The Whistle Stop Tour

Your opportunity to meet our managers and help us build a better West Midlands Railway.

We want to put you in the driving seat! We think it’s really important for us to get to know you and give you the chance to understand everything we’ve got planned to make your journeys better. That’s why we’re hitting the road (or rails!) with our Whistle Stop events coming to a station near you.

Our Whistle Stop tour will pop up at a number of stations listed below, including an all-day event in Birmingham. Come and have a chat with your local and head office management teams responsible for your services and provide valuable feedback about your experiences on our services.

We know that your time is precious and don’t have time to stop and chat in a station so we are also launching brand new “on board” events, covering a variety of routes across our network.

There will be more coming soon...

Our summer Whistle Stop Tours has now ended, but please keep your eyes peeled for more stations, stops and dates coming soon.

What did you ask us about?

We take all feedback seriously and use it to help shape the future of your services. We also have many initiatives in the pipeline already (or as we like to call it our £474m investment programme).

You can find answers to the hot questions from each of our recent Whistle Stop events below, choose the station closest to where you travel to find out what’s going on in your area.

Customers were able to discuss their feedback directly with the Managing Director, Operations Director, Safety & Environment Director, Major Projects Director, CX Director LNR as well as various Heads of Department and senior managers from Operations, Stations, Commercial and HR.

In order to replace our mixed and ageing fleet of 2, 3 and occasional 4 carriage diesel trains on your route, as well as introduce the brand new direct service between Walsall and the capital as specified in our franchise agreement, we designed the timetable to ‘join up’ the previously local and long distance separate services.

However, with a change on this scale there is no opportunity for a ‘dry run’ to see if what works on paper, truly works in practice. Since May, we have found that too many of our trains from London are becoming delayed en route through Birmingham New St (often by just 1 or 2 minutes) which means they are missing their departure slot to leave New St at the right time. This is having a knock-on effect and eating in to the train’s turnaround time at Rugeley. If the train’s next planned service (eg the one heading back south down the Chase Line) runs late then it will also miss its slot for accessing New St and the wider network could be brought to a grinding halt with lots of trains queuing at what is essentially the Heathrow of the railway. In order to regain a ‘right time’ start for the next service and avoid this, we have been instructing our crews to turnaround at Hednesford (the next station down the line where there is a crossover in the tracks.

We are holding our hands up that this isn’t a sustainable situation and that operationally the through service isn’t proving to be robust. In order to improve this we will be making some changes in December ’19, which will see 1tph Euston to Rugeley as now and 1tph curtailed at Walsall. The second tph between Walsall and Rugeley will be formed of an extended Wolverhampton to Walsall service. In May ’20, both tph on the Chase line will be returned to local services, and alternative Walsall to London services will be launched.

Current time table Unchanged From December Unchanged
EUS departure Wolves departure EUS departure EUS departure WVH EUS departure
BHM arr/dep BHM arr/dep BHM - RGL BHM arr/dep BHM arr/dep BHM - RGL
RGL WSL WSL RGL
XX:15 (xx:48) (XX:24) XX:15 XX:48 (XX:24)
XX:14/21 XX:14/27 XX:46 - XX:39 XX:16/27 XX:13/21 XX:46 - XX:39
XX:10 XX:53 XX:53 XX:10

Yes, our autumn timetable will run from Monday 14th October to Friday 28th November, which means some stations will have fewer trains on weekdays. More information can be found here - https://www.westmidlandsrailway.co.uk/autumn .

In December 2017 when we were appointed as the new operator for the West Midlands franchise, we knew that there were already lots of busy trains across the region which is why we placed an order for 188 brand new carriages to grow our fleet. This is made up of an order for 80 diesel carriages for Birmingham to Hereford & Shrewsbury and 108 brand new electric carriages for the Cross-City line. We also added 16 ‘nearly new’ carriages to the fleet in April ’19 to supplement carriage availability while some of the ones that we that we inherited from London Midland undergo essential engineering upgrades. While these trains are in the workshop, they will also receive a full interior refurbishment, with power sockets, Wi-Fi, accessible toilets, live information screens and refreshed seating all begin fitted.

