Q: When does nine minutes mean the difference between a comfortable journey and mayhem?
A: When it’s at 17:39
The 17:39 from Cardiff is a vital part of Fishguard’s new rail service. With a five-minute change at Clarbeston Road, we can reach Fishguard by 20:30. The problem is, the 17:39 from Cardiff is also the first train after five thirty from the capital to Port Talbot, Neath and Swansea. Not surprising that it’s a popular train – all two coaches of it.
So popular indeed that Fishguard Trains commenter John Hughes writes: “The final train of the day from Cardiff to Fishguard, ex Cardiff 17.40, is known as the “Sardine Express” because it is swamped with commuters travelling from Cardiff to Swansea. Last Monday returning to Fishguard (14/11/2011) I stood from Cardiff to Swansea standing on a suitcase because there was no floor space left on which to stand; a two-coach 175 unit was hopelessly inadequate to deal with the crush of passengers. This is effectively going to kill off the Fishguard service if passengers are physically unable to get on the train. (The service from Swansea was fine).”
Fishguard Trains staffers have been in that crush many times. It’s no fun.
There’s nothing strange about crowded trains these days, but there are two very strange things about this one. Nine minutes after the Pembrokeshire train leaves Cardiff, First Great Western’s 125 from London to Swansea also leaves. It reaches Port Talbot and Neath five minutes after Arriva’s train, and Swansea eleven minutes behind Arriva. Why wouldn’t some commuters from Cardiff choose to take a seat on the full-length 125 rather than play sardines on Arriva’s train? Is 5-11 minutes really that important?
So could Fishguard travellers take the 125 as far as Swansea and make life easier? This reveals the second strange thing: Across the day and the timetable, long distance Arriva trains are timetabled to wait at Swansea for the incoming FGW 125 from London – that way an integrated rail service covers the entire route from London to Pembrokeshire. Except not the 17:39. It leaves Swansea seven minutes before the incoming FGW from Paddington. Not clever.
So here are Fishguard Trains’ three suggestions for making life easier for all hard-pressed evening travellers from Cardiff:
BEST: Arriva delays the 18:41 departure from Swansea to await the incoming FGW at Swansea – due at 18:48; OR …
OK: Arriva retimes the 17:39 to await the incoming FGW at Cardiff – due at 17:46; OR …
FAILING THAT: Cardiff Central station announcers encourage passengers joining the 17:39 to await the 17:48 if they are travelling no further than Swansea.
Now let’s see all the reasons why none of that can possibly happen.