Present D Dixon (Chairman) I Jackson, J Adams, A Hutchinson, R Hockney, T Thompson, P Bates, D James, R Rathbone, J Sykes, R Patching, P Martin, D Bathurst, B Pretty, R Hartley, P Cousins, P Sheridan, B Eisner, J McGlade
Apologies received from M Cooper, M Frayn, R Henshaw, J Woodcock
Minutes of AGM 2018 – copies were circulated at the meeting and were approved
Chairman’s report attached.
Treasurer’s Report showed a surplus of £199.45 and a year end balance of £1055.24. Year end membership stood at 48, membership as at date of meeting is 31 including new and renewed membership subscriptions.
Election of Officers
Chairman – D Dixon stood down and proposed Tony Thompson who was elected unanimously
Secretary – J Adams, and Treasurer – I Jackson were willing to continue and their appointments were confirmed.
Committee – R Patching and D James re-elected
Financial Examiner – R Patching willing to continue. Approved.
Subscriptions – the meeting agreed that subscriptions for the next year remain at £8 single and £10 joint.
Guest Speaker – Malcolm Holmes, Executive Director West Midlands Rail Executive gave an excellent and insightful presentation about the role of the WMRE. His talk covered:
Rail Investment Strategy, Franchising complexities and constraints, Community Engagement, Stations Alliance and a Single Network Vision under a West Midlands brand.
We were encouraged by Malcolm’s personal enthusiasm for re-introduction of passenger services from Lichfield to Burton upon Trent and beyond, and his intentions to research the possibilities and report back to us. In turn our new Chairman offered our help and input as and when required.
Thanks – Chairman thanked David Dixon, outgoing chairman, for his energy and commitment in raising the profile of the group and helping to drive the many improvements that have been achieved during his period of office
Chairman’s Report for 2018
- I am standing down from the Committee this year some 20 years after moving to Lichfield, and after seven years in the Chair. In this report I will reflect on a longer period than just last year.
- While founded to seek restoration of Beeching closures, we’ve become more of a rail user group (RUG) in recent years, and much of our effort has been towards improving what we still have. Our remaining services flourish, though sometimes suffer through lack of operator commitment to passenger wellbeing.
- Taking first the WCML services, Virgin still run the Inter City franchise (if not for much longer); their trains now call more often following lobbying by this Group, especially at weekends since 2016. Wholly new on the WCML at the end of 2008 was the hourly Crewe-London service introduced in place of a sparse local service to Nuneaton (replaced by buses during the 4-tracking from Tamworth to Handsacre). Now with 110mph running the journey time to London via Weedon on weekdays is around 1½ hours, attracting many passengers (good) and often standing (bad). We welcome the acceleration of trains to Crewe from this May, improving connections far afield and with expectation of longer trains.
- We are on our third privatised operator of Cross-City trains. The class 323 units provide a frequency through Birmingham New St during daytime on weekdays of 6 trains an hour in place of 4, though the occasional fast trains to Lichfield no longer run. Punctuality has vastly improved, but we have mixed feelings about the imminent extension of more Cross-City trains to serve Trent Valley station, wary of an adverse effect on timekeeping. We are also puzzled that new trains to replace the 323s, 27 years on after huge traffic growth, will like them be 3-car, though 2 sets (making 6 cars) are promised on all trains.
- These service improvements have led to huge increases in usage of Lichfield’s two stations. No fewer than 1,891,000 people joined or alighted from trains in the year to March 2018, plus those changing trains at Trent Valley station. Ten years earlier the total was 884,000.
- Of the three main intermediate stations along the Trent Valley line, the growing importance of Lichfield is notable. From 248,000 in 2007-8, when Tamworth had 782,000 and Nuneaton 707,000, LTV usage in 2017-8 reached 1,093,000 compared with Tamworth’s 1,223,000 and Nuneaton’s 1,313,000 respectively: from 14% of the total of the three up to 30%.
- We thus have a reasonable expectation of similar facilities to those at the other two stations, but Lichfield Trent Valley is still the poor relation. For instance, an indoor waiting room with toilets is available only until 1900 weekdays, not at all on Sundays. On the platform (towards London) where most passengers wait for their trains, minimal seating is available, and no refreshments or toilets. After long campaigning by this group, work has now started on lifts to provide step-free access between platforms, many years after they were available at the other two stations.
- Over the years the local TOCs (train operating companies) have shown more interest in telling us how good they are than in listening to our suggestions on how things might be improved for passengers. They have resisted spending a penny more than required by their contracts with government, however modest the sums needed compared with their huge investments in new trains and ongoing staff costs. We have had a variety of people, of varying competence, deputed to liaise with us, but the few who have understood our concerns often seem powerless to do anything to help.
- We hope that WMT’s stakeholder managers, who we have only recently met, will achieve more. Currently we are concerned in particular with pedestrian access to Trent Valley station, inconvenient and arguably unsafe; with ensuring that City station’s one remaining toilet, out of use since Central Trains days, is available; and with extra car parking at Trent Valley, long needed to satisfy demand.
- Moreover, we believe that at busy stations staff should be out and about helping passengers, providing a human presence and keeping waiting areas and toilets open and clean, rather than isolated inside ticket offices. “First to last train” staffing, as has become normal in London, would reassure passengers uncomfortable with waiting around in the dark, and be able to help in the event of problems. Ticket issuing can largely be covered by the internet and machines at stations, with help if needed from platform staff. So long as a second person is carried on local trains, this person should check tickets on board (not done often enough at present) and be available to passengers, not hiding in back cabs.
- With regard to reinstatement of regular passenger services north-east via Alrewas, and south-west to Walsall and beyond, nothing has happened, nor is imminent. We have responded to a seemingly endless succession of consultations, but our views rarely influence policy: do those who run these exercises lack interest in opinions of groups such as ours which represent local people?
- Despite numerous meetings with bodies with transport responsibilities who might be expected to share our aspirations, little interest has been shown: our lobbying has been ineffective. One problem may have been Lichfield’s location close to administrative borders – between East Midlands and West Midlands, between Staffordshire and the West Midland Metropolitan area, between Network Rail zones and between different TOCs. Elsewhere, projects appearing to have less justification, and involving greater capital costs, have gone ahead while ours have stagnated. We had the benefit last year of advice from a reputed consultant, who has offered to do some work on the case for trains north if we can find funding. Key to success will be real interest from elected bodies, whose members too often seem wedded to their motorcars despite increasing congestion both in urban areas and on major roads in the Midlands and Staffordshire.
- The one rail project which is going ahead near Lichfield is phase 1 of HS2, at a hugely greater cost than for those we desire. As a Group we have not been greatly involved; while reluctant to oppose any investment in railways, we fear that Lichfield’s main line service might worsen with a reduction in fast trains using the WCML south of Handsacre. For now, we watch as it progresses.
- I cannot end my tenure without reflecting on the keen interest in Lichfield’s train services shown by members of this Group in attending meetings, and in particular of Committee members who have supported me admirably. None of us receives a penny for our work. Through us and others the rail industry are getting free advice on the views of passengers, which one would hope would be valued by them.
- I hope to continue to attend meetings, and to help out with particular tasks if asked to do so. And it is good to know that the Group is in safe hands for the future.
David Dixon, April 2019