Can we have a larger car park please?
We are in the middle of the Welsh Government review of the three-year Fishguard rail experiment. Rail users and non-users in the community are being surveyed, and passengers on every train are supposedly being handed questionnaires to complete. But while ferry passengers (who are completely unaffected by the additional trains, and who would not notice if the Welsh Government cut funding in September) are evidently being questioned on the boat trains, yet a full evening trainload of local passengers is ignored.
This is not the first train in the survey period to be excluded from the survey. Several people arriving at Fishguard and Goodwick in recent days have reported to Fishguard Trains that there were no questionnaires on the train. This evening we saw for ourselves.
So the question is, why are Irish ferry passengers being surveyed about a service that does not affect them, while local Fishguard travellers are being ignored? Can we have confidence in the outcome of the review if this is the way it is being conducted?
Who would like to shed light on this?
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.
The recent publication of Arriva’s West Wales May-December 2014 timetable, taking the three-year experimental service well into a fourth year – unchanged – triggered our questions to Welsh Government. Their reply today makes clear that a review will indeed be held, and that government will announce “any changes” this August – the final month of the trial.
In their announcement, Welsh Government makes clear that its review goes far wider than a simple matter of passenger numbers, to embrace both social and economic issues. Their reply in full reads:
We will of course be giving details of the review – and how to contribute – on this website.
Fishguard Trains welcomes the broad scope of the review. Anyone who has had any contact with the service in the past few years knows that the impact on our lives in north Pembrokeshire has been out of all proportion to the modest public investment in five extra trains a day. Past and present stories and comments on Fishguard Trains are part of the evidence of that impact.
But it is not enough for us simply to know that: Now is the time to tell government in Cardiff, to provide evidence that the benefits to our economy, our society and our environment have been real and measurable.
Fishguard Trains has both praised and criticised the trial service. The evidence we now provide to the review is not only a one-off chance to secure the future of the service, but a key moment to identify shortcomings, and obtain improvements for the future.
Let’s seize the opportunity with both hands.
Fishguard Trains understands that Arriva has receive no notification to the contrary from Welsh Government. The new timetable therefore went to press on a no-change basis. The trial service was launched in September 2011, and is due to end (and be reviewed) this coming September. And with no news to the contrary from our government, Arriva has concluded, “We think the service will continue as at present”.
Fishguard Trains has of course asked for confirmation and clarification from Welsh Government – still awaited at press time.
But if confirmed, this news will be both surprising and hugely welcome in the twin towns.
19:02 to 19:07 leaves just five minutes to connect from train to bus. Long enough when the train is on time at Carmarthen. It might even make sense if the bus was guaranteed to wait, or if transport operators were required to pick up the pieces when it didn’t. But none of that is true. The result, when the train is delayed a few minutes – a woman in tears on Carmarthen station.
That night changed our view about the campaign to restore rail between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. Before, we suspected the ambition of reopening the rail link was unrealistic. Now we realise that reopening is about social justice and also about a Wales that wants to create connections for a successful economy. A country which gives no guarantee that we can travel between our major centres after seven o’clock, and where to do so risks spending the night on Carmarthen Station is signalling a clear message: failure.
So Fishguard Trains is delighted to hear from Rob Phillips about the recently formed Carmarthen-Aberystwyth Rail Link Campaign – Traws Link Cymru. The campaign already has over 160 members, and a new website: www.trawslinkcymru.org.uk
Rob Phillips writes to us: “We’d really like to work with you – especially with the review of the extra trains coming up – we can send out messages to our supporters etc but we’d also like your help. Could you help us publicise the campaign and get our website and Facebook Group better known please? We’re also keen to spread the word about a debate called next week [on March 12th] in the Assembly by Simon Thomas AM on re-instating the line and encourage people to let their AMs know how they feel?”
We are delighted to support Traws Link Cymru. And we invite Assembly members to consider if leaving travellers in tears on Carmarthen Station really is the best we can do.
Opened this week, the new station fits between Aber and Llanbradach on the Cardiff-Rhymney line. So now, while tiny Fishguard has two stations, Caerphilly has leapt to three – Caerphilly, Aber and Energlyn. Still, at least Fishguard has twice as many stations as Swansea.
Now, how about a few more trains?
Arriva’s winter timetable starts this week and runs until 17 May 2014. We’ve updated the times and destinations in our Departures widget, so it’s handy to check when you’re travelling from and to Fishguard and Goodwick. As ever, click on a departure time for more information. The yellow boxes are trains going east, the green are for arrivals from the east – or if you prefer, departures to the Harbour and Ireland. The next two trains are always highlighted white on black. In the last ten minutes, the white time turns red, so hurry up!
With the winter timetable comes Arriva’s Newsletter, celebrating ten years of service: “dramatic strides in improving punctuality and reliability”, “one of the top ‘right time’ performing operators in the UK”, customer satisfaction at a “record high of 88% today”. So three cheers for Arriva.
On the other hand, Wales is bottom of the UK league for value for public money invested in rail. A new study* by the Campaign for Better Transport published at the same time as Arriva’s Newletter, reveals that, compared to Scotland and the English regions, Wales is in a class of its own: out of eleven rail regions, Wales is worst for future plans, worst for station quality, second lowest for trips per head of population, and so on, building miserably to a picture of chronic under-performance. Yet at the same time, public funding per passenger kilometer is highest in Wales. Result – nowhere else in Britain spends so much (per passenger km) and yet performs as badly as Wales. We “face the greatest challenges” says the Campaign. Service is below average despite financial support above average. The Campaign urges Wales to identify best practice elsewhere in Great Britain, and implement it.
This is the equivalent of a PISA report for Welsh railways. We’re not only bottom of the UK class for basic learning, we’re also bottom for delivering a decent railway and getting value for our taxes.
WHAT’S TO BE DONE?
Fishguard Trains proposes four steps for best practice:
1 integrated services and timetables (rail and bus)
2 integrated ticketing – an all-Wales Oyster card
3 unified branding, marketing and promotion
4 full control and accountability by Welsh Government
* The Effectiveness of the Rail Network Across Great Britain. Campaign for Better Transport, November 2013.
How confident are we that besides making the trial permanent, they will also address the shortcomings in our present service?
Remember these pictures when that time comes – it’s sooner than you think.
The shock announcement removes the only long distance public transport link between mid-west and south Wales. Arriva, a multi-national company, is doing this because it can. It is simply acting in its own commercial interests – and that’s government policy. Quoted on the BBC, the Welsh Government’s first reaction, besides being “naturally disappointed” was that it was a “commercial matter for the company”.
A brief reality check is needed here. A Labour government is in power in Cardiff Bay. That’s the party that nationalised our railways in the public interest in the 1940s. But all it can say today about the closure of west Wales’ main north-south public transport link is that it is a commercial matter.
We think not. This absurd situation is a consequence not only of Beeching’s destruction of the Carmarthen-Aberystwyth rail service, but of Tory deregulation of buses in the 1980s. Even though the Tories went on to privatise the railways, it would be impossible (and illegal) for a rail link between Wales’ capital city and the home of its National Library and a leading university to be closed on a commercial whim.
And that is the bottom line of the case against buses. Easy come, easy go. No doubt local operators will be found to run replacement services for a while, some of which may even provide decent transport links with other providers. But sooner or later, even these services will succumb to the under-funded, underregulated world of bus transport.
Fishguard Trains has not previously been a great supporter of the campaign to restore rail between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. But Arriva’s commercial decision now throws down a gauntlet to any politician in Cardiff Bay who claims to want a well-connected Wales in future. If you mean business, you’ll have to go by train.