Hogrider 163 (Spring 2021)

South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group Newsletter












On-line pocket timetables are available on the websites of all four operators serving South Hampshire. The information below is a brief overview. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, but please always check before travel.

Highlights: GWR, SWR and Southern improve services; new early morning connectivity with the South West; Cross Country services even fewer than during last September; and late evening services to Totton slashed again.

South Western Railway

Service patterns in South Hampshire edge closer to pre-pandemic levels.

However, alternate off-peak Monday-Friday Waterloo-Guildford-Portsmouth semi-fast trains terminate at Haslemere, where passengers can change to the Waterloo-Portsmouth stopping service. Northbound there is no corresponding connection.

The Waterloo-Weymouth fast services generally run only as far west as Poole on Mondays to Fridays. The final Southampton services from Waterloo on those days are the 20.35 to Weymouth, 21.35 to Bournemouth, 22.35 to Poole and 23.35 to Bournemouth.

The Waterloo-Poole stopping services generally run only between Winchester and Bournemouth on Mondays to Fridays, and Winchester and Poole on Saturdays. These South West Trains legacy services are exceptionally slow, especially westbound, because of station layovers. They have tended to provide for very local journeys, and as feeders into faster services. Their restoration means that off-peak Monday-Friday journey times from Totton to New Milton and Christchurch double compared with the pandemic emergency service (the slower services continued throughout on Saturdays).

Totton can reasonably claim to be the worst served town in the South East (relative to population) since the former South West Trains halved its services when passenger numbers were soaring, so it is good to see the full Monday-Friday peak service restored and even slightly enhanced. Direct London Waterloo services leave at 05.48, 06.22, 06.46, 07.16, 07.46 and 08.53. Return services from Waterloo are at 15.05 and half hourly to 20.05, which is the last service with a connection at Southampton Central for Ashurst.

The next Totton service is officially the 20.35 from Waterloo with a connection at Brockenhurst! This circuitous route increases the single Southampton-Totton fare from £3.90 to £13.60 (about £4.20 per mile end-to-end). The next westbound Totton service is the 23.35 from Waterloo, which calls to set down only.

It seems odd that Totton’s westbound service is withdrawn for 3½ hours at the time of day when the Southampton-Totton bus service is sparse or non-existent. It’s also unclear why Millbrook, Redbridge, Dean, Dunbridge, Sway and Hinton Admiral retain later evening services when their passenger footfall is so much smaller than Totton’s. Even under the preceding emergency timetable there have been direct later services from Southampton Central to Totton at 21.55 and 22.27 (about 30 and 60 minutes later than under the new service). The inconvenience seems totally unnecessary as it is a station stop rather than an extra train which is at stake.

Totton, as a town with an increasing population of over 30,000, deserves better and this kind of service will simply reduce custom and undermine the case for introducing trains from Southampton to Totton, Marchwood, Hythe and Hardley.

Ironically, on Saturdays, the 20.05 is the first direct train of the day from Waterloo to Ashurst and first direct train to Totton after the 07.35. The 21.05 and 22.05 serve both stations and the 23.05 and 00.10 call at Totton to set down. .

Sunday services are generally back to normal, with hourly Waterloo-Poole semi-fast trains serving Totton and Ashurst all day.

Final trains from Southampton Central to Waterloo are at 22.00 (Mondays-Fridays), 23.00 (Saturdays) and 22.55 (Sundays).


Services return to normal levels, though with most Victoria-Portsmouth trains no longer serving Portsmouth Harbour on Mondays to Fridays. The token Southampton-London Bridge train runs to Victoria.

Great Western Railway

Weekday services in South Hampshire will be close to normal, but with a few services cut or not running their full previous route.

In response to franchise consultations and at stakeholder meetings, we have pressed for improved connectivity with the West of England. It is a pity that there is still no restoration of direct services from South Hampshire to anywhere in the South Western peninsula west of the Southampton-Bristol line, and north of the Southampton-Weymouth line.

