Tears by the Towy

live bus times display

before the last cuts

The time is 19:25, on a chilly winter evening in Carmarthen. The 19:02 is late arriving from Cardiff and Swansea, and now it has left the station for Tenby, 20 minutes late. On the deserted platform, a woman is in tears. She has missed the last connecting bus to Aberystwyth. That bus left on time at 19:07. No one can help her. Arriva Trains Wales is not responsible for missed bus connections. Bus operators don’t have to wait for trains.

19:02 to 19:07 leaves just five minutes to connect from train to bus. Long enough when the train is on time at Carmarthen. It might even make sense if the bus was guaranteed to wait, or if transport operators were required to pick up the pieces when it didn’t. But none of that is true.  The result, when the train is delayed a few minutes  – a woman in tears on Carmarthen station.

That night changed our view about the campaign to restore rail between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. Before, we suspected the ambition of reopening the rail link was unrealistic. Now we realise that reopening is about social justice and also about a Wales that wants to create connections for a successful economy. A country which gives no guarantee that we can travel between our major centres after seven o’clock, and where to do so risks spending the night on Carmarthen Station is signalling a clear message: failure.

So Fishguard Trains is delighted to hear from Rob Phillips about the recently formed Carmarthen-Aberystwyth Rail Link Campaign – Traws Link Cymru. The campaign already has over 160 members, and a new website: www.trawslinkcymru.org.uk

Rob Phillips writes to us: “We’d really like to work with you – especially with the review of the extra trains coming up – we can send out messages to our supporters etc but we’d also like your help. Could you help us publicise the campaign and get our website and Facebook Group better known please? We’re also keen to spread the word about a debate called next week [on March 12th] in the Assembly by Simon Thomas AM on re-instating the line and encourage people to let their AMs know how they feel?”

We are delighted to support Traws Link Cymru. And we invite Assembly members to consider if leaving travellers in tears on Carmarthen Station really is the best we can do.

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December Diary

new station at Energlyn

Four trains an hour

Fishguard and Goodwick is no longer Wales’ newest station. Welcome, Energlyn and Churchill Park!

Opened this week, the new station fits between Aber and Llanbradach on the Cardiff-Rhymney line. So now, while tiny Fishguard has two stations, Caerphilly has leapt to three – Caerphilly, Aber and Energlyn. Still, at least Fishguard has twice as many stations as Swansea.

Now, how about a few more trains?

NEW TIMETABLE

Arriva’s winter timetable starts this week and runs until 17 May 2014. We’ve updated the times and destinations in our Departures widget, so it’s handy to check when you’re travelling from and to Fishguard and Goodwick. As ever, click on a departure time for more information. The yellow boxes are trains going east, the green are for arrivals from the east – or if you prefer, departures to the Harbour and Ireland. The next two trains are always highlighted white on black. In the last ten minutes, the white time turns red, so  hurry up!

ARRIVA OUT-PERFORMS

With the winter timetable comes Arriva’s Newsletter, celebrating ten years of service: “dramatic strides in improving punctuality and reliability”, “one of the top ‘right time’ performing operators in the UK”, customer satisfaction at a “record high of 88% today”. So three cheers for Arriva.

ARRIVA UNDER-PERFORMS

On the other hand, Wales is bottom of the UK league for value for public money invested in rail. A new study* by the Campaign for Better Transport published at the same time as Arriva’s Newletter, reveals that, compared to Scotland and the English regions, Wales is in a class of its own: out of eleven rail regions, Wales is worst for future plans, worst for station quality, second lowest for trips per head of population, and so on, building miserably to a picture of chronic under-performance. Yet at the same time, public funding per passenger kilometer is highest in Wales. Result – nowhere else in Britain spends so much (per passenger km) and yet performs as badly as Wales. We “face the greatest challenges” says the Campaign. Service is below average despite financial support above average. The Campaign urges Wales to identify best practice elsewhere in Great Britain, and implement it.

This is the equivalent of a PISA report for Welsh railways. We’re not only bottom of the UK class for basic learning, we’re also bottom for delivering a decent railway and getting value for our taxes.

WHAT’S TO BE DONE?

Fishguard Trains proposes four steps for best practice:

1 integrated services and timetables (rail and bus)

2 integrated ticketing – an all-Wales Oyster card

3 unified branding, marketing and promotion

4 full control and accountability by Welsh Government

 

* The Effectiveness of the Rail Network Across Great Britain. Campaign for Better Transport, November 2013.

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Picture this …

passengers arrive at Fishguard and GoodwickFishguard and Goodwick Station at 18:46 on Friday October 11th 2013.

