A-Z of the debate about Fishguard’s new rail service
What is there to debate? From September we’ll have extra trains in Fishguard. It’s tremendous and unexpected news. So why the debate?
As Margaret Hawkes wrote on May 27th, “I for one am delighted to see more trains from Fishguard and those who complain about the proposed new timetable should consider themsleves very lucky that the Assembly and the train company have agreed to provide more transport to a fairly remote area of the country. As far as I am concerned the times are as good as one could resonably expect. I shall be very pleased to use the trains provided.”
And in the same spirit of celebration, Swansea Jack took the long view:
“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.”
But Fishguard Trains doesn’t want a trial service that staggers on for three years and then closes. We want a successful service, a permanent service.
That’s why Fishguard Trains celebrates the good news and criticises the shortcomings. And there are plenty of both.
Many of you agree, and have taken the opportunity of the community consultation, and of the public debate organised by Fishguard Trains, to express both your enthusiasm and your concerns. Two typical comments:
Jeremy Martineau: “Goodwick station is essential to make this trial an effective and honest one”, and Ian Davies, Fishguard Route Manager at Stena Lines: “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”.
Since we launched the website on April 4th (just ten weeks ago) Fishguard Trains has received 4445 hits, published 28 posts and 83 written comments – a busy and well-informed public forum for discussion of the planned service. This Briefing sums up debate during the consultation period.
Arriva Trains Wales
Operates most rail services in Wales. A subsidiary of Arriva plc, itself owned by Deutsche Bahn AG. Deutsche Bahn’s transport services in Wales include Arriva Trains Wales, Arriva Buses Wales, Cross Country Trains, Wrexham & Shropshire (until its closure), making it the dominant public transport operator in Wales.
Deutsche Bahn is a private company, successor to the state railways of both West and East Germany. With over 500 subsidiaries, it is Europe’s largest railway operator. In 2010 its operating profit grew by 10.7% to €1.9 billion.
The Welsh Government will pay Arriva Trains Wales up to £1.4 million annually for three years to provide extra train services to Fishguard.
On June 9th Fishguard Trains asked Arriva Trains Wales for an opportunity to discuss various points. They replied “As the Welsh Government are conducting this consultation, they have asked that any questions/comments are fielded through them. We wil be meeting the WG once the consultation phase is complete and we will review all the feedback at this stage. I am sorry if that sounds a little unhelpful but we are keen not to undermine the WG’s process.”
See the Welsh Government replies to our questions below (Rail Unit)
Bus information displays
The case for accessing our new train service at a re-opened Goodwick Station is overwhelming (see Goodwick Station). But the centre of Goodwick is still not the centre of Fishguard. How can we raise the profile of the service in the larger town centre?
Only days after news of the train service astonished Fishguard, another transport innovation appeared, this time in the town square: bus information displays. Practical information that also shows respect to the needs of public transport users.
Now we need to add train departure times to the Fishguard Square displays. Don’t say it can’t be done. Consider the impact on Fishguard of a live town centre display showing the next departure for Carmarthen … for Cardiff … for Cheltenham … for Manchester.
If you don’t like complaints, skip this section.
The Deputy First Minister announced “A community consultation on the timetable will begin in April”. But the public consultation did not begin until May 26, to run for only three weeks. In that time there has been no public meeting or briefing to inform our communities. The timetable published by Welsh Government on May 26th contained several errors (which Fishguard Trains drew to their attention) and it still does not show the full timetable of through services to/from Fishguard. Our experience of seeking clarification from the Rail Unit is described below (see Rail Unit).
We have reluctantly formed the impression of a government department going through the motions of a consultation with little enthusiasm to enlighten and inform. Compared to the highly detailed and enthusiastic discussions proceeding on the Fishguard Trains website, the government stance appears managerial and detached.
Does any of this matter? Yes. The new rail service is not the property of any single interest group. It is a public investment in the common wealth of our community. The personal responses of us all in the coming three years – a few thousand people in North Pembrokeshire – will determine the success or failure of this critical piece of social and economic infrastructure.
The Swansea District Line, completed by the Great Western Railway in 1912 as a high-speed express route from London to Fishguard, can be the key to phase two of the railway revival in west Wales.
