The introduction of new direct train services between Stratford and London has been hailed as fantastic news for the town, as passengers boarded the first of the new weekday trains on Monday.
Chiltern Railways is more than doubling the number of direct services to the capital, in a move which could potentially provide a huge boost to visitor numbers.
The services are slightly slower than if passengers decided to travel to Leamington and jump on a London train, but travellers will have more chance of securing a seat and luggage space by taking the direct service and will not have the inconvenience of changing trains.
A crowd of civic dignitaries joined representatives from Chiltern Railways, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Shakespeare’s England and Escape Arts, to welcome the first new service on Monday morning.
Fraser Pithie, secretary of the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group (SPLG), said: “This is an absolutely fantastic day for Stratford, what it does is give passengers more options. If people are not focussed on getting to London as fast as possible they can get these direct services to London, knowing they can get a seat and have somewhere to put their luggage and enjoy the most comfortable journey. For passengers in a hurry, they will still have the choice of changing at Leamington if they want a slightly quicker journey.
“These services should increase visitors and day trips to Stratford, which can only be a good thing.”
Eleni Jordan, commercial director of Chiltern Railways, said: “We’re really proud to be more than doubling the number of direct London services to Stratford, we’re looking forward to attracting new markets to the town, especially seasonal participants this summer.”
Izzi Seccombe, leader of Warwickshire County Council, said: “These services are great news for Stratford, not just for visitors but for residents too. Looking to the future, Coventry will be the City of Culture in 2021 and improvements to railway services like this are all part of making sure the region is ready.
“Extending the line the other way to Honeybourne really depends on numbers, the demand has to be there.”
Philippa Rawlinson, director of operations and marketing at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, added: “Stratford-upon-Avon has a long history of welcoming visitors as the birthplace of William Shakespeare, with tourism being one of the key drivers for our local economy.
“We welcome the increase of direct rail services between London Marylebone and the town, offering convenient transport links to and from the capital which supports economic growth, attracts new investment and jobs, and stimulates innovation as we strive to remain a must-visit destination all year round.”
The introduction of the new services is not the only positive for Stratford’s rail commuters, with a £1.5million refurbishment of Stratford Station currently under way.
That project, which is expected to be completed in July, will see new waiting and seating areas developed, better retail facilities introduced, new accessible toilets and cycle racks.
For those interested in steam locomotives, Vintage Trains revealed earlier this year that it plans to make the Birmingham to Stratford line the UK’s premier heritage railway line.