WEST Wiltshire rail services might be preserved or even improved under a new Great Western franchisee, a councillor has said.

Westbury councillors spoke of their fears last week that direct services between the town and London Paddington could be dropped as they are no longer a requirement for the franchise.

With the line through Westbury not being electrified, and pressure from the South West for quicker journey times, they fear the town might lose its high speed services.

But Cllr Richard Gamble, cabinet member for transport, acknowledged that such services were under threat, but said the council was working hard to maintain the link, and that the TransWilts service between Westbury and Swindon may even benefit.

“The Government has changed the way franchises work so that rather than specifying services they require a minimum number of stops at specific stations,” he said.

“This is set at the current level, 95 per day for Westbury, and the franchisee will decide where the services will run.

“This will allow them to be more flexible to local needs and we could see the service through Westbury improved, as well as a benefit for the TransWilts service.

“I have written to the Department for Transport to express our concerns and emphasise that while Westbury is only a small town it is a major hub for Wiltshire commuters.”

In a letter to Cllr Gamble, DfT franchise officer Martin Holt said the Government’s aim was to achieve an equitable balance between faster journey times and intermediate station calls, and it was working on schemes based on local need.

Currently there are at least eight trains from Westbury to Paddington every weekday.

South West Wiltshire MP Andrew Murrison said he would also be writing to the DfT to emphasise the importance of the link. He said: “I am not going to second guess what the proposals will be but certainly I want to see an improved service from Westbury to Paddington, and at more affordable prices.

“There is a stronger and stronger commercial case for improving the TransWilts service as well.”

FirstGroup, Arriva, National Express and Stagecoach will put forward their bids for the Great Western Franchise next month.

Commuters in fear of cuts

Rory Ingleby-Mackenzie, 57, of Frome

“I commute to Paddington three times a week and the trains are already packed once you get up to Reading in each direction.

“I dare say I would adjust somehow if they cut services but it would be very inconvenient. The cost of a season ticket is enormous as well. It would be good to see that reduced.”

Caroline Toomey, of Bratton

“I used to get the train to London regularly. Now I commute to Reading, but if the direct services were cut it would be very difficult for me to continue doing so.

“The stopping service would take so much longer that I couldn’t do it every day, I might have to stay up there.

“There are a good 60 people from Westbury who catch the 7am train.”