Sardine Express survival guide

by The Man Standing by Seat 35

seat 35 on an Arriva train

Seat 35

We’re all anxious to see as many people as possible using our new rail service. But there’s one train that could do with rather fewer passengers – the Sardine Express.

The 17:39 from Cardiff is the last evening connection from the whole rail network to Fishguard. Unfortunately, as the first train west out of Cardiff after five thirty, it is always standing room only, at least as far as Bridgend. Hence the Sardine Express.

Making the problem worse, a First Great Western 125 arrives in Cardiff from London at 17:22, and instead of continuing to Swansea, terminates in Cardiff. Anyone continuing west is also going to join the 17:39.

So here’s the Fishguard Trains survival guide for coping if you’re heading back to Fishguard from Cardiff on our last return service.

rush hour crush on 17:39 from Cardiff

standing room only

1  Stand till Bridgend. It’s not so far, and there’s usually a seat afterwards.

2  Arrive at Cardiff in time to catch the 17:04 to Tenby. Get off at Bridgend, and wait half an hour for the Sardine Express to catch up. We reckon you’ll get a seat on both trains.

3  Hang back in the crush, and be the last to get on through the front  door of the front carriage. With luck the refreshment trolley will be in that vestibule too, and tucked behind it will be a fold down seat. Speak nicely to the trolley manager.

4  Persuade everyone on platform 3a who is going no further than Bridgend or Swansea to wait just 9 minutes for a nice First Great Western 125 which will have plenty of seats.

5  Persuade the station announcer at Cardiff to ask Bridgend and Swansea passengers to wait 9 minutes.

6  Qualify for one of the mobility-restricted seats and hope the occupants don’t wait to be asked .

You have a better idea? Good, don’t keep it to yourself, let us know. We’re tired of standing.


Filed under Blog

14 Responses to Sardine Express survival guide

  1. Rhydgaled

    If you are getting on the 17:04 Tenby train, can’t you stay on it to Swansea or Carmarthen (more likely to get a seat on the 17:39 ex-Cardiff after Swansea) or is it overtaken by the 17:39?

    I’ve outlined my suggested solution to the 17:39 for south-west Wales bound passengers before. Make use of the class 150 surplus Arriva has and the class 175 which will hopefully be released from the Holyhead – Wrexham – Cardiff express service by the introduction of a loco-hauled train with DVT in September, to release a class 158 unit from Maesteg/Cheltenham Spa/Ebbw Vale work.

    Then, and here’s the solution, use this class 158 unit to introduce a 17:54 express service to Carmarthen via the Swansea District Line (calling at:
    Bridgend (18:14)
    Port Talbot Parkway (18:25)
    Llanelli (18:54)
    Carmarthen (19:17)
    ). That leap-frogs the 17:39, which reaches Carmarthen at 19:27. This service could then terminate, or it could wait until 19:40 and continue to Fishguard just behind the 17:39 ex-Cardiff (headed for Milford), allowing the 19:00-ish from Fishguard to extend to Carmarthen and elminate the evening change at Clarbeston Road.

    The 158 that works this evening SDL service would also be free to work a 08:50 Carmarthen – Cardiff SDL service followed by the morning boat train to Fishguard and the 13:30 return to Cardiff (if you don’t send it on to Cheltenham).

    • John R

      Rhydgaled You’re very keen to find uses for the District Line, both here and on other fora. But realistically, other than the boat train (and that’s probably debatable, but is now required to avoid closure procedures) are any other services that miss Swansea likely to attract enough passengers to be viable. And once the line through Gowerton is doubled, why wouldn’t they just stay on the main line but just avoid Swansea? Wouldn’t that be faster than the relatively slow DL?

      • Rhydgaled

        The NPTF did a ‘Fishguard Train Services Survey’ in 2004 (download results here: One question asked the destinations to which locals would like to travel by train from Fishguard. There were 31 responces for Carmarthen, 79 for Swansea and 113 for Cardiff (slightly more than the total for Swansea and Carmarthen combined). The top destonation however was London, with 135 responces.

        However, despite there being more demand for travel beyond Swansea, I personally doubt many passengers stay on the Manchester/Cardiff – south-west-Wales trains past Swansea because Cardiff – Carmarthen is so very fast compared to going by rail via Swansea. I reckon, for rail to be competitive for travel to/from England, Cardiff – Carmarthen (by rail) needs to be brought down to around the 1hr 15min mark. This is why I am so keen to see more use of the Swansea District Line, to try and attract the market for travel between Cardiff (and points east) and Carmarthen (and points west) to rail.

        Why do you say the SDL is relatively slow? I would suspect that is the sections where there are fairly low speed restrictions, which exist primarily because so few passenger services use it. Despite this, it is currently possible to do Cardiff – Carmarthen in 1hr 22min via the SDL, remove those speed restrictions and journey times would fall some more.

        Avoiding Swansea without using the Swansea District Line would only save about 5 minutes on the current fastest Cardiff – Carmarthen journey time via Swansea of 1hr 40mins.

        We can’t have it all at once, a 1hr 22min (to Carmarthen) 17:54 SDL service from Cardiff, overtaking the 17:39, would give passengers for Llanelli, Carmarthen and Pembrokeshire the oppertunity to avoid the 17:39, without the capital expense of removing the current speed restrictions on the SDL. Much later, a case may be made for a more frequent service and capital spend for lifting the speed restrictions.

  2. DBJ

    Random trip yesterday morning saw me attempting to travel down the Pembroke branch from Whitland. Service was 15 mins late, and proceeded down the single track for half a mile, before reversing back and sitting in the bay for 45 minutes to wait for the up FGW…although it turned out it was doing the waiting game at Tenby! Anyway, had plenty of time to chat to the guard, he didn’t think the loadings to the runs on Fishguard he had done were too great at the moment, in his words “we pick up about 6 from F&G, we get more than that from Ferryside!”