Next year, 2012, is its centenary, and the year when we must look seriously at its future potential.
Meanwhile in 2011, we have a new service to launch and a station to reopen.
ECS – empty coaching stock
The technical discussion that’s been going for days on Fishguard Trains about ECS (empty coaching stock) moves, and how to avoid them, is not for the faint-hearted. But the implications affect everyone interested in the new service, and concern a Ministerial promise. So here’s a non-technical explanation.
We all want morning trains out of Fishguard to get us to our destinations in time, whether that means Carmarthen, Cardiff or London. The proposed timetable offers three morning departures before 10am. These make much of southern Britain accessible for a day trip from Fishguard: Cardiff by 9:46, London by 12:02, Manchester by 14:15, and you can even reach Glasgow (with just one change) by 18:00.
But these benefits come at a price: two of our five promised new westbound services will probably run empty, just to get trains in position at Fishguard for early departures. That leaves only three westbound services offering anything useful – and a big afternoon service gap.
A lively current discussion on Fishguard Trains explores whether stabling a train at Fishguard Harbour overnight could avoid a wasted journey. But if that is really not an option (and Welsh Government has declined to comment on this – see Rail Unit below), then we are being asked to accept the price of losing two westbound services to gain a decent morning service eastbound.
The problem is worse than two services leaving Carmarthen for Fishguard before 6:00 am. The first train leaves Carmarthen for Fishguard, at 5:50. Then eight minutes later a Milford Haven train leaves Carmarthen. To reach Fishguard on this we are invited to change at Clarbeston Road at 6:27, and wait for 1 hour 6 minutes for a train to Fishguard.
What early traveller would take the 5:58 (two hours to Fishguard) when they could take the direct train at 5:50 (50 minutes to Fishguard)? Who would find a 66 minute wait at Clarbeston Road acceptable in any circumstances? How would such a connecting service at a station devoid of facilities address the needs of lone, vulnerable travellers?
Fishguard Trains doesn’t object to the return shuttle from Clarbeston Road to Fishguard at 7:33, but we do criticise the timetable trying to present this as a service from Carmarthen, which it patently is not.
The reason the timetable shows this ‘connection’ is that without it, there would be only four new westbound services. The Deputy First Minister was speaking at Carmarthen Station on March 29th when he confirmed that “five additional trains will run between Fishguard and Carmarthen”. His Press Release added that “The extra 5 trains … will run in both directions every day between Mondays and Saturdays”. On this timetable, they won’t.
This question concerns a government promise. Of course we might consider the morning timetable out of Fishguard so good, that it’s worth losing the promised five westbound trains. But we can only make that judgement if the facts are presented squarely.
Like Keswick, Lampeter, Brecon, Louth, Bala and Watchet, today we’re a town with no proper rail service within 15 miles.
But unlike Keswick, Lampeter, Brecon, Louth, Bala and Watchet, in three months, we’ll have a proper rail service.
On several issues, opinion is divided. On one, we’re unanimous: the need to reopen Goodwick Station immediately.
Pam Jones (Aberjazz and Folk Festival Committees):
Reopening the station makes a lot of sense as it is a trek to get to the station at the port, carrying luggage.
I think the consultation should also be used to pressurise for the reopening of Goodwick station, which I believe to be critically important to the long term success of the service. A new platform with bus connections and a park and ride facility using the old goods yard would be really useful – it is this issue that I will be pushing for in my reply – I hope others will do the same.
Goodwick station is essential to make this trial an effective and honest one.
I agree that Goodwick station is key here. The harbour station is too isolated.
Restoration of Goodwick Station to at least Halt status by September’11, is essential for the success of the revised rail service.
I see the station as critical to the success of the whole scheme. … I hope to catch a train from Goodwick before Christmas this year too! … 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!
In its response to questions from Fishguard Trains, the Welsh Government Rail Unit says “There is no Welsh Government commitment to Goodwick station” (see Rail Unit)
What the government lacks in commitment to Goodwick is made up by local commitment to its reopening. Councillor Jamie Adams, Pembrokeshire CC Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Highways and Planning tells Fishguard Trains that this is “an important opportunity – we want to see this achieved”. And while there’s no budget allocated in this financial year, by September he hopes for “a steer on where we’re going”, followed by action early in the next financial year.
