EXCLUSIVE: Stena offer can boost timetable

passing loop at Fishguard Harbour Station

safe overnight

Hard on the heels of news of a funded study to reopen Goodwick station, Fishguard Trains can reveal a Stena Line solution to the biggest drawback in the planned timetable.

The Welsh Government’s proposed timetable for the new service delivers five extra trains from Fishguard, but in effect only three extra services to Fishguard. As Fishguard Trains has pointed out since May, the first two services leave Carmarthen before 6am, with no connections from east of that town. One runs to Fishguard at 5:50, and the other is a connection that leaves Carmarthen only eight minutes later – at 5:58 – requiring a 1 hour 6 minute wait to change trains at Clarbeston Road.

Not only will both these services run empty, but by including them amongst the five westbound services, huge gaps in the afternoon timetable cannot be filled.

These extraordinary timings are caused by trains having to be at Fishguard ready for the all-important early departures eastbound – which many contributors to Fishguard Trains confirm are vital for a useful service.

Asked why they didn’t timetable an evening train to stay overnight at Fishguard to overcome this problem, the Welsh Government Rail Unit told Fishguard Trains that Arriva has “security concerns” and the Harbour station was in any case Stena-owned.

“I see no problems at all with overnight stabling”

Now Stena Line’s Route Manager Ian Davies has told Fishguard Trains that he sees no threat to trains stabled overnight at their station. “In six to seven years I’ve been here, I’ve seen no vandalism to speak of. The passing loop has 24/7 security lighting and CCTV, and we have 24 hour manned security. I see no problems at all with overnight stabling.” The additional trains would make no difference at all to Stena – Davies describes the port as hectic for the hours either side of a sailing, and then as quiet as “a ghost town”.

“Cut out the unproductive journeys”

Ian Davies goes further, expressing concern at an inadequate timetable: “The three-year window is not a long time. They should cut out the unproductive journeys. They undermine the case for the service. Better use of money now will pay dividends in the long run”. Fishguard Trains urges the Rail Unit to look carefully at this serious offer from Stena Line.

The irony of this will not be lost on everyone campaigning for Goodwick Station reopening. If and when it does reopen, the Harbour Station will still be needed to stable trains overnight on the passing loop, to give us the five westbound services we were promised, and not just the three currently on offer.

25 Comments

Filed under News & weather, Timetables

25 Responses to EXCLUSIVE: Stena offer can boost timetable

  1. Swansea Jack

    I think you are missing the point that the trains are serviced overnight at Carmarthen – watered, cleaned etc. It is extremely unlikely that Arriva Trains Wales will wish to open a stabling point at the Harbour much as it might sound an ideal solution. The other thing is that you’d also need to have train crew based at the Harbour with attendant facilities, cleaners, supervisors etc. Fishguard lost these in 1982 – and the costs associated with keeping a stabling point and signing on point was one of the reasons we lost the 07:22 in May 1982.

    You will notice by looking at the timetable that the first trains of the day for Pembroke dock / Milford Haven / Maesteg / Merthyr Tudfil etc also have to run as a lightly used service train from the nearest stabling point, in the case of Pembrokeshire that means Carmarthen – it is common throughout the UK, and elsewhere.

    The issue with train crew also applies to cover in cases of illness etc – having small groups of traincrew stationed at Fishguard / Milford etc would push up costs – and with McNulty’s report expecting savings of around 30% from the rail industry pushing more costs onto the rail industry would result in cutbacks reminiscent of the worst excesses of Beeching – which is something our additional trains will undo at long last.

    I think we would do better to focus on the Goodwick station issue – after the feasibility study announcement on Thursday pressure over that issue is far more likely to gain positive benefits than trying to argue against the long held policy of stabling trains at Carmarthen for Pembrokeshire services. Much as I’d love to see 87J back in business, being practical, getting Goodwick station back is 1) far far more important, and 2) actually achievable.

    The long afternoon gap in the train service is indeed unfortunate, but is also unavoidable if we wish to have a useful train back from Swansea and Carmarthen at times useful to shoppers, day trippers and those in work or education – remember Trinity St Davids in Carmarthen is now a university. Stabling trains overnight at Fishguard Harbour will not provide a second train to work Eastwards out of Fishguard while our one and only train is working the 15:30 Cardiff to Fishguard – which is probably the most useful train of all for us.

    There are also not 2 nearly empty trains leaving Carmarthen within 5 minutes of each other – it is only 1 train which runs Carmarthen > Fishguard > Clarbeston Road (for that critical early morning connection so we can get to Cardiff before 10:00 for meetings etc) and then it runs back from Clarby to Fishguard to work the useful 08:08 which allows us all to get to work / college in Carmarthen while also giving a great 09:50 arrival into Swansea on a through service as well.

