Fishguard rail review: Minister wants our views

Edwina Hart AM

whether to continue?

Edwina Hart AM today launches the government review of Fishguard rail services, urging “anyone with an interest in these rail services to have their say in this survey”.

The three-and-a-half week survey (closing date Wednesday June 18th) investigates the views of passengers, businesses and the community, including rail travellers and also people not currently using the services. Transport Minister Hart says “It is important that local people have the opportunity to shape how rail services are delivered in the area”.

The three-year trial service, launched in September 2011, ends only weeks after the government receives the survey results. What influence will the survey have on its future? “The information you provide will be used …” says Welsh Government, to inform the decision “whether to continue with the service permanently. If it is decided to continue with the enhanced service, the information will also be used to highlight how the service might be further improved”.

Nothing therefore is ruled out – including reverting to the previous near-non-existent one-a-day and one-a-night boat trains, or – can we dare to hope – an improved service, addressing the many shortcomings that we have cheerfully put up with for three years.

But first things first: the survey comes in three forms. The Community Survey is for anyone (presumably in the area of service), whether or not you use the trains to Fishguard. Access it here (neu yng Nghymraeg) and return it to Pembrokeshire County Council, Marketing, 2D, County Hall, Haverfordwest SA61 1TP by June 18th. The Business Survey is here in English, yma yng Nghymraeg. Finally there’s an on-train survey which is similar to the Community Survey, while adding questions about the current journey.

This  is more than a question of passenger numbers. All three surveys are looking for the difference that the trial service has made – to business, education, leisure and tourism. “As the current service is an experimental service”, Welsh Government tells Fishguard Trains, “we are mainly looking at what positive benefits the service has brought to the community”.

The surveys also enquire about service shortcomings – frequency, reliability and so on. But we notice that some topics are not listed, including the lack of a Sunday service, absence of ticketing facilities and overcrowding (yes indeed – see stories here on the Sardine Express). What should people do to raise matters that the surveys don’t cover? Welsh Government advises using the open response area in Question 10 of the Community Survey, and the “Other” box in Question 10 of the on-train survey. If you wish, they will also take direct submissions. Send these to Owen Roberts at the Transport Unit, County Hall, Haverfordwest.

Everyone who has used the new service since the launch knows the positive benefits to our community. Here is the invitation to share our knowledge with the government. Let’s take it.

 

13 Comments

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13 Responses to Fishguard rail review: Minister wants our views

  1. The link to the Community Survey seems to provide an online submittion only, yet you suggest returning the form by post to Pembrokeshire County Council. Is it ok to write to them instead as I have rather a lot to say for one of the questions?

    • Spad

      Good point. Here is the advice Fishguard Trains has received from Welsh Government:
      “The community survey’s last question has an open response area at the bottom “Please use this space to suggest any other ways in which the current train service could be improved to bring benefits to the community” where we would recommend any additional comments regarding improvements to the service should be mentioned. The on train survey has a tick box for various aspects of the current service as well as the “other” box in the last question. I am happy to take additional submissions which I can feed into review (on this email address), although it may be better to send them directly to Owen at Pembrokeshire council initially as they have been commissioned to carry out the survey and produce a report for the Welsh Government based on the findings from the local community, so any additional comments would make that report more comprehensive.”

      So we have a choice: either post further views to Owen Roberts, Sustainable Transport Co-ordinator, Pembrokeshire County Council, County Hall, Haverfordwest SA61 1TP, or email direct to Welsh Government at –
      Catherine.Osborne (at) Wales.GSI.Gov.UK

  2. Ampa

    Question 1 of the online community survey is not fit for purpose.

    The questionnaire asks “What is your MAIN means of transport for each of the following?” and proposes 3 different distances of journey, yet it is impossible to specify the same form of transport more than once.

    How can I answer that I use the train for both journeys of 3-25 miles and 25+ miles? I can’t!