It’s good, however, that there is a new 04.50 (Mondays-Fridays) Fratton-Gloucester service, calling at the Hampshire stations of Cosham, Portchester, Fareham, Southampton Central (05.33) and Romsey, which arrives at Salisbury at 06.04, connecting with the 06.10 to Exeter. South Hampshire residents can reach a range of major centres much earlier, for example (roundly) Bristol by 07.30, Gloucester by 08.30, Exeter by 08.15, Paignton by 09.30, Plymouth by 09.45, and Penzance by 11.40.

This facilitates out and back day journeys throughout the South West. It would seem particularly useful for essential travel in summertime when accommodation in the area is heavily booked, and as an alternative to busier trains later in the morning.

While National Rail’s and SWR’s Journey Planners both recognise the connection, SWR’s Waterloo-Exeter timetable leaflet does not. Hopefully the connection is safe, and the omission is simply due to the post-BR rail industry not being geared up to making timetable changes at short notice, as recently happens.

On Saturdays, the equivalent service starts from Portsmouth & Southsea at 05.39, and calls at the same Hampshire stations (except Portchester). Departure from Southampton Central is at 06.26. It connects with the 08.15 Westbury–Penzance (arrive 12.17), though the following 06.08 Portsmouth Harbour-Cardiff (06.57 from Southampton Central) service also makes that connection, with the connectional leeway reduced from about 30 to 15 minutes.

The Mondays-Fridays 21.21 Bristol Parkway-Portsmouth & Southsea, originally introduced in 2019, returns to provide a useful 23.33 from Southampton Central to Fareham, Fratton and Portsmouth & Southsea (will GWR’s Cosham curfew ever end?). The SWR timetable shows a similar GWR service at 23.27 from Southampton on Saturdays, but it is not shown in the GWR timetable, and SWR’s Customer Services have confirmed that it does not run. Late revellers beware! From information in ‘Today’s Railways UK’ this train appears to be a new 21.45 from Bristol, which is to be introduced at some later date.

Portsmouth Harbour-Cardiff Central comes close to being a 6½ day service, though this may be due to major infrastructure work east of Bristol Temple Meads station at weekends through the summer.

The normal hourly Saturday evening services to Cardiff Central from Portsmouth Harbour become the 18.23 to Bristol Parkway, 19.23 to Cardiff Central, and 20.23 to Bath. Return trains from Cardiff Central remain approximately every hour until 20.30.

The first service to Cardiff on Sundays is the 11.08 from Portsmouth Harbour. The first service from Cardiff is the 12.25, which stands at Southampton Central for about 10 minutes and then terminates at Fratton. Presumably there is some compelling operational reason for this oddity. There is also an 11.54 Bristol Parkway-Portsmouth Harbour. The 17.08 and 20.08 from Portsmouth Harbour both terminate at Bristol Temple Meads, so the final Sunday service to Cardiff is the 19.08 (19.57 from Southampton Central). Several SWR Romsey-Southampton-Salisbury trains (those which leave Southampton Central at 10.10, 13.10 and 19.10) connect with SWR services to Bristol.

The Brighton-Great Malvern service (10.42 from Southampton Central) runs on Mondays to Saturdays, with a Southampton Central-Great Malvern service at 08.23 on Mondays to Fridays.

Cross Country

Services remain heavily cut. There are just 65 weekly northbound services from Hampshire, all on the Bournemouth / Southampton – Birmingham / Manchester axis, and none to the North East or Scotland. Prior to the pandemic, there were 145 weekly services and 85 in the September 2020 timetable between the main Covid waves.

The remaining trains are double the normal length, but with compulsory reservations and some stops removed (no calls at Brockenhurst, and many calls at Winchester removed). It appears that they often run with empty coaches.

