Robert Hampton

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30th January 2011

Shropshire Star
Posted by at 6.18pm | 2 responses | Trains

On Friday, the UK rail industry said goodbye to the Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway Company, which was killed off after its parent company concluded that it would never turn a profit.

Wrexham and Shropshire train interiorI never experienced the joys of this company’s trains, although I’d hoped to try and arrange a ride sometime this year (procrastination FAIL).

The new Wrexham-Marylebone service was launched in 2008, restoring direct trains to London from Wrexham, forty years after they were withdrawn. For passengers, WSMR promised a railway experience akin to that of yesteryear, using refurbished ex-BR coaches with a spacious, roomy layout. Cooked meals, freshly prepared on board (no microwaved bacon baps here) were served at your seat. All this for far less than the fares of rival operator, Virgin Trains.

However, the company was hamstrung from the outset by the labyrinthine rules and regulations of the privatised railway. Under the terms of its franchise, Virgin Trains are protected from direct competition on its route and therefore WSMR was forced to devise a workaround. This involved avoiding the most direct route (the West Coast Main Line), instead being forced to take a meandering route into London Marylebone (journey time from Wrexham approximately 4½ hours). The trains also had an odd stopping pattern – they were prevented from stopping at major stations such as Birmingham New Street or Wolverhampton, instead using Tame Bridge Parkway in West Bromwich.

Virgin Trains offered a much better journey time (even though most journeys from Wrexham needed a change of train) and despite WSMR’s cheaper fares and high quality service, the slower trains simply couldn’t attract enough custom to break even. With WSMR prohibited from receiving any state subsidy, the sums simply didn’t add up.

So, let’s raise a glass to Wrexham & Shropshire – they failed, but gave it a damn good go despite the odds being against them from the outset. They have set standards for other train operators to meet, and employed a dedicated team of staff who clearly cared about the company and its passengers. This announcement on one of the last trains is heartbreaking.

Wrexham and Shropshire Train

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2 Responses
  1. Comment by Gavin Kincade
    2nd February 2011 at 12:46 am

    Sign the petition!

    An odd atmosphere on Shrewsbury station for the arrival of the last train on Friday evening – lots of people with cameras, even the local British Transport Police. No tears that I could see though, unlike at Wrexham.

  2. Comment by Phil Tipton
    4th February 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Wrexham and Shropshire were a wonderful company. I was lucky enough to travel with them on three separate occasions, the last of which had the highlight of the late, great Pete Postlethwaite boarding at Shrewsbury for the journey to Marylebone.

    Living in Chester, I see the Virgin Trains competition first-hand; not only is VT firmly entrnched in this part of the world, the Wrexham portion of the 1810 from Euston goes past the window of my flat every evening at around 2030. I would have used WSMR more, but it was only really an option for me when time was not a factor. Even leisure trips often have a time-critical element, so it was always going to be difficult for this great company to survive while it had such long journey times in comparison to VT.

    I always wondered how they policed the Wolverhampton situation, though. Apparently customers were allowed to alight at WLV southbound, but no passengers could join, with the reverse being the case northbound. The £35 advance purchase first class tickets must have been quite tempting for people who wanted to travel in style to the West Midlands from London. Admittedly, you’d have to be in the know, but surely they couldn’t lock you on the train?!