Fishguard Trains reported Stena Line’s Fishguard Route Manager’s offer of secure overnight train stabling on June 12th. Ian Davies is happy to help Arriva to eliminate unproductive journeys that may undermine the case for the new service.
In the long run, Ian Davies would like to reconfigure the port so that all transfers are at the port entrance – that would mean a rail terminal for ferry passengers at the Goodwick end. But that won’t happen in the next three years.
Instead, until Goodwick Station reopens he faces a parking dilemma at the Harbour Station. Stena’s parking fee for ferry passengers is £7. He knows he won’t please rail passengers by charging for parking. But he can’t justify charging less for rail passengers who aren’t his customers, than for ferry passengers who are. And there is no spare land for a dedicated rail users’ car park.
So if Goodwick Station is not open by September, and you have to pay to leave your car at Fishguard Harbour, you’ll be able to see it Stena’s way too.
Ieuan Wyn Jones
Swansea Jack was not the only one to be ‘completely bowled over’ on hearing Ieuan Wyn Jones’ announcement on the 29th March: “I am pleased to be able to deliver these rail improvements for the people of South West Wales. These additional services will play a vital role in improving links to the region that will in turn provide a boost to the area both in terms of tourism and the economy.”
Our surprise was all the greater as it was Ieuan Wyn Jones who in 2010 dashed hopes of an early restoration of services. To prioritise Fishguard, he argued, “could be seen as premature”.
Perhaps what was premature in 2010 was not Fishguard’s needs but the Assembly election cycle. Former Plaid Chairman John Dixon’s response to Ieuan’s u-turn was “the announcement is valid, but it looks terribly cynical.” Whatever the political calculation, it appeared to do Plaid in Preseli little good in the May elections, but surely there’s all-party agreement that the trains will do Fishguard a power of good.
The deadline for your views to reach the Welsh Government Rail Unit.
Jeff Rogers commented: “It would be useful as an option for commuters to Haverfordwest if the 8:06 from Goodwick left 10/15 mins earlier so that the 8:20 from Clarbeston road could be picked up to travel to Haverfordwest instead of missing it by 5 mins at an 8:25 arrival.” Fishguard Trains asked the Welsh Government Rail Unit to “clarify the early empty carriage movements that underlie these times – presumably these involve splitting trains at Clarbeston Road and/or return journeys to Milford. Some respondents have raised the question of connections between Pembrokeshire branches, so it is worth having this information.” Sadly the Rail Unit has not answered this question. So if you are interested in travelling from Fishguard to Milford, or Kilgetty to Fishguard, we’re none the wiser.
Rather like the puzzle of through trains unacknowledged by the Rail Unit (see below), this seems another case of under-selling the proposed service. Why?
Listed buildings and Conservation Areas
Goodwick Station stands in its own extension of the Goodwick Conservation Area. If the station buildings collapsed or were demolished, the whole extension of the Conservation Area over the railway line would be pointless. Happily, under the Planning (Listed buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, demolition within Conservation Areas requires consent (from Pembrokeshire County Council). And PCC are “currently leading some work looking to identify a cost effective solution to providing a station at Goodwick” (see Goodwick Station)
Sir Roy McNulty, Chair of the Rail Value for Money Study 2010-11, searching for cost savings in the railway industry.
Choice quote: “In view of Government’s budgetary pressures, the existing railway is likely to be unaffordable – so we are faced with the choice of either making a step-change in the efficiency of the way we operate today’s railway, or else decreasing the size and the quality of the network.”
North Pembrokeshire & Fishguard Railway
Fishguard Trains likes to take the long view, and here we are ably assisted by regular poster Swansea Jack: “If the NP&F Railway had not pushed its line West from Rosebush it is unlikely the mighty GWR would have gone to the expense of building the Harbour at all and we’d all have probably been talking about NeylandTrains.info! Remember it was the NP&FR that started the Fishguard & Rosslare Railways and Harbour undertaking not the GWR.”
Credit where credit’s due.
