Travel is not as easy as it should be in the Wokingham District. We are served by three railway lines, the Great Western mainline, one from Reading to Waterloo, and one from Wokingham to Gatwick and Guildford, and by four main roads, the A 321, A 327, A 329 and the A 4. The M4/329M also links into our local system. There is substantial congestion at morning and evening peaks on both systems, especially during school term time. For years we have been starved of government money for major capital investment in our transport systems, though required by government to build many extra homes.
The railway is especially short of capacity at peak times, limiting the number of trains that can run and therefore the numbers that can use it. Congestion into the main centres allied to poor or dear car parking , especially in Reading, makes it difficult for all but those who live within walking distance of the station to use trains as much as they might like. The advent of the cheaper Crossrail scheme may make capacity problems on the rail network worse for other users. The existing technology of heavy trains with relatively poor braking and older signals means the tracks have to be empty for much of the time to allow long safe distances between trains. It is going to take some new thinking on rail technology to make a break through, as running fewer than 25 trains an hour on any given piece of track is not sufficient for our needs. We need easier vehicle access to town centres if more use is to be made of the railway for inter city travel.
The railway is also a far from safe mode of travel unless strong precautions are taken to prevent any straying of pedestrians and vehicles near the tracks. Trains cannot stop or steer away from an obstacle in the way a car of lorry can, so there have to be strict signal controls, one way movements on any given track, big gaps between trains and no other types of vehicle or pedestrians anywhere near the tracks. The Council, worried about this and putting rail safety first , is spending a large part of its limited capital budget for transport on safety barriers (£750,000 this year, a £6,250,000 5 year programme), £260,000 on the Loddon viaducts, and bridge strengthening and improvements (including the very expensive £2,000,000 for the Shepherds House railway bridge). This leaves nothing in the capital budget for road capacity improvements.
The problems of the road system are made worse by the presence of the railway. The railway intersects the road with level crossings at Wokingham Station, Star Lane and Waterloo Road. The latest safety requirements entail long periods of the day with the gates closed against traffic owing to the wish to have a long period before the train arrives to make sure of safety, as trains cannot usually stop in time once they see a vehicle in the way. . If the railway does succeed in using the tracks for any more trains, the gates will be closed for longer to cars causing yet more congestion, pollution and delays.
Capital money to build new transport facilities and other new buildings for Council purposes is likely to be very limited in the years ahead. The current programme includes £750,000 for dealing with asbestos in Council buildings, £500,000 for improved access to Council facilities and £650,000 on legionella tests. It would be good if there could be some some rearrangement so there could be some investment in safer and freer flowing main roads. Much can be achieved by junction improvement, both to reduce conflicts between different types of vehicle and traffic moving in different directions, and to optimise light sequences to maximise road use. The Station road roundabout junction and Winnersh crossroads are both bottlenecks, and both linked to railway crossing points.
Maybe it is also time for the Council to persuade the railway companies that they have an interest in improving the flows around the Station road junction with Waterloo Road, and to make further improvements to their car parking and access arrangements. The Council did tackle the A327 junction with the B3270, which now has much more capacity. . Maybe the railway companies should be asked to make a contribution, so more of the £11 million developer contributions in the budget for this year could help sort out polluting congestion on the roads.