Category Archives: Travel Reports

Reports on journeys made by public transport.

The Time Train?

Network Rail buildings at Whitland station
Re-Structuring: new Network Rail buildings at Whitland
Time waits for no man, and time machines haven’t been invented yet. Nevertheless, it seems history can repeat itself. I’ve spent most Saturdays over the past few summers collecting footage for a video or two I want to make about the Pembroke Coast Express. The modern Pembroke Coast Express isn’t too much trouble to film, but to get footage of a steam-hauled one? A steam railtour to Pembroke Dock has run in previous years, but that was before I discovered they existed. This year’s run (2017) was cancelled, but even had it appeared GWR motive power was unlikely to be provided. There was nothing for it; I would just have to cheat and find a suitable GWR locomotive in use elsewhere on the network. Just such an event was scheduled for Saturday 12th August, in Melton Mowbray of all places, along with the Shakespeare Express (Birmingham – Stratford-upon-Avon) on most Sundays throughout the summer so I booked a holiday to fit around these. That holiday started on Friday 11th August, and I started ‘time travelling’ earlier than expected.

Continue reading The Time Train?

Clear Direction

First Cymru bus in Haverfordwest
Time Of Change: A photo from autumn last year of a bus working one of the services affected by today’s new regime
Today, 3rd April 2017, a number of bus service changes are taking place in Pembrokeshire. Actually, First Cymru’s new timetable booklet is dated as running from 2nd April (yesterday), but since the Sunday bus network is a woeful ‘nothing at all’ the effective date is today. When this post is published however, I will not be in Wales. Today, I’m returning from Norwich on one of my railway exploration holidays, so I planned ahead. On Friday 24th March, it happened that my father wasn’t coming into work so I went by bus. With the new timetable coming up, I decided to take a camera to get pictures for this post; and a story developed.

The first leg of my journey was uneventful. I reached Haverfordwest as planned and waited for my next bus, which I photographed; the 349 service to Monkton, calling at Picton Place, County Library, Dew Street, Horsefair (Tesco), Merlin’s Bridge, Johnston, Honeyborough Roundabout, Cleddau Bridge, Pembroke Dock, Pembroke and Monkton. To me, this was the ‘349b’ service, although First referred to it simply as ‘349’. The first five places listed were reached without mishap, but by the time we reached Johnston an alarm had sounded on the bus. The driver pulled over and cut the engine; after a short wait he restarted it and we continued. Not for long though; the alarm soon returned and we were parked in a lay-by-type bus stop in Johnston.

Failed First Cymru bus in Johnston
Broken Down: the failed 349(b) in Johnston
The driver phoned ‘the engineer’, stating that the alarm had been accompanied by loss-of-power. We waited until the engineer turned up; I was hoping they would send a replacement bus (as Richards Bros have done once or twice when I’ve been on one of their services that suffers a breakdown) but it was just a van. Although an annoying delay to my journey, which made me even later for work (as I pointed out to a fellow passenger who asked, I’m ‘late’ for work anyway whenever I go by bus), the failure gave me the opportunity to collect additional photographs which I would have otherwise been unable to obtain, and are preferable to the rather dull picture I took back at Haverfordwest bus station.

First Cymru bus in Johnston
The real 349: the Tenby bus approaches our failed Monkton one
With no replacement bus provided, we were instead forced to wait for the next service, due to leave Haverfordwest half-an-hour behind our failed bus. We had already spent almost that long stationary, so it wasn’t long before the second bus arrived; the ‘349’ to Tenby. To me, this was the ‘349a’. The driver from the failed bus told the other driver that nobody was trying to get to Monkton, which the ‘349a’ does not serve; and off we went leaving the engineer, the stricken bus and its driver behind. It wouldn’t be the last we saw of them.

Milford Haven from the bus at Neyland
Unexpected View: the Cleddau estuary seen from the bus at Neyland during the detour
The reason I have my own ‘349a’ and ‘349b’ designations for these services will now become clear (although, if you’ve read my 3-part 2016 series on bus route numbers, you might guess where I’m going with this). It is also why I had hoped a spare bus would be found. At the Honeyborough roundabout, our ‘349a’ turned right, rather than heading straight-on to the bus stop as the ‘349b’ would have done. These are clearly different routes, which is not what First (by calling both ‘349’) would have had you believe. The right turn takes the 349(a) into Neyland, which is not served by the Haverfordwest-Monkton service. After looping round Neyland, we came to the Honeyborough roundabout again; this time heading out to the bus stop. Lo-and-behold, sitting there was our errant ‘349b’, with engineer’s van. By not going via Neyland, it had overtaken us but had obviously failed again so I was no later into work than if I had stayed with it.