There are a number of reasons why traincrew may not be available on any given occasion and we have systems in place to plan for and manage our traincrew resource availability. These include allocation of annual leave during popular holiday times, rostering for training days, short term sickness cover etc. With this taken into account, we normally expect to operate with approx’ 10% spare drivers/senior conductors on any given day to cover last minute issues.

Just recently, a variety of the short-term influences outlined above have spiked meaning we are relying on our spare crews more often, leaving us exposed to more “on the day” issues. We are actively reviewing the procedures we use to plan crew resources to take account for this scenario more robustly going forward and looking to see if anything can be improved. We are also constantly recruiting more traincrew which will help reduce the need to cancel services going forward.

Thankyou to everyone who reported this sort of behaviour, it is really useful intelligence for our revenue protection and security team. While we have a senior conductor on every train who will try to check tickets in between their operational responsibilities, we also have a dedicated team of 30 revenue protection and security managers who undertake proactive “station blocks” and follow up on reports of serial offenders. The RPSM team work closely with the British Transport Police to ensure that any information we receive about fare evasion and anti-social behaviour on our network is acted upon. We can’t be on every platform or in every carriage all of the time, so customers are often the first ones to notice if something’s not quite right, you are our eyes and ears. If you suspect that there are regularly people on your train who, unlike you, haven’t paid for a ticket, we’ll always appreciate the heads up.

Customers were able to discuss their feedback directly with our Customer Experience Director, Head of On Board, Head of Corporate Affairs, CX Strategy Manager, Head of Stations local rail user group representatives and Amanda Milling (MP Cannock Chase) at a dedicated drop in session at the Lea Hall Social Club.

A) Our new timetable was designed to make the most out of the long-awaited Chase Line electrification project. It was part of a major redesign of train services across the West Midlands region and beyond which brought 2000+ extra rush hour seats to Birmingham, and specifically allowed us to introduce modern 4 carriage, clean electric trains for the first time between Walsall and Rugeley on a half hourly service.

Our contract with the Department for Transport and West Midlands Rail Executive also requires us to operate a direct service between Walsall and London from 2019 onwards.

A) The Class 350 trains which we introduced on the Chase Line in May 2019 already formed the backbone of our long-distance fleet, operating between Birmingham, the Airport, Coventry and stations towards London.

In order to replace our mixed and ageing fleet of 2, 3 and occasional 4 carriage diesel trains on your route, as well as introduce the brand new direct service between Walsall and the capital as specified in our franchise agreement, we designed the timetable to ‘join up’ the previously separate services.

A) We made over 2500 changes to train times, unit allocations and staff rosters, in order to deliver more capacity for the West Midlands. Each detail was rigorously planned and scrutinised by all relevant stakeholders (like Network Rail & other TOCs) to check if the complex jigsaw fitted together.

However, with a change on this scale there is no opportunity for a ‘dry run’ to see if what works on paper, truly works in practice. Since May, we have found that too many of our trains from London are becoming delayed en route through Birmingham New St (often by just 1 or 2 minutes) which means they are missing their departure slot to leave New St at the right time. This is having a knock-on effect and eating in to the train’s turnaround time at the end of the line in Rugeley. If the train’s next planned service (eg the one heading back south down the Chase Line) runs late then it will also miss its slot for accessing New St and the wider network could be brought to a grinding halt with lots of trains queuing at what is essentially the Heathrow of the railway.

The earliest opportunity we have to make corrective changes and fix your service is December, during the next round of planned industry timetable changes. We are going to amend 1 of the 2 trains per hour which currently run from London to Rugeley, to terminate at Walsall instead. Our existing Wolverhampton to Walsall services will be extended to Rugeley instead. This change is outlined below.

