On 29 September 2017, South Western Railway opened a consultation on changes to train timetables across their rail network.
Currently, weekday train services on the Weymouth to Waterloo line provide a twice hourly direct service to London Waterloo. Journey times from Weymouth being between approximately 2 hours 45 minutes and 3 hours. See the current timetable.
South Western Railway are proposing to reduce the service to one per hour. Although the time taken to Waterloo will reduce by 12 minutes. See the proposed timetable.
West Dorset District Council and Weymouth & Portland Borough Council have sent separate responses objecting to the majority of proposals in the timetable.
Reduction in services
While Improved journey times are supported by both councils, this improvement is not enough to compensate for the reduction in services. The suggested changes are both adverse and severe
Currently, trains from London can be significantly overcrowded. Replacing three trains that currently run from London to Bournemouth with two direct trains and reducing the number of services to the area can only result in increased overcrowding especially at peak times.
Impact on tourism
There is potential for a significant impact on tourist visitors to the South Dorset area. The current service of two direct trains per hour enables users to travel from London and Southampton Airport to Dorchester and Weymouth. This is a significant, convenient and sustainable route into the area for visitors. Similarly, for residents of the area, direct trains to London and Southampton Airport are considered important. A reduction in direct services and the need for a change of trains at Southampton makes the journey significantly less convenient. Especially for those travelling with heavy luggage or those with a physical disability.
Of particular concern is the impact of the reduced service from Upwey and Moreton. Residential growth is committed at these locations. There are around 600 new homes to be built at Crossways which is served by Moreton Station and around 900 additional homes proposed close to Upwey Station.
In addition, further residential expansion at the two locations is being considered as part of the review of the West Dorset, Weymouth & Portland joint Local Plan. It is therefore considered to be short-sighted to remove direct London services from this location given the increase in population that will occur in the area.
Weymouth to Portsmouth welcomed
The service connecting Weymouth to Portsmouth is welcomed as it offers greater connectivity to the local area. This potentially opens new employment opportunities for residents and for businesses. However, the Southampton to Portsmouth area is already well served by frequent trains. The introduction of this service should not be at the detriment of the more frequent direct service to London.
Existing rail infrastructure restricts rail capacity. There should be a commitment to improving this rail infrastructure (dualling of the line to Dorchester and an upgrade of the power supply) to increase the frequency and speed of services on the railway. Upgrades to Dorchester South station and improvements to Weymouth station would further encourage use of the line.
Weymouth, Yeovil and London services should be all year round
Seasonal Weymouth, Yeovil and London connecting services should be maintained and expanded to a year round service. This helps to deliver alternative options for services to the southern Dorset area. Although there is a need for some infrastructure works. The connection to Yeovil from Weymouth and on to London and Bristol is a significant opportunity to enhance the connectivity of southern Dorset that should be explored further.
Cllr Ian Gardner, West Dorset District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Planning, said:
“Losing one of the direct trains to London is unacceptable. We expect South Western Railway to consider our response and provide more suitable proposals.”
Cllr Colin Huckle, Weymouth & Portland Borough Council’s Briefolder for Transport & Infrastructure, said:
“While we support the improvement in travel times to London, this is simply not enough to compensate for numerous negatives from South Western Railway’s Proposed changes.”