Pembrokeshire County Council bus service change of operator notice
Reassurance: Pembrokeshire County Council notice on our failed bus, stating that the 381 service will continue
With the story (almost) complete, I finally get to the news. Haverfordwest bus station is to see a reduction in services, with outward services to Milford Haven (302), Johnston (the Tenby and Monkton services discussed above) running direct from Withybush Hospital to Picton Place (Iceland), missing out the bus station. The bus station is still served in the other direction, heading towards Withybush Hospital, with the Monkton services extended there rather than terminating at the bus station. First’s information might lead some to believe that Pembrokeshire is suffering a major bus cut, since they describe the 381 service (Haverfordwest-Tenby via Narberth and Kilgetty) as being ‘cancelled’, with the last day of operation being Friday 31st March. In reality, that service has been taken over by Taf Valley Coaches, as the Pembrokeshire County Council notice on the First buses I took in the story states.

First Cymru bus poster
Service changes: First’s poster on our failed bus
The headline however is that, from today, I will no longer have to call the two ‘349’ routes ‘a’ and ‘b’, because the direct Monkton service will now be known as the 348, while the original 349 (via Neyland to Tenby) remains the 349. A little victory for me (I probably can’t claim any credit for it, but it feels good anyway); now how about bringing back the 550, 50 and 412 designations and sorting out that colossal amalgamation which is the TrawsCymru T5?

Going back to the story, given the huge delay to the ‘349b’ service I was concerned that the service might not recover punctuality all day, jeopardising my ‘connection’ on the return journey. Somehow (perhaps by cancelling a trip?) it seems First did get the ‘349b’ running on-time again (or reasonably close to it), because my journey home went smoothly.

Beyond World’s End?

The previous instalment of this travel-report series concluded after leaving Oxford on Tuesday 22nd March 2016. This post brings the story of our ‘short holiday’ to its end with an account of the last day of the trip, Wednesday 23rd March.

Sika deer in Woburn Abbey's deer park
I’ve Seen The Sika: Sika Deer In Woburn Abbey’s Deer Park
In the morning, after my brother had been dropped off, the three of us (my mother and grandmother, plus myself) headed over to Woburn Abbey. While their safari park is a segregated tourist attraction, a public road runs through part of Woburn’s deer park. This had been an interesting feature of many of our journeys between our accommodation and the various places we had visited, and we drove through another part of it on route to the Woburn Abbey car park.
Oriental-style structure on rocky outcrop across a pond in Woburn Abbey Gardens
Spirit Of The East: Oriental Architecture In Woburn Abbey Gardens
Together we took a quick look around the Woburn gardens which, slightly unusually, featured a number of structures of oriental architecture (some of which I thought worked aesthetically). I then returned to the car and sat listening to music while my elders visited the house itself.

My brother wasn’t doing a full day, so our next move was to go and collect him, before heading into the centre of Milton Keynes for the first time. We didn’t like what we found; the place was all very grey and dreary. Long, straight, dual carriageways flanked by car parking with a slightly shabby shopping centre.

Photo by Tom Parnell of Silbury Boulevard in Milton Keynes
Post-Apocalyptic: Silbury Boulevard, Milton Keynes (photo by Tom Parnell).
The overall impression of the place was ‘post-apocalyptic’. I’m not kidding, something about it reminded me of the scenes set in Pripyat in the game “Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare”; Pripyat being the city that was abandoned due to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.

Photo by Tom Parnell of Midsummer Boulevard, Milton Keynes
Depressing View: Midsummer Boulevard, Milton Keynes (photo by Tom Parnell)
Being me, I blame the car. Milton Keynes appears to have been designed around it; the grid of roads (many being dual-carriageways), the acres of asphalt/concrete; all designed to support a population of motorists. At the time of writing, the Wikipedia article on Milton Keynes states that the central area was not designed as a traditional town centre. Instead, it is like out-of-town shopping centres (a “car-culture” idea, probably impractical to use on foot) but in the centre of town. Even ‘Milton Keynes Central’ railway station is on the edge of the central area, the wrong side of one of the dual carriageways, rather than dead-centre. Maybe there was a good reason for that; but I don’t know what that might be. Just like motorways, Milton Keynes itself (what we saw of it, at any rate) is characterless, uninspiring and depressing. Although there is some greenery, even this is standardised and fails to prevent the place looking artificial and near-lifeless (again, just like motorways and most dual-carriageways).