Lucky Olympics ticket holders are already buying their rail tickets to the Games in summer 2012. That means there may be little or no scope for timetable changes for a year or more after our service launches in September 2011. All the more reason to get the launch timetable right, as it can’t be changed until the trial is half way over.
Swansea Jack has the right priorities. He commented: I think the potential travel opportunities available to those of us in living in North Pembrokeshire are great, especially as they will allow trips to Swansea to see the Swans in the Premier League next season!!
And not only the Swans. Take the 8:06 from Fishguard direct to Manchester (arrive 14:15) to see them in action against Man U and City.
There’s just a note of caution from Jeremy Martineau: Now that Swansea are in the Premier Football Division will Arriva be able to provide enough space for those going to matches? Their failure to plan for international rugby matches involving Ireland/Wales doesn’t give grounds for hope.
The Welsh Government Rail Unit Consultation documents are available here.
Question 2 asks for your explanation if you don’t support the proposed timetable. We suggest you might also give your reasons if you do support the timetable. This might be relevant if you support the general approach of the timetable (e.g. through trains) but criticise specific aspects (e.g. ECS – empty coaching stock above).
Question 3 asks for your travel destinations, prompting Carmarthen, Swansea and Cardiff. The prompts don’t include London, the most popular destination in previous studies. If you’re London-bound, write it in!
The Rail Unit confirms that the reopening of Goodwick Station “is outside the scope of this consultation”. Fishguard Trains believes Welsh Government should be made aware of the strength of feeling on this topic.
On Wednesday June 8th at the Welsh Government Rail Unit’s request, Fishguard Trains sent a list of topics and questions arising from their Consultation and the discussions on Fishguard Trains website.
Nearly a week later we received these replies. We reproduce here the questions and replies in full, unedited. Some replies are terse but to the point. Others could be seen as stonewalling. One answer is supplied twice to two different questions. As time runs out in the consultation, it is not clear why it took nearly seven days to produce this.
¶ Basis of proposed timetable
We understand that rather than planning a Fishguard-Carmarthen shuttle service using a dedicated unit, this timetable extends existing routes, resulting in better through services.
Is this assumption correct? Yes
Does this explain both the strengths and the weaknesses of the planned timetable? (for example, more through routes to/from Fishguard but fewer direct commuter links with Carmarthen). The proposed timetable seeks to make best use of the available resources. We welcome responses to the consultation outlining peoples’ view on it.
In previous studies, Cardiff and London were the clear preferred destinations for Fishguard travellers.
Is this an important rationale for the proposed timetable? As mentioned above, the proposed timetable does seek to provide good through journey opportunities.
¶ The early morning problem
Would overnight stabling at Fishguard solve this?
Why has this not been adopted – security, crewing, Stena agreement, lack of available coaching stock?
Might it still be adopted?
If not, can the proposed 5:58 connecting service from Carmarthen, arr Fishguard 7:57 be counted as one of the five promised trains?
Even if there were westbound passengers at that early hour, would they not take the direct train from Carmarthen eight minutes earlier to arrive Fishguard 6:41?
Neither of the two early morning westbound services provide connections from Swansea or Cardiff, further reducing their appeal.
Will the review in three years’ time take into account that these are essentially positioning services with little or no expectation of passenger loadings?
Can you clarify the early empty carriage movements that underlie these times – presumably these involve splitting trains at Clarbeston Road and/or return journeys to Milford.
Some respondents have raised the question of connections between Pembrokeshire branches, so it is worth having this information.
The proposed timetable provides journey opportunities for people to travel to Fishguard in the morning. Respondents can comment on these services in their responses to the consultation. However, it should be recognised that changes to these services are likely to require other changes to the proposed timetable.
¶ The afternoon problem
The Minister spoke of “a boost to the area both in terms of tourism and the economy” in March.
Is the lack of afternoon services in either direction currently seen as a disadvantage?
If a route became available as a result of changes to the early morning service, would an afternoon service be a priority?
The proposed timetable provides journey opportunities for people to travel to Fishguard in the afternoon. Respondents can comment on these services in their responses to the consultation. However, it should be recognised that changes to these services are likely to require other changes to the proposed timetable.