The new station has been open for under a year and a half.

 

 

more passengersOne of our two evening trains arrives from the east, and many people, young and old, local and international, get off.

4They have travelled from Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea, London, Chicago and New York. 

 

 

5All this is still only a trial service. One day our government in Cardiff Bay will determine if it has a future.

How confident are we that besides making the trial permanent, they will also address the shortcomings in our present service?

 

 

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Remember these pictures when that time comes – it’s sooner than you think.

 

 

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Arriva bows out

Map of Arriva bus routes to be cut

Departa

Arriva Buses Wales is giving the campaign to rebuild Wales missing rail link an early Christmas present. All its routes south from Aberystwyth – to Aberaeron, Newquay, Lampeter, Camarthen and Cardiff – are to be cut from December 21st.

The shock announcement removes the only long distance public transport link between mid-west and south Wales. Arriva, a multi-national company, is doing this because it can. It is simply acting in its own commercial interests – and that’s government policy. Quoted on the BBC, the Welsh Government’s first reaction, besides being “naturally disappointed” was that it was a “commercial matter for the company”.

A brief reality check is needed here. A Labour government is in power in Cardiff Bay. That’s the party that nationalised our railways in the public interest in the 1940s. But all it can say today about the closure of west Wales’ main north-south public transport link is that it is a commercial matter.

We think not. This absurd situation is a consequence not only of Beeching’s destruction of the Carmarthen-Aberystwyth rail service, but of Tory deregulation of buses in the 1980s. Even though the Tories went on to privatise the railways, it would be impossible (and illegal) for a rail link between Wales’ capital city and the home of its National Library and a leading university to be closed on a commercial whim.

And that is the bottom line of the case against buses. Easy come, easy go. No doubt local operators will be found to run replacement services for a while, some of which may even provide decent transport links with other providers. But sooner or later, even these services will succumb to the under-funded, underregulated world of bus transport.

Fishguard Trains has not previously been a great supporter of the campaign to restore rail between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. But Arriva’s commercial decision now throws down a gauntlet to any politician in Cardiff Bay who claims to want a well-connected Wales in future. If you mean business, you’ll have to go by train.

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Take the Train discovers Fishguard and Goodwick

frog logo

hop on

Online rail booking site Take the train has finally learnt of the existence of Fishguard and Goodwick, thanks to the intervention of Fishguard Trains.

We recently tested nine online rail ticket services, only to find that none recognise the correct station name of Fishguard and Goodwick. Worst performing site was Take the train, which assured us that Fishguard and Goodwick is available to book tickets from on takethetrain.co.uk, the station is loaded under it’s correct name, Fishguard Harbour.

Now it has learnt of the station’s existence from Fishguard Trains, the station appears correctly on its website. Check it out here. Indeed, Take the train is now the ONLY online site that accepts the correct station name. Commenting on the situation, Take the train told Fishguard Trains, We have never received any notification of the opening of this station, which is why it was not loaded onto our site. We are not automatically notified of station openings. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

We’re left mystified at this apparently hit-and-miss effort by the rail industry to monitor its own infrastructure. Another success for privatisation?

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An invalid station

station nameboard

station nameboard

Fishguard and Goodwick – our successful new station – remains unrecognised by every online rail booking service surveyed by Fishguard Trains.

That is the shock finding of our new study, well over a year since the station re-opened, boosting the trial rail service which is due for review by the Welsh Government in barely a year’s time.

roadside sign

roadside sign

There is little doubt that re-opening Fishguard and Goodwick Station has raised both the profile and the usage of the new service. Fishguard Harbour, so convenient for ferry passengers, was hopelessly unsuitable for travellers to and from Fishguard, Goodwick and North Pembrokeshire. But visible as the new station is to us in the twin towns, the station name remains invisible online. The success of the reopening is no thanks to the online booking and information services that still fail to recognise the new station name.

Online booking is a vital way for rail travellers to discover how accessible North Pembrokeshire now is by rail.

But go online searching for Fishguard and Goodwick, and you get messages like An invalid station has been entered or Please select a valid departure station.

plaque commemorating station opening

opening day

Fishguard Trains tested these nine online services – Red Spotted Hanky, Take the train, East Coast, The Trainline, Raileasy, mytrainticket.co.uk, National Rail Enquiries, Arriva Trains Wales and Traveline Cymru. Not a single site accepts the input Fishguard and Goodwick. Traveline Cymru is the least poor, as it offers alternatives, including Fishguard & Goodwick Rail Station. But none of the other sites offer an alternative. Five sites will accept Fishguard & Goodwick (The Trainline, Raileasy, mytrainticket, National Rail and Arriva), but three will not even do that. Red Spotted Hanky and East Coast require you to guess Fishguard & Gwck, and Take the train comes in worst, accepting no kind of input for the station.

entrance sign

entrance sign

To test if there is a general problem with station names containing and, or even just with long station names, Fishguard Trains tried the same tests with Elton and Orston, Haddenham and Thame Parkway, and Windsor and Eton Riverside.

Elton and Orston comes out best. Five online sites accept the correct name, while four (mytrainticket, National Rail, Arriva and Traveline Cymru) demand an ampersand. But even faced with a long, four-word station name, three sites still manage to cope – Red Spotted Hanky, Take the train and East Coast all recognise the names Haddenham and Thame Parkway and Windsor and Eton Riverside just as they appear on the platform. The other sites require the ampersand.

Fishguard Trains wondered how Take the train copes with these monster names, but can’t recognise Fishguard and Goodwick even in abbreviated form. We asked them why. They replied:

Thank you for your email. Fishguard and Goodwick is available to book tickets from on takethetrain.co.uk, the station is loaded under it’s correct name, Fishguard Harbour. Has this answered your question? If not, please let me know.

Why does all this matter? Pembrokeshire County Council and the Welsh Government (in other words we taxpayers and council taxpayers) funded the reopening of Fishguard and Goodwick as it is crucial to the viability of the new rail service. We have just one year left to ensure the service becomes permanent. It is unacceptable that not a single online booking service recognises the correct station name, and ludicrous that one online service does not even know the station exists.

If despite these obstacles, people still travel by rail, but book to Fishguard Harbour, we still lose out as passenger statistics are distorted, and understate the impact of Fishguard and Goodwick.

Next time you use one of these online services, why not send them a message to tell them we exist?

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Both ends of the line

Trains without tracks would be as useful as a chocolate teapot. So why do we talk so little about the tracks they run on? Here’s a story about tracks for a change – the track from Fishguard to Cardiff in fact – and a couple of concerns at each end of that line.

one track removed from Fishguard Harbour level crossing

cut off

THE WEST END

Something has changed at Fishguard Harbour. The passing loop that allowed an engine to be shunted from the front of an incoming train to the rear, ready to haul it out on the return journey has gone, cut off at the level crossing. Now there’s a gap where two tracks used to cross the harbour road. Instead we have a single track level crossing and a redundant siding.

close up of Strail level crossing panels

street + rail = strail

The nameplate on the new crossing gives us a clue to what’s going on. Strail is the trademark of Gummiwerk KRAIBURG Elastik GmbH, a German company contracted (amongst others) to Deutsche Bahn, owners of Arriva Trains Wales, to supply level crossing systems.
Their system uses vulcanized rubber panels, and is designed to make life pleasant for both road and rail users.

But why the need for change at Fishguard? A Fishguard Trains regular comments:

articulated lorry crosses level crossing

hammering

“The old crossing surface had taken a hammering from all the HGV trailers crossing it daily and by only allowing for the single platform line some standard sized heavy duty crossing panels were able to be used which are more robust than the ones they could use if the second line was done too. 2 panels of track in the runround loop have been removed to minimise restoration costs if needed.”

twin track level crossingWe’re puzzled by this. Strail systems are installed at level crossings of every kind all round the world – like this one in Belgrade. There must be plenty at twin-track crossings. Installing a new robust level crossing surely is no reason to remove our second track.

Has something been lost? We think so. If you can’t swop an engine from the front to the rear of a train any more at Fishguard Harbour, that must cut out all kind of specials in future. Like the Jazz Special  that there’s already talk about, following on the heels of this year’s successful Aberjazz Festival … but that’s another story.

THE EAST END

track at Platform Four Cardiff Central

the track moved

Here’s the east end of the line from Fishguard to Cardiff (which is probably the most popular destination from Fishguard). You’re looking at the track half way along Platform Four at Cardiff Central, just like Spad was doing the other day, when a heavy freight train rumbled through the station. Each wagon made a distinctive thud as it passed this point, so Spad came to take a closer look – and saw the rail moving up and down by at least a centimetre with each passing wagon.

closeup of hole in ballast

mind the gap

Look closely at the line where some litter has gathered in front  of a hollow in the ballast. That’s the place where the track visibly flexes with each passing wagon.

Steel is a wonderful material, but if it bends with every passing wagon, sooner or later it must fracture. Not wanting to wait for that to happen, Spad reported the matter to the station chargehand, who came straight over, thanked us, and made notes. Next time you are at Cardiff Central, do check on Platform Four to see if the hole in the ballast has been fixed.

This is not the first time Spad has stood on a platform and watched the rails moving (as opposed to the trains). The most dramatic was at the north end of Baker Street station on the Metropolitan Line to Watford. The rails were heaving up and down as each carriage passed, a movement of several centimetres. Recalling that sadly we said nothing at the time, made us keen to report the problem at Cardiff this time.

But here’s the unsettling question: where else in some remote stretch of line, perhaps on a quiet rural branch, possibly on a high speed line, are the rails moving under each train as it speeds past? No travellers to watch, no one to report their concerns. Does anyone know? It’s not an easy thought. Are there any comforting answers?

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Through ticketing to Ireland returns

National Rail Enquiries web page

ticket to Ireland

Following the restoration of boat-train links at Rosslare, through ticketing has also now been restored. Joined-up thinking!

Here for example is the National Rail Enquiries page for a Cardiff to Wicklow journey this week. A choice of through fares, and a choice of routes too, as one of these services goes via Holyhead. Bristol to Wexford? London to Enniscorthy? Try it yourself.

It’s all sensible, and it’s all welcome. Now we hope that people will use the new rail-sail-rail links through Fishguard to the whole of southern Ireland. The new connecting times at Rosslare have only been granted for a few months – whether to save face in Dublin or because it’s a genuine trial we don’t know – so let’s see the service used and retained.

[and thanks to Irishman for the tip]

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The Rosslare Dis/connection – breaking news

DART Dublin suburban train

electrifying

News has just reached us that Irish Rail are restoring the link between Stena’s ferry service from Fishguard to Rosslare, and the onward rail connection to Wexford and Dublin.

From Tuesday June 4th, instead of the evening rail departure leaving before ferry passenger can catch it, the service will be retimed so that afternoon ferry passengers can make the connection.

Lawrence Hourahane flagged up the welcome development to Fishguard Trains, earlier this evening (thanks Lawrence), and Bernard Allan passes on further useful detail -

19.15 ex Rosslare Europort InterCity train. Arrives Dublin Connolly 22.17. Serves the usual stations en route. Will run M-S inclusive.

On Sundays 19.00 Rosslare Europort to Bray InterCity, arriving 21.15. Change there to a DART (that’s the green electric trains that run around Dublin Bay). Arrive Dublin Connolly 22.12.

No one yet knows the reason for the change at Bray, but that’s no great problem – DART trains get you straight to many parts of the Irish capital, so changing there may be as convenient as changing at Connolly.

Apparently the reason for the Tuesday start of the newly timed service is that Monday 3rd is an Irish Bank Holiday.

There’s no doubt about it: this is tremendous news. With this single timetable correction, the southern Rail-Sail link from Wales to Ireland has been substantially restored. Now let’s look forward to a reopening of the Rosslare – Waterford line.

Fishguard Trains congratulates everyone who has taken an interest and raised questions about the issue. We look forward to hearing in due course, how the nonsense of the disconnected service was challenged and overcome.

 

 

 

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A new kind of timetable

Fishguard Trains today presents a new kind of timetable, live online and continually updated day and night.

The timetable appears here on the right, and also on every page of the website.  It is an electronic board for Fishguard and Goodwick, listing every departure (and arrival) at the new station, and much more besides.

Beneath the clock you’ll see the whole week’s departures, with today’s services highlighted. Trains going east to Swansea, Cardiff and England are on yellow background, and westbound arrivals and boat trains for travellers to Ireland are naturally in green.

Whatever the time, the next two trains due to leave Fishguard and Goodwick stand out with white times on black background. To make sure you don’t miss your train, the time changes to red in the last ten minutes before departure.

That’s not all. Click on any departure, and you get more information – where it goes, the main connections you can make, notes on connection times (and warnings about occasional long waits), fast trains that bypass Swansea and so on.

In this detailed view, direct destinations are in Bold, destinations that require a change in Roman, and stations that trains have come from are in Italic.

Think of it as the Departure Board on the platform at Fishguard and Goodwick brought to your own computer or mobile. We hope you’ll find it useful.

One thing the timetable does not present is delays and cancellations. For that you still need Arriva’s Live Departure information here. Though that has its odd lapses – try searching for the 23:45 from Swansea to Fishguard for example.

So to plan your next trip, and to get to Fishguard and Goodwick station in good time for the right train, we think this timetable is the one to beat. What do you think?

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