It’s now over ten years since I moved to the city centre, and as a huge fan of travel by rail and a weekly commuter to London I’ve worked on trains, the station and the land around it throughout the last decade.
So I thought it was time to give a quick summary of what’s happened and is happening or about to happen: and the current developments that are work in progress – which will determine what the experience of rail travel is like for the decade ahead.
Railway Triangle & a University Technical College
The story of change had to start here. The Railway Triangle, as it was, highlighted all that was negative about our city. It competed for the most depressing entrance to any cathedral city in the country. A stream of well intentioned initiatives by the former Gloucester Heritage Urban Regeneration Company (GHURC) had led nowhere. We were left with almost two miles of wasteland, collapsed buildings and brambles visible to all passengers as trains slowed down to come into the station, and to bus and car passengers from Metz Way. What a symbol of decay and despair on arrival.
So my first ever YouTube video in 2009 was filmed there to say this was a 20 year disgrace and that I would sort it if elected. Most people said I was mad.
But in the autumn of 2010 a developer came up with a regeneration plan that would create a mini industrial park with over 500 jobs and not a penny of taxpayer money to do this, including decontaminating the land and building the road access. I supported the lxb plan, the city council approved it, the site was sorted by local companies and, after a Jobs Fair I organised in Barton, Morrisons hired 59 long term unemployed to work at their new store on the site.
Today the RT is thriving, and the next stage is building more homes – including social housing – on Network Rail land on the Kingsholm side of the RT, and I hope too a new Gloucestershire Health and Care University Technical College (UTC) close to the station. This is strongly backed by all the NHS Trusts and the University of Gloucestershire and will provide both GCSEs and A levels like a secondary school, but also BTECs in Health or Care, and guaranteed work experience with the NHS and private sector. So the UTC will provide great pathways into Health and Care, our biggest employers in the county. Our UTC, if we get the go ahead to apply early in the New Year, as we hope, would only be the second health UTC in the country. The first (in West Bromwich) is thriving.
We already have light industry (Rygor/Mercedes Benz) and retail jobs in the RT: soon we should have homes and I hope a unique educational establishment – all created from brown field wasteland.
So although contaminated or damaged brown field sites aren’t easy, my experience of the last ten years is that they can be regenerated, and we’ve shown how. We’re also doing that on the old Contract Chemicals site on the Bristol Road, and on the ex Norvilles site in Tredworth.
Gloucester Station itself
Moving now from Network Rail land around the station to the station itself, the real contrast at our station is between the warmth of the station (GWR) staff, with years of customer focused service, and the unloveliness of the buildings and infrastructure.
So the first thing I did was to try to involve the community through my 2010 Station Art Exhibition. Glos Col co-ordinated and PJ Crook advised eight primary schools to create a series of panels showing rail transport through the ages. They’re still there, towards St Peters church on platform 4 (the longest or second longest platform in Britain): and I hope all involved will always remember as I do the happy day the paintings went up, bringing children and their ideas into the station and making it permanently more human.
Next were the Waiting Rooms & the Station Bridge from Platform 2 to 4. During the negotiations for a new GWR franchise in 2012 GWR agreed to build two waiting rooms and proper bike stands as well as lifts by the new bridge to improve disabled access. But the bridge didn’t have (had never had) a canopy and I badgered GWR for so long that they kindly agreed to add that soon after – and passengers can now use the bridge without getting wet.
But my big ambition is the £4.2 million bid I worked on with the City Council to our Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). The LEP is funded by government to deliver growth and our bid is all about improvements to the Railway Station – and the benefits to travellers and their productivity from this. This will involve a revamp of the underpass to Great Western Road and the GRH, which will be welcomed by all who walk that route (like our nurses and other NHS staff). The bid also includes a new entry and exit off Metz Way, to speed up traffic getting out of the station. Lastly the bid would transform the main entrance, appearance of and areas outside the station, and (half hidden) pedestrian and cycle path. We will hear about the outcome in the New Year – and anyone who loves Gloucester, rail transport, regeneration and not waiting in a queue of cars to get out of the station – then please let me know.
Meanwhile we’ve moving ahead on a new (additional) station car park and the first ever access to the station from Great Western Road. I could never understand the logic of an empty unused car park there. It was once intended for new courts, an idea of (and then abandoned by) the last Labour government. So it’s remained unused for a long time, and for those travelling from e.g. Hucclecote, Barnwood, Elmbridge, Longlevens and Tewkesbury or the Forest the new car park will offer real alternatives to current parking arrangements.
Transferring an obscure Ministry of Justice real estate asset is an admin nightmare, but with the help of Ministers, our city council and GWR eventually everyone agreed and the asset is now with GWR.
Action since then has been disappointingly slower than I was led to expect, but after the New Year things will happen and I hope the 220 space car park will open at Easter.
Train Services – Cross Country & GWR
Demand for rail travel from Gloucester has grown sharply (up 50% since 2006/7, well above the national average). The main causes are more commuting (especially to Bristol, not least as public services regionalise their offices), more visitors and Gloucester being the seventh fastest growing city in the country. That will continue as e.g. the University of Gloucestershire is in the process of delivering 500 new student rooms in Blackfriars for their new Business School in Oxstalls. So getting the trains right is critical.
We’re well served in some ways (e.g. the Welsh line) but only 2 Cross Country InterCity trains a day running between Birmingham and Bristol currently stop at Gloucester. That was a result of a bad re-negotiation of the franchise in 2006, but when it came up for renewal in 2016 I persuaded the DfT to increase the Cross Country Interservice stops at Gloucester by at least 2 more a day, or 728 extra trains a year, once the track work at Filton Bank (outside Bristol) is complete (expected end 2018). I’ll be pushing ahead to make sure the extra services are timetabled in advance.
Meanwhile, by the end of 2018 we’ll also see a new direct hourly GWR train service to London. This follows the re-dualling of the Swindon-Kemble line that our government did in the last parliament. Brand new faster Made in Britain Hitachi trains coming into service will cut journey time to London by around 15 minutes. At the same time we’ll also benefit from a new half hourly service to Swindon.
Lastly and most importantly I’m working on a much better regular (including commuter) service to Bristol. As electrification work is completed in different parts of the country, particularly in the Thames Valley, turbo trains should be available for routes in the South West and many will be based in Bristol, allowing more and better services, with increased capacity, to and from the city.
So I am making the case to GWR, the Department for Transport and the West of England Partnership for a half hourly service to Bristol by 2019 as part of the first phase of the MetroWest project (to improve services to and from Bristol). A new half hourly service (instead of the current hourly offering) on bigger and better trains would make a huge difference. This is a very important campaign, and if you agree do support this by replying to The Department for Transport consultation on the GWR network via: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/great-western-rail-franchise
In short: homes and a University Technical College on parts of the Network Rail land not included in the Railway Triangle mini business park: more InterCity trains, double the number of London services, and the possibility of a new Bristol service; together with the potential of transforming the look of the station and the land around it, with a definite extra car park and new entrance – we have lots to work on over the next year.
At the end of all this we should have the services we deserve, and a train station to be as proud of as our new bus station – which will open in the summer of 2018.
Let me know what you think of our plans on firstname.lastname@example.org