  3. Susanna

    I’ve twice recently had the misfortune to take the 3.15 from London and found myself at Cardiff trying to get on the 17.29. Both times it has been complete mayhem and highly unpleasant with people elbowing each other out of the way to board the train. Last time I was accused of queue jumping. When I explained that I was going to West Wales and had to get this train, I was told by two people that they couldn’t care less. They had got there before me and they were going to board the train come what may. I noticed that they both got out at Bridgend. Something needs to be done. I suggest the train does not stop at Bridgend and Port Talbot. It would inconvenience passengers who have to change at Cardiff, but it would stop the over crowding. Would it be better changing at Newport, I wonder? At present I simply avoid this service and travel earlier.

    • Spad

      Your experience is sadly all too familiar. Arriva knows this is a problem – and in case they didn’t, Fishguard Trains has taken it up directly with them. We are waiting to hear what they intend to do.
      Meanwhile, if you can change at Newport, it may be worth doing. You may not get a seat there, but you should do at Cardiff – you’ll beat everyone waiting on the platform.

  4. anthony

    I have travelled on the 16:04 Fishguard service which is also regulary jammed as is the 16:18 service to Maesteg. Both seem to be worked by class 150’s.

    I have noticed the 17:04 departure from Cardiff to Tenby is a 3 carriage class 175 Perhaps this could be swapped so it worked the 17:39 departure instead with a 2 carriage class 175 covering the 17:05 Tenby service which may become a bit busy but no where near as bad as the 17:39

  5. Swansea Jack

    The logical solution is that Great Western don’t terminate the related Paddington service at Cardiff but run it through to Swansea as in previous years. ATW may lose some revenue share, but it would probably increase the number of passengers overall as more people may well use the services West from Cardiff in the evening peak. This issue is another example of how the disjointed nature of today’s rail network acts as a disbenefit to passengers.

    I have to say that ATW do seem to be trying to deal with the situation, but the lack of suitable stock does place a limit on their ability to find a robust solution. I suspect that if the new GW doesn’t extend that London – Cardiff train then omitting the Bridgend stop may be the only workable solution in the short – medium term. Of course if electrification was extended to sWansea then solutions in the longer term would be more readily available in the form of 4 coach EMUs…….

    • Rhydgaled

      Aye, one logical solution to the sardine express would be extending the previous Paddington service to Swansea. However, as far as S.W.Wales passengers are concerned I still think my idea of a single 158 diagram running SDL services, including one from Cardiff to Pembs a bit after the 17:39, is the best option.

  6. anthony

    Yes the ideea you have come up with does sound good the only probelsm I have with it are:

    the 0pproposed 07:55 Fishguard – Cardiff express would have to be re-timed to leave at 07:45 to avoid holding up the 09:10 Swansea – Cardiff swanline service between Port Talbot Parkway & Cardiff central.
    Also I have seen the 17:48 FGW hst to Swansea leave up to 5 minutes late so you 17:54 Cardiff – Fishguard express would ideally have to leave at 17:55/17:56 to avoid being held up too muich by the hst in front of it.

    • Rhydgaled

      I think the 07:55 Fishguard & Goodwick to Cardiff I proposed would work, unless the new timetable has messed it up. It would reach Carmarthen at 08:47, leave at 08:50, Llanelli arr. 09:12 dep. 09:15. Unfortunately I then had to slow it down over the SDL (taking 40mins rather than 30) so that it reaches Port Talbot at 09:55 at slots between the 09:28 and 09:55 departures from Swansea.

      I think making the 17:54 any later would delay the 17:39 between Llanelli and Carmarthen due to the absolute block.

  7. anthony

    Sorry should have said proposed 07:55 Fishguard – Cardiff express

  8. Rhydgaled

    This from somebody at Arriva Trains Wales, in responce to one of my comments to their consultation for the new timetable starting today/tommorow:

    “1739 Cardiff-Milford Haven Service. We are attempting to increase the capacity of this service to a three-car Class 175 but I am unable to confirm this at present. I am very aware however of the current capacity issues on this service and I can appreciate your commentary on its effects overall.”

    It would be interesting to hear from anyone who travels on this service tommorow whether a 3-car 175 is being used a whether this provides enough capacity. My expectation is that they will have found a 3-car 175 but that it won’t be nearly enough.

    In my responce to my suggestion of a Swansea District Line service to give passengers for Llanelli, Carmarthen, Fishguard and stations to Milford Haven an alternative to the 17:39, this reply said:

    “The main purpose of our changes and this consultation is to try and resolve as much as we can the capacity issues we know about albeit with the same number of trains we have at present. We have not been allocated any additional rolling stock and we are using everything available. This therefore means that regrettably, and physically, we are unable to run additional services as you have helpfully suggested.”

    This claim of limited resources comes in spite of the fact that I had pointed out their entire fleet of mark 2 coaches* will soon be sitting idle (once mark 3 coaches take over the Holyhead –

    • Rhydgaled

      Opps, accidently hit ‘post’ a bit early. – Message continues:

      This claim of limited resources comes in spite of the fact that I had pointed out their entire fleet of mark 2 coaches* will soon be standing idle (once mark 3 coaches take over the Holyhead – Cardiff ‘WAG Express’, and even while mark 2s are allocated to that service ATW aren’t using all of them).

      *There are between 16 and 24 mark 2 coaches in question, only 6 of these are painted-up for WAG express duties, and they are the only rolling stock owned by ATW, everything else is leased.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *