Two months after the former Transport Minister announced funding for five extra daily return trains to Fishguard, the Welsh Government today launches the timetable for public consultation.
In these two months, we’ve not only had a change of government and change of Minister, but also an early round of consultations with key players. The Welsh Government’s Rail Unit explains: “The preferred timetable follows a first round of consultation with Arriva Trains Wales, the North Pembrokeshire Transport Forum, All Points West Community Rail Partnership and the Regional Transport Consortium SWWITCH.” Which means that the timetable published today has already had some Fishguard input into the first draft, originally proposed by rail operator Arriva.
So how well have they done? Here’s the draft timetable exactly as launched today (red times are direct to/from Fishguard, black are connections):
|Clarbeston Rd arr||6.27
|Clarbeston Rd dep||6.16||7.33||9.19||11.31||18.07||19.54||01.02|
No question about it, that’s many more trains than Fishguard has today. What’s more, we were promised a shuttle between Fishguard and Carmarthen, but this timetable includes a new through service to Swansea, and a new through service from Cardiff to Fishguard. Some reasons to be cheerful.
But when you look closer, some very strange timings leap out of this draft.
HIGH SPEED TRAIN
First there’s a morning train that leaves Carmarthen at 9.00, and Whitland at 9.04. That’s 4 minutes for a journey that should take 17 minutes. Clerical error?
THE LONG WAIT
Next, one of the five new trains from Carmarthen involves changing at Clarbeston Road, with a wait of 1 hour 6 minutes.
|Clarbeston Rd arr||6.27
|Clarbeston Rd dep||7.33|
Unlike the four minute dash from Carmarthen to Whitland, this is no typo. Does someone really think passengers will wait over an hour for a connection at Clarbeston Road, at half past six in the morning?
COMMUTING TO CARMARTHEN
Of the ten new services between Fishguard and Carmarthen, six are direct and take around 52 minutes, which is competitive with driving. But two of these direct services have odd timings – 41 minutes which must be a mistake, and 1 hr 2 min, which needs explaining.
The remaining four journeys involve a change at Whitland or Clarbeston Road, and take anything from 1 hr 8 min to two hours. None of these journeys will appeal to anyone with the option of driving.
Then there’s the erratic timing of the whole service. Two of the five daily trains leave Carmarthen for Fishguard before six in the morning. Yet there’s no service from Carmarthen to Fishguard between 11:23 in the morning and 17:32 in the evening.
Likewise travelling east, there’s no train out of Fishguard after the lunchtime boat train at 13.30, until 18.49 in the evening. This draft timetable offers morning and evening services, but nothing in the afternoon. What is the rationale for two trains leaving Carmarthen for Fishguard before 6 am, and none in the afternoon? How well does this fulfil the purpose of “five extra trains for Fishguard”? Is this the way to maximise take-up of the new service?
EAST OF SWANSEA
But perhaps the most critical details concern eastward connections. London, Cardiff and Swansea were the most wanted destinations in North Pembrokeshire Transport Forumâ€™s 2004 passenger survey. The draft timetable published today stops at Swansea. How well does it serve Cardiff and London travellers? Fishguard Trains has taken the draft timetable and added in more connections using the current timetables:
How disappointing that of the five extra trains to Fishguard, only three serve anywhere east of Carmarthen, and only two serve London, Birmingham and Manchester. Do trains from Fishguard fare any better?
This is a much stronger timetable. All five of the new trains connect to Swansea, four to Cardiff, three to London, Birmingham and Manchester. Better still, it appears that two morning trains from Fishguard are planned to be through to Manchester. Strangely, the public consultation does not spell this out, leaving us to guess at what happens down the line.
OUR FIRST VERDICT?
Could do better, much better. The through services to Swansea, Cardiff and Manchester are very good news, but the complete lack of afternoon services is bizarre in a county that relies on tourism! Having to change between Fishguard and Carmarthen on four of the ten new services is unwelcome. Finally, timetabling two trains to Fishguard before 6 am undermines the promise of “five extra trains”.
No doubt Arriva has to move trains into position at the start of the day. But should they be paid to do so by Welsh taxpayers, and thereby prevent a passenger-friendly timetable to help the service prove its worth in three short years?
USE THE CONSULTATION!
Now it’s our opportunity to say how the new service could be better. But time is short. We have only until Friday 17th June to propose better use of the public subsidy in the interests of North Pembrokeshire travellers.
You’ll find full details of the Welsh Government community consultation here on the Fishguard Trains website.
* For comparison, here is the timetable suggested by Fishguard Trains back in April: