The Henley Branch User Group (HBUG) has studied Sir Peter Hendy’s report carefully and wishes to make the following submissions on those aspects that will affect users of the branch line between Twyford and Henley-on-Thames.
HBUG welcomes confirmation that electrification of the Henley Branch is included in the programme for CP5. The introduction of electric trains with their increased capacity will provide an opportunity to improve the service on the branch. We are also assured by GWR that the increased acceleration offered by these trains will also permit the introduction of an all stations 30 minute service.
We consider that the re-plan does not entirely take into account the needs of passengers on the Henley Branch line. The introduction of the electric trains into passenger service on the branch is now scheduled for some time after the start of CP6 (April 2019). Crossrail is due to come into service in December 2019 and there will be a significant degradation in the service unless the new timetables with the full electric service on the branch line are not already in place. Current best peak hour journey times for commuters between Henley and Paddington are in the region of 45 minutes. With the introduction of Crossrail on its own, this journey time including waiting time at Twyford, would increase to between 60 minutes to 70 minutes. It is even the case for commuters travelling to the city that there will be minimal improvement to their journey time. With electrification and a 30 minute service interval on the line, this can be reduced to just under one hour. With a connecting fast GWR service on the mainline we could have a journey time equal to or better that that enjoyed currently.
We ask that the date for first timetabled public use of the infrastructure is set to be at, or before, the introduction of Crossrail services to Twyford and Reading.
The other matter that concerns us is the impact that the delayed and apparently piece meal electrification dates to Newbury, Didcot and Oxford will have on stopping services calling at Twyford in the period from now until 2019. The onward connections from Twyford to London and Reading are vital to branch line users and we do not want to see any reduction in the intervals or travel times on these trains whilst the electrification work is carried out.
We have previously been informed that Shiplake Bridge is due significant repairs/refurbishment by 2017. Any works here that take place before the main electrification project should be carried out in a way that minimises the need for further works and disruption on the bridge during the main electrification works.
The work required to increase clearances under 5 bridges on the line is a cause for particular concern. It is not clear whether this work will be carried out in such a way that line closure can be avoided. We believe that avoiding any line closures should be the overriding priority as providing a satisfactory bus replacement service between Henley, Shiplake and Twyford will be extremely difficult particularly for the large volume of commuter traffic. We see it as vital that a detailed consultation on the timing and extent of closures and the nature of alternative services takes place if any line closures will be required for this work.
We also welcome inclusion of the Heathrow Western Approach in the programme. We anticipate considerable demand for this service from users of the branch line for both business and leisure travel. However, we are very disappointed that this is not now envisaged as operational before 2024. The Smart motorway works on the M4 between Reading and Heathrow that are due to start in 2017 will add to the existing difficulties in getting to Heathrow and earlier completion of the link would help to minimise the impact of these roadworks.
As much of the work is civil engineering rather than electrification we would have thought that a reversion to the original timetable for completion ought to be possible and can only assume that the delay is caused by lack of finance rather than resources.