£40 million to correct Thatcher’s mistake

Loughor rail viaduct

Loughor Viaduct – to be rebuilt to support two tracks

At a cost of £40 million to Welsh taxpayers and travellers, next month will finally see the single track line between Swansea and Llanelli redoubled.

The project, jointly funded by Welsh Government and Network Rail (i.e. by us) corrects a historic mistake, a thirty-year old policy by Thatcher’s government (also taxpayer-funded in its day) to dismantle all but our highest-earning inter-city routes.

We can celebrate, but remembering to keep watch for latter-day ‘rationalisers’ – Network Rail is on record contemplating the singling of the Swansea District Line – which will now come into its own for the duration of these works.

From March 24th to April 6th, trains between Cardiff and west Wales will by-pass Swansea, using the Swansea District Line which normally only carries freight and the lunchtime Fishguard boat trains.  See Arriva’s passenger information here. This may come as a welcome surprise for rail travellers to Carmarthen, Tenby and Haverfordwest, as the Swansea District Line is a far more direct route west, which of course was the point of building it a century ago. If the experience of a non-stop service between Port Talbot and Llanelli raises interest in the future of this line, that will be a real bonus.

Naturally most rail traffic will continue via Swansea in future, even with the additional passenger services on the SDL we hope for. A double track west from the city will remove a serious obstacle to growth, eliminate delays and the knock-on effect of delays, and allow increased reliability and timetable frequency of services on all three Pembrokeshire branches.

So there’s quite a lot to celebrate.

8 Comments

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8 Responses to £40 million to correct Thatcher’s mistake

  1. Rhydgaled

    The East Coast Journey Planner for Tue 2 Apr 2013 between Port Talbot and Llanelli certainly makes interesting reading. Quite a few westbound services traverse the section in 29mins, with one midnight service being timed faster at just 27mins. For some reason the fastest managed in the other direction is 32mins.

    Carmarthen – Llanelli non-stop on the boat train is timed at 22min and several Port Talbot – Cardiff trains are timed for 31, totaling about 1hr 23min for a full Cardiff – Carmarthen express journey. Shame there doesn’t seem to be any services which thread these fastest times together like that, although there are a couple of 1hr 1min Cardiff – Llanelli trips scheduled for 2nd Apr.

    You suggest increased “timetable frequency of services on all three Pembrokeshire branches.” The Pembroke Dock branch however is a tricky one, I think you might be able to increase the frequency a little, but not to hourly. Every 1hr 30mins looks like it might work quite well for rolling stock utilisation as a branch shuttle from Whitland (30 minute turn-round at each end, rather than sitting in Pembroke Dock for around 50mins with the present service) but if it extends to Carmarthen or Swansea interworking the rolling stock with other routes would be necessary to avoid trains sitting doing nothing for long periods. Also, a 90-min interval Pembroke and Tenby service beyond Whitland could play havok with trying to provide clockface services on an hourly/half-hourly/2-hourly basis on other routes.

    I’d be interested to read any suggestions anyone, particularly SPAD/Fishguard Trains themselves, has on service pattern in South West Wales.

  2. DBJ

    There’s something not to celebrate on the other side of the water though. Has anyone noticed the last train service from Rosslare to Dublin leaves at 17.55, five mintues BEFORE the arrival of the Stena ferry, and fifty minutes before the arrival of the Pembroke sailing. So if you want to rail and sail to Dublin from this end, you can’t.

    http://www.irishrail.ie/media/08-DublinRosslareEuroport1.pdf

    • Spad

      DBJ – here are the official times:
      STENA
      Fishguard Harbour 14:30
      Rosslare Europort 18:00
      IRISH RAIL
      Rosslare Europort 17:55
      Dublin Connolly 20:44
      Before we accuse all kinds of organisations of lunacy, would anyone like to comment?
      Irishman?

    • Irishman

      Unfortunately no changes were made on the Rosslare- Wicklow – Dublin line in the 2013 train timetable – it’s essentially a carbon copy of the timetable introduced in September 2011.

      It would appear that the powers that be here are well aware of the rail-ship issue at Rosslare. I’ll try to present here what I understand are the issues:

      * Gap in services: the train prior to the 17.55hrs ex Rosslare Europort is the 12.55. Were the 17.55hrs to be deferred till around 19.15 (thereby accommodating the Fishguard ferry arrival at 18.00hrs.), the gap between northbound trains along the entire line between Rosslare to Greystones increases from a 5 hour gap (already too great an interval) to around 6 hrs 15 mins. Most probably there is a concern that some existing users would be dissuaded from taking the train if the interval between the afternoon and evening trains ex Rosslare increased.
      * Single track nature of the line: the entire line from Rosslare Europort to Bray is single track. Trains can only pass at any intermediate station (note: except Kilcoole. Further note – at Wexford the passing loop is just north of the station). Normally this is not an issue.

      However in the evenings (M-F) the usual sparse service pattern is broken in that there are three trains from the capital to County Wexford, with approximately an hour between them. These are the 16.37 Connolly – Rosslare Europort (arriving Rosslare 19.25 in nice time for the Fishguard sailing & 21.30 hrs Cherbourg sailing), the 17.36 Connolly to Wexford & 18.38 Connolly – Rosslare Europort.

      Apparently the earliest that a deferred 17.55hrs. train could depart without significantly delaying itself and or the other trains whilst “crossing” them is around 19.15hrs. A prolonged wait by one of the evening trains from Dublin would be very unpopular amongst commuters.

      The solution seems to be to provide a train ex Rosslare Europort around 15.00/16.00hrs, breaking the long interval and allowing the 17.55hrs to be deferred to 19.15hrs.

      Not for one moment defending the situation here – not happy with it – it really must be addressed. But can’t see any change in the immediate future.