    • Spad

      We agree there’s something odd about Question 1. Although not necessarily your puzzle, Ampa.
      Because you CAN choose the same mode for more than one distance – so for example petrolheads can tick “own car” for under 3, 3-24 and 25 + miles.

      What we find odd is that this is a survey into train use, and yet Fishguard’s rail service offers little or nothing for ANY journeys of under 3, or 3-24 miles. All realistic rail journeys to and from Fishguard have to be over 25 miles. So this is a missed opportunity to discover how far Fishguuard rail users are travelling. It has been shown previously that the great majority head to/from Cardiff and London, with west Wales journeys (Swansea, Carmarthen etc) much less frequent.

      Why does this matter? Because serious timetable adjustment would be needed to make these closer destinations more viable by train – without of course destroying the current rather good long distance links. This survey may miss the necessary evidence for that.

      The obvious local destinations for Fishguard travellers (by all modes) are Haverfordwest and Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire’s two largest towns. It would be possible to create a rail timetable that effectively linked all Pembokeshire’s towns (by good connections at Clarbeston and WHitland) but that too may not be discovered by this survey.

      All in all, there seems much caution, and little ambition in this review – perhaps steady-as-we-go is the best we can hope for.

      • Ampa

        I didn’t make myself clear: The ONLINE survey is broken / has a bug where it is impossible to specify the same mode of transport for two or more of the specified distances.
        Try it yourself… follow the link to the online survey, and try to select Car for both short and mid-length trips. Not possible!

        I’ve tested this in 3 different browsers (Opera Developer, Internet Explorer and Firefox) and the bug exists in them all. It is present in both the English and Welsh versions of the questionaire.

        Since I was unable to answer question 1 correctly, I gave up on the survey so I have no idea whether there are any other questions that suffer from this fault.

        On paper one may of course answer however one pleases!

        • Spad

          You’ve convinced us: we tried the online survey here in the Fishguard Trains labs, and Question One fails exactly as you describe.

          In fact it’s even worse: the software allows you to declare ALL FIVE modes as your main means of transport for any chosen distance. Someone forgot to test this before going live. We are alerting Welsh Government immediately – It’s not good enough when the future of Fishguard’s rail service apparently hangs on this review.
          UPDATE Tuesday May 27th
          The bug reported to Welsh Government by Fishguard Trains has been fixed … sort of.
          You can now choose and click the same mode of transport for more than one distance.
          On the other hand you can still click as many modes as you like for each distance, not just the main mode.
          Apparently time pressure from Welsh Government on the PCC survey managers prevented them from sorting this out.
          Thanks for reporting the bug, Ampa. The links on this page now point to the corrected surveys, so if you already tried and failed to complete the questionnaires, try again!

      • The mileage-based question doesn’t make sense to me. reat fit for my travel patterns. My regular journeys to Aberystwyth over the past few years have been by bus, but that’s over 25 miles. I rarely make journeys which are possible by train, but on the occasions that I do these are generally even further.

        In response to your other point, are you suggesting that Fishguard’s rail service offering is more appropriate for long-distance journeys than shorter ones (by ‘shorter’ in this case I mean Swansea and Carmarthen)?

        As for journeys from Fishguard to Haverfordwest and Milford Haven, the rail network is not laid out for it. Once you’ve added getting from Fishguard down the hill into Goodwick and interchange time there and at Clarbeston Road, you’d be better off taking the bus to Haverfordwest. Enhance the rail service from Goodwick so it captures more traffic towards Carmarthen and you can retime the Fishguard-Haverfordwest bus to connect to Milford-bound trains.

        As for changing at Whitland to reach Tenby, that would be great but alas (despite the fact there is still a station building) the interchange facilities at Whitland are, if anything, even worse than Fishguard & Goodwick and Clarbeston Road. Unfortuantely, while the building has been saved from demolition, I discovered to my horror yesterday that it appears to have been done in a way that prohibts future passenger use.

