Town Councillors voice support for renewing the rail link to Marlborough
Before their planning committee meeting on Monday evening (October 9), Marlborough Town Councillors heard a report from Dr Sam Page of Transition Marlborough on their work to get the town re-connected to the rail network.
Up to the early 1960s, the town had two railway stations and was linked to the main London line and to the Midlands line. Dr Page said that Crown Estate land was still available for a station and much of the embankment still existed. Transport consultant Peter Ridal described the work needed to complete the scheme as 'not difficult', involving 'straightforward engineering'.
The scheme, which would link a spur line from Marlborough into the Newbury-Westbury line at the site of the old Savernake station, had been worked on for four years. The work included a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) analysis and a public consultation.
The consultation had produced 'very positive - amazingly positive responses' and the interest had been 'quite remarkable'. 1,020 people responded over an eight week period. 441 people said the link was 'a fantastic idea' and 576 left more detailed comments.
The BCR produced a figure that put the scheme above the level needed for it to go ahead. But Dr Page wanted a full feasibility study that would impress central government and could release funding. This was especially needed as estimated costs had come down.
Transition Marlborough had offers of finance for such a feasibility study from the Swindon and Wiltshire Economic Enterprise Partnership and from Great Western Railway. But both of them said they could do nothing without Wiltshire Council's agreement.
Peter Ridal said they had 'been round the houses' with Wiltshire Council - everyone they had met had been very kind and friendly - but they had produced no positive opinions and there had been no action from County Hall or its councillors.
Dr Page urged Town Councillors to push the issue with Wiltshire Council: "Your writing to them will have more effect than we've been able to have." And Mr Ridal wanted the Town Council to take ownership of the scheme.
It was admitted that the 'economic case' for the link is 'challenging' compared with other priorities such as Corsham station, a station at Wilton and Royal Wootton Bassett. As marlborough.news has reported, Wiltshire Council is spending money on feasibility studies for rail schemes at Salisbury and Wilton.
One positive point is that now the line past Newbury is not going to be electrified, the cost of the Marlborough link becomes much cheaper. But Mr Ridal admitted that the scheme would not be cost effective and so would need public money. He said that MP Claire Perry had been "Helpful, but not fully - I'd say - committed."
The deputy Mayor, Councillor Lisa Farrell wanted to know '...why Wiltshire Council aren't giving you straight answers'. She said it was a scheme for the future and would help young people: "I personally think we should support you one hundred per cent - and realise it may take years."
Worries were aired that a station in Marlborough might give the town Bedwyn-style parking problems. It was suggested that the main car park could be at the Savernake junction.
Councillor Guy Loosmore: "As a town we need to start being a bit bolder in what we do...and as a town we should look to have a railway station." Councillor Noel Barrett-Morton was in favour of the scheme and of pushing Wilthsire Council: "We should take Wiltshire Council on - and see how far we can get."
Apart from lobbying Wiltshire Council, Transition Marlborough called on town councillors to ensure the Crown Estate remained available with space for access roads and that the scheme was part of the next strategic plan.
A proposal that the Town Council support the scheme and lobby Wiltshire Council will be on the agenda of a future meeting.
Dr Page also took the opportunity to protest about the cutting of the 1950 bus from Bedwyn. This service is used by commuters who take the 1806 and 1833 trains from Paddington.
Archive photos courtesy Neil Lover of Swindon's Other Railway - from the collection of Alan Perry. You can see more photos on their website.