Stena disrupts Fishguard trains

Stena Europe sail from Fishguard

Altered ferry sailing times between Fishguard to Rosslare, introduced suddenly by Stena, have disrupted train services all the way from Fishguard to Cardiff

  • BREAKING NEWS – for latest developments see end of this post

Brought in with only two weeks notice, new sailing times from May 22 2017 affect all sailings between the Welsh and Irish ports.  From Fishguard, the 2:30 night sailing now leaves at 23:45, and the afternoon 14:30 ferry now sails at 13:10. The morning sailing from Rosslare now berths at Fishguard at 11:15 (previously 12:30), and the night sailing berths at Fishguard at 21:25 (previously 00:30). Whether or not these changes will please Stena’s customers (and it is not easy to meet the diverse needs of foot passengers, drivers, and international freight), the impact on Fishguard will be dramatic.

Until May 2017, the interchange between trains and ferries in both directions was seamless. A train brought passengers to all sailings, and a train was ready to meet passengers off all ships. But no longer. The 21:25 evening arrival from Ireland is met by a new train that leaves at 22:14. But this train goes no further than Carmarthen. Unless passengers from Ireland have business there, expect a long cold overnight wait for the first morning train east. For years, the night train from Fishguard has taken travellers overnight all the way to London, and now it has simply disappeared. In its place, a new 22:14 service abandons you in Carmarthen.

Another loss is the removal of the 17:40 service from Cardiff, changing at Clarbeston Road – we know it as the Sardine Express. It has simply disappeared.

A further change is the loss of the express mid-morning through service from Cardiff to Fishguard. In its place, you catch a 10:04 from Cardiff, but have to change at Swansea for a new Fishguard service arriving at 12:30. There are further detailed changes to services throughout the day to and from Fishguard. Overall, our service of seven trains a day each way is now cut back to six. Were we ever asked?

The news is not all bad for rail travellers. replacing the 17:40 service from Cardiff, a new service leaves the capital at 19:04, changing at Carmarthen to reach Fishguard Harbour at 22:02. This may be welcome news for travellers wanting a later departure from London or Cardiff, but still arriving before midnight.

What is astonishing is that these changes are driven by Stena, a private ferry company, but will impact rail travellers across Wales, without any consultation or debate.

Fishguard Trains suspects that Arriva was caught seriously off guard by Stena’s news, and may try to do something to restore services later in 2017. But this is no way to plan and run an international rail-sail link. As we have covered in the past, this is a link between two European regions, and subject to European laws meant to protect the integrity of international travel. Has Brexit emboldened Stena to ignore the European dimension?

For us, the worry is that the disruption of passenger links between Ireland and Wales through Fishguard (and inevitable reduction of rail passenger numbers) will undermine Wales’ ability to compete in future, when Northern Ireland becomes the favoured route for traffic between the Irish republic and the UK – a prospect that already concerns Welsh Government. Bad news for Fishguard, and bad news for Wales.

Detail of ferry hull


May 23 2017

Fishguard Trains hears a whisper that Arriva is still playing catch-up with Stena’s disruptive new timetable. It may be that the 22:14 train from Fishguard that meets passengers off the Rosslare ferry (that now berths at 21:25) is to be extended from its unhelpful terminus at Carmarthen – but only as far as Swansea. At least they are going in the right direction. More news when it reaches the end of the line.

One more push, and Arriva might make it to Pyle. Did someone want Paddington? That’s so last century.

May 24 2017

Extension of the night boat train from Fishguard is confirmed. The 22:14 from Fishguard Harbour will now continue to Swansea, arr. 00:09. These times do not appear in Arriva’s West Wales Timetable for May-December 2017. Here are the full times (plus connections if you don’t mind a near-four hour wait at Swansea to reach Cardiff and London):

22:14  Fishguard Harbour 

22:17  Fishguard and Goodwick

22:36  Clarbeston Road request

22:43  Clunderwen request

22:50  Whitland

23:11  Carmarthen

23:22  Ferryside request

23:28  Kidwelly request

23:35  Pembrey

23:43  Llanelli

23:50  Gowerton

00:09  Swansea arr.

03:52  Swansea dep.

05:11  Cardiff Central

07:30  Paddington



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10 Responses to Stena disrupts Fishguard trains


    The afternoon train from Paddington does not allow super off-peak tickets, only off peak, so there is a price hike there. A twenty-five minute wait and change of train at Swansea, then a further five minutes wait at Carmarthen and change of train again seems to point to Arriva scrambling to keep the service going after Stena’s sudden alterations. The overall effect is a five hour run from Paddington to Fishguard. It can’t be easy when you have no extra rolling stock to work with. Can anyone fancy a long cold wait overnight at Fishguard Harbour in the middle of winter?

    • RealTimeTrains seems to have a different idea of the new services. The ATW timetable 3 booklet I downloaded shows the new evening boat train (the one with a 26 minute wait at Swansea) to be a 15:30 Manchester to Fishguard through train, with no need to change at Carmarthen (although it does mysteriously reverse there with no allowance, arrive and depart 21:00). While in that case, the paper timetable suggest a better service; on RealTimeTrains the 22:14 now seems to have been extended to Swansea.

      There is still a train, in and out, for each ferry at Fishguard and the new 13:10 sailing from Fishguard looks like it will make the train on the Irish side that was frustratingly missing before. Just the morning departure from Rosslare to Fishguard that is not met by a train now.

      The rail-sail links might not be as adversely effected as I first thought, but losing one of the five extra trains to the retimed night boat train is still a bit of a disapointment. My hope when I found out about Stena’s changes was that the contract signed in 2011 specifed that ATW would provide 7 trains each way to/from Fishguard per 24hrs, and use that to maybe get them to plug the huge afternoon gap. Unfortunately I have not been able to get hold of the contract (commerially sensitive info apparently, even though the 2003 franchise contract is online for all to see), so I don’t know if the 2011 service was specified in terms of numbers of services or just there would be services at certain times (eg. one from Cardiff between 5pm and midnight).

      Something from the FOI response letter though: “We will be keeping the changes to the Fishguard services under review and will look to make further changes if necessary in the December 2017 timetable change. Feedback from users of the services will be an important consideration for any further changes”.

  2. Irishman

    Some points and thoughts in no particular order of importance:

    Stena line publically released the news of the sailing schedule change on April 3rd at lunchtime so presumably ATW were notified on that day (if not earlier) to begin the necessary steps for changing the rail timetable.

    In my view there is merit in revisiting Stena Line’s 2011 offer of a train stabling overnight at Fishguard Harbour.
    and for the 00.15 Swansea – Carmarthen to extend to Fishguard Harbour and stable there. It would then work the following morning’s 06.50.

    The 22.14 ideally needs to run through to Cardiff (could an ATW rail replacement bus from Swansea to Cardiff be an interim solution?). Running the boat train through to Cardiff would also give domestic passengers a later option between the key towns and cities.

    In this day and age a 07.30 arrival for the first train from South Wales into the global capital that London is a bit on the late side. Could it be with the IEP timetable an earlier departure e.g. 03.00 ex Swansea is a possibility? Assuming the train was available for boarding this would reduce the wait for passengers from the ferry to around 2 hours 20minutes. Still not ideal but just slightly more tolerable.

    This is probably as good as it gets at Rosslare now that three out of four sailings are rail connected daily year-round. (The 08.00 sailing has a local bus connection from Wexford town and Rosslare Strand).

    04.00 is a very early arrival even with around five hours shut-eye onboard and it would be good if passengers could have the option of staying onboard till 05.00/06.00. This has been discussed by Stena Line so I hope it is something that can happen in the future so the overnight sailing can basically be akin to a normal night’s sleep.

    The earlier arrival together with the fact that the Stena Europe’s vehicle decks have been modified for full height trailers means that Rosslare now has a headstart over Dublin Port in that hauliers can reach places sooner via the Southern Corridor than they would via Dublin.

    In the evening there is a comfortable window of an hour an a half between ship arrival and train departure at Rosslare. One wonders, especially for busy sailings, could either Stena Line or the port authority (Irish Rail) look at a shuttle bus between the station platform and terminal building.

    And one can but hope that in some way a railfreight flow can be developed.

    The sailing schedule change represents a profound change to a pattern of crossings decades old and it is important it succeeds. There needs to be world class connectivity on both sides of the Irish Sea. Society is becoming increasingly 24/7 and the concepts of a train leaving Dublin at 04.30 to reach Rosslare for the 08.00 sailing or of a train at 22.14 ex Fishguard connecting right the way through to London is not altogether impossible.

    The London – Rosslare daytime journey time has reduced from 9 h 15 mins to 8 h 40 mins

    • I’ve also wondered about possibilities with the IEP timetable. With the new, shorter, trains (not a good thing during the day) perhaps a 00:25 Swansea to London Paddington could operate on a deliberately slow schedule allowing passengers to sleep on board (provided of course electrification has been delivered so they are not woken by the underfloor diesel engines). It could also run via Bristol Temple Meads (perhaps even down to Westbury and back up to Swindon via Melksham to create a second reversal to ensure the set arrives in London at about 5-6am facing the right way).


    The extension to Swansea still leaves passengers stuck in the tiny waiting room at Swansea High Street. Perhaps blankets and hot water bottles could be provided for the nearly four-hour wait there. The problem seems to be persuading GWR to run an overnight train to London (fast or very slowly) in which case it may as well start at Fishguard (if the “zoomers” can get around the curves).

    • If anyone travelling at that time of night actually wants to get somewhere beyond Swansea then I can only hope the waiting room and toilets are left open for them (Aberystwyth’s are locked at 17:30, meaning anyone arriving on the evening trains with a bus to catch have to wait in the cold for it). The waiting room is small but well heated if I recall correctly from when I last went in there.

      As for an overnight train to London, the 2003 franchise agreement suggests that ATW themselves could provide through services to London (it states that the Fishguard train must either run through to London and Reading or connect into a service for those places at Swansea or Cardiff). I wouldn’t be supprised if ATW staff lack the necessary route knowlege to run trains to London though, and it is doubtful the unit could get back to Wales in time for the next day’s work.

      As for GWR running London to Fishguard, the IEP route clearance map showed no lines west of Carmarthen as being for use by IEP trains. Unless things change, the class 800 fleet (which Virgin calls Azumas) will thus be unable to serve Pembrokeshire stations.

  4. John Hughes

    A most interesting comment about Arriva providing a through service to London. A 175 DMU with its top speed of 100 mph, running non-stop to Reading might be able to keep out of the way of the 125 mph InterCity trains. Route knowledge beyond Newport is, as you say, probably non-existent.

  5. John Hughes

    It now seems the Transport Secretary thinks the new trains can run from Pembroke Dock; if that is so why not from Fishguard?
    The decision to cut the wires at Cardiff leaves the Maliphant Depot at Swansea looking pretty stupid with its catenary supports in place so that it can service the electric/diesel trains without electricity. It seems we are going to these rather heavy new trains trundling on diesel power to Swansea, leaving West Wales with no significant improvement in journey times.


    And now two more mystery trains;
    An overnight train from Manchester extended to Fishguard in the middle of the night but only going back to Carmarthen, almost certainly because of a flaw in the franchise wording AND an extra Sunday afternoon service from Swansea – I’ve yet see anybody on it. Is it a driver training train?

    • Rhydgaled

      The franchise wording suddenly appeared very flawed when Stena changed their timetable so signficantly. For both trains, it specified maximum connection times with services to Reading and London, as well as the ferries, that cannot possibly be complied with unless Arriva ran there own service to Reading and London. The daytime train was tied solely to the ferries and London services; stragely however, it was also stated that the night train also had to be between 00:00 and 05:00; which presumably explains the reinstatement of the 2am (ish) train.

      As for the Sunday afternoon working, this appears to be a reinstatement of the times that used to be the boat train before the ferry was retimed and the earlier boat train introduced to connect with it. I cannot see an explanation for this in the franchise agreement, so perhaps Arriva had the train and crew waiting at Carmarthen anyway and decided they might as well run through to Fishguard.

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