RURAL communities have reacted with dismay to the news that there are no plans to extend rail electrification beyond Newbury in the immediate future.
The Bedwyn Trains Passenger Group said it was “bitterly disappointed” by the news after a five-year campaign.
It means that, from May 2017, commuters will not have the luxury of a regular direct service from Bedwyn to London Paddington.
Instead, people travelling from Bedwyn, Hungerford and Kintbury will have to catch a diesel train to Newbury and change to an electric train for the rest of the journey.
First Great Western promised that at least one direct train would run to and from Bedwyn and London Paddington every day.
A spokesman for The Bedwyn Trains Passenger Group, Steve Smith said: “Personally I’m bitterly disappointed. Our petition [to get electrification extended beyond Newbury] stands at over 2,000 signatures but I feel we haven’t really achieved much.
“I think the way forward is to persuade FGW to run more than one high-speed train up and back for commuters, with an additional one around 9am for off-peak visitors to London.”
The news is also a setback for Hungerford Town Council, which is seeking to upgrade the town station and promote it as the “gateway to the North Wessex Downs”.
Town councillor Martin Crane said: “In my personal view this is shortsighted and a setback. It is going to upset commuters.
“We are trying to attract international investment into Hungerford businesses and one of the main things international investors look for is a reliable direct train into London.”
The decision came despite intensive lobbying from Newbury MP Richard Benyon and Devizes MP Claire Perry.
Mr Benyon said: “I can understand the disappointment, but I am absolutely convinced that electrification will still extend beyond the west of Newbury.
“I am not going to say I am going to eat my hat if it doesn’t because I’ve been in this game long enough to know that strange things can happen, but I am as sure as a man can be that Bedwyn, Hungerford and Kintbury will benefit from electrification in the relatively near future.
“I will continue to press and lobby to make sure electrification is extended to the west of Newbury and beyond.”
The email from FGW added: “There is no immediate solution to the loss of through services on the Bedwyn to Newbury corridor given electrification is not being extended.
“However, within the franchise we have committed to maintain at least one through peak service in each direction. Bedwyn, Kintbury and Hungerford will not therefore lose all their direct trains.”
“We were also able to suggest a feasibility study into the use of Independently Powered electric trains over the route between Paddington and Bedwyn.
“The Department for Transport have accepted that approach and have asked us to work up plans that would mean through services to Bedwyn, Kintbury and Hungerford could be re-established at levels similar to today by December 2018.
“We cannot guarantee the outcome of the study, but we think this is a practical option and will be doing our best to make it work.”
Independent rail commentator for the Thames Valley, Hugh Jaeger, said: “For the people in places like Bedwyn, Kintbury and Hungerford who have planned their entire lives and careers around a direct commute into London, this will come as a big disappointment.
“However, I think that if the one direct service a day that FGW are maintaining is at the right time, it would cover a large percentage of commuters.”
In July 2009, the Department for Transport announced a £1bn programme to electrify the whole of the Great Western line.