Could Cross Country have over-reacted to social distancing rules? The root problem is the short four and five coach train units inherited from the former Virgin Trains / Stagecoach partnership. Hopefully there will be improvements as social distancing eases. There has been speculation in the railway press that long-term thinning of the most intensive London InterCity services could release bi-mode trains for routes such as Bournemouth-Manchester (the line has overhead electrification north of Coventry). Hairpin cracks in bi-mode trains aside (is their traction equipment too heavy?), that would appear a welcome development.


As part of Transport for London’s Covid19 bailout, DfT required development of Crossrail 2 to be brought to a close. The route will be safeguarded in case the scheme is ever revived. It would have linked Hertfordshire with South Western Railway’s inner suburban branches and provided a direct service between Clapham Junction and Euston via Victoria, besides easing passenger and operational pressures at Waterloo.


A western rail link to Heathrow via Reading was planned to become operational in 2028, but the scheme has now been ‘paused’ indefinitely.

The proposed southern access route now seems to have priority. It would run from the western end of Terminal 5, join the Windsor-Staines route and then continue towards Guildford / Basingstoke via Chertsey, Byfleet and Woking. Government previously showed interest in something less ambitious, for example a light rail link. This looked a strong possibility as such a link is under construction between Luton Airport and Luton Airport Parkway rail station.

More generally, there still seems to be no clear policy on the future scope of aviation within the Government’s carbon reduction agenda. Mr Johnson once said that he would lie down in front of the bulldozers, alongside former Labour Chancellor John McDonnell, to prevent construction of a third Heathrow runway (see video clip on internet). However, some of his Hampshire MPs have been strongly supporting contentious plans for longer runways at Southampton Airport. Current forging ahead with HS2 looks much more justifiable if domestic air travel is to be constrained.


One of the attractions of rail travel is that passengers can usually just turn up at a station, get a ticket, and board a train. During the pandemic, the InterCity operators, including Cross Country, have introduced compulsory reservations. You may be able to book a seat up to ten minutes before travel, assuming you have a charged mobile. It’s not clear what happens if you board a train without a reservation – removal at the next station? Presumably boarding isn’t fraudulent if the fare has been paid.

LNER is set to make this a permanent arrangement, and there are fears that other operators will follow. Compulsory reservation may be justified for a few popular long-distance trains with very limited stops or good alternatives, though reserved seats are often left empty. However, it can appear irritatingly bureaucratic for shorter journeys on long-distance trains, quite apart from the risk of no reservation being available. The industry often reminds us that most rail journeys are relatively short, and passenger satisfaction is already highest with the long-distance operators, despite incidents of overcrowding.

Trains provide an integrated national network, unlike bus and coach operations which serve discrete markets. One long-distance train can provide a considerable range of inter-urban journey and connectional opportunities, and may serve commuters (often working flexible hours) and local travellers at various stages of its run. In Cornwall there are numerous intercity services on the main line but, for example, only St Austell can match the population of Totton.

The PM has variously stated that he wants workers eventually returning to offices, that he expects on-line working to generate aspirations for personal contacts, and that he sees office working as playing a significant role in reviving city centres. On that basis, commuters seem likely to remain a substantial income source for the train operators. They may typically travel fewer than 5 days a week in future, but more-flexible season tickets are planned where they do not already exist.

Some local journeys are served solely or principally by long-distance trains (eg Oxford-Banbury). In other cases, these trains provide direct and/or faster services than the alternatives. Cross Country journeys from Southampton to Oxford avoid changes at Basingstoke and Reading, which involve a big time increase. For journeys south from Basingstoke, the trains have long been popular with passengers from towns such as Farnborough, Fleet and Hook.

Passengers delayed by being excluded from an available service, especially during disruptions, where alternative services are more crowded, or where they can see free seats from the platform, may simply turn to their cars.


South Western Railway is disposing of the intercity-standard Wessex Electric trains after almost completing a £45m refurbishment programme (18 units refurbished and 14 units fitted with new traction equipment). These trains were destined to operate the half-hourly Waterloo-Guildford-Portsmouth semi-fast services, along with token services between Waterloo and Poole. They had previously been withdrawn by Stagecoach’s SWT to boost profits, and replaced with class 450 outer-suburban trains with cramped 2 and 3 aside seating.

This became a cause célèbre. Commuters set up a website to demand improvements, attracting about 1,500 signatures. A linked survey by Portsmouth City Council identified numerous complaints of cramped, uncomfortable conditions. It discovered that 74% of passengers went out of their way to avoid the class 450 trains, thus increasing overcrowding on other services. Of passengers travelling from Portsmouth and Haslemere to London, 98.5% preferred the class 444 trains which had originally been promised for the route, and 85% found it no easier to find a seat. The council called for the trains to be taken off the line altogether.

In 2011, Portsmouth North Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt, supported by other local MPs, secured a parliamentary debate on the issue and a meeting with Transport Minister Norman Baker. She said: “We are still building steam and I fully intend to stoke the fire until we leave the station. I will continue to push on other outstanding matters: the overall use of rolling-stock; that the money SWT saves by using 450s is not passed on to passengers; the inadequacy of 450s for mainline routes; and the imperative that minimum standards of comfort are included in future Rail Franchise Agreements. Today’s meeting gives passengers hope that they will one day travel in comfort, and has assured the DfT that I and others will not rest until they do.”

Mr Baker then contacted Andy Pitt, Managing Director of SWT, who was dismissive of the complaints, as was his successor Tim Shoveller. Research by Passenger Focus in 2013, which divided the national rail network into 79 routes, rated the Waterloo-Portsmouth route as 78th best in terms of value for money with a 23% score.

Oddly, SWR did not announce the pending change on its website’s ‘Latest News’ link. The services affected will now be worked by class 458 outer-suburban trains from the Waterloo-Reading line. These units will be reduced from 5 to 4 coaches, (the Wessex Electrics had 5). They do have 2+2 seating, but the seats are rather narrow and Spartan, with wide gangways for standing passengers. They are to be refurbished with an upgraded interior more suitable for their new duties, at a cost of £25m.

SWR will recover some newly fitted items from the Wessex Electrics, which will almost certainly be scrapped. Reasons for withdrawal include their being surplus to current requirements, concerns about interactions with lineside signals, and the additional costs of new disability standards from 2024. Yet, after initial teething problems, they gave excellent service across Hampshire for almost twenty years before Stagecoach profiteering prevailed, just as it did in the disposal and destruction of Southampton’s much-missed bus station and the closure of the Central rail station’s busy information office..


In recent decades, passenger operations have become predominant on the national rail network, with just a few major freight-handling centres like Felixstowe, Southampton and Immingham. That appears about to change.

The recently extended sidings at Redbridge (Southampton) will allow six daily freightliner trains in and out of the terminal to be lengthened to carry up to 84 containers (around one third more than currently). That’s equivalent of up to 1,000 lorry movements per day.

Other non-passenger operators are seeing the current reduced passenger demand as presenting further opportunities to take lorries off the road, and are investing in rolling stock, including new and second-hand locomotives and withdrawn passenger train units. Among the most ambitious is Rail Operations Group [not to be confused with the Rail Delivery Group, which superseded the Association of Train Operating Companies] which has ambitions for new services such as high-speed parcels trains with real-time tracking for customers.


Modern Railways magazine (February 2021 issue) reports that the Transwilts Community Rail Partnership has been developing plans for improved rail services in Wiltshire.

In phase 1, the Swindon-Westbury service (via Chippenham, Melksham and Trowbridge) would be increased to hourly. It would be extended to Salisbury and amalgamated with SWR’s hourly ‘figure of 6’ Salisbury-Romsey service via Romsey, Southampton, Eastleigh and Chandlers Ford.

In phase 2, the already proposed Wilton park-and-ride station would be constructed slightly further south than originally planned, so that it could be served by an hourly Waterloo-Yeovil service as well as the Transwilts trains. The proposed station name is Stonehenge and Wilton Junction and there would be a low-carbon shuttle bus to Stonehenge.

With the half-hourly Bristol-Westbury ‘Metro’ service already authorised (possibly starting as soon as December 2021), Westbury would become an increasingly important interchange. Transwilts suggests the hourly Paddington-Bedwyn trains might be extended there, serving Pewsey and the proposed Devizes Parkway station (built nearer to the town, by the A342 road, instead of at West Lavington as previously suggested). In phase 3, Transwilts services might be extended to Didcot Parkway and Oxford, serving the proposed station at Wootton Bassett.

Implications for Hampshire

Along with the Portsmouth Harbour-Cardiff trains, there would then be a twice-hourly service between Southampton and Trowbridge, and probably more connectional opportunities at Westbury with West of England trains.

There might also be new connections at Westbury for Bristol via the prospective ‘Metro’ train service, and possibly at Swindon with Gloucester and Cheltenham via Stroud services and with the electric services to Cardiff. Phase 3 would have little benefit for Hampshire, as travel to Oxford would be slower than via Reading.

With 4 trains per hour through Trowbridge (1 Portsmouth-Cardiff, 1 Romsey-Swindon/Oxford, and 2 Westbury-Bristol Metro services) plus the roughly two-hourly Weymouth-Bristol trains, it seems doubtful whether existing GWR Brighton/Southampton-Great Malvern, and SWR Salisbury-Bristol services would continue. A direct morning and evening service each way between Brighton/Southampton and the West of England via Westbury would seem to offer more useful connectivity.

That aside, there are clearly wider issues about whether the suggested Romsey-Oxford service could be fitted into already busy mainline routes.



Thank you for your invitation to participate in this survey. I trawled for ideas in our recent South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group newsletter, which is distributed by e’mail and available on www.shrug.info. This raised little interest, though some recipients may have responded to you individually.

As a rail user group, we would note that your survey recognises the need to work with train operators, but seems to minimise the importance of rail while rapid transit bus links are considered transformational. This is surprising because it is less than five years since Michael Fallon, as Minster for Portsmouth, considered (in his ‘Transforming Portsmouth’ report) that improved rail connectivity was a top priority for boosting the city’s economy.

That being the case, we would have expected rail improvements to feature more centrally. The corresponding local transport plan for Southampton, ‘Connected Southampton 2040’ noticeably avoids downplaying the role of rail. It needs to be remembered that South Hampshire is an urban corridor, and heavy traffic is moving beyond town and city limits.

Your point that the train service between Portsmouth and Southampton is poor is well made. When DfT consulted on future aspirations for the then South West Trains franchise, we requested high priority for an improved rail service between the cities, with direct Portsmouth-Bournemouth services. South Western Railway committed to delivering such improvements, but industrial action and the pandemic have hindered progress.

Our overarching point is that any local road-based transport schemes are likely to have substantially increased impact if linked into a revitalised rail network.

Apparent bias towards road transport

Since Michael Fallon’s report, ‘transformation’ appears to have been scaled down somewhat. The ‘South East Hampshire Rapid Transit’ brand obviously suggests speed, whereas your survey considers that the Portsmouth-Southampton rail service is perceived as slow. However, the comparison is between very different types of operation.

I have consulted several on-line dictionaries, but none defines the term ‘Rapid Transit’ as inclusive of buses or trams. Rather, it encompasses a range of urban rail systems such as heavy rail (eg Merseyrail), light rail (eg the Newcastle Metro or London’s Docklands Light Railway), and underground railways (eg the London Underground and Glasgow Subway). While buses running in dedicated lanes may be perceived as providing a fast service over short distances, the perception is likely to dispel as distances increase.