Current time table From December
EUS departure Wolves departure EUS departure EUS departure WVH EUS departure
BHM arr/dep BHM arr/dep BHM - RGL BHM arr/dep BHM arr/dep BHM - RGL
RGL WSL WSL RGL
XX:15 (xx:48) (XX:24) XX:15 XX:48 (XX:24)
XX:14/21 XX:14/27 XX:46 - XX:39 XX:16/27 XX:13/21 XX:46 - XX:39
XX:10 XX:53 XX:53 XX:10

This should help our trains turn around on time and provide a more robust local service, as the chance of delayed long-distance trains passing delays onto local services is reduced, without losing all the benefits of through journeys.

Unfortunately, the next opportunity we have to fully redesign services is May 2020. As part of our timetable bid which was submitted early in the summer of 2019, in line with industry timescales, we will make a further change to the Chase line trains which should restore an even more reliable service. From May 2020, our intention is to operate 1 train per hour between Rugeley TV and Birmingham New St and 1 train per hour Rugeley TV, Birmingham New St and Birmingham International. In the mornings and evenings, we will also operate 2 dedicated return services between Walsall and London.

Customers were able to discuss their feedback directly with our Customer Experience Director, Head of On Board, Head of Corporate Affairs, CX Strategy Manager, Area Station Management team, local rail user group representatives and Cannock Chase District councillors.

A) Our new timetable was designed to make the most out of the long-awaited Chase Line electrification project. It was part of a major redesign of train services across the West Midlands region and beyond which brought 2000+ extra rush hour seats to Birmingham, and specifically allowed us to introduce modern 4 carriage, clean electric trains for the first time between Walsall and Rugeley on a half hourly service.

Our contract with the Department for Transport and West Midlands Rail Executive also requires us to operate a direct service between Walsall and London from 2019 onwards.

A) The Class 350 trains which we introduced on the Chase Line in May 2019 already formed the backbone of our long-distance fleet, operating between Birmingham, the Airport, Coventry and stations towards London.

In order to replace our mixed and ageing fleet of 2, 3 and occasional 4 carriage diesel trains on your route, as well as introduce the brand new direct service between Walsall and the capital as specified in our franchise agreement, we designed the timetable to ‘join up’ the previously separate services.

A) We made over 2500 changes to train times, unit allocations and staff rosters, in order to deliver more capacity for the West Midlands. Each detail was rigorously planned and scrutinised by all relevant stakeholders (like Network Rail & other TOCs) to check if the complex jigsaw fitted together.

However, with a change on this scale there is no opportunity for a ‘dry run’ to see if what works on paper, truly works in practice. Since May, we have found that too many of our trains from London are becoming delayed en route through Birmingham New St (often by just 1 or 2 minutes) which means they are missing their departure slot to leave New St at the right time. This is having a knock-on effect and eating in to the train’s turnaround time at the end of the line in Rugeley. If the train’s next planned service (eg the one heading back south down the Chase Line) runs late then it will also miss its slot for accessing New St and the wider network could be brought to a grinding halt with lots of trains queuing at what is essentially the Heathrow of the railway.

The earliest opportunity we have to make corrective changes and fix your service is December, during the next round of planned industry timetable changes. We are going to amend 1 of the 2 trains per hour which currently run from London to Rugeley, to terminate at Walsall instead. Our existing Wolverhampton to Walsall services will be extended to Rugeley instead. This change is outlined below.

Current time table From December
EUS departure Wolves departure EUS departure EUS departure WVH EUS departure
BHM arr/dep BHM arr/dep BHM - RGL BHM arr/dep BHM arr/dep BHM - RGL
RGL WSL WSL RGL
XX:15 (xx:48) (XX:24) XX:15 XX:48 (XX:24)
XX:14/21 XX:14/27 XX:46 - XX:39 XX:16/27 XX:13/21 XX:46 - XX:39
XX:10 XX:53 XX:53 XX:10

This should help our trains turn around on time and provide a more robust local service, as the chance of delayed long-distance trains passing delays onto local services is reduced, without losing all the benefits of through journeys.

Unfortunately, the next opportunity we have to fully redesign services is May 2020. As part of our timetable bid which was submitted early in the summer of 2019, in line with industry timescales, we will make a further change to the Chase line trains which should restore an even more reliable service. From May 2020, our intention is to operate 1 train per hour between Rugeley TV and Birmingham New St and 1 train per hour Rugeley TV, Birmingham New St and Birmingham International. In the mornings and evenings, we will also operate 2 dedicated return services between Walsall and London.

Customers were able to discuss their feedback directly with our Customer Experience Director, HR Director, Head of Stations, Head of Corporate Affairs, Head of On Board, CX Strategy Manager, Station Manager, Area Station Manager, colleagues from West Midlands Rail Executive and local rail user groups.

A) Our May 2019 timetable was the first major timetable change for West Midlands Railway and the biggest change to our train diagrams (the plan of where each train goes each day) for a decade. It was a central part of the government and local authority’s plan to increase capacity (number of seats) in and out of Birmingham, when they specified the franchise.

On the Hereford – Worcester – Birmingham route we operate diesel trains, which are in short supply across the country as very few new versions have been built in recent years due to multiple governments’ aspirations that the network would be more widely electrified by now. With the cancellation of many rail electrification schemes, the existing diesel fleets have struggled to meet growing demand. A further complication is that many of our diesel carriages now need some midlife TLC with each carriage out of service for approximately 2 weeks while we carry this out. To allow for this we had planned to move our diesel carriages operating between Birmingham and Walsall on to Hereford and Worcester services, these carriages were to be freed up by electric replacements from Transpennine Express, taking advantage of the recently completed installation of overhead electric wires on the Walsall route. Unfortunately, the nearly new trains (Class 350/4) from Transpennine Express were not delivered to us as planned due to the late arrival of their brand-new trains form the factory. However, the first Class 350/4 has now arrived with our sister company, London Northwestern Railway, at their Northampton depot, ready to enter service in September, which will in turn allow the transfer of our remaining diesel carriages in the Autumn.

We recgonised that the Hereford – Worcester – Birmingham route was very popular when we submitted our plans to run the franchise which is why we committed to ordering 80 brand new carriages in December 2017. Unfortunately, these take approximately 2 ½ years to build and commission, these Class 196 units are due to enter service in 2020.

Class 196 carriages

A) In the 2 years building up to the May 19 timetable launch, we recruited and trained an additional 200 drivers / senior conductors to work the extra services that we were introducing across the network. We have worked hard to plan our people resources around the new timetable, but with over 2,500 changes to rosters and traincrew diagrams we knew there would be some plans that worked on paper but might not work in practice. This is why we closely monitored the operation in the first month, particularly at Birmingham New Street to find out where turnaround times were tight and had the potential to cause issues, such as when inbound crews were struggling to be in position in time their next outbound train.

Given the complexity of our operation, with an increased number of services splitting and joining halfway along a route, we are finding that managing traincrew dynamically during disruption is a particular challenge. This will improve as our control teams and duty managers develop a deeper understanding of the operation day to day, which in simple terms for our customers means you shouldn’t notice as many incidents where we’ve had to adapt our plans. This is because we’ll have swapped our crews around to avoid the problem spiralling into something more significant. To further help us mitigate for low traincrew availability, we have also spent a considerable amount of time training more drivers and senior conductors on a wider portfolio of routes so they can be deployed more flexibly.

A) Yes! We have a plan in place to make sure we hold regular sessions from now on. Over the course of 2018 we undertook a comprehensive restructure of our organisation, building new teams who are better focused and able to deliver our transformational upgrade programme. This inevitably caused some disruption to way we do business and coupled with the launch of our £400m plus investment programme, we did get our heads down and concentrate for a few months, omitting to organise enough of these events. From now on, there will be a forward calendar, published every 6 months on our website, advertising when and where we’re going to be, we also plan to launch on board engagement sessions on routes where individual stations are too small to host a full Whistle Stop.

