Your chance to speak to our experts and ask your questions
Our Whistle Stop Tour events are your opportunity to meet our management team and discuss your feedback directly with the people who run your railway. They are a great way of helping us understand more about you our customers, as we work to build a better railway.
Our next event(s):
Date: Thursday 30th November
Time: 16:00 - 18:00
Type: In person / at station
Route: Birmingham - Stafford - Stoke - Crewe
Date: Friday 1st December
Time: 10:00 - 13:30
Type: In person / onboard
Recent event roundup
Missed one of our recent sessions? Don't worry, we'll share answers to the most common questions raised by your fellow customers here.
Birmingham New St (in person) - 18/12/22
"Why are you changing the timetable again?"
Our timetables are designed and built around 4 basic elements: passenger demand, crew availability, fleet availability and access to the tracks. We continually monitor train service performance (% of trains on time, cancelled, full number of carriages etc) as well as developments in all of the 4 elements noted above and try to match our timetables to the ever-changing circumstances.
With fewer people commuting 5 days per week compared to before the pandemic and at the same time demand for weekend and leisure journeys steadily increasing, the most recent change was largely driven by us adapting our timetable to reflect evolving customer habits. Our operation was previously designed to deliver the absolute maximum capacity during traditional weekday peak commuting times, with fewer services at weekends where fewer people travelled. We need to adjust this model to reflect the ongoing societal evolution and provide the right capacity at the right time, but also factor in allowing our maintenance teams appropriate time to keep our trains in good order. As well as this, the new timetable lays the foundations for both us and Avanti West Coast to each introduce new fleets which have different acceleration, braking and capacity characteristics than those currently operated and therefore require timing tweaks at major stations.
We are also all too aware that our last major timetable change before the pandemic was too ambitious and while it worked on paper, in reality it was vulnerable to disruption. Our new timetable attempts to address these factors in the base plan and fundamentally deliver a more robust service for customers. With reduced commuting demand, we can reduce the complexity and intensity of our fleet deployment. In practice this means that rather than one of our class 350 trains working a large variety of routes within the same day with tight turnarounds between each service, they can be dedicated to specific work and with longer turnaround times. This should reduce the chances of knock-on effects with small delays, spreading into subsequent services and between different routes. This also allows us to better deploy the right length of train at the right time, particularly by starting to use our fleet less intensively during the week and therefore allowing us to change maintenance cycles to be able to provide longer trains at weekends.
"What are you doing to tackle people traveling without tickets?"
We know that some people try to travel without buying a ticket, which can be really annoying for the huge majority of passengers who do. As well as our on-board crews and station teams checking tickets, we have a dedicated team of revenue protection and security specialists who carry out targeted operations to catch fare dodgers.
Often these teams undertake highly visible blockades at our stations where they physically check all tickets as customers leave the station, sometimes` supported by the British Transport Police. However, they also undertake covert operations and follow up on intelligence reports of repeat offenders attempting to defraud the railway. Taking this approach means we can build up important evidence and prosecute repeat fare evaders.
In the last few years, while Covid restrictions were in place, we haven’t always been able to focus on robust ticket checks, as the face-to-face activity required just wasn’t always safe for our people. However, we are glad to say that we are now able to focus on this fully again and are wholly committed to reducing ticketless travel and protecting fare paying passengers as we continue to rebuild our business after the pandemic.
Along with other national railway operators, we are also implementing significant changes to our penalty fare regime, a key deterrent against ticketless travel, which sets the fines that people may be liable for if they travel without a valid ticket. From January 23rd 2023, the amount that an individual may be penalised is increasing from £20 to £100 plus the full price of the ticket. For more information about penalty fares, click here.
"When will you be introducing new trains on the Cross City line?"
When WMR was created back in December 2017, we announced one of the biggest fleet replacement plans of any train company in the last decade. We ordered hundreds of brand new carriages for the West Midlands alone, and more for our sister operator, London Northwestern Railway on services through the West Midlands and connecting it with London and Liverpool.
We’ve ordered brand new class 730 trains to replace the thirty year old class 323 fleet which we inherited from London Midland. We will have nearly double the amount of new class 730s, compared to the class 323 fleet which they replace. They are being built by Alstom in Derby and were it not for pandemic related delays in production and crew training, they would already be in service.
Happily, the testing and training programme is now well underway and our current forecasts indicate that we will be able to bring them into use later this year. We can only do this when enough drivers, conductors and maintenance teams have been trained to operate them safely and will keep our customers updated with progress on this as we move ahead into 2023.
"Why have connection and last train times been changed on the New St - North Staffordshire line?"
The connections at Stafford have changed due to the wider retiming of long-distance trains on the west coast mainline, and particularly the southbound London Northwestern Railway service between Crewe and London Euston. Prior to December, this service arrived at Euston 4 minutes after the northbound equivalent departed which meant that the train would sit in Euston for 56 minutes between runs. With HS2 construction works gathering pace and temporarily reducing the number of platforms at Euston for the next few years, occupying a platform for nearly an hour with an out of service train was very inefficient and therefore we had to look for alternative available paths on the route. We worked extensively to investigate all lots of possible options to protect this connection, but it simply wasn’t possible. However, there is now an improved southbound connection at Stafford from our local train into the Avanti West Coast service towards London, meaning faster journeys to the capital are still available.
