"Return ticket please - Bedwyn to London & back": new rail timetable sees faster travel but some fares can double in cost
From December 15 people using GWR's Bedwyn to Paddington train services face some major timetable changes - and some devils in the details bring with them stinging fare increases.
For the first time the Bedwyn Trains Passenger Group (BTPG) and other concerned people have been consulted by GWR as the new timetables were drawn up. The Group are pleased with the result: "We had some initial concerns...However we are pleased that GWR have addressed almost all of these concerns. As a result, we feel that the final result represents our best ever service."
When electrification was stopped at Newbury it was thought that passengers from Hungerford and Bedwyn would have to rely on a very reduced service with only a shuttle link to Newbury: "All in all, [it's] a very long way from the original plan of a shuttle service to and from Newbury, with just a couple of through trains to and from Paddington per day!"
The new timetable will soon be available on the GWR website, but below we give a rough outline of trains from and to Bedwyn from December 15 onwards.
However, there is a distinct downside to these changes - turning a popular morning service from being 'off-peak' to being a 'peak' services can involve a doubling of the fare. This is partly because Network Railcards and Senior Railcards cannot be used on peak services.
So the off-peak 08.41 train from Bedwyn becomes the 08.31 peak services - the 08.41 is currently a very popular train for people not commuting to early clock-in jobs, but those going to London for business meetings, shopping, days out or using Reading or Paddington as junctions for further rail travel. They like to miss London's morning rush hour squash on the underground and buses.
Coming back to Bedwyn in the afternoons, the last off-peak train from Paddington will be the 15.07 with the next off-peak service leaving Paddington at 19.07. This means that the 16.08, 17.08, 18.07 and 1837 trains towards Bedwynwill all be full fare services.
In addition, on January 1 the annual fare increase comes into force - the 2.8 per cent rise for regulated fares announced last August and based on July's Retail Price Index.
There are ways, the BTPG explains, to cut the costs of the new peak service fares. They do, however, come with serious complications.
GWR are making advance tickets available on their new Intercity Express Trains (IET) that will serve the Bedwyn-Paddingtan line. This means a single ticket on the new 08.31 can be bought for as little as £9.50. These tickets are available up six o'clock on the evening before you travel.
However, the number of these cheap tickets is restricted and depends on how many tickets have been sold for the service you want to book on. There's probably an algorithm buzzing away telling sales staff how many of these cheap tickets can be sold and still keep the service profitable.
If you cannot book ahead or you miss the advance cut-off, you can use 'journey splitting'.
Travelling to London on the 08.31? Why not buy a Bedwyn to Newbury ticket for £8.10. Alight at Newbury, get another ticket and catch the 09.19 Newbury to Paddington (still arriving at 10.00) for £17.00 - and you will be quids in. There is a similar wheeze available with separate tickets taking you from Bedwyn to Reading and then from Reading to Paddington.
There are already complaints about these fare hikes. One commuter who lives in Whittonditch and uses Bedwyn-Paddington three or four times a week, told BerkshireLive that his daily fare will rise from around £30 to £63 - which he says is not proportionate and should be phased in: "I've been left with no choice but to pay the massive hike."
GWR's reasoning for the off-peak/peak changes is interesting and a bit quaint - depending on your viewpoint. They say these services were only deemed off-peak because because of 'level of service offered...including the length, speed and quality of train'.
Now they have invested in the smart IETs '...with new improved trains and faster journey times', fares, GWR says, need to rise in line with the rest of the network. Which rather ignores those who rather liked the old trains and find the new ones a bit less comfortable. And now they learn, sometimes more expensive.
BTPG are continuing to press for the 08.31 and 16.08 services to go back to their off-peak status. And they are trying to persuade GWR to address the lack of westwards trains from Bedwyn.
The new timetable is described as bringing the biggest changes to the GWR region since the 1970s.
Weekday trains - with reduced journey times - from Bedwyn (to Paddington unless stated otherwise): 05.34, 06.01, 06.26, 06.51, 07.00 (to Newbury only), 07.29, 07.50 (to Reading only), 08.312, 09.24, 10.41 - and then hourly until 17.412 - followed by a mix of through trains and some to Newbury only.
Weekday trains - with reduced journey times - from Paddington will start at 07.07 and run hourly (as now) until 19.07 - with extra trains from Newbury during the evening peak period. There will also be trains leaving Paddington for Bedwyn at 17.37 (change at Newbury), 18.37 (direct), 19.36 (change at Newbury), and 20.06 (direct). The final through train leaving at 22.20 will still run.
Weekend services will show little change - but journey times will be reduced.
Christmas rail travel: here's some advance warning about disruption caused by work over Christmas on Crossrail's Reading connection.
Paddington will be closed from Christmas Eve through to Friday, 27 December. And from that date there will be a reduced timetable until New Year's Eve. Check before you travel!
With thanks to Steve Smith & Bill Wells of the BTPG.