Check back on this page for updates on where we’ll be visiting next!

A) We have a rolling programme of upgrades for the Snow Hill line fleet of Class 172 trains. This will include re upholstering every single seat, making the saloons lighter & brighter as well as installing plug sockets, USB charging points, Wi-Fi and free onboard entertainment.

This work is scheduled to take place over the rest of 2019 and in to 2020, with one unit removed from the fleet at a time to make sure we can still run as many carriages as possible. In all 35 units, made up of 85 carriages will be upgraded for the Snow Hill lines.

A) We know that bikes are a hugely popular way of getting to/from the station and are essential for some of our customers to get around. While we don’t currently see an outright ban on bikes as a reasonable option, we do ask that bike users respect their fellow passengers by not blocking access within carriages or taking up more space than is necessary particularly at peak times, we also encourage customers to consider using folding bikes. On certain trains arriving in London during peak times restrictions do apply, click here for more information. On certain very busy services, our onboard teams may have to request that you don't board with a full size bike.

Customers were able to discuss their feedback directly with our Customer Experience Director, Head of On Board, Head of Corporate Affairs, CX Strategy Manager and local rail user group representatives.

A) Our May 2019 timetable the first major timetable change for West Midlands Railway and the biggest change to our train diagrams (the plan of where each train goes each day) for a decade. It was a central part of the government and local authority’s plan to increase capacity (number of seats) in and out of Birmingham, when they specified the franchise.

On the Hereford – Worcester – Birmingham route we operate diesel trains, which are in short supply across the country as very few new versions have been built in recent years due the long-term political strategy being that the UK network would be more widely electrified by now. With the cancellation of many rail electrification schemes, the existing diesel trains have struggled to meet growing demand. A further complication is that many of our diesel carriages now require some midlife TLC with each carriage out of service for approximately 2 weeks while we carry out both mechanical and on-board facility improvement work. To allow for this we had planned to move diesel carriages operating between Birmingham and Walsall on to Hereford and Worcester services, these carriages were to be freed up by electric replacements from Transpennine Express taking advantage of the recently completed installation of overhead electric wires on the Walsall route. Unfortunately, the nearly new trains (Class 350/4’s) from Transpennine Express were not delivered to us as planned due to the late arrival of their brand-new replacement trains form the factory. The first of these 10 trains have now arrived with our sister company, London Northwestern Railway, at their Northampton depot, ready to enter service in August following some modifications, which will allow the transfer of our remaining diesel carriages.

We recgonised that the Hereford – Worcester – Birmingham route was very popular when we submitted our bid to run the franchise which is why we committed to ordering 80 brand new carriages in December 2017. Unfortunately, these take approximately 2 ½ years to build and commission, these Class 196 units are due to enter service in 2020.

Class 196 carriages

A) Our 8 Class 153 carriages were due to be retired at the end of 2019, when a new set of accessibility regulations is to come into force. We know that these carriages are not universally popular and lack some of the creature comforts of our newer trains. However, as demand for our services continues to grow every year, these carriages are a necessary evil while our brand new trains are built. We are in the process of exploring whether we can keep them in service beyond the end of the year, as peak time crowd busters. Importantly though, from 2020 onwards they would only operate when attached to a more modern unit and run together.

We don’t plan to keep them as soon any longer than we have to, the sooner they can be turned into baked bean tins and our new trains are delivered the better!

Customers were able to discuss their feedback directly with our Customer Experience Director, Head of Stations, Head of CX Strategy & Innovation, CX Insight Manager, CX Analyst, Future Stations & Services Delivery Manager, Head of On Board, CX Strategy Manager, Station Manager & Area Station Manager across the morning and evening peaks.

A) The May 2019 timetable was our first major timetable change for the West Midlands and the biggest change to unit & traincrew plans in a decade. It was a central part of the government and local authority’s plan to increase capacity (number of seats) in and out of Birmingham, when they awarded the franchise.