  3. Swansea Jack

    On line survey seems to be working fine now! I think it is reasonable to be able to click more than one mode for the different journey lengths. For journeys less than 3 miles I have used walking / buses / cycling and if I am picking up stuff or it is raining I have used the car – especially if heading up the hill in Goodwick of an evening after the last bus has departed!

  4. I took the Gloucester to Fishguard service on Friday evening (30th May). The good news was that there were too many passengers getting off at FGW to count (over 30).

    A Pembs. Council representative boarded at Clarbeston Road and handed out surveys. However, the table of 4 (including myself and my grandmother) didn’t get a copy as they were only asking for those who use the train regularly. More bad news was that a class 150 was used. I assume the service is still booked for a class 158, but it would be nice if an appologetic announcement was made when a 150 has to deputise. We don’t want to put off passengers by making them think it is a 150 all the time (although it has happened to me more often than not, am I just really unlucky?)

    • Swansea Jack

      Well the person who offered me a survey form simply asked if I would be happy to fill one in, with no comment indicating they were only for regular users. I’d suggest that you’d simply ask for one anyway if none was proffered, although on the very busy lunchtime boat train on 24th May I’d confirm that all passengers were asked if they would fill one in, including those who were obviously either visitors to the area or those heading to the boat. On the return trip from the Harbour the same happened – with it being blatantly obvious that most passengers had just arrived on the ferry from Ireland. By the way on that day over 40 passengers de-trained at Goodwick from the Newport to Fishguard service – many being visitors to North Pembrokeshire.

    • The offending 150 features, briefly, at the end of the new video I have produced to mark the fact there are three months to go on the trial service (from today, according to my estimate of when the 3yr trial arrangement will end). The video is part of my Trains For Fishguard series.

      Not featured is the other bit of disapointing news from my trip. Out of all those passengers that left the 18:46 arrival at Goodwick, I could only see 2 on the bus ‘connection’ (which, on this occasion, I had elected not to use* due to how tight the connection is, the fact I’d still need a lift home from Newport anyway, and wanting to be home by 8pm).

      *good thing too as I then realised I had left my bag on the train and had to divert my lift home via the harbour station so that I could retreive it.

  5. 87J

    The Great Western Specification document has been published by the Dept of Transport Rail Executive. This is looking at the shape of the new GW operator franchise (currently operated by FGW) particularly in the light of the future electrification of the Paddington/Swansea route. The spec askes for one through train/day Paddington/Carmarthen. The current summer service to Pembroke Dock is not mentioned. This looks like a weakening of the need to have through trains from Paddington west of Swansea. ( From a Fishguard perspective there have been no Paddington through trains for some time). Does this matter for a future Fishguard service ? Can we assume that future franchises based on the one currently operated by ATW will support through trains to at least Cardiff? The train service west of Cardiff post electrification is proposed to be 1 train/hour.
    The public consultation on this document finishes on the 26th June.

    • Previously (before the ICWC franchise competition collapsed), the minimum train service specification for the Great Western franchise did include the summer Pembroke Dock service, at the same level as currently. This despite the fact the department for transport don’t seem to have any idea how they expected the operator to provide that service given that the new trains on-order will not be able to operate west of Carmarthen as things stand.

      Assuming the 1train/hour west of Cardiff only relates to what the Great Western franchise has to provide, this is the same level of service as now. What is concerning however is that some of the hourly Paddington-Swansea services are currently planned to be worked by 5-car new trains from 2017 onwards. These 5-car trains are expected to have arround 315 seats. For comparison, today’s Paddington-Swansea trains provide between 470 and 560 seats. To be fair though, not all the Swansea services will be 5-car, others will be 9-car units with 600-63o seats.

      As for through trains from west of Swansea to Cardiff, I personally think through trains beyond Swansea should be withdrawn when electrification reaches Swansea, except for:

      Services provided by the Great Western franchise which provide additional capacity at peak times (eg. 07:30 Carmarthen-Swansea and summer Saturday Tenby services)
      Express services using the Swansea District Line (with paths reserved for these to be increased up to an hourly service)

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