Is the public subsidy focussed on the provision of specific services in the public interest, or for a wider spectrum of TOC costs?
Should WG pay for what are essentially ECS movements?
The Welsh Government funding is to provide five additional train services to/from Fishguard.
¶ Long distance connections
We have noted the lack of promotion of long-distance through services in the proposed timetable.
Is one reason for this that the Fishguard-Carmarthen shuttle option remains a possibility in the light of consultation?
The consultation has highlighted the availability of long-distance travel opportunities from the outset. For example, it has noted that the proposed timetable “provides a good range of through journey opportunities including direct servcies to Manchester”, and “enables good travel opportunities to/from Cardiff, facilitating day trips”.
Should respondents prefer a Fishguard-Carmarthen shuttle they can indicate this in their consultation response.
¶ Goodwick Station
One contributor to Fishguard Trains expresses a widespread view in saying “Goodwick station is essential to make this trial an effective and honest one”
We understand that the reopening of this station is not a point you are consulting on, nor a matter for direct WG action.
But does WG sympathise with this view?
Can you encourage the relevant parties coordinate their actions to deliver a necessary link in this service, in the interests of efficient use of WG funding?
There is no Welsh Government commitment to Goodwick station, so this is outside the scope of this consultation. However, Pembrokeshire County Council is currently leading some work looking to identify a cost effective solution to providing a station at Goodwick.
¶ Fishguard Harbour Station
This station is far distant from both Fishguard and Goodwick, is highly congested, has freight loading operations crossing public access, has a level crossing adjacent to the platform, lacks parking, has minimal bus connections, and permits smoking.
Is the impact of ten extra daily trains at such a station a matter of concern?
Welsh Government has met with Stena to discuss the additional services.
¶ Local consultation
Besides the involvement of North Pembrokeshire Transport Forum, the current consultation, and discussions with Fishguard Trains, what local consultations have been held?
The current consultation has been sent to an extensive list of local community groups.
What is the target date for publishing the final timetable?
Does the new service start on September 12th with the winter timetable?
The new services are scheduled to commence on September 12. Production of the timetables is a matter for Arriva Trains Wales.
The afternoon does not appear to be a priority for timetabling scarce resources. Perhaps that’s right. No train leaves Fishguard between 13:30 and 18:49. No train arrives between 13:25 and 18:34. If that’s fine by Fishguard people, good. But Fishguard Trains is slightly concerned that the people who might be most affected by the rail siesta are not currently being consulted – visitors from elsewhere.
Fishguard Trains asked the Welsh Government Rail Unit: “We understand that rather than planning a Fishguard-Carmarthen shuttle service using a dedicated unit, this timetable extends existing routes, resulting in better through services”, and received a startlingly direct answer: “Yes”. The Rail Unit adds that “Should respondents prefer a Fishguard-Carmarthen shuttle they can indicate this in their consultation response”. From the warm welcome we’ve seen for through services, this seems unlikely. There is however a price to pay for a timetable based largely on through services (see above ECS – empty coaching stock).
No less than eight of the fourteen trains serving Fishguard will start or terminate east of Carmarthen – some at Swansea, some at Cardiff, one at Cheltenham, at least one at Manchester. With a single change in Cardiff, Shrewsbury, Cheltenham or Manchester you can reach most of southern Britain from Fishguard (and vice versa). Leaving Fishguard at 8:06 and with just one change you can even reach Glasgow by 18:00. These are powerful benefits to set against the timetable’s shortcomings.
That’s why Fishguard Trains can’t understand why the Rail Unit hasn’t promoted these benefits in the consultation. We asked them if this is because the shuttle option remains a possibility? Their reply: “The consultation has highlighted the availability of long-distance travel opportunities from the outset. For example, it has noted that the proposed timetable “provides a good range of through journey opportunities including direct servcies to Manchester”, and “enables good travel opportunities to/from Cardiff, facilitating day trips”.
Despite this, the Rail Unit’s timetable (which is what they are consulting about) still shows five through services only as connecting services, and shows no times for direct new services to/from Cardiff, Shrewsbury, Crewe and Manchester. We are left to figure out the true picture if we can.