In practice, Britain’s new tram infrastructures have tended to embrace railway elements, which can help achieve speeds between those of buses and ‘pure’ Rapid Transport. The West Midlands trams run largely over a former railway line. So do some routes of Manchester’s Metrolink system, and sections of the Croydon area’s Tramlink. Stretches of Edinburgh’s tramway follow new routes away from roads. In other places (eg the approach to Altrincham) the former double-track railway has yielded one track to trams. On Sheffield Supertram, more robust ‘tram trains’ reach Rotherham’s Parkgate shopping centre by sharing a section of line with ‘heavy’ rail services.

There was discussion of a similarly hybrid approach for the abandoned South Hampshire Rapid Transit scheme. As you will recall, the initial line from Portsmouth to Fareham would have utilised part of the former Gosport-Fareham rail line, with possible future extensions taking over the Fareham-Woolston line, then crossing Southampton’s Itchen Bridge, running through the city centre, and finally joining existing rail lines to Hythe.

We are where we are, but do your latest proposals offer fair comparisons between road and rail? The Gosport-Fareham ‘Eclipse’ bus services introduced better quality vehicles and a more intensive service and this has increased ridership. However, they are marginally slower than the services they replaced despite the sections of dedicated bus road provided.

The increased journey times seem to be the price of a better link between Gosport and Fareham railway station. This is not unreasonable given that Gosport is the largest town in Britain without a train service. However, the overall effect is that the RAPID TRANSIT bus journey between central Gosport and Fareham takes about 30-35 minutes for some 6 miles. Say average speed about 10-12 mph. The ‘SLOW’ 14-mile train journey on to Southampton then takes about 35 minutes on the hourly stopping train (say average speed about 25mph) or about 20-25 minutes on the faster services (which run three times per hour on weekdays) Say average speed 35-40mph.

That is not the full picture, as discontinuous bus roads or lanes will achieve little improvement in journey times unless they bypass the sections of ‘ordinary’ road which suffer the worst congestion. My experience of the Eclipse service was that I was still in sight of Fareham bus station 15 minutes after departure, and the scheduled 32-minute journey to Gosport took 50 minutes. This was due to Saturday lunchtime traffic levels in the centre of Fareham rather than any exceptional problem.

It is also noticeable that bus usage in Southampton increased by 18% between 2016 and 2017, apparently through operators’ programmes of new buses and more frequent services, without dedicated infrastructure or bus lanes. On the downside, concentration on high frequency routes has left some areas, such as Upper Shirley, with only token services.

Your consultation suggests relatively low levels of commuting by rail in Portsmouth. Nationally, average levels have always been distorted by the large demand for rail commuting in the London area. The Underground alone accounts for over 40% of rail journeys in Britain. That said, the rail operation around Portsmouth is considerable. The basic off-peak weekday service sees 22 trains per hour passing through the railway triangle. The Department for Transport’s leaflet ‘Transport Statistics for Great Britain 2019’ states that 57% of trips by rail are for commuting or business. The Office of Rail and Road’s estimates for 2018-19 show over 12 million passenger entrances and exits at stations in the Portsmouth area:

Havant: 2,326,412

Portsmouth Harbour: 2,100,528

Portsmouth & Southsea: 2,053,186

Fratton: 1,735,300

Fareham: 1,701,386

Cosham: 925,066

Swanwick: 641,148

Portchester: 347,572

Hilsea: 338,306

Bedhampton: 129,136

What distinguishes these figures from those for some other towns and cities is that virtually all the stations are well served and busy, so clearly many passengers are using rail services right across the area. In Southampton, for example, the figure for Central station is 6,664,714. Of the city’s seven poorly served suburban stations, only St Denys (279,642) and Woolston (148,444) have higher passenger flows than Bedhampton. Outside the city, Southampton Airport Parkway achieves 1,700,314 and Eastleigh 1,665,426. Totton, the fourth most populous intermediate town between Southampton and Weymouth, has a particularly poor service and achieves just 291,220.

Rail usage in the Portsmouth area is clearly substantial, and it seems a little demeaning just to refer to 3.7% travel to work being less than the national average.

