FASTER journeys from Swindon to London and thousands of extra seats for passengers on brand new top-of-the-line trains should put a smile on passengers’ faces.

Great Western Railway’s biggest timetable change since the 1970s will come into force before the end of the year after months of massive investment in Network Rail’s electrification of the train line between South Wales and London.

The Adver got the chance to board a special superfast service from Cheltenham Spa to London Paddington with only a handful of passengers – dignitaries, businesspeople, councillors, railway service execs and technicians.

The train left Swindon station at 11.21am and arrived at London Paddington at 12.05pm.

This 44-minute journey set a record for the fastest journey of its kind since speed restrictions were put in place on the railways.

Most journeys on the new timetable will be a few minutes slower than that because our train did not stop at any station between here and the capital - but they will still be roughly 10 minutes quicker than current times.

However, a similar once-a-day non-stop direct 49-minute service will be in place at peak time in the mornings which will be handy for the hundreds of commuters travelling to London for work.

The new timetable rolls out on December 15 with an extra 12 services scheduled every day bringing approximately 5,000 extra seats and boosting the number of services up from 70 to 82.

Great Western Railway managing director Mark Hopwood said: “What we’re doing is showcasing what the railway is really capable of.

“Within the last few years, we have seen a lot of investment in electrifying the line from Swindon, redeveloping Reading’s railway station and double-track going down between Swindon and Kemble.

“All of these projects have supported investment and helped Swindon.”

“We have 93 new Hitachi trains which use fundamentally the same technology as the bullet trains in Japan. They also have their own diesel engines in addition to the electric power so it’s the best of both worlds.

“Most journeys will be 50 minutes, with five trains an hour from Swindon to London so we’re getting to the point where no one will have to worry too much about the timetable because there are so many services to the capital.

“It’s nearly 80 miles from Swindon to central London so to make that journey in that time is really good and very few places that far from London have a journey that short.”

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As part of this major update, GWR recruited hundreds of extra drivers and crew, re-trained existing staff and made it easier to buy and use train tickets.

Not everyone is happy with the change - Swindon parents protested because they claimed the new times made dropping their children off at school before work more difficult.

Network Rail route managing director Mike Gallop said: “The timetable change follows unprecedented investment in railway infrastructure including electrification, improved signalling, upgraded stations and much more.

“This, together with the introduction of new trains, will transform rail travel.”

Mr Hopwood added: “We’re putting on non-stop services from Bristol to London which, in a way, will also help Swindon because these services will free up seats on the regular services that stop at Swindon.

“Compared to where we were four years ago, there are 10,000 extra train seats. I’m really proud of the team.

“We have worked hard with National Rail to make the case for investment in electrification, it was not guaranteed, we had to persuade the government that it would be worthwhile.

“It’s great to see everything coming together and delivering results for passengers, reducing journey times to London, improving capacity and frequency.”

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