Rob Ware saves Clarbeston connection

Fishguard shuttle meets the Cardiff train

Fishguard shuttle passes the Cardiff train

Fishguard’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 doesn’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 won’t count towards Fishguard passenger numbers – 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 (“points trouble at Cardiff”) and by the time it had turned around it was ten minutes late leaving Fishguard and Goodwick. Fishguard Trains’ 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 leaving   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 everyone’s stress.

7 Comments

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7 Responses to Rob Ware saves Clarbeston connection

  1. Irishman

    Haven’t used this particular train but an eminently valid point which hopefully will be addressed in the Summer timetable (if not earlier).

    And a resounding “well done” to the personnel involved.

    A point to ponder is whether there are any further minor adjustments which could and should be made to North Pembrokeshire’s rail service.

    On a closing note the Fishguard – Rosslare route superferry, Stena Europe will be absent from this weekend on her routine dry dock and there will be no service for foot passengers during this time.
    “Due to the Stena Europe dry dock a replacement service will run between PEMBROKE DOCK and Rosslare Ports instead of Fishguard and Rosslare, commencing with the 8 February 1445hrs until 17 February 1445hrs.”(Source: Stena Line website).

  2. Blocking Back

    Bob’s a thoroughly good chap, but I would add that this is standard procedure and is by no means unusual where the Up Fishguard service is delayed.

    If the Fishguard train is going to be late, the Clarbeston Road signaller will proactively ask Cardiff Control for permission to hold the Milford Haven service in order to connect with the Fishguard (provided that there are passengers on board wanting to connect – something that the Guard always communicates to the signaller after leaving Goodwick). I have never known Control to say ‘No’.

    Signallers like to travel by train as well and will always proactively try to minimise problems for passenger connections.

    • Blocking Back

      One more thing to add: Where connections have been missed, a taxi will indeed be arranged unless there is another suitable train service imminent.

  3. Blocking Back

    And a signaller is never knowingly without tea-bags…

    • Spad

      Nice one, Blocking Back.
      Two questions –
      1 Do you agree that the 19:08 from could be timetabled out at 19:00, to restore the broken ticketing links, restore our seven daily trains, and reduce everyone’s stress?
      2 Do you do chocolate-covered ginger snaps? We like a nice biscuit with our cup of tea.

      • Blocking Back

        1. Absolutely no clue whatsoever re ticketing, sorry – you’d have to ask Arriva. There’s absolutely no reason that we can see why the train could not be re-timed and in fact it should be.

        We’ve no idea why they changed it in the Winter timetable, but we have a massive problem in that there are now only four minutes to bring the train in, offload the passengers, move it forward to the crossover, turn it around, move it through the crossover to the Down platform and then set the signals to bring the Milford into the Up platform.

        Turning the train around alone takes approximately five minutes, as the computerised train management system needs to be shut down at one end and booted up at the other end before it can be moved. Changing ends used to be simply a case of the driver running from one end to the other and jumping in the seat, but that’s not been the case for the last four years or so. Sometimes it can take as much as 7 or 8 minutes to turn a train around.

        Consequently, this timetable change frequently causes a delay to the 1934 connecting service, as it is impossible to perform this move within the 4 minutes allocated. The 1934 only runs on time when there are no connecting passengers from Fishguard, allowing the Fishguard train to be held out on the Fishguard Line until the Milford has passed.

        The ‘good news’ from our point of view is that more often than not, there are no passengers on that service, so the 1934 doesn’t get delayed as often as it might.

        2. That’s very kind of you to offer. Thanks!

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