A new train company is hoping to open up the south west and even the south coast to rail passengers from Wiltshire.

Go-Op trains, a co-operative based in Taunton wants to run services from Swindon down through Wiltshire taking in Chippenham, Melksham, Trowbridge, and Westbury all the way to Weston Super Mare and Taunton and Bishops Lydeard.

It could even hook up with the heritage West Somerset Railway at the end of its route – allowing leisure passengers access to Minehead.

But the firm says the plan will be for commuters as well as those travelling for leisure.

Operations director Alex Lawrie said: “For Swindon travellers it’s very easy to get east and west, and from that mainline to get services north. But the connections to the south west are not very good. This route will be designed to help people get to and from Swindon from the south west much more easily.

“The route from Taunton to Swindon could be one of the main rail corridors for the west. At present the poor services and connections mean that there is only one viable trip southbound on this route but our services increase that to six.

“It will also be much better for rail travellers in the rest of Wiltshire, especially Melksham and Trowbridge, and if they’re travelling to Swindon now, then services are irregular.

“Journeys that were previously very difficult or impossible by rail, such as Frome to Chippenham, should now become practical. In years to come we hope to ensure at least one train very two hours for each of these. We hope we’ll be able to help open up rail links to the south coast and to Southampton as well and make that much more attractive to go by rail.”

The company hopes to be operating by the middle of next year. It has come up with a timetable with three services a day to Swindon initially.The company said: “At first we can only introduce three direct services to Swindon, due to high levels of congestion beyond Westbury.

“However, we will also operate a further three services to Frome or Westbury, with the aim of connecting with services to Swindon already on the timetable. This greatly enhances the connectivity of the network in the west country, giving hundreds of thousands of people a real alternative to car travel.”

The company is in talks with Network Rail and then will have to have its plans approved by the Office of Rail and Road. But Mr Lawrie said: “Network Rail has to make sure this works for everybody, and we have to demonstrate at least a third of our passengers will be new rail travellers, not just coming from other providers. If Network Rail is happy the regulator needs to approve, though in practice they do nearly every time that Network Rail does.”

Network Rail said: “Go-Op has been engaged with Network Rail for some years now, most recently asking their train planners to assess whether capacity existed in the timetable for GO-OP’s additional services.

“Further work, including performance analysis and evidence of rolling stock suitability, will be needed before Network Rail can decide whether the planned track access application can secure their support.”

How do you get an electric train to run on a non-electrified line?

Big batteries are the seemingly simple answer – although actually making that work is somewhat more tricky.

Alex Lawrie Operations director of Go-Op Trains says the company will have to break new ground but is confident of success, as it has committed to running electric trains on its service if it is approved.

He said: “There’s a 70 mile stretch of track between Bishops Lydeard and Melksham which is not electrified, before you get to the main lines.

“The way we are going to get round this is by using massive batteries. You take a four-carriage train and turn one of the carriages into a battery- the whole carriage, it won’t be able to carry anything else – it’s a huge battery.

“It’s a big ambitious project but we’ve done feasibility studies and we are talking to all the battery manufacturers and they say doing it is possible.”

It’s not only Go-Op taking battery -operated trains seriously. Battery manufacturer Hitachi Rail is expected to start testing units next year.

The company said it wanted to provide battery-powered trains on the Great Western Railways Penzance to Paddington service which has 300 miles of non-electrified track.

Why A Co-operative?

A co-operative is a common business model for many sectors- most famous grocery stores with Co-ops in many towns – and Alex Lawrie, Go-Op’s says the model will work for a rail operator as well.

And he would like people who think they’d use the service to sign up to be a member.

Mr Lawrie said: “People will be familiar with co-operative grocery stores and many things like co-operative energy and utility providers who are doing a lot of good work with renewable energy.

“We think the traditional model of a rail operating company has too wide a distance between the customer of the company and the people making the decisions./ A being a co-operative would allow us to be closer and more responsive to the users.”

He added: “It’s possible to join as a member and we’d like as many people as possible to do that. It’s an investment not a donation.”

The minimum membership costs £50 and gives a user-member 50 £1 shares. The maximum any member can invest is £1,000. However many shares a member owns they get only one vote.

But Mr Lawrie said there will be benefits: “We are working on a package of benefits and discounts for people who do sign us as user members.”

More information of making an investment is available at.go-op.coop/join/