The changes to services through Stafford also mean that the last train between Birmingham New St and Crewe (via Stoke) has had to be retimed slightly earlier, and it now leaves at 21:52 in the same time slot, or path, that it does all other hours of the day. The route timtable between Birmingham and Stafford was completely rewritten as part of the December 2022 timetable change to accommodate wider industry requirements in a number of connected regions, and there is no longer an available path at 22:20 for a bespoke departure, as there had been previously in the May 2022 base plan.
"There is one train per hour between Bromsgrove and Barnt Green, could this be made half hourly with a stop added to the other Cross City line service that starts at Bromsgrove?"
Unfortunately, not at the moment, as our timetable on the Cross City is heavily steered by the limited number of available paths on the busy route, where our services are knitted in between longer distance CrossCountry and freight trains, as well as access in and out of New St. Our half hourly stopping services depart Bromsgrove near the top of the hour and just before half past the hour throughout the day. We try to design our timetable to be repeatable and predictable, meaning trains leaving at the same time each hour, following the same calling patterns. This is where we come into difficulty with this specific example, as there are a couple of reasons why our xx:03 departure from Bromsgrove can’t be booked to call at Barnt Green.
Firstly, prior to the December 22 timetable change, this train passed Barnt Green at xx:06 each hour and there was a CrossCountry service from Bristol to Newcastle hot on its heels that passed at xx:09 in some hours of the day. If we were to stop at Barnt Green in this context, we would have been delaying the trains behind us regularly throughout the day. Looking forward, while this immediate issue is relieved by the retiming of the CrossCountry service from the December timetable change onwards, there are a variety of similar conflicts in the New St area which mean that adding 2 minutes into the journey between Bromsgrove and the city centre means that the train would miss both its arrival and departure slots at New St station.
We are continually looking for ways to improve our proposition, and our strategic timetable planners will bear this issue in mind, if future timetable capacity allows us the required timing and flexibility.
Birmingham Moor St (in person) - 03/10/22
“Are there any firm plans to increase the number of trains in the early morning peak from Kidderminster & Stourbridge towards Birmingham. Chiltern Railways used to operate more services to Marylebone around this time pre pandemic and without those trains the local services feel busier?”
We are looking to operate a consistent four trains per hour service from Kidderminster to Birmingham in the morning peak as part of our May 2023 timetable change. In the current timetable there are occasional hours where only three West Midlands Railway services operate. While there isn’t a significant planned increase in quantum of services, we are making the services more evenly spaced come May so that the loads are spread more evenly across longer trains.
We are working collaboratively as an industry, and particularly with colleagues at Chiltern Railways who are also looking at future timetables at the moment. They are currently finalising their winter timetable and any changes made to service levels will be shared on their website. We all appreciate just how important space onboard is for customers returning to the railway, and our regular detailed monitoring of ticket sales and passenger counts helps inform decisions when tweaking our timetables.
As operators, we both use all of our available rolling stock, meaning that these decisions have to be reflective of the numbers that we see in this monitoring across all of our routes. We will continue to assess where we can optimise the timetable further to support the return of customers to the railway and play our part in supporting the economic recovery of the communities that we are proud to serve as the railway family.
The next timetable changes are planned to happen in December 2022 and May 2023, any firm changes will be communicated ahead of these dates respectively.
“I’m interested in working for the railways, how would I go about it?”
We (along with all other train operators) usually advertise all vacancies on our websites. You can find our current vacancies and lots of information about what its like working for the region's rail operator on our dedicated careers pages. We’re proud to be able to offer roles where flexibility, support and a brilliant benefits scheme come as standard when you join the railway family?
“Why haven’t you operated services on the Snow Hill lines during recent periods of industrial action?”
Unfortunately, recent disputes have involved both frontline operator colleagues as well as signallers and behind the scenes maintenance teams. This means that decisions over which services are able to run on affected days depend not only on the availability of our own contingent qualified staff but also that of Network Rail’s qualified contingency teams. The short answer is that there are simply not enough contingency workers available to cover the whole network, meaning compromises must be made.
During recent strike action, Network Rail has operated a “key route strategy” which considers not only the passenger services but also the movement of essential and perishable freight. Their key route strategy aims to identify which sections of the railway can be kept open, with the limited amount of suitably qualified people, while moving the largest amount of freight and passengers at the same time. Due to the geography of the Snow Hill lines, there simply is not the volume of long distance, or perishable freight moved on the route, and as such available resources in the region are focused on the West Coast Mainline. If at any point, the ratios of available staff significantly change under any circumstance, we would work with Network Rail to identify if a service could be instated, as we do have contingency personnel who are trained to work on the route.