    We are only getting one extra train, ATW have added to that where they can – by combining our train with existing services such as the 09:00 Carmarthen to Swansea, 15:14 Cardiff – Swansea and provide good connections at Carmarthen to give a wide range of useful journey options. Much as we might wish to get a 16:00 Fishguard to Carmarthen the one extra train is heading the other way at this time, and there won’t be any spare vehicles just sitting around at the start of the evening peak unused, anywhere in Wales. We are now in the privatisation era and spare vehicles just don’t exist as they did back in the 1960s or 70s.

    The issue with the long gap in the afternoon is because the ONE train we have been allocated is coming the other way, not because the 05:50 Carmarthen to Fishguard has to run.

    • Spad

      Fishguard Trains warmly welcomes your well-informed understanding of the rail industry and its constraints, Swansea Jack.
      And we fully support and campaign for the reopening of Goodwick.
      BUT … consider what our Deputy First Minister announced on Tuesday March 29th: “Speaking at Carmarthen Train Station the Minister for Transport confirmed that five additional trains will run between Fishguard and Carmarthen, commencing in September 2011.”
      Does your analysis of the difficulties of delivering five additional trains both ways between Fishguard and Carmarthen amount to an admission that the promise is undeliverable?
      If ten services can’t be delivered, then Fishguard Trains thinks we should be told.
      If they can be delivered, then they should be.

  2. Rhydgaled

    I don’t think the timetable proposed actually uses any additional units. There’s some queries on the fourms as to what will form the later Swanline service after the 15:30 has taken the unit that would have run them off to Fishgaurd. Otherwise it looks like the timetable we have been given is achivable with existing resources. Two Arriva class 150 units are currently borrowed each day by First Great Western, when the class 172 introductions in England cascade additional class 150 units to First Great Western we in Wales get those two borrowed units back. If these were allocated to the new Fishguard service (or better yet, swapped for class 158s off the Maesteg services to allocate Fishguard 2 158s) there should be no reason why that huge 5hrs plus gap could not be plugged. It may not be achivable in September, but the only thing standing in the way of the introduction of a service without that gap in December is the waste of 2 services out of our 5 into Fishguard. You would only be able to stable one unit at Fishguard, so one of those early services into Fishguard would remain, but you only need to save 1 inbound service to plug the gap. The latest service leaving Fishguard would also go, but the late arrival in Fishguard would remain if you stable a unit there. The fabled early arrivals in Cardiff and Swansea provided by the offical suggested timetables are a bit tight for anything starting on the hour (ie. 10am in Cardiff, 9am in Swansea). Perhaps a unit that stayed the night at Fishguard could run out to Carmarthen to connect with the 07:30, ‘The Red Dragon’, which gives earlier arrivals into Cardiff and Swansea and makes the first train into Fishguard a 7:30 + a few mins depature from Carmarthen rather than a 05:50 one and eliminates the private service for the select few who want to go from Clarbeston Road to Fishguard.

    That out of the way, onto the technicalities. “Trains are serviced overnight at Carmarthen – watered, cleaned etc.” I’ve been looking into this a bit and discovered the only place in south Wales Arriva Trains Wales can fuel units (except for Swansea Landore in emergency suituations only) is Canton depot, Cardiff. If fueling had to be done at Carmarthen, I expect that would blow away any consideration of out-stabling at Fishguard, however that is not the case, Sprinters (I’m told) have enough range to do one day’s work, stay and Fishguard overnight, work the next day and end up back at Canton for fueling. I’m not sure what is meant by watering, but if it is what they are doing with the pipes they stick into the 158s at Aberystwyth it can be done in under 10 miniutes so the planners should be able to timetable a slot for watering during the day without too much trouble.

    “The other thing is that you’d also need to have train crew based at the Harbour with attendant facilities, cleaners, supervisors etc.” Not necessarily. How much cleaning is actually done at Carmarthen overnight? I’ve seen staff with green tops labeled ‘Train Presentation Team’ on services collecting litter. Couldn’t they do this, and wipe down any unoccupied tables, just before the unit’s last arrival of the day in Caramarthen then disembark and allow the unit to continue to Fishguard? As long as at least one member of the train crew (just driver and guard isn’t it?) has a driving licence they will be able to get to and from Carmarthen, perhaps Stena would even be kind enough to give the car used by the staff a free parking permit at Fishguard Harbour station. The issue with train crew then no longer also applies to cover in cases of illness any more than it does at present since the traincrew would still be stationed at Carmarthen, they would just save fuel by using a car to get to Fishguard to work their first service (which if you opened it up for public passengers is unlikly to be filled leaving Carmarthen at 05:50) rather than a DMU.

