Fears have been expressed for the West Wiltshire economy if a vital railway link to the capital is left behind in plans to modernise rail services in the south west.
In the planned Great Western Franchise, on which rail companies will bid next month, there is no specific requirement after 2016 for through trains to Paddington from Westbury, as there is now.
Currently on weekdays there are at least eight trains to Paddington every day, but this will not be guaranteed with the loss of the requirement.
Coupled with the fact that the line from Paddington towards Swindon will be electrified, but not the Berks & Hants line though Westbury, the fear is commuters from Westbury will be left to use a slower, less frequent service involving a change at Newbury on to an electric train.
Cllr David Jenkins, president of Westbury Chamber of Commerce, said: “There are a large number of people who live in Westbury, in the surrounding villages, in Warminster and Trowbridge and even in North East Somerset who every day rely on the fast train connections between Westbury and London for work or business purposes. “This fast train service allows folk to live here and work or do business in London.
“If the Berks & Hants route is downgraded and these services are replaced then longer journey times in a lower standard of coach is inevitable, inconveniencing quite literally hundreds of travellers each week, putting jobs, the local economy and businesses at risk.”
Another fear is that Westbury could be bypassed by some trains altogether, in a bid to secure faster train journeys from further into the south west.
Town councillor Gordon King said: “If you use the early morning and evening services between Westbury and London as I have, you will not fail to observe that by far the largest number of commuters come out of Westbury and Pewsey and Berkshire, rather than coming up from the far South West. “I would like to know what it is that makes the traveller from the far South West more important to the Government than the commuter from Westbury who actually makes the service pay, especially outside the holiday season. I agree with David, at a time of recession and economic stagnation the Government’s priority must be the preservation of local economies, jobs and business.”
Westbury Town Council will write to the Government detailing its concerns.
However, some think it’s premature to worry about the issue. Roger Newman, chairman of the West Wilts Rail Users Group, said: “There’s that many smoke screens blowing around you don’t know which to believe and which one not to believe.
“There’s been nothing put out in writing by anybody that this is what’s going to happen.
Mr Newman added that changes were inevitable following electrification, but what changes weren’t known.
“They’ve been reading between various Department of Transport lines and coming to an interpretation,” he said. “It’s all speculation, there’s nothing tangible.”