Photo by Stephen McKay of Midsummer Boulevard, Milton Keynes
Beyond World’s End? Another view of Milton Keynes’ Midsummer Boulevard (photo by Stephen McKay)
Almost needless to say, we didn’t stay long. But what was the best way home? I’m writing this some time after the event, so my memory is hazy, but I think I directed us along the A421 and A4421 to Bicester, then the A41 and M40 to avoid the Oxford ring road, then off the M40 at junction 8a onto the A40 briefly then the A329, B4015 and A415 to Abingdon where my plan unravelled. The traffic was terrible and it took us some time to get through the town. My mother, in the driver’s seat, was therefore rather displeased with my navigating (I think I may have had an alternative in mind, and may have even voiced it, but since that was using minor roads I doubt that would have gone down well either). Anyway, we eventually made it to the A34 and headed south towards the M4. On the way, I noticed that one of the minor roads alongside the A34 led to a place called “World’s End”, we drove right past it. This was the inspiration for the title of this post; very appropriate given that parts of our trip had been something of a culture-shock. I’m opposed to the proposed second M4 around Newport, and various other bypass projects, on the grounds that creating more space for more cars encourages even more car use, leading to increased pollution and congestion (leading to more tarmac and so on in a vicious circle). But having seen Milton Keynes, I wondered if it is already too late; have we already spiralled beyond the point where the car addiction is fatal to life on this good Earth?

Returning to the journey, having joined the M4 at Newbury and travelled some distance along it, we had to turn off the motorway for fuel (at junction 18, I think), having just missed a service station. The road to Pennsylvania was “chock-a-block” with traffic so we headed in the opposite direction, hoping that the petrol station I could see on the map would be open; it was. It was on this little detour off the motorway that Mum cheered, having seen some cows in a field (she was suffering from ‘withdrawal symptoms’ caused by all the concrete and arable farming). Once back on the motorway, we made our familiar drive home along the motorway and A48 to Carmarthen and then on into the land of the living and home. What a relief; these few days were a real eye-opener for me.

Photograph of N.W. Wales mountains from a Cambrian Coast train
Beautiful West Wales: a view from the Cambrian Coast Line between Dovey Junction to Pwllheli.
So, if you want to escape the post-apocalyptic concrete wasteland of southern England on your next holiday come to the west of Wales; but leave your car at home, we don’t want our country ruined in the same way. Use our ‘delightful’ bus services.

Happy New Year (this post was scheduled to appear in the last minute of 2016, so by the time you read this it is probably 2017).

Saved By The WiFi

We Wish You A Merry Christmas… There hasn’t been much to be merry about recently, so to avoid another rant I’ll put out a mini travel report with a happy ending.

Twenty days ago (5th December 2016), I left work in a hurry. I had just realised what the time was; I normally leave a few minutes sooner if I’m aiming for the bus I was intending to catch that evening. Thanks to quite a bit of running, and the bus being slightly late, I caught it.

TrawsCambria bus at Aberaeron with Christmas lights in the background
One from the archives: I couldn’t find a photograph relevant to the story, so picked one of a TrawsCambria bus with Christmas lights in the background
Later in my journey, while changing bus, I got out my mobile in order to phone home and arrange my lift from the bus stop. It wouldn’t turn on; it would light up and make the right (horrible) start-up noises, but then the screen would be blank. On about the third attempt I noticed that, just before it went blank, it would say ‘recharge battery’ or something to that effect.

Oh blast, I thought; either I had forgotten to turn the thing off last time I used it or it had turned itself on without me realising (it has a habit of doing that, if I lean on something in the wrong place the power button can be ‘pressed’, for this reason I try to remember to leave it at home if going to the theatre/cinema). Given the time of year, it would be too dark to walk home from the bus stop (had this happened in the summer, I’d probably have walked).

Fortunately, I had recently replaced the battery on my laptop with one that works, so it had some charge. That, in theory, would give me the means to send an e-mail in the hope of arranging my pickup; but would I be able to connect to the internet? My next bus was a TrawsCymru T5 service; TrawsCymru services are supposed to have WiFi, I could be in luck. But would the vehicle be one of the TrawsCymru fleet, or a stand-in due to a failure? Even if the booked bus arrived, would the WiFi be working?

Thankfully, the bus that turned up was one of the WiFi equipped TrawsCymru branded ones. Once seated, I nervously tried to connect; and BINGO it worked. I managed to get a message through and somebody was there to collect me, all thanks to TrawsCymru’s WiFi. There’s the happy ending. If you want to leave it on a happy note, don’t read the following paragraph.

Now what if my laptop battery had been flat too? Some of the TrawsCymru vehicles have power sockets, but most don’t and even the ones that do have very few (and I don’t think they work, although it’s years since I last tried one).

Varsity Ventures

The M4 motorway at Port Talbot
M4 Port Talbot (photograph by Kevin Corcoran)
After a pleasant afternoon watching, and riding on, trains, my ‘short holiday’ started to go downhill. I’m picking up the story where I left off, in a car on the M4, having been met by family members at Port Talbot. There’s no doubt about it, motorways are very dull ribbons of dreary tarmac (and/or concrete), apparently without exception. Actually, that’s a good question, can anyone think of an exception? We did of course leave the motorway eventually, but not until after stopping for dinner. Thus we were in darkness as we headed up the A420, negotiated the Oxford ring road and the A418 past Aylesbury and onto the A505. Unfortunately, if there’s any travel more boring than miles of motorway then it is probably night-time motoring. Of course family chat and, occasionally, the radio can partly relieve the monotony, and so can navigation, but these don’t really make up for not being able to see what you’re passing. I think we were all relieved when we finally arrived at our booked accommodation, after crossing the A5 and twice passing the M1. No, I didn’t get us lost, the written directions used for the last few miles to our destination were written as though we were coming up the M1 from London and I didn’t want to risk finding my own route with just a road atlas (I might have tried it if I had been equipped with an Ordnance Survey Landranger map).

While helping to keep me sane, navigating was perhaps also a little stressful; there’s often an argument between at least two occupants of the car over the best route. On this occasion though, there was at least general agreement that the motorway network didn’t really suit our journey, much like the rail network it radiates out from London and I don’t think any of us fancied the M25.

Second Severn Motorway Bridge
Into England (public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Anyway, so why are we here, in self-catering accommodation not far from the M1? Why would anyone want to come here? Although the accommodation was of a reasonable standard, the noise of the motorway could be heard if you stood outside and my mother wondered why somebody would come on holiday here. Our reason was that my brother had educational commitments in Milton Keynes, and the rest of us were just taking advantage of the trip to see a few things. I had a stab at answering Mum’s question by taking quick look at the map, the obvious tourist attractions were Woburn Abbey and its Safari Park. Apparently, none of us were interested in the latter, but the Abbey was one reason for my elder’s interest in the visit. Another of their reasons, and one I’d come along for too (though not the main reason) was Bletchley Park.

The next day, after dropping my brother off, we drove down towards Didcot to one of the other attractions which had drawn me, ‘Pendon Museum’. This ‘museum’ features three model railways, one a very early example of the craft. The other two are much more recent, at least one is still under construction, and very impressive with detail extending to the interior of buildings and a birdwatcher observing a bird of prey. These model various parts of the steam-era Great Western Railway, although they are intended to capture a snapshot of buildings and scenery typical of the areas concerned rather than being models of a particular location (the buildings in the model village don’t all belong to the same real-world village). We decided the Oxford ring road (with its many roundabouts) was no more appealing in daylight than it had been at night, so went back to Bicester via a different route (which involved the M40).

Bletchley Park introduction exhibit entrance
Bletchley Park introduction entrance. Image from ‘The Hub’ (fit-out contractor) website.
On the third day (Monday), we made the much shorter journey to Bletchley Park. We had thought we may move on to somewhere else afterwards, but our visit took us through until it was time to collect my brother again. We didn’t even visit the adjacent national museum of computing, which contains more of the code-breaking machines created on the site, although it wasn’t fully open that day anyway. Interestingly, the entrance to Bletchley Park’s introductory exhibit had a railway theme. The word ‘entrance’ was in white text on a midland-red background, while the doorways beneath it had imitation railway-carriage slam-doors. Also present was a four-way ‘fingerpost’ sign, also in midland-red, pointing to ‘platform 1 for Oxford, platform 2 for Cambridge, platform 3 for Glasgow and platform 4 for London. I doubt such a sign actually would have existed on a station, but railways from Bletchley to the four places in question certainly did exist.

Bletchley Park Cambridge-Oxford sign, photo by Caroline Longstaffe
Varsity fingerpost, Bletchley Park. Photo by Caroline Longstaffe
Sadly, you cannot currently make a reasonably direct journey from Milton Keynes to Oxford by rail today, because the central section of the Oxford-Cambridge ‘Varsity Line’ has been closed since 1967; so when we headed off to visit Oxford on the fourth day we couldn’t leave the car in Milton Keynes with my brother. The line which would have taken you to Cambridge still exists as far as Bedford, but beyond that it is also gone.