“I’ve noticed people seem to get off at Jewellery Quarter in the morning and then walk into the city centre to avoid the ticket gates at Snow Hill & Moor St, are you aware of this and what are you doing about it?”
We know that some people try to travel without buying a ticket, which can be really annoying for the huge majority of passengers who do. As well as our on-board crews and station teams checking tickets, we have a dedicated team of revenue protection and security specialists who carry out targeted operations to catch fare dodgers. Sometimes these teams can be found undertaking highly visible blockades at our ungated stations (including the Jewellery Quarter just recently) where they will physically check everyone’s ticket before they leave the station, often supported by the British Transport Police. However, they also undertake covert operations and follow up on intelligence reports of repeat offenders attempting to defraud the railway. Taking this approach means we can build up important evidence and prosecute repeat fare evaders.
In the last few years, while Covid restrictions were in place, we haven’t always been able to focus on these sorts of things, as the face-to-face activity required just wasn’t always safe for our people. However, we are glad to say that we are now able to focus on this fully again and are wholly committed to reducing ticketless travel and protecting fare paying passengers as we continue to rebuild our business after the pandemic.
“What is the future for the Chiltern Railways loco-hauled services moving forward?”
Our colleagues at Chiltern Railways have told us that they are in proactive discussions with the Department for Transport about the future of our loco-hauled services and hope to have news to share with our customers about this in the near future.
Worcester Foregate St (in person) - 08/09/22
"When are your new trains being introduced?"
When WMR was created back in December 2017, we announced one of the biggest fleet replacement plans of any train company in the last decade. We committed to order 188 brand new carriages in the West Midlands alone, with a further 225 carriages for our sister operator, London Northwestern Railway on services through the West Midlands and connecting it to London and Liverpool.
For the Worcester and Shrewsbury routes, we’ve ordered 26 class 196 trains made up of two and four carriage units to replace the twenty+ year old class 170 fleet. Our class 196 trains are being built by CAF between their factories in both Spain and South Wales. Around half of the fleet had been built when the pandemic hit in early 2020 and had the pandemic not happened, the whole fleet should now be in service. With pandemic delays in their construction, engineering supply chains and local training for our teams, we have unfortunately seen their introduction pushed back.
Happily, this programme is now back on track with the class 196 fleet recently launched on the Shrewsbury route. We will then look to start training our Shrubhill based traincrews with the intention of bringing the rest of the fleet into Worcester & Hereford next year. We have chosen to prioritise launching them on the Shrewsbury route while we have focused on rebuilding our Worcester and Snow Hill teams which suffered from a higher-than-average number of retirements during the pandemic. For more information about this, check out our Snow Hill lines route recovery plan here.
Are there any plans to introduce late evening services back to Malvern from Birmingham, currently the last train leaves around 9pm which is often before theatre or events finish?
Our timetables are designed and built around 4 basic elements: passenger demand, crew availability, fleet availability and access to the tracks. Alongside other operators we knit our services together around access over key sections of the track and at junctions. Network Rail own and operate the track, signals and wider infrastructure. In a similar way to air traffic control, Network Rail’s teams oversee the timetable and control movements by signals.
On this route, the signals are controlled from locally operated signal boxes by the track, rather than the regional control centre which can mean less flexibility in terms of roster patterns and cross cover between individual local boxes. With this in mind, Network Rail also have to build periods into the timetable to allow their maintenance teams access to tracks when no trains are running, which is usually overnight.
Taking all this into account, sadly the railway between Worcester and Hereford is closed for train movements most nights of the week too early to allow us to run a train from Birmingham to Malvern, and back up to the depot at Worcester again, after the current circa 9pm departure. This is not to say that things won’t change in the future and it is something that we will look at again if the timings and access constraints vary.
"Are there any plans for the trains that run from Paddington to Malvern to then carry on to Birmingham?"
There are no plans for this at the moment and due to various operational, timetable and contractual challenges it would be unlikely to happen in the future.
Direct London to Birmingham services are operated by our sister company London Northwestern Railway calling at local stations on the West Coast Mainline, as well as the Avanti West Coast express services also on the WCML and Chiltern Railways which are operate via Banbury.
"Are there any plans for ticket gates to be installed at Worcester Foregate St?"
Prior to the pandemic, we were working on plans to redevelop the station and install an automatic ticket gateline as part of that. Factoring in station layout, space constraints around the staircases, lifts and archways there isn’t enough room within the current footprint to safely install a gateline. We had been exploring the possibility of creating a larger concourse by knocking through the archways, as well as opening up the ticket office and travel centre areas.
As the industry adjusts the “new normal” post pandemic, all projects of this scale were paused. Clearly, the redevelopment of Foregate St as outlined above, would be a significant civil engineering challenge which is why at present there are no immediate plans to put spades in the ground while the industry recovers, we will of course keep this under review alongside our colleagues at the Department for Transport.
In the meantime, we are working on a new revenue protection strategy which will involve wider efforts as well as physical checks like barriers to tackle fare evasion right across the network.