Last week I held a meeting in my office at Westminster with representatives from Great Western Railway (GWR) and Network Rail. The upshot is good news and bad news. The good news is that in about a year we will have more trains providing a better service to Newbury and West Berkshire. We will have new Intercity Express trains with up to 24% more seats than the current High Speed trains, and Electrostar trains with up to 57% more seats, particularly on services at peak times where overcrowding is a problem. I have been campaigning for electrification of the line to Bedwyn but accept that at this stage it will go to Newbury. But I am delighted that the new trains will be “bi-mode”, meaning that at a flick of a switch they go from being electric powered to diesel so no traveller will have to switch trains at Newbury. The new trains are ready to be used as soon as the necessary improvements to the rail network have been completed.
And that’s the bad news. 2018 will see some serious disruption as work is done to complete electrification and to deal with other modernisation requirements. Network Rail and GWR have announced three closures of the line to the west of Theale. These will be 12th to 15th March, 23rd to 26th April and 4th to 7th June. Over these periods buses will take passengers between Theale and Pewsey and season ticket holders will be allowed to travel from Didcot or Whitchurch without the need for another ticket. I am doing my utmost to inform people about these dates and that there may be more closures required as work progresses. I am doing all I can to see that disruption is minimalised but like other passengers I do see the huge benefits that we will get from the new trains, the increased services and the better travelling experience for all rail users. The four-day closures will also allow other routine maintenance work to be carried out, saving costs and further disruption. These include track renewals, ballast work, level crossing work and other ancillary tasks connected to electrification. You can keep in touch with the progress and feed your thoughts to me at www.richardbenyon.com or on my Facebook page.