Fishguard Trains published the full direct timetable on June 2nd – see Through trains to Fishguard.
A tiny village in rural Devon, population “about 250 to 260 people” according to the village post office. Umberleigh Station is a request stop on the Barnstaple line, marketed as the ‘Tarka Line’ by the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership. 7,951 passengers used the halt in 2002/3. By 2009/10 that had grown to 17,718.
Fishguard & Goodwick (population 5043, 20 times larger than Umberleigh) saw 23,746 passengers at the Harbour Station in 2009/10. What can we grow that to?
Ebbw Vale Parkway
A station with no passenger services until 2008. A year later Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones told the Assembly’s Enterprise and Learning Committee: “We have also recognised that, because of the popularity of trains and because we want to get people out of their cars and using more public transport, the easiest route for us to take is to look at the success of the Ebbw Vale line and at whether there are other tracks that are not being used.”
The Minister had noted the extraordinary success of the reopened line. 52,417 passengers used the station in its first year. By 2009/10 that had grown to 233,946.
“Lets hope they can do a ‘Workington North’ over the next few months” wrote Swansea Jack, considering the work to be done at Goodwick. He was referring to the Fishguard Trains story, ‘How long to build a station?’ On May 5th we gave the answer. To build a station with two platforms, a footbridge, a waiting room and a car park for the flood-stricken town of Workington, Network Rail took just six days (and nights). At Goodwick, we’d be content with a bus shelter on the existing platform, plus security fencing around the decaying station buildings – until they find the money to restore a piece of railway heritage to its original purpose.
X request stop
X marks a request stop in the timetable. Clarbeston Road for example. X is also the Latin number 10.
Ten additional trains will run daily in both directions between Fishguard and Clarbeston Road. Of these, eight also run to/from Whitland, six to/from Carmarthen, four to/from Swansea, three to/from Cardiff and one to Manchester.
It’s a case of swings and roundabouts. We get more through trains than expected (see Through trains above) but just over half the number of trains to/from Carmarthen promised by the Deputy First Minister on March 29th. “Five additional trains will run between Fishguard and Carmarthen” he said, and his Press Release added that the extra trains “will run in both directions every day between Mondays and Saturdays”. An explicit promise of ten trains between Fishguard and Carmarthen has come down to six. Instead we have some through services (welcomed by many), some changes at Whitland and Clarbeston Road (tolerable if fast and reliable), and one case of a ‘connection’ on paper but not in the real world – see ECS – empty coaching stock above.
The number plate on a Richards Brothers X50 bus.
If you think railway timetabling is complicated, read Rhydgaled on bus timetabling. (comments on Through trains to Fishguard).
Once again a simplified explanation is called for:
The bus question seems to fall into two parts – local and out of town.
With Goodwick Station reopened, the 410 Town Service can call at the station every half an hour. Not a bad start. Most of Fishguard and Goodwick can access the station by bus, without having to wait too long for a train.
The Strumble Shuttle and 413 also pass the station.
But the 412 is the problem, and the prize. It could link the towns and villages towards Cardigan with the rail service, but three problems stand in its way: its clockface timing conflicts with the random times of the rail service; its journey times are constrained by having to meet the X50 in Cardigan and whatever it meets in Haverfordwest (including trains); and its route does not pass Goodwick Station.
In the long run, if the rail trial becomes permanent and the timetable settles down, no doubt those problems can be sorted. In the short term, perhaps the aim could be to target one morning departure from Fishguard (the 8:06?) and one evening arrival (the 18:34?) with a bus service that runs as far as Newport.
Z end of the trial
Could the end of the trial be the end of the line? Perhaps it could, if passenger numbers don’t add up; if Goodwick Station is removed in a skip; if McNulty turns into a latter-day Beeching; if oil is struck under the Irish Sea and we all get back into our cars.
But that all seems like yesterday’s world. Tomorrow’s world may owe more to Isambard Kingdom Brunel than Henry Ford. We may be generating sustainable power from Pembrokeshire’s tides and sun and wind, to power the electric trains that will be running swiftly, quietly, from Fishguard and Milford through to Felixstowe and Milan.