NOTE: While the statistics for 2019-2020 have just been released, they are slightly affected by the onset of the first pandemic lockdown. Nevertheless, numbers at Cosham and Hilsea actually increased over the year, and likewise those at Fratton (though perhaps because some SWR services started to terminate there under the pandemic service instead of continuing to Portsmouth & Southsea).

Historical perspective

While your Consultation sets out some very positive initiatives, it does seem that ambitions for transport in South Hampshire are reducing over time.

In the 1960s the Solent City concept for development of the Southampton-Portsmouth corridor put a ‘figure of 8’ railway at the heart of public transport. This would have covered Portsmouth-Gosport-Eastleigh-Romsey-Southampton-Fareham-Cosham- Portsmouth.

Instead, there came random development and the M27, with Portsmouth perceived as a motorway town. Plans for a link into the centre of Southampton, which would have been more disruptive, were abandoned in the face of public opposition.

The double track rail route from Fareham to Botley was destroyed to avoid the costs of a motorway bridge, leaving just the single line through the tunnels. Other than for electrification from Southampton and Eastleigh to Portsmouth,investment in the rail infrastructure has been very limited. In Southampton, the major developments have been in relation to container traffic and are ongoing.

Millions were spent on planning the South Hampshire Rapid Transit link. This was abandoned 15 years ago, principally because of the high costs of the tunnel depth needed between Portsmouth and Gosport to allow for larger naval vessels. Hampshire County Council leaders considered that the tramway was essential because of the government’s “massive house-building ambitions for the South East”.

As the Survey says, integration between transport modes is important. Portsmouth has a fine new bus station next to the rather decrepit Portsmouth Harbour rail station. However, the city is fortunate still to have the bus station, given that Southampton’s was sold for commercial development by bus operator Stagecoach.

Geographical perspective

Portsmouth is unusual in not having a fixed link with a close neighbour (Gosport) - compare Newcastle-Gateshead, or Liverpool-Birkenhead. The lack of a road link can be seen as positive in terms of the green agenda, since it reduces the city’s road traffic. The Gosport-Portsmouth ferry company’s website states that over 10m journeys are made annually and about 80% originate in Gosport. This presumably helps explain why 10,000 more people (40,000 / 30,000) commute into Portsmouth than out.

While the city is relatively flat, increasing reliance on cycling will probably continue to have a limited role. A family outing in the sunshine (as during the early stages of the pandemic) can be a very different prospect from struggling to work in all seasons. Nationally, there is now considerable opposition to losing shared road space to cycle lanes. Note the history of robust and even rancorous opposition in the Southern Daily Echo’s correspondence columns. Even as I write, today’s paper has arrived with news of triumphant campaigners getting a cycle lane removed. The need for demand-responsive transport in addition to taxis and hire coaches is unclear.

Local transport plans can play an important role but, in a major urban area such as South Hampshire, there needs to be constant focus on a wider strategy. The Government’s Office for National Statistics lists built-up areas in order of population, based on 2011 census data.

The ten largest such areas in the UK are:

1. Greater London

2. Greater Manchester

3. West Midlands

4. West Yorkshire

5. Greater Glasgow

6. Liverpool area

7. South Hampshire

8. Tyneside

9. Nottingham

10. Sheffield

Of these, only South Hampshire (broadly, the Southampton-Portsmouth corridor) doesn’t have a frequent train service, light railway, underground railway or trams. The population of the area has continued to grow substantially. The overall movement should be even clearer from 2021 census data. Increasing populations mean ever more people on the move, and people generally want to travel quickly and cheaply.

Network Rail Solent Connectivity Study

This study recommends two extra trains per hour between Portsmouth,Southampton, Totton and beyond, with a ‘skip-stop’ (as between Exmouth, Exeter and Paignton) rather than ‘all-stations’ pattern, and two additional hourly services between Portsmouth and Winchester (one skip-stop and one all stations). A parallel study considers the Brighton-Havant line, and recommends retiming Southern services through Chichester to Portsmouth and Southampton at more even intervals, with all Coastway services lengthened to five carriages, all the Southampton services stopping at Woolston, and a new hourly path for a Brighton to Bristol service.