On the Snow Hill lines, we operate diesel trains which are in short supply across the country, due to delayed electrification schemes. While we ordered 80 brand new diesel carriages back in December 2017, these take approximately 2 ½ years to build. In the meantime, we have to increase capacity with a largely unchanged fleet, although we did add 11 “nearly new” carriages to our ranks in April 2019.

In order to deliver more capacity overall, we altered carriage allocation on specific services to make more efficient use of the limited number of trains we have. This means that our longer 5 & 6 carriage trains have been put on the core section of the route (Dorridge / Whitlocks End to Stourbridge Junction / Kidderminster), as a round circuit on this section takes less time than running out to Stratford or Worcester. This means we can turn it round and get it back through Snow Hill / Moor St to operate a second ‘long’ service during the peak.

A) We are planning to introduce car park charges as a way of managing demand and reducing ‘rail heading’, where motorists may drive extra miles to avoid charges & prevent local residents from accessing the station. This does not include stations where the West Midlands Combined Authority manage the car park (within the Network zones 1 – 5).

We are working with local councils to make all our stations easier and safer to use, with our investment programme looking beyond the station boundary. Every station is undergoing a sustainable transport review, including work with local councils to assess wider transport infrastructure, part of this is our standing commitment to invest in 2,760 more cycle spaces across our network. The revenue generated will also support our programme to introduce ANPR, increased CCTV coverage, brighter lighting and resurfacing works.

We don’t have a final date yet as we are still undertaking the preparatory assessment work, we’ll absolutely make sure we communicate to customers when a date is finalised in plenty of time.

A) We have a rolling programme of upgrades for the Snow Hill line fleet of Class 172 trains. This will include re upholstering every single seat, making the saloons lighter & brighter as well as installing plug sockets, USB charging points, Wi-Fi and free onboard entertainment.

This work is scheduled to take place over the rest of 2019 and in to 2020, with one unit removed from the fleet at a time to make sure we can still run as many carriages as possible. In all 35 units, made up of 85 carriages will be upgraded for the Snow Hill lines.

A) This train is parked in our Worcester depot overnight and comes into service at 06:15 by coming out of the sidings, up to a nearby junction and then back down into the station where it starts its first passenger service at 0630. Unfortunately, it’s rather congested around this area in the morning with lots of trains from lots of different operators all vying for paths through some busy junctions heading off all over the country.

Throughout June and July, we did experience a few technical issues with the trains used to operate this service but there is one big issue that has been causing us a regular headache, which believe it or not is a knock-on delay from a signalling issue over at Bromsgrove. In essence, there is a design fault with particular new signal between Droitwich and Bromsgrove, for which Network rail have been working on a solution. In the interim, this means the signal has to be held at red until trains get close which means all trains have to slow down on approach, causing queues all the way back to Worcester (think average speed limit on the motorway) and blocking our train in at the sidings. Network Rail who manage the signalling and track systems have been working hard to get a bespoke fix but have had a few false starts. It is now back up and running, so hopefully should ease the pressure on early morning trains paths round the Worcester junctions.

A) From the 9th July, we added carriages to some key trains, such as the 17:13 departure from Snow Hill towards Worcester. This was done after we assessed the operation of the new timetable, fully reviewed the feedback and then crucially decided if there were alterations that we were able to make. Our timetable, carriage allocation and overall operation is specified by our contract with the Government and Combined Authority. Any alterations have to be consulted and approved by our regulatory partners and then sent to Network Rail to check whether the changes impact on any other train movements. The carriages which were added the likes of the 17:13 were removed from other services. While we judged that these services could afford the lesser capacity, it did involve additional train paths being identified on the network to join the new trains together. It was frustrating for us that we had identified an apparent solution and weren’t able to action it more quickly, but we must operate within the industry regulations which have been designed to protect as many train services from the risk of disruption.