Fishguardâ€™s winter 2015 rail timetable does more than fine-tune the times of our seven trains a day. It has nearly lost one of our seven precious eastbound services.
The 19:11 from Fishguard and Goodwick is the only train after lunchtime that connects anywhere east of Swansea. By changing at Clarbeston Road, you can get as far as Cardiff, Bristol, Hereford, Shrewsbury and Crewe. But the winter timetable introduced a fatal flaw: the time at Clarbeston Road between arrival of the shuttle from Fishguard and departure of the Milford to Cardiff train is cut to four minutes. And that, according to Network Rail, is a missed connection.
As a result, online rail enquiries show no service from Fishguard to anywhere east of Carmarthen in the evening. You will search in vain for a train from Fishguard to anywhere other than Clarbeston Road. (And, lovely place though it is, who wants to go to Clarbeston Road for the evening?) Neither can you buy an Advance ticket from Fishguard to eastward destinations for the 19:11. It simply doesnâ€™t exist.
Yes, if you know the system, for the same price you can buy a ticket from Haverfordwest and use it from Fishguard. But you have to know the system. (And sadly your ticket wonâ€™t count towards Fishguard passenger numbers â€“ an important statistic for the future of our service.)
Is this just a ticketing problem? Surely the service itself is good? The 19:11 runs from Fishguard not to serve Clarbeston Road, but to connect to the long-distance eastbound train at Clarbeston Road, and to make good the Welsh Government promise of seven trains a day each way for Fishguard. So is this a guaranteed service, even with a four minute change?
Fishguard Trains frequently takes the 19:11 to Cardiff, Bristol and points east. We have often wondered what would happen if it was seriously delayed. A night on the platform at Clarbeston Road? Would the signalman bring us a cup of tea?
This week we had a chance to find out. The train was late coming in to Fishguard (â€œpoints trouble at Cardiffâ€) and by the time it had turned around it was ten minutes late leaving Fishguard and Goodwick. Fishguard Trainsâ€™ reporter was already hoping the signalman would have enough tea bags. But then, step forward Rob Ware, the Carmarthen-based guard on the 19:11. He explained that if the connection was missed, a taxi would be organised to get me to Cardiff, in time for my final connection to Bristol. That sounded extravagant but welcome. Then having waited for a mobile signal, he called the Clarbeston Road signalbox. Yes, they would try to hold the Milford train, as long as ours was not too late.
As the Fishguard shuttle slowed down for the signalbox, there was the Milford train, held up, awaiting our arrival. Thanks Rob.
The next concern was a problematic ten minute connection at Cardiff for the Bristol train. The Milford train was now thirteen minutes late leavingÂ Â But the extra minutes built in to timetables here and there worked in our favour, and the Milford-Cardiff train reached Cardiff three minutes early, having made up 16 minutes on the journey. Thanks to Rob Ware, and the Clarbeston Road signalman, what might have been a nightmare journey turned out well.
Fishguard Trains thinks the four minute timetabled change at Clarbeston Road is simply a missed connection waiting to happen. The tight timing seems pointless: the incoming service is timetabled in to Fishguard Harbour at 18:51. Instead of waiting till 19:08, it could be timetabled out at 19:00, restoring the broken ticketing links, restoring our seven daily trains, and reducing everyoneâ€™s stress.