Chiltern Railways service at Oxford Parkway station
Stopping short of Oxford: Chiltern Railways service waiting to London at Oxford Parkway
One of the many Milton Keynes roundabouts we traversed on our excursions in the Oxford direction was called, I kid you not, ‘Bottledump Roundabout’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was liberally scatted with discarded plastic bottles, presumably thrown out of passing cars. Whether the bottles were there first and this inspired the name or vice-versa I do not know. The railway between Bletchley and Oxford is now to be reinstated, but we were several years early. So, to avoid the Oxford traffic, we parked at ‘Bicester Village’ station, which until the recent complete rebuild was ‘Bicester Town’. Previously, ‘Bicester Town’ was served by a shuttle to Oxford, but now Chiltern Railways have had a new section of track built to allow services from London Marylebone to Oxford, running through ‘Bicester Village’ station. This project wasn’t complete either, enhancements work was still taking place near Oxford so we had to transfer to a bus for the final leg into Oxford from Oxford Parkway station.

Of course, it is not only Chiltern who have significant changes planned on their part of the network. The electrification work of parts of the Great Western Main Line (GWML) will see Intercity Express Programme (IEP) class 800 bi-mode trains introduced from next year (2017). Thus we get to my principle reason for coming on this trip; the five class 180s currently with the franchise will be moved to Grand Central, probably by the end of 2017, as the 800s arrive. Having never been on a 180, I was keen to get a ride on one to compare them with the related class 175 units we have in Wales while I had the chance.

Class 180 number 180108 at Oxford Railway Station
180108 arrives at Oxford to take me to Kingham
I left my elders and boarded my first 180, 180108 on a Cotswolds line service to Kingham. From there, I returned to Oxford on another class 180. I was pleased to discover that the interior of standard class did indeed have much in common with the class 175s, with ample legroom even in airline-style seating. Rather strangely however, especially on a line with short platforms like the Cotswolds line, the first-class carriage on the 180s (class 175s are standard-class only) was not one of the driving vehicles at the ends. Instead, one standard-class coach was isolated on its own at one end, with the adjacent coach being the first-class one. Given that I’ve read standard-class ticket-holders are not even allowed to stand in the vestibules of first class coaches on Intercity 125s, I wonder what happens if somebody in the isolated standard class coach wants to alight at a short platform where that carriage is off the end of the platform. One of the four standard class carriages on the 180, perhaps the isolated one, also seemed to have fewer bays of four around tables than the others. Another feature that the class 175s lack but can be found on a 180 is the mini-buffet/cafe. This is really quite small, with just one of the main external windows blanked out by it, though it didn’t appear to be open. I’m not sure if First Great Western bother with it anymore.

Old building in Oxford
One Of The Old Ones: building in Oxford
Back in Oxford, I rejoined my mother and grandmother for a walk around parts of the city; admiring the architecture of some of the old university buildings and other heritage structures. One of these was a church whose tower is of Saxon origin (it is close to the building in the photograph, click that to go to my Flickr where you should be able to find photos of the Saxon tower too). It was then back via bus, train and car to Milton Keynes, to collect my brother, and to our ‘holiday’ accommodation.

END OF PART 2

We return to Wales in the final instalment of this mini-series of blog posts, which I did eventually get round to writing.

Away Day

I have recently returned from a ‘short holiday’ to England. This blog post is an account of the first leg. On Saturday (19th March 2016), I set out alone by bus to Fishguard. From there, I walked to Fishguard & Goodwick station, where I found the new toilet had not yet been opened and, after photographing the incoming train, decided to make my way to the harbour station instead. I was pleased to see 158839 doing the honours on the daytime boat-train, rather than the unwelcome class 150 substitute unit which tends to appear whenever I observe this working.

Class 158 DMU at Fishguard & Goodwick station
Much Appreciated: class 158 on the ‘boat train’
After boarding at the harbour, a pleasant ride was had to Llandeilo Junction, where I was a little disappointed to see we took the route towards Swansea rather than the Swansea District Line. Of course the next scheduled stop was Bridgend, so the train instead avoided the ‘Swansea High Street’ terminus by running via the chord behind Landore depot. Despite running slowly from there we still passed Port Talbot around 30 minutes after leaving Llanelli. The slow running was due to following another class 158, presumably the 13:08 Milford Haven to Manchester which would have made more calls than our train. At Bridgend, I alighted to double back to Port Talbot Parkway, and didn’t have long to wait before a class 150 arrived to take me there.
Three First Great Western INTERCITY 125 class 43 power cars at Swansea Landore depot
Landore Line-up: INTERCITY 125s at the Swansea depot
In hindsight, I probably would have got to Port Talbot slightly earlier had I changed at Carmarthen or Llanelli onto a Swansea service and picked up a Swansea-Paddington train there, but I had a long wait in store at Port Talbot anyway so that was not a problem. While I was waiting, at least two