Meet the bus or meet the train?

map of Fishguard bus routes

On the buses

Rhydgaled’s reply to How to write a timetable #2 raises a fundamental timetabling problem: Should the Fishguard-Carmarthen shuttle meet the buses at Fishguard or the trains at Carmarthen? It can’t easily do both, across the day, and in each direction. So there are difficult choices to make.

The example Rhydgaled points to is the breakfast time train out of Fishguard. Spad timed it to leave at 7:24. If the journey is 56 minutes (could be a bit less by missing intermediate stops), this reaches Carmarthen by 8:20. That’s good because 10 minutes later the 8:30 through train to Swansea, Cardiff, Newport, Shrewsbury and Manchester leaves. At Cardiff you get good connections for Bristol, Birmingham and London. That’s a lot of important connections from a single trip out of Fishguard.

Rhydgaled’s alternative service, leaving Fishguard at 7:50 would reach Carmarthen at 8:46. There’s a 9:00 departure arriving Swansea at 9:51, but then nothing out of Swansea until 10:28. Compare Spad and Rhydgaled for Fishguard – Cardiff:

Fishguard   7:24    7:50

Cardiff       10:22   11:22

The delay is similar for all other destinations east of Carmarthen. But what of Rhydgaled’s point about a 7:24 train leaving before the first bus from north of Fishguard? In fact the first 412 now leaves Newport at 7:10, arriving Fishguard at 7:25. So just time it ten minutes earlier (and extend it to Fishguard station, wherever that is) to meet the train. (You could start that bus from Cardigan at around 6:30, but there’s less need, as there’s already a direct bus from Cardigan at 6:45 reaching Carmarthen in time for the 8:30 train).

Two general points come out of this example:

1) Just because we’re getting a shuttle to Carmarthen doesn’t mean that Carmarthen is where Fishguard travellers are going. London, Cardiff and Swansea were the most wanted destinations in NPTF’s 2004 passenger survey.

2) When it comes to flexibility to change connection times to suit the Fishguard shuttle, which do we think is more likely – retiming north Pembrokeshire buses or retiming long distance rail services from Carmarthen and Cardiff?

Once there’s an official draft timetable to study, we’ll have to test every departure and arrival at Fishguard against the bus timetables – 412, 410, 413 and, yes, the Strumble Shuttle too. This is going to be an interesting test of everyone’s commitment to an integrated transport policy.

2 Comments

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2 Responses to Meet the bus or meet the train?

  1. Rhydgaled

    Some good points there. That connection at 09:00 only going to Swansea is a problem, as is the journey time which makes turn-rounds tight (8mins, only just about do-able) for a clockface timetable. The second issue means it is very hard to provide decent connections in both directions.

    After the 9:00, arrivals into Carmarthen from Fishguard at 46 mins past the even hours would give a few mins to connect with the Manchester service (it orriginates from Carmarthen a few mins after each odd hour, except, as you say, at 9:00 (which, as you righly point out, mucks up the timetable I sent you).) However this means in the other direction you have about 26mins to wait from the Manchester service terminating at Carmarthen for the trip back to Fishguard (trains from Cardiff terminate at Carmarthen between 20 and 52 mins past each even hour). Ideally, our shuttle would be clockface and timed to arrive and depart about halfway between the train from Cardiff/Manchester terminating at Carmarthen and heading off again, but the variation in arrival time of the Manchester/Cardiff service prevents this. Therefore we either need to compromise on clockface-ness (which would impact on ability to connect with the (clockface) buses from Cardigan) or compromise on waiting times at some points. This isn’t going to be easy.

    The problem with making the first bus 6:30 from Cardigan is that (when I used it frequently (about a year ago)) the 7:00 bus was nearly empty until Fishguard anyway, and actually goes via Goodwick (no other 412 does, though making the first bus earlier to meet your train as you suggest would almost work, as even after diverting it to Goodwick it’d only be about 5mins later leaving Fishguard for Haverfordwest). Cardigan (with it’s hourly direct bus to Carmarthen, 11mins quicker than via a Fishguard train) was never going to be part of the catchment area for a Fishguard – Carmarthen shuttle. Connection timings however could make it faster to take a bus from Cardigan to Fishguard then a train to Cardiff if the Fishguard trains would go direct to Cardiff, but that’s unfortunatly I think that’s not what we have been offered. However, if you’re starting from Eglwyswrw (or even Croft) without amazingly well timed connections in Cardigan taking the bus to Fishguard to get a train to Carmarthen works out better, which is why I wanted to make sure you considered making the first train connect with the 7:00 from Cardigan. A good connection to Cardiff is very important, and I’ll conceed my later departure does not provide this, this is not an easy problem to solve.

    The fact they’ll likely be stopping our extra services at Carmarthen (because they would need to find more, and probablly longer, trains to go further – although thanks to you Spad I’ve heard an option is being developed that “would include some through services to and from Swansea.”) is the reason I’m slightly worried the service won’t last. I am well aware of the survey you mention and have the numbers for the top 5 destonations here:

    London 135
    Cardiff 113
    Swansea 79
    Carmarthen 31
    Bristol 31

    That illustrates the importance of Cardiff, not only is it (just) more popular a destonation than Carmarthen and Swansea combined, but there are more trains from there to London and, as far as I know, no services to Bristol from anywhere west of Cardiff. There’s a big risk that some connections at Carmarthen will only link up with Swansea, requiring anyone for Bristol (or anywhere south of the Great Western Main Line for that matter) to change at Swansea and again later. For that reason, and because according to some anything more than the current 1.5 trains per hour between Cardiff and Swansea (plus the Heart Of Wales trains) would be too much for the single track between Llanelli and Swansea, I think the option to extend services to Swansea would not be the best option. No, there’s something far better than either.

    Now, I return to my suggested 7:50ish first departure from Fishguard. It might still be better to go earlier, because if you work in Carmarthen an 8:46 arrival might be too late. That aside, what if I said west Wales is being had, ripped off, conned? What if I said it might well be possible (train paths permitting) that service could extend to Cardiff and arrive about 5mins before Spad’s connecting train pulls in at 10:22? Yes, you should be able to get a train to go from Carmarthen to Cardiff in 1hr 28mins, calling at Llanelli, Bridgend and Cardiff only, rather than the normal 1hr 42mins, and without running over that bit of single track. The trick is the Swansea District Line, a basicly freight-only double track line through the outskirts of Swansea, which was originally built to speed up the Great Western Railway’s express boat trains to Fishguard. With a bit of investment to bring it back up to passenger standards it could be used to knock even more time off journeys to west Wales, but I think all that’s needed now for 2-hourly 1hr 28min journeys between Cardiff and Carmarthen (running onwards to Fishguard of course) is 3 class 158 units to operate the service, and a timetable (and we’re back to square 1 trying to make it connect well!).

    As for getting those units, there might be a way, involving scaling the A40 and A477 schemes back to 30mph speed restrictions and pedestrian crossings for the vilages being bypassed to free up some cash to restore some locomotive hauled rolling stock to displace the necessary units. Sadly I think all that couldn’t be done by September.

    • Spad

      Rhydgaled – have you been reading my mind or reading agenda (the journal of the Institute of Welsh Affairs)?
      Either way, check out the Fast Track to Fishguard story, then get hold of agenda.
      It couldn’t happen by September, but how about 2012 – centenary of the Fishguard Express Line?

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