20 Nov 2017: Goodnight and Thankyou, London Midland... the new train operator from 10 December will be 'West Midlands Trains' and they have promised to increase capacity by 25% during their franchise period (10 years?). If recent growth rates continue, this will not be enough. They are also looking at a service between Walsall and Wolverhampton via James Bridge (Darlaston) and Willenhall.
2 Sept 2016: the West Midland Rail Franchise document has been published this week and the following appears in it (the new franchise should start in October 2017):
There have been calls from both Stakeholders and individuals for the reinstatement of
services on the direct line between Walsall and Wolverhampton.
Due to capacity constraints on the network it would not be possible to operate more
than an hourly service without requiring significant infrastructure investment, in
particular at Wolverhampton station. Unfortunately, an hourly level of frequency is
unlikely to generate sufficient demand to meet value for money criteria.
We recognise, however, that this service remains a strong aspiration and understand
that work is being commissioned by Walsall Council and the WMCA to look at the
feasibility of the required infrastructure works so that the scheme can be further developed.
Which means Walsall-Wolverhampton via Willenhall will have to wait - again. The franchise will introduce a new hourly service from Birmingham to Stoke on Trent which will replace one of the current half-hourly Walsall-Birmingham-Wolverhampton paths. Watch out for some interesting changes!
11 May 2013: The remaining train to use the Walsall-Wolverhampton direct line since December 2008, the Monday-Friday 19:36 Walsall-W'ton, was replaced from 18 May 2013 with a Saturday only 06:38 W'ton-Walsall. This so-called 'parliamentary' train is thus reduced to just one service per week.
The 13-minute Walsall-Wolverhampton train service finished on 13 December 2008.
A petition was set up on the 10 Downing Street site (closed 19 Feb 2009!): http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Walsall-Trains/
21 Oct 2008: Cllr Garry Clarke admitted that it is 'almost certain' that our service will be withdrawn on 13 December 2008.
Passenger counts in July, August, September and October 2008 show about 330 passenger journeys per day (approx. 10 per train average).
This is a BBC opinion site (created in 2005!): http://www.bbc.co.uk/blackcountry/content/articles/2005/08/03/walsall_wolverhampton_train_feature.shtml
Update: 26 Oct 2008 - The 'No.10 Downing Street' petition set up by Lee Fletcher has now closed - it had 644 signatures.
Update: 18 Sept 2008 - this 5 minute BBC WM report was transmitted at 08:23 on 17 September - featuring one of the passengers collecting signatures for a petition against withdrawal of the service the previous day:
It works on some browsers!
Update: 08 July 2008 - unfortunately it looks as though this service will finish on 13 December 2008. Only a miracle can save it now... I've heard that the service is 'being subsidised to the tune of £10 per passenger' and that 'a replacement coach service will be provided'. Just as fuel prices are starting to get people out of their cars, a train service which is far superior to the equivalent bus route is being taken away. The route had the potential to be energy-sustainable, too (it can run under electric wires all the way).
Below is a photo of the FIRST train approaching Walsall (Pleck Junction) on Sunday 24 May 1998 - the day the service was re-introduced...
And here is the 14:25 Wolverhampton to Walsall on the final day of operation, Saturday 13 December 2008...
On 12 December 2008, Walsall also lost it's direct route to Stafford, since trains will not get further than Rugeley Trent Valley. So we're back to where we were in the 80's, having to go into Birmingham New Street before we can get anywhere else! (Okay, so you could get 4 trains a day from Tame Bridge to London or Wrexham until Wrexham & Shropshire Railways finished).
Brief History of Walsall-Wolverhampton
An hourly was introduced in May 1998 (after a gap since 1965!) and Centro were hoping that the service, then operated by Central Trains, would prove itself and warrant 2 trains per hour. Unfortunately this has not happened - partly due to the incompetence of the operator, the service gained a reputation for being unreliable. It is still hourly (2007) and the SRA recommended its replacement by 'express bus' from Jan 2006. It was announced in November 2005 that Central Trains would continue the service until the termination of their franchise in October 2007, when London Midland took over. However, the Walsall-Wolverhampton route was NOT INCLUDED in the new Franchise.
Centro paid (with our money, incidentally) for an advertising campaign during October 2005 (full-page adverts in all the local papers). What it needs is some high-profile awareness at both Wolverhampton and Walsall bus stations. If the monitors at the bus stations also provided train service information it would help. I've often got to Walsall Station only to find a train delayed or cancelled, then have to run back to the bus station for an alternative method! If the bus station had just ONE Monitor with the same info as the one at the Railway Station, we could make an educated decision as to which transport mode to use! (When the new bus station opened in Wolverhampton in 2011, it included a display of TRAIN departures...)
The bus alternative (route 529) is dire - it takes far too long for the distance and is often subject to traffic delays. On 28 November 2006 and again on 9 February 2007, a bit of snow brought the centres of Wolverhampton and Walsall to a standstill! Everyone knows the roads cannot cope - why don't we do something about it?
When it was running, the train between Walsall and Wolverhampton was superb!
During the heavy rain and ensuing floods in June and July 2007, the Walsall-Birmingham line was closed on both occasions - whilst the Wolverhampton line stayed open - but only just!
The West Midlands Franchise Document from the DfT (the Department of Transport has taken over responsibilities from the now defunct Strategic Rail Authority) indicates the intention to withdraw our service completely.
In July 2007, the DfT agreed to fund this service until December 2008!
Feedback to the document was allowed until 7 August 2006 - my letter to the DfT is shown below; (the 'winner' of the West Midland Rail Franchise should be announced by August 2007):
West Midlands Franchise Procurement Consultation Manager
DfT Rail Group
Great Minister House
76 Marsham Street
OR you can e-mail it to: email@example.com
Letter to DfT June 2006:
Re: West Midlands Rail Franchise
Please permit me to comment on the proposed changes to the West Midlands Rail Franchise due to begin in October 2007.
P27 - Withdrawal of Walsall-Wolverhampton Service
Whilst this service does remain poorly patronised, it nevertheless offers a sustainable, more comfortable and far quicker alternative to the 529 bus service. Had the train service frequency been increased to half-hourly, it may have seen more customers.
The route also offers the people of Walsall a ‘way to the north’ avoiding Birmingham New Street. Any route which relieves the congestion at the City’s congested rail hub
(however minor) deserves to be encouraged.
Withdrawal of the service does not acheive any infrastructure benefits - the stations remain and the tracks are used by other services, making it a ‘minimum cost’ service to provide. The ‘conflicting movements at both Walsall and Wolverhampton’ referred to are due to earlier premature rationalisation at both locations, in each case they are minor.
History of Poor Reliability
The service was re-introduced in May 1998 and since then has had a very poor record. For much of its existence it was replaced by coaches or buses, or simply cancelled altogether. Any route takes time to become established, but the fact that this service appears to have no ‘performance measure’ made available to the public, I believe the operator was not unduly worried about whether the trains ran or not. Any problems with staff or trains led to cancellations. Potential passengers simply became dissillusioned with the service. In the first half of 2006, the service reliability has visibly increased and more passengers are using it.
The route has had very little in the way of advertising, particularly from the Wolverhampton end. My suggestion about advertising the service at Walsall and Wolverhampton bus stations (at a Transport User’s Forum in Walsall) apparently fell on deaf ears - yet we are told that the recently-launched ‘Network West Midlands’ is all about integrating the different transport modes!
A missed opportunity?
On Sundays (for some years), the trains forming this service have been provided by extending the Birmingham-Walsall stopping trains through to Wolverhampton; this takes the route timing up to about 50 minutes, so an hourly frequency is easily maintained with 2 trains. One train cannot provide an hourly stopping service between Birmingham and Walsall alone, so this is better utilisation of the stock and adds a useful amount of recovery time. However, the availability of a through train from Wolverhampton to all stations on the Walsall-Birmingham line has never been advertised, so potential custom is lost. At some times of the year, passengers at Wolverhampton could actually arrive in Birmingham quicker by travelling via Walsall (travelling on a train is far preferable to waiting at Wolverhampton station).
As a regular user of the route, I would like to see the service remain as part of the West Midlands Franchise and hope you will reconsider your proposal.