Related infrastructure improvements include:

re-doubling the Fareham-Eastleigh line throughout (except in the tunnels);

the middle (terminal) platform at Fareham to become accessible from the Portsmouth direction and signalled for bi-directional working;

electrification of the down siding at Totton (formerly used by the Romsey diesel trains);

platform 1 at Eastleigh to be re-signalled for bi-directional working; and either an additional low-level platform at Portsmouth & Southsea, or restoration of platform 2 at Portsmouth Harbour.

The future

Travel patterns have changed dramatically during the pandemic. The time and cost savings from home working (whether on a daily or partial basis) may well prove enduringly attractive. In the case of long-distance commuting to the capital, loss or reduction of London weighting could be seen as more than compensated by lower outlay on some of the most expensive rail fares in Europe. This trend could, however, release capacity for more local train services.

The attractions of cycling may be less enduring, as discussed above. In addition, cycling’s green credentials may perceptibly reduce as electric cars become increasingly prevalent under the government’s recently accelerated plans. The switch to electric cars would further the green agenda, but would not in itself reduce traffic congestion.

It follows that there should be a major role for attractive local rail services in the Portsmouth-Southampton corridor as in other built-up areas. The Solent Connectivity Study is undoubtedly ambitious. Smart timetabling and operation would be crucial to realising its recommendations. The two major pinch points appear to be the heavily used tracks between Portsmouth triangle and Portsmouth stations, and between Southampton Central and St Denys stations.

No doubt various options will have been considered such as diverting Southampton’s substantial container traffic via Romsey and Andover. That said, it was precisely those pinch points which the abandoned South Hampshire Rapid Transport scheme (in its full Portsmouth-Gosport-Southampton-Hythe form) would have bypassed.

In the longer term, assuming economic recovery following the pandemic, financial crisis and Brexit, other ideas might be explored. Perhaps some quadruple tracking (continuously if space allows), southwards from the rail triangle to allow Southampton/Winchester and London/Brighton trains to reach central Portsmouth independently. The Southampton-Portsmouth route might be shortened by a tunnel from Southampton Central to Woolston, perhaps with a sub-surface station closer to the central shops and/or the ferry terminals. Much of the tunnelling might be beneath the parks.

A tunnel may sound excessively ambitious, but it would release much-needed capacity on the main line to London and the North, and a 30,000 increase in the city’s population by 2040 is forecast. It could also release land for another riverside park. Southampton’s waterfront is lamentably less attractive than Portsmouth’s.

Turning to longer distance travel, passengers are known to prefer direct trains, especially given increasing reluctance to hold connections on the busier network. For example, would there be demand for a direct Brighton-Cosham-West of England service (via Westbury) relieving the busy A303 road? The Solent Connectivity Study suggests Brighton-Bristol, but this would largely parallel the Portsmouth Harbour-Cardiff services, and the Bristol Metro scheme promises half-hourly Westbury-Bristol local trains. An improved Portsmouth-Winchester service would provide Portsmouth with better connections with Cross Country trains to the Midlands, North and Scotland.

I hope these thoughts may be of some use.

Denis Fryer (Co-ordinator, South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group)”

[ Addendum: When this response was submitted, the prospects for the commuter market recovery looked bleaker than they do in an increasingly vaccinated Britain]


As always, thanks to everyone who has been kind enough to contact us. Without your support and input, this newsletter would be much less comprehensive. It is produced in good faith, based on reports and information from individuals and sources including the press and news websites. Contributions are always welcome. We aim for accuracy at all times, because our good reputation depends on it. We do not use material which could be offensive or which appears unlikely to be correct.

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Address for correspondence: Denis Fryer, 19 Fontwell Close, Calmore, Southampton SO40 2TN. E’mail: denisfryer44@gmail.com