17, 2012

    Letter to John Redwood.

    Can I please stop paying for you to use the train on the cheap?


    1. Rupert Butler
      August 17, 2012


      Please excuse my telling you bluntly that your remark is snide and (since you use the word) cheap. JR is too smart to respond. I, being an ordinary member of his audience, tell you that I am offended by what you say.

      If you and I had been in a public meeting, you would probably have had too little courage to make the remark. I and many others would have loudly informed you of your mistake if you had.

      If you vote, you would have been party to an arrangement (which both the MP like JR and his electors accept) by which on election he is granted free or subsidised transport. I do not doubt that JR now plays this arrangement with an entirely straight bat.

      It may be that you have not realised how this works and are stupid in stead of spiteful. In that case I apologise for drawing attention to your problem.

      Reply: I have not claimed any travel costs this Parliament so I assumed it was not directed to me.

  2. Dean Underwood
    August 17, 2012

    ‘They have to drive into central Reading and park their cars to be able to use the Great Western service’ – Why do they have to drive when there are trains from Wokingham to Reading?

    ”There are ways of improving journey times and reliability in the direct control of the franchise holder. The first is to provide more trains, so that the passenger has less time to wait for a train. The second is to improve efficiency and reliability so fewer trains are delayed or cancelled.” – Having more trains is all well and good but in times of disruption (such as a fatality) this would cause more problems because more trains would be backed up with nowhere to go as stations along the line would be full of trains resulting in longer delays while the backlog is cleared. When you say efficiency and reliability do you mean of the trains or the infrastructure? In my experience of being delayed on a train it is normally down to signal failure, points failure or especially in Autumn and Winter, slippery rails/poor grip. These problems are not the fault of Great Western and it is probable they can do little about them. Maybe if adequate money was invested into the infrastructure before privatisation we would have a lot less problems with trains across the country and possibly lower fares.

    Reply Most of us have to drive as we do not live in walking distance of Wokingham station. Yes, we need both the track prodivder and the train operating company to work well. I favour reuniting track and trains. In the meantime the franchise holder has to work with the train track company, which is of course nationalised and in receipt of large subsidies. I am sorry you do not want more seats and more frequent services – most of my constituents do.

  3. Simon George
    August 17, 2012

    “My constituents live in an arc to the south of Reading. They have to drive into central Reading and park their cars to be able to use the Great Western service at all”

    You seem to believe that the private car and the train are the only modes of transport available. Do I really need to point out that there are taxis, buses, motorbikes, bicycles and even the use of two legs as further options?

    reply: Most of my constituents live too far from Reading station to go on foot or by bike. 86% of journeys in the UK are by car and 6% by train. I am talking here about trains, as I am writing to the train company.

    1. Simon George
      August 17, 2012

      I an 59 and cycled from Reading to Wokingham and back this morning. Why do you think most of your constituents are incapable of shorter journeys? Do you not understand that far more people would be willing to cycle if suitable infrastructure were provided? You appear to be obsessed with the private motor car to the detriment of your constituents.

      You are talking about constituents getting from their homes to Reading Station. You even ignore the train as an option to do this.

      Reply: No, I do not ignore those things. Some will cycle, and some will take a connecting train service. The figures show there are many who will not.

    2. Simon George
      August 18, 2012

      Why do you think that most of your constituents live too far from the nearest station to arrive by bicycle? What distance do you think is the maximum that they would be able to cycle? Why do you ignore all options other than the private motor car simply because most journeys are done that way?

      Reply: People’s wish and ability to cycle is very variable. There is no simple maximum distance. Some people will not want to cycle in all weathers, with the difficulty of where to put the briefcase, laptop and the rest they may need to take with them. I am all in favour of those who want to cycling, but they are a minority.

      1. Simon George
        August 18, 2012

        You are just making the usual excuses that non-cycling motorists use. It is perfectly simple to accommodate cases and laptops on bicycles and to use wet weather protection on the minimal occasions it is actually needed.

        Of course cyclists are a minority but that is no excuse to fail to consider the options you have to improve the situation. Look at the increase in cycling in London despite the fact that cycling infrastructure is still totally inadequate.

        Reply: I am not making excuses. I am describing how Any of my constituents think about these things. I and my colleagues are not failing to look at options, as the London changes show.

        1. alan jutson
          August 24, 2012


          So what do you do with your bike when you get to Reading ?,
          Take it on the train with you, or risk locking it up and leaving it in Reading awaiting your return.

          Whilst I am aware weather problems can be ovecome with waterproofs, you then have to carry them around all day as well.

          Simple solution is to drive to a more local station on the same route, like Twyford or Maidenhead (lower fare to London as well), but that only works if the train stops at these destinations.

          That very fact, means it will be a slower train.

          We have family member who cycles to the station (fold up bike) and then cycles again at the other end.
          So I am not against the use of bikes, but they do take up room on the train.

          Surely better if car parks at stations were larger, and at a more sensible/reasonable cost for the masses.

  4. Dan Cook
    August 17, 2012

    I was under the impression Redwood was a keen cyclist..? Surely he should be promoting this as an alternative to driving to the station? It would free up a heck of a lot of parking and many stations could provide paid-for secure cycle parking (like they have in Germany and places).

  5. Jon Ball
    August 17, 2012

    Re: ‘reply’ to Simon George. You make reference to driving to the station, it is hugely disingenuous of you to then claim you’re talking about trains.
    Define too far for a bike or on foot. 2miles, 5, 10? You conveniently forget Busses, connection trains etc. Why no suggestion of out of town park and rides which would allow people the option of walking or cycling within the suburbs and not clog the urban routes with mountains of cars and, as you imply, giving over more usable space to car parking.

    How many of the 86% car journeys you quote are born of laziness and are convenient distances for the majority to be able to walk or use other means of transport, but for the blinkered knee jerk car uber alles attitude passed down from decision makers, urban planners and influencers of public opinion such as JR & so clearly demonstrated and reiterated in the letter & reply to comments.

    Reply: I need to represent my constituents and help them as they choose to lead their lives. Most of my constituents use cars regularly as they find them the most convenient way to get about. Many of the journeys they wish to undertake cannot be undertaken by train. Very few supermarkets needed for the bulky weekly shop have rain stations near them, for example. I am talking about the Great Western train service and offering advice on how more people might use it. You need to start from the observation that most train journeys also entail using a car, taxi or bus as well, given the limited number of stations.

    1. Simon George
      August 18, 2012

      “Most of my constituents use cars regularly as they find them the most convenient way to get about.”

      But why is that? Could it be that it is because the roads are planned for the convenience of motorists rather than the safety of more vulnerable road users? There are various examples in Europe where the provision of segregated cycling infrastructure has resulted in very high levels of cycling with all the attendant benefits that entails. Please consider the opportunity you have as a free-thinking politician to take account of sustainable transport options in order to improve the staus quo.

      Reply: I will do so. Segregated routes for cyclists can be an excellent idea.

      1. Simon George
        August 18, 2012

        Thankyou John. I know you are very busy but these are a couple of links to try to help you understand our position. I hope you can find time to think about this because I know you are one of those rare politicians capable of independent thought.

  6. Ganesh Sittampalam
    August 17, 2012

    Do you have any evidence that standing on trains is dangerous?

    Reply: Yes. If a train derails or crashes there will b e many more injuries, than if everyone had a seat and a seat belt, as on a coach.

  7. J. Adams
    August 17, 2012

    It is exactly four miles to Reading train station from my house in Wokingham on foot. This takes a little over an hour, but that ignores the three local stations that are closer. And the regular buses and even the cycle route from Wokingham through to Reading.

    The later would be a far better investment.

    Reply: You make my point. Most commuters do not want a one hour walk to a station before they begin their train journey. It is possible to get a train into Reading before connecting to Great Western services, but that also takes time and only works for people who live near to the local line stations.

  8. Adrian Lawson
    August 17, 2012

    I would like you to ask the Great Western make the station accessible to me as a cyclist. The existing and proposed cycle parking is woefully inadequate, and the route to the station actually discourages cyclists. Perhaps if you were to improve matters in that direction the proportion of drivers to cyclists might well change for the better.
    Oh and I do really care what fuel my train uses, I would like to as closely match the output from my bicycle as possible.

    Reply: I will take up the issue of cycling parks when I next talk to them. Trains will continue to rely mainly on fossil fuels for propulsion, whether directly by burning diesel or indirectly by buying electricity from the grid.

  9. Richard
    August 17, 2012

    As one of your constituents who has to travel into Reading in order to commute to London, I agree with this. However, I think there are some additional points that could be made.

    Firstly, my observation of the first class carriage on First Great Western trains is that it is invariably largely deserted while people are forced to stand in cramped conditions in the other carriages. Frankly, I cannot recall ever seeing a full first class carriage, so issues with lack of seats could be extremely simply addressed by reducing the unwanted first class capacity by about two thirds. Bluntly, if First Great Western operated in a true private market, I suspect this would have happened years ago.

    Secondly, in terms of reliability, it does seem to me that the age of the rolling stock operated by First Great Western is likely to be an issue given that some of the delays I have experienced are due to train breakdowns. It does seem to me that adding new trains could assist significantly in this regard and will probably be one of the few remaining ways to improve reliability once the alterations to Reading station are completed.

    Reply: I agree we need more reliable trains, and more seats.

  10. FreedomLover
    August 18, 2012

    The nickname the staff of the original Great Western Railway (GWR) gave to their pre-nationalization railroad company was “God’s Wonderful Railway”! And so it was. So let that be the mission of the new GWR – ie to create such a perfect railway that anyone who travels on it or works for it comes naturally from their own personal experience to think of it as “God’s Wonderful Railway”. Now that would be a marketing success if there ever was one!

  11. iain gill
    August 19, 2012

    lots of folk park at winnersh and get a train to reading to join a great western service. biggest issue is crime against the cars in the car park turns folk off using the train. car park security needs significant improvement. same at reading station.

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