    That leaves only one issue with overnight stabling at Fishguard, which is the biggest and suprisingly is the one you didn’t mention. Single-line working. If this was the Pembroke & Tenby line we were talking about, there probablly wouldn’t be a problem, but Fishguard has a night train which will need to be passed. Those I spoke to on the fourms doubted there would be token instuments at Fishguard Harbour, the staff could take the token with them in the car back to Carmarthen allowing it to be given to the staff working the night train (or the staff could divert via Clarbeston Road to return the token to the signal box). If the Clarbeston Road signal box is currently manned at night for the boat train and only for that then taking the token back to Carmarthen would actually save money, since there would no longer be any need for that signalman at night. Both options would work, but I doubt trains have an ignition key that the driver could take back to Carmarthen to ensure the unit goes nowhere, and without ensuring that the unit was well and truely parked I doubt taking the token back by road leaving a unit at FGH would go down well with the health and saftey department.

    Since I do not work in the rail industry I don’t know all the ins and outs, but maybe that’s actually enabled me to come up with a solution to this. I hope for the sake of Fishguard’s railway that there’s a workable solution somewhere in what I just said.

    • Swansea Jack

      Rhydgaled. I appreciate where you are coming from, and sometimes it does need someone who can look from the outside to see solutions. I have it on good authority that we are to get a class 150 added to the class 153 train pool that works off Carmarthen. It will probably mean that we end up with a 153 while one of the existing class 153 diagrams will become a class 150, although ATW are likely to swap trains around during the day to ensure the class 150 twin set will work the busiest trains such (15:30 Cardiff to Fishguard perhaps?)

      As far as gaining class 158s from the Maesteg line I think you need to consider the crowding issues on that route and consider the need for additional units on the Merthyr line now that the passing loop is available at Merthyr Vale. There are lots of services that are desperate for additional vehicles – especially on the Valley lines, while a look at user group websites such as STAG (Severn Tunnel Action Group) will indicate how much pressure there is to improve services on the Chepstow route. I agree we have to press our case, but we have to be realistic too – we are not going to get 2 class 158s down here. We need to press on the things we can improve – back to the Goodwick station issue again in my view.

      I value your consideration on the use of the Harbour station for stabling, but I still feel it is unworkable, much as I’d love to see my grandad’s 87J return phoenix like from the ashes caused by Richard Beeching and ernest marples.. I agree that there are shortcomings with the present set-up at Carmarthen, and am surprised that a modern carriage facility hasn’t been provided alongside the station yet – especially when you see how many trains start their day there. I don’t see the stabling of a train at Fishguard overnight as solving the mid-afternoon issue satisfactorily either – our 1 train will still be working the 15:30 Cardiff to Fishguard and so won’t be able to work a mid-afternoon Eastbound service. I think the best we can hope for over that issue is to show to the Welsh Government that the trains are successful and when the West Wales services are re-cast, probably once Gowerton is re-doubled, we can make the case for additional resources then.

      I don’t know how things stack-up regarding sourcing the extra class 150 twin-set – whether it is one of the FGW pair I don’t know, it could well be, but even if the 2 come back from FGW we would not get the two – there are many other worthwhile causes out there (as noted in my earlier reply to Spad). As for the provision of token equipment at the Harbour to allow stabling – I believe it did exist in the mid-1980s when the Orient Express train was stabled in the old platform 4 ( adjacent to the Quay Wall), but with the option of platform 4 no longer available I would tend to the view that token equipment is no longer available. The overnight service would thus cause an issue – and taxis running around North Pembrokeshire with single line tokens to /from Clarby Road, and drivers being ferried to / from Carmarthen seems to me to be unlikely to happen- we need to keep costs down here, not add to them.

      I was completely bowled over when informed of Ieuan Wyn’s announcement on the 29th March – something I’ve wished for for many a long year – even back in the 1970s when watching the old motorail trains at Goodwick. I remember the day in May 1982 when we lost the last remaining local train – the 07:22 to Clarby Road, but I didn’t think we would get this far, this quickly.

      We have a wonderful opportunity now to show that the North Pembrokeshire Transport Forum, Hattie Woakes, Sam and Jo with their petition, and all the other supporters over the years were correct to push for getting our local trains back. September 12th will be an historic day for North Pembrokeshire- we shall be properly back on the rail map, and I hope to catch a train from Goodwick before Christmas this year too!