      No disrespect to Irish Ferries but the Pembroke route is secondary in terms of rail connectivity (Pembroke Dock station is around a mile from the ferry terminal). Ship-rail timings don’t mesh together as well as they do at Fishguard. Through SailRail ticketing is not available via Rosslare-Pembroke (it was around the turn of this century). Irish Ferries take the Cork-London Eurolines route 890 coach (overnight each way) plus there is the shipside Megabus (nightly each way) from Pembroke Dock to London. So in many respects (not least the integrated timings and terminal on the Welsh side) Fishguard is the core “bread and butter” sea route to consider when looking at improved rail-sea connectivity at Rosslare.

      Incidentally a good number of the French sailings (year-round Celtic Link to Cherbourg, nearly all year-round Irish Ferries to Cherbourg & seasonal Irish Ferries to Roscoff) have rail connections at Rosslare.

      In the meantime the only Fishguard sailings which are rail connected are the 21.00 (16.37 Dublin – Rosslare train M-F) and the 02.45 ex Fishguard (arr. Rosslare 06.15: onward train at 07.20 M-S). Unsatisfactory but better than nothing.

      The following Stena Line press release from earlier this month (see in particular the end of paragraph 3) shows that SailRail traffic can be grown significantly :
      http://news.stenaline.co.uk/pressrelease/view/stena-line-breaks-annual-north-sea-traffic-records-in-golden-anniversary-year-835545
      Onward rail connectivity at Rosslare is clearly the weakest link.

      I would encourage users and interested people in Wales/England affected by this to drop an e-mail or letter to Irish Rail and or the National Transport Authority:
      http://www.nationaltransport.ie/contact-us/

  3. Irishman

    Addendum:
    * I understand that through-ticketing from Wales/England to stations beyond Rosslare was disenabled due to the limited rail connectivity at Rosslare (through ticketing is still issued by Irish Rail).
    * The departing train at 17.55hrs is very clearly visible by passengers out on deck on the Stena Europa. Living in Ireland I find it an embarrassment. Disappointing to have to say that but true.
    * Rail connectivity to/from the daytime sailings is desirable as it is the daytime market that has the most potential to grow and attract new users. The overnight trip is do-able but I usually find a few hours compensatory sleep is necessary when I reach home/my destination.
    * Stena Line did survey passengers in the recent past with regard to a potential sailing schedule change on the route – an option presented was for passengers to be able to sleep on in one direction (i.e. passengers would essentially have very close to a normal’s night sleep onboard; this is a key attractor for the DutchFlyer SailRail product so no reason why a similar success can’t be replicated on St. George’s Channel).
    * There are emission targets (Sulphur I believe) coming into effect for ships (2015 I believe) which may have a knock-on effect on vessels used, pricing etc…
    * I think a greater level of working together is necessary between all providers and authorities. It should be possible to tick all boxes quite well – keep the dominant car and freight market happy, satisfy the domestic rail passenger but also grow the SailRail traffic to its fullest potential.

  4. DBJ

    So what exactly happens with foot passengers turning up on the afternoon sailing now? Is everyone just directed towards coaches, even for places like Wexford?

    • Irishman

      The only choice for foot passengers arriving into Rosslare at 18.00hrs from Fishguard is to wait for the only (no typo – yes it’s the only) remaining bus of the evening, the 19.00 hrs Bus Éireann route 40 service to Waterford. This express bus serves Wexford, New Ross and a few smaller places en route.

      (Bus Éireann shortened their Rosslare Europort – Dublin Airport route to Wexford – Dublin Airport in September 2012, so the port no longer has a through bus to Dublin apart from a cross-country one at 08.00).

      Quite a number of foot passengers get dropped at Rosslare by car/ park there. Leaving personal convenience aside, disillusionment and problems with connecting public transport would clearly appear to be an issue.

      Two options for reaching Dublin from the 18.00 arrival at Rosslare:

      1. (Take the 19.00hrs. route 40 to Wexford O’Hanrahan railway station, arriving 19.25hrs.). Walk around the corner (literally) and catch the 19.30 Wexford Bus (private company) to Dublin, arriving there at 21.50hrs. Benefit: continuous journey. Disbenefit: dearer as it’s necessary to buy two separate bus tickets (€5.50 Rosslare – Wexford single; €17 Wexford – Dublin single; total €22.50). Contrast this with the SailRail add-on (for tickets from Irish stations via Rosslare – Fishguard issued by Irish Rail) which for Rosslare-Dublin is €15 .

      2. (Take the 19.00hrs. route 40 to Wexford O’Hanrahan railway station, arriving 19.25hrs.). Wait for the next Bus Éireann service to Dublin which departs at 20.30 (same place as bus from Rosslare drops). Arrive Dublin 22.50hrs. Benefit: cheaper to buy a through ticket Rosslare to Dublin (€20.70 on bus; €19.67 online) than separate tickets. Disbenefit: a full hour to wait (aside: there’s a large supermarket – Dunnes Stores just across the road and several places to eat within close walking distance).

      Wish it were different but that’s unfortunately the situation as it stands.

  5. Swansea Jack

    One of the reasons why I shall be heading up to Glasgow by train on Good Friday for the Easter weekend, rather than helping to inject some cash into the Irish economy……The Glasgow Central station hotel will benefit from my booking for 3 nights!

    A holiday for me is so much better without a car and IR don’t give me the option of visiting Dublin by public transport – their loss, and environmentally I would not consider a short-haul flight.

    Is it only me that gets the feeling that IR are deliberately trying to make it difficult to use trains from Rosslare – it feels like BR from the 1960s and the Beeching era to me. Surely in such difficult economic times it would make sense to maximise the potential in existing infrastructure, and encouraging visitors would be a sensible way of improving the economy of the Republic.

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