SALRUA UPDATE – DECEMBER 2021
CHAIRMAN’S AGM REPORT
SALRUA held its AGM on 21 September 2021 at Oddfellows Hall, Leamington, including presentations made by Chiltern, West Midlands Railway and West Midlands Rail Executive.
SALRUA Chairman Martin Lambert thanked members for their continued support over the last 2 years despite the unprecedented events that have impacted both overall travel and our rail services. No one saw COVID coming or lockdowns or even mass vaccinations.
Towards the end of 2019 the big issue was overcrowded trains and to a lesser extent poor timekeeping due to an over ambition of what West Midland Railways were trying to achieve with more earlier and later services to cater for the leisure market with particular emphasis on Birmingham’s City Centre nightlife.
As we know the timetable had to be amended after a lot of pressure from in particular from the West Midlands Mayor Andy Street.
Then COVID and lockdowns struck and no one was allowed to travel particularly on public transport, only key workers, although in a joined up economy this was very much open to interpretation.
Over the next 12 months plus the rail timetables were changed so many times that paper ones were not produced. Thankfully mobile phone technology helped but with so many non-food shops closed there was little need to travel, and working from home became the new normal, and customer service levels became a thing of the past.
Hopefully we are now heading to a period of normality again, fingers crossed, but there are still challenges ahead .Service levels are still running below what they should be due to cancellations and driver shortages. I do personally consider things could have been managed better with more foresight and better planning.
We have been very lucky that Chiltern took over the running of many services, we forget just how bad they had become under BR Management and why SALRUA was formed. Having invested in increasing line capacity and up to date trains they experienced exceptional growth and a very loyal customer base, and have always been at or near the top of customer satisfaction surveys. Unfortunately the franchise ends on the 31st December 2021. As franchises are now dead a DfT Direct Award will replace the present one.
Positives that have taken place in 2021 :
TRAIN OPERATOR NEWS
The present Chiltern franchise agreement ended in December 2021 and they have now been awarded a Direct Award by the Department for Transport (DfT) to continue to run the London to West Midlands services for 6 years starting in January 2022. The DfT will hold revenue and cost risk but Chiltern must continue to be a ‘Good and Efficient Operator’. A Business Plan for the next 15 months has been prepared which will commit Chiltern to a number of new and ongoing initiatives, including operational, environmental, performance, financial and customer satisfaction issues. This is good news for both staff and passengers alike. Their biggest challenged will be managing their all diesel fleet, interesting times ahead.
West Midlands Railways
West Midlands Railways has had significant issues over the last eighteen months, mainly due to train manning and the present service levels are frankly appalling to the extent that SALRUA, the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group, the Cotswold Line Promotion Group and the Stourbridge Line User Group have made representation to the West Midlands Combined Authority to request an action plan to address these issues. Two Meetings have been held which to date have not been productive. We will continue to press for actions from WMR.
The much delayed Class 196 Diesel Multiple Units for WMR have still not been introduced into service, this is now expected to be early 2022 when some will be used to provide additional capacity to the existing class 172 units on the Snow Hill lines.
Plans have been revealed for the redevelopment of Solihull Station, the design was out for public consultation. It is hoped that work will start in 2024 and be complete by 2026.The only disappointment is that additional rail capacity and the reopening of the disused island platform is not proposed at this time and is for consideration in the future.
The Leamington Station Forecourt is being remodelled ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2022. The rather forbidding underpass will also be upgraded to be more welcoming.
On a less positive note it is sad that Kenilworth Station has not lived up to its potential, due mainly to a significant reduction in train services and poor reliability and the private Ticket Office operator closed on 24th September 2021. WMR have just announced a return of some services but it will inevitably take some time for passengers to return.
The Friends of the Shakespeare Line has been formed to get all the Stations from Birmingham to Stratford adopted with their own groups to look after all the stations on the Line. Planters and plants have been installed at all the stations with Henley in Arden deserving a special mention. Their Group has made a tired station look more welcoming with plans in the future to open the former ticket office into a Community Hub. SALRUA’s Chairman is also Chair and a Trustee. Their website is at https://www.friendsl.org.uk
It should be acknowledged the all the Stations on our Line are now adopted, with the aid of the Heart of England Community Rail Partnership. As of November 2019 Julia Singleton-Tasker was appointed Community Rail Partnership Officer and is based at Shire Hall Warwick, although presently operating remotely. Her contact details are e mail firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone number 07827 954 022. Members can contact her directly if required. The Partnership covers 36 stations over 3 train lines operating between Birmingham, Coventry, Nuneaton, Leamington Spa, Warwick, and Stratford-Upon-Avon and serves a diverse range of stations, from rural request stops to larger urban stations. Their website is https://heartcommunityrail.org.uk/.
LAPWORTH & WARWICK PARKWAY
SALRUA has requested the Community Rail Group try and get both Lapworth and Warwick Parkway to form Friends Groups. The present lockdown measures have rather delayed this initiative. These are the only Stations without Friends Groups on our line.
FRIENDS OF MOOR STREET STATION
Informal discussions have been held with Chiltern to see if a viable scheme can be prepared to bring a Friends Group into formation.
FRIENDS OF THE SHAKESPEARE LINE
As all the Stations from Small Heath to Stratford Town now have Friends Groups a new entity has been created to manage the work and funding for the volunteers to carry out their work and this will become active from 2021.
A newsletter is planned for early next year.
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
It is hoped to hold an AGM in May next year, we expect this will be at the same venue, Leamington Oddfellows Hall.
Subscriptions are £5 per annum and are due from April. If you have yet to renew or would like to join please could you send cheques (payable to Solihull & Leamington Rail Users Association), not cash, to our Membership Secretary Reg Banks, 49 Shelsley Way, SOLIHULL B91 3UZ. For those who would prefer an electronic transfer option please contact us at email@example.com.
OBITUARY by Martin Lambert, SALRUA Chairman
I have to report the sad news that Frank Shaw, SALRUA’s previous Chairman, has passed away following a long and heroic battle with illness. He served as both Chairman and Vice Chairman of SALRUA over two decades, only stepping aside in 2018 when he became ill, although he remained an active Committee Member until quite recently.
Frank will always be remembered for his hard work in ensuring our railway line prospered. When he took over as Chairman from Peter Moore I became his Vice Chairman so that I could look after the Solihull end of our line while he, a Leamington Spa resident, looked after the southern end of the line. A great working relationship and friendship endured until the end of his life.
He was ably supported by his wife Joyce who always made sure that tea and coffee were available at our AGMs.
His father was a train driver with both the GWR and BR and so began his love affair with the railways, although career-wise he was a Lecturer in Electronic Engineering at Henley College in Coventry.
Following Frank’s passing I notified his many friends and colleagues in the wider railway industry, all have offered their condolences and best wishes to the family.
At the time of writing funeral arrangements are not known but will probably be in January 2022. SALRUA will ensure that Frank’s life is recognised and celebrated appropriately.
Rest in Peace
For passengers with an interest in the history of railways, it is worth looking at a short piece of track discovered at the station end of platform 1 at Leamington. This track has the rail keys positioned on the inside of the rail. This arrangement was common in the very early days of railways, and the chairs in this section of track are believed to date from between 1870 and 1885. It is hoped eventually to clean this section as an exhibition piece. At present access to progress this work is difficult.