  3. Swansea Jack

    Spad – the 5 trains each way are being delivered, although it is reasonable to say that the morning Carmarthen and Clarbeston trains are unlikely to be full. The 5 trips were always going to involve the first balancing working from Carmarthen and the last one East in the evening. Overall I think that the proposed timetable has a lot of strengths to it – certainly more than I originally expected. The linking into existing services East of Carmarthen certainly gives us a better service than a simple shuttle would have done – and remember a shuttle service would still have needed an early morning Carmarthen to Fishguard trip to give us an early morning service Eastwards. The single track section through Gowerton does constrain what is possible somewhat – any possible 17:00 type Carmarthen to Fishguard trip, even if it was to run straight back to Swansea would struggle to connect with the last London, mainly because you’d clash with Westbound services on the single track.

    I have played around with the resources available to us to get an afternoon London connection (after the 13:30 boat train) but it just doesn’t work unless you completely destroy a useful Westbound evening peak service that captures both the Swansea and Carmarthen markets – you’d lose any potential day trip market and lose connections with the summer sea-cat.

    I’m really happy with the morning services, and the afternoon trips cover almost everything other than a mid-afternoon London connection – remember you can get to Bristol / Cardiff etc off the 18:49, so it does work for Fishguard bound day trips too. I have played with various options, but with the constraints of effectively 1 train (with support from some existing trips) I couldn’t come up with anything better than we’ve got in the proposed timetable if I’m honest. I tried the 2 am trains, 3 pm train route, but as long as you value an evening peak trip from Swansea / Cardiff, with ideally a later evening train to catch the Westbound Cardiff / London etc market then you don’t gain anything – you lose the usefulness of the early morning trip, while running the extra afternoon trip so close to the boat train that it would run empty anyway! I you lost one of the morning trips you’d likely lose the first one effectively making an arrival before 11:00 in Cardiff impossible. The proposed 09:46 Cardiff arrival should be of use – that would work for shopping and meetings in Cardiff – and the 08:49 arrival in Swansea – hell I could even get a job in Swansea with that! With 5 extra trips you will not cover all potential journeys – and the population of North Pembrokeshire will not cover more trains than that in all honesty.

    I can see the West Wales timetable in its entirety being re-cast once Gowerton is re-doubled in around 2 to 3 years time – probably speeding services up and improving connections in the evening towards London. I believe that we need to show that the trains we’ve got are well used, and that restoring local services to Fishguard was the correct decision.

    Finally I will once again emphasise – Goodwick station is the key to success
    – I want to catch a town service bus to Goodwick, or drive my car to Goodwick station and park my car on the area of the old coal yard and catch a train from THE station locals used until 1964 – and that isn’t down in the Harbour!

  4. Constance

    I am concerned that the proposed timetable is designed to fail. The timings of the two early trains and the long wait at Clarbeston Road are unappealing and this service will not be used. But it feels as if that is the purpose. Of course people will not wait at Clarbeston Rd. There are no facilities, the shelter is barely adequate and as a lone woman traveller I would feel vulnerable. It would seem that this is a sop to those who have worked hard to increase the service. I suggest that this is no service at all and when it has no travellers it will be cancelled, providing an excuse for those who wished to make an announcement during the run up to elections to say they tried but no one wanted it! This timetable has been created for this very purpose – not good enough!

    • Swansea Jack

      I completely disagree Constance. The first trains are really going to be mainly of use in the Eastbound direction, and the first two trains out of Fishguard in the morning certainly provide useful opportunities for travellers heading East. The third Westbound train does provide a connection into the sea-cat from across South Wales when that runs, and also allows for day-trippers from South Wales to reach North Pembrokeshire. The third Eastbound service provides a useful train for shopping trips etc, and also gives connections from the wider North Pembrokeshire area by bus connections.

      The afternoon services are especially planned to allow for westbound travellers – giving very useful services out of Carmarthen, Swansea and Cardiff for day trippers, while allowing longer distance travellers to access North Pembrokeshire. The fourth Eastbound is a good return service for day trippers who have been in North Pembrokeshire to head back to South Wales, Bristol and so forth, although it is unfortunate that the last South Wales to London service runs so early and doesn’t connect(FGW not ATW or the Welsh Assembly Government’s fault by the way). That fourth Eastbound train also connects out of the sea-cat when it runs allowing passengers from Ireland to return across South Wales and beyond. The final service pair is particularly of use going to Fishguard, and gives a good afternoon connection from Cardiff, London and UK wide.

      I think we have to appreciate that most long distance travellers tend to start their journeys in the morning, and that day trip passengers are likely to head Eastwards in the morning, and Westbound in the afternoon, although it is to be hoped that the connections into and out of the sea-cat will prove useful, and will help to develop that market to the benefit of the train and sea-cat service, and once the trains are established will attract people to North Pembrokeshire for the day.

      I honestly believe the proposed service is as good as one could possibly be when the available resources are considered, if we want improvements we will gain them by being positive and showing that the trains we have are well used. That would then allow us to push for more services when the whole West Wales timetable is likely to be re-cast in around 2 to 3 years time.

      We have one additional train, which has to shuttle back and forth. We cannot just magic up a train out of thin air to provide services exactly when needed. If you want a train to head East at 08:06 it has to get to Fishguard first. Fishguard will not be unique in having a tidal flow of passengers one way in the morning, the other way in the afternoon – just think about commuter trains into London – they’re busy in the morning peak going into London in the morning, and fairly empty coming out of London at that time. The same happens the world over – why should we be any different. The A40 is busier going to H’West in the morning, and from H’West in the afternoon too!

      • Spad

        Whether you agree with Constance or with Swansea Jack on this one, the person timetabling a connection waiting time of 1 hour 6 minutes at Clarbeston Road at 6:27 in the morning was clearly not thinking about lone, elderly or potentially vulnerable travellers. Why not just admit this ‘service’ is a non-starter, and drop it from the timetable?

        • Swansea Jack

          I agree, the connection time for the Clarbeston Road to Fishguard trip doesn’t need to be shown. That isn’t the point of that train – it runs so that we can have an 08:06 from Fishguard to Swansea, which in my view is a great service, with lots of potential.

    • Rhydgaled

      If they ignore Stena’s go-ahead for overnight stabling at Fishguard Harbour without giving an offical and sufficent explanation of why they can’t stable a unit there then I will agree with you that somebody, not necessarilly WAG, is trying to make the extra service fail so they can close the line. However, at the momment I doubt there are trying to make the service fail and if they use this oppertunity to sort that gap out, or explain why they cannot, I will continue to doubt that.

      I used to think connecting with the Stena Lynx was an important objective for the extra services. However, now I think I may have figured out why there aren’t current services to serve it while the line has been kept open for the 2 slow sailings: There is currently no way a train can get from Cardiff to Fishguard fast enough to allow connections into the Rosslare-bound Lynx sailing from anywere further afeild than around about Bristol without putting on stupidlly early extra trains in the parts of England you want to connect.

      On Swansea Jack’s other point, isn’t there a 21:25 departure from Cardiff Central to London? That doesn’t sound particularly early to me if I consider that it doesn’t reach Paddington unitl 23:39. The infrastructure is not an issue here, a service from Fishguard at about 18:50 could get there in time, it is just a question of whether finding through paths and allocating the rolling stock for a direct service from Fishguard to Cardiff at this time is justified. Obviously WAG or ATW thought such a service wasn’t justified at the time they drew up the timetable, and they could well be right.

  5. Swansea Jack

    We have gained a serious improvement in our train services from September, which provides for the vast majority of potential journeys. If you want to see how successful we have been take a look at Portishead – its population and how its plan to restore passenger trains are stalled. How many passengers would there be for a mid/late afternoon service from Fishguard to points much further than Cardiff. All five of the return trips provide a very useful service in at least 1 direction, I would suggest the third and fourth provide a very useful service in both directions.

    The rail industry has moved on considerably from the dark days of the 1960s when routes had money spent on them to justify closure. Can we please get away from this scaremongering about trying to close the line – doing that would have been a damn sight easier with just the two, underused boat trains! I see the additional services as giving a far better reason for keeping the line open!

    As far as connections to the Lynx – yes, how many passengers would really travel from further than Cardiff to use it when you compare the flight times from Bristol to Dublin etc. Remember foot passengers don’t have a car to justify needing a sea crossing! That is precisely why most passengers when surveyed by the NPTF back in 2002 didn’t see the loss of through London trains as a big issue.

    I have clearly explained why there is a mid-afternoon gap in the service. It seems you would rather see a little used 15:30 Fishguard to Carmarthen and lose what seems to me to be the best train of the day the 15:30 Cardiff to Fishguard (Swansea 16:40, Carmarthen 17:30) – you cannot have both as we have only the 1 extra train!!! The same can be said of the overnight stabling issue, much as we appreciate Ian Davies of Stena’s kind offer. You suggest taxis ferrying single line tokens and train crew around Pembrokeshire in the wee small hours – I cannot see that happening myself – sorry! I also do not see that as part of a conspiracy either!

    21:25 from Cardiff may sound reasonable, but Bristol gets a London train at 22:35 – over an hour later. The result is that the last train from Pembrokeshire to give a London connection leaves Milford at 17:05 – is that suitable?

    I can see the proposed timetable providing the vast majority of travel opportunities required, considering we have the one extra vehicle. Any change to provide for things like the few passengers who would want to journey from Fishguard at around 4 pm would destroy the opportunities of considerably more passengers as we’d lose the evening peak service from South Wales. To serve a population of a few thousand you cannot expect to have an hourly service to Cardiff -it certainly wasn’t available back in the days of steam.

    • Rhydgaled

      Sorry, did I suggest taxis? I didn’t mean to if I did, what I thought I said was car. Car does not necessarily equal taxi just as train doesn’t necessarlily mean class 150 Sprinter. What I suggested was one car journey from Carmarthen to Fishguard transporting the driver and guard to Fishguard instead of the train. The car would be left at Fishguard throughout the day and driven back to Carmarthen in the evening by the crew. Arriva in Aberystwyth use a white van to move bus drivers to where they are ‘needed’, it’s not too much of a stretch to move train crew about in the same way is it? Also, I don’t need telling that an hourly service to Caridff would be over the top, 2-hourly to Cardiff was what I was thinking myself before hand, which I thought was rather optomistic in itself.

      I agree that the 3rd and 4th new services are at decent enough times in both directions, and that the 2nd new service provides a good outward journey from Fishguard and the 5th a good inward one. The 1st outward journey sounds good too, but that depends on who they are aiming it at. It’s fine for day trips to Cardiff and Swansea, but if you actually have to be at work in Swansea at 9am sharp your workplace would have to be very close to the station, similarly for anything requiring attendance by 10am sharp in Cardiff. If they are looking to cater for commuter traffic with this service, then perhaps going through to Carmarthen a little earlier to connect with ‘The Red Dragon’ would work better. As ever, there’s a trade-off, with the 2nd departure from Fishguard being set back about half an hour and loosing the slot to Manchester (unless you send the train via the District line, but that means finding a unit to run the Carmarthen – Port Talbot via Swansea section of the service, which won’t be easy even if it is possible). No matter how unlikely overnight stabling at Fishguard may be, I think it is worth pressing for as I’m sure a servie in that 5-hour gap, if the connections are good enough, would result in our services as a whole being better used than they would with the 1st inbound and last outbound services as in the offical proposal instead.

      As for what you said about 1 extra unit, here’s what I’ve gleened from the fourms and the consultation document: The first two trains of the day at Fishguard in each direction would probablly be a class 175, as it goes off to Manchester as a through service. This 175 and the through service to Manchester is taken away from the 1st Pembroke Dock service, perhaps the extra unit you are refering to is whatever runs that 1st Pembroke service to release the 175 (what that unit would do next I’ve no idea). The third service takes a unit that would have run from Carmarthen – Swansea – Carmarthen – Pembroke Dock and instead makes it run Carmarthen – Fishguard – Carmarthen – Pembroke Dock. The forth train in Fishguard would be the boat train. The final two services formed by whatever unit comes up on the extended Swanline service from Cardiff, this seems to stay the night at Carmarthen in the connsultation timetable so could form that first Pembroke in the morning. Obviously the same unit doesn’t necessarlily do the same service every day, but assuming they did since the extra unit staying at Carmarthen overnight comes off an existing service, any additional units ATW need to get hold of for the service will not be going to Fishguard at all. In this suituation, the unit would be covering whatever the unit on heading for Fishguard on the 15:30 does between 15:30 one evening and 09:30 the next morning (when the first Pembroke gets into Swansea). I don’t know what those workings are, but there are theroies the return working to Cardiff from Swansea after the 15:30 is extended to Fishguard could be worked by the WAG Express 2 175 that currently sits idle for 6 hours between coming in from Holyhead and heading back north again. If so, how many more workings need a unit cover them? Apart from that grey area, the service proposed is, as far as I can tell, achiveable with the existing fleet.

      As you say, closing the line would be easier with just the boat train. However, these extras are a trial service. It would be even eaiser to close the line with just the boat trains after a failed trial service was removed. As I said, right now I doubt that a failed trial is what they are aiming for, but my opinion could change if come September I haven’t heard of plans to stable a unit at Fishguard overnight to introduce a service to plug the 5hr gap or a serious explanation as to why they cannot do this.

  6. Blocking Back

    There is indeed a token instrument at Fishguard Harbour and this has on occasion been used to stable various special trains there (backup locos for steam specials, inspection trains, engineering trains, railhead treatment trains, etc) over the past few years. So that is not an issue.

    It’s also not an issue taking tokens by road. Track engineers do this all the time, as they take a token out when performing maintenance, in order to protect themselves. However, taking the token away from a train that was still on the running line (which includes the platform at Fishguard Harbour) would be absolutely verboten.

    Approximately ten years ago and for around 2 years, the second-to-last Milford Haven service of the evening would be stabled overnight at Haverfordwest. Cleaning would be done in Milford Haven by a small team based there, before heading back to Haverfordwest to stable for the night. The train crew would then be picked up by the last service to Carmarthen. In the morning, a new crew would be dropped off by the first service to Milford Haven and the stabled train would then run the second service from Milford Haven. It’s therefore not inconceivable for trains to be stabled in Fishguard, as it’s already been done at H’West. However, the H’West stabling was binned largely on cost grounds and I can’t see stabling at Fishguard being any cheaper.

    Lastly, Clarbeston Road signal box remains open at night chiefly to run the overnight oil trains to and from Elf-Murco refinery at Robeston, rather than the Fishguard Boat Train. On average there are four oil trains per night (2 each way) and they provide an awful lot of revenue for the railway. As a consequence this allows the overnight boat train to run. In my opinion, if the oil trains weren’t running the (frequently empty) overnight Fishguard Boat Train would be seen as an unaffordable extravagance and the signal box night shifts (and the overnight Boat Train service) would end.

    • Rhydgaled

      So, if there are token instruments allowing a unit to sit in the run-round loop, what sort of cost would there be for stabling at Fishguard?

      I can see there’s fuel/tax/insurance for the car to get the staff to/from Carmarthen and the capital cost of buying the car in the first place. Other than that though, what costs would you entail by stabling at Fishguard? If you consider that the running costs of the train would be shifted from that time of day to a time when there might be a little more farebox revenue does it really make much difference in overall cost?

      • Blocking Back

        Yes, there is a token instrument at Fishguard Harbour and there would be absolutely no operational problems from the technical side or Rules & Regs.

        The only costs that I can see would be the ones you highlight, plus the cost of a local train-cleaning contract. However, as mentioned above, the brief experiment in train cleaning at Milford Haven and stabling at H’West was binned (from what we were told) due to to cost.

        • Spad

          Fishguard Trains wants to know much more about these oil trains. Blocking Back posted this earlier: “Lastly, Clarbeston Road signal box remains open at night chiefly to run the overnight oil trains to and from Elf-Murco refinery at Robeston, rather than the Fishguard Boat Train. On average there are four oil trains per night (2 each way) and they provide an awful lot of revenue for the railway. As a consequence this allows the overnight boat train to run. In my opinion, if the oil trains weren’t running the (frequently empty) overnight Fishguard Boat Train would be seen as an unaffordable extravagance and the signal box night shifts (and the overnight Boat Train service) would end.”
          Are those oil trains responsible for keeping much more than Clarbeston Road signal box open – the passing chord at Carmarthen, and more importantly, the whole Swansea District Line? The point is, using the bypass lines at Carmarthen and Swansea is the only way to run a train directly from Pembrokeshire to Cardiff and beyond without the need to stop and reverse. And if that infrastructure (which we say should support a future high-speed east-west passenger service) today hangs on the thread of a few oil trains, that’s something we need to know. So tell us more, Blocking Back!

          • Rhydgaled

            I don’t see the Carmarthen avoider being any use for anything except freight and steam excursions. I can’t see why they run the existing boat train that way, it can’t save very much time, unlike the Swansea District Line which is very much more important.

            My memory of what I’ve been told about the oil trains is hazy but I think there is only one daily run each way (Robertson (Milford refinary) to Westerleigh I seem to remember) in addition to a (Robertston – Theale?) service on maybe 3 days a week. I’ve seen one of these oil trains heading east at Clunderwen at a fairly early hour of the morning, and another day in the other direction passing Cardiff at maybe 6:30pm, but both were in daylight.

            Clarbeston Road box might need to open at night for the other oil train or light engine moves to and from a depot somewhere (I’ve no idea if the loco(s) from the oil trains are stabled at the refinary) but unless things have changed at least one of the two oil trains runs in daylight and one doesn’t run every day of the week. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

          • Blocking Back

            Yes, the primary reason for all that infrastructure being retained is the oil, though during the Cold War there were also strategic considerations that kept some infrastructure in place. As mentioned above, there are generally two oil train moves in each direction every night – a train of empty tanks come down from Theale in the evening and returns with full tanks later in the evening. A train of empty tanks then comes down from Westerleigh just after the night boat train and returns just as the morning passenger services start. These trains are truly massive – 28 large tanks apiece – and are the longest trains running on the UK rail network. There will soon be a third oil train running every night between Elf-Murco and Cardiff Docks, as well as the possibility of some even more interesting developments that might involved one defunct branch-line being re-opened.

  7. Rhydgaled

    Would said defunct branch-line be the one that still has track that lead to one of Milford’s two defunct oil refinaries (now an LNG plant and possibly a tank farm)? I think it’s called Waterston?

  8. Oliver Lovell

    I agree wholeheartedly with Swansea Jack that a re-opened Goodwick Station is the key to the success of the additional trains trial.
    In an email to the Welsh Assembly, I have suggested that Network Rail be asked to re-open Goodwick on the lines used for constructing Workington North at the time of the recent Cumbrian floods. Twin platforms, shelters, lighting and a rudimentary car park were constructed on waste ground at a minimal cost of £250,ooo and the new station was open for business within weeks!
    If, after the trial period has – we hope – been deemed successful, then Goodwick Station could be brought up to full standard. If not, little money will have been lost.

    [Moderator’s comment:
    Fishguard Trains has been pointing out the Workington North case since May – see here. Do tell us if you get a reply, Oliver.]

    • Swansea Jack

      Network Rail, PCC, SWWITCH, WG and ATW are working very hard at present to progress the Goodwick station issue. Regular meetings are ongoing in order to facilitate an early opening of Goodwick station. It has not been forgotten about.

      There is a need to ensure the connecting buses to / from the Harbour are providing the connecting link over the next few months as intended. 45 passengers arrived on the 15:14 ex-Cardiff on Friday, 21 on Saturday on the same train so things are picking up.

      The Goodwick re-opening ceremony will give us another opportunity to advertise our new train service, something we must all focus on now.

    • Rhydgaled

      One of the options I suggested to the council back in July was that a temporary scaffolding platform (inspired by the temporary Workington North station) could maybe be erected beyond the Cardiff end of the current platform. I said that could allow the whole current station to be fenced off, allowing the building to remain and possibly even permitting the opening of the station in time for the start of the new services.

      As it happens, none of the options I deemed acceptable (only one of which involved demolition of the now deceased building) where implemented. Whatever happens now, I don’t think I will ever get over that.

      On the advertising front perhaps, if a connection is made with the late train, Richards could put pursuaded to put some posters up on board some of their buses. Conversly, perhaps putting the posters up first would attract the patronage required to get them to send a bus down there in the evening.

      Finally, just in case you didn’t pick up on it in my last post, does anyone know where I can find the SWWITCH Faber Maunsell west of Swansea rail services study that appears to have disappeared from the internet?

  9. Swansea Jack

    I understand that 4 options for Goodwick were under consideration:

    1. Rebuilt permanent platform to align with present track geometry,
    2. Re-aligned track to line-up with existing platform, existing platform re-surfaced.
    3. Temporary Workington North scaffold type platform at South end of existing
    4. Single door opening on the short section of platform at the South end of the existing platform where alignment is just about acceptable.

    I am led to believe that option 2 is the preferred one being progressed at present. This will save on extensive groundwork surveys etc and could hopefully be progressed quite quickly, dependent upon suitable equipment being made available. The old building was not structurally repairable in its present location, if we’d got the trains back 10 years earlier it may have been salvageable, although it would have struggled to meet modern day requirements even then.

  10. Rhydgaled

    Thanks for the update. I think that them looking at option two sounds rather promissing. It may be cheaper than option one but is just as good and a much better proposition than options three or four (they would have been good to get it done quickly, in time for the start of services, but now the services have been going about a month I think neither of them would show much faith in the service continuing beoynd the trial period.)

    If work had started on option 1 or 2 (ie. opening of the full length of the platform, or at least a 2-car length of it at the harbour end, where the building was) before the extra trains started I would have perhaps considered the demolision of the building acceptable, even if they just realigned the track and opened it temporarily with the old platform surface. However, no work has been reported other than the demolision, and the building wouldn’t have been in the way of option three and possibly not of option four either.

  11. Swansea Jack

    Options 3 and 4 were discounted fairly early on I believe, and I have to say correctly in my view. The building’s fate was sealed a few years back when the yard side wall of the structure collapsed. The roof was effectively cantilevered out from the platform side and held up by the end walls. Structurally it was finished. The only possible option to salvage any part of that building would have been if parts of it had gone to Scolton Manor. Some of us tried to pursue that avenue months ago, a year or more back actually, and tried again once IWJones made his funding announcement in the Spring. No interest was shown in that option – that is what sealed the old building’s fate.

    Options 1 and 2 both involve doing a full survey of the existing ground conditions – remember the whole area there is made up ground anyway, and you cannot just build a new front edge to a platform without ground surveys. Similarly raising the platform level requires extra weight of black-top etc that requires further ground surveys too.

    The option of re-aligning the track requires planning of line closures for the engineering work to happen, and for the available machinery and manpower to be available.

    Before any of these could be commenced funding of survey work, and the availability of finance to progress the work needs sorting too, and with the present economic situation that is not an easy ask. A great deal of work has been ongoing over this – consider the Canaston Bridge area A40 works – the contractors were selected over 2 years before work commenced on site, I remember the survey and planning work were ongoing in the mid-1990s!! I don’t expect a wait of that length of time, but we do have to be realistic here, it’s only 6 months or so since IW Jones’ announcement, and the change in Government in Cardiff has happened since then too.

    I would expect Goodwick station to be available in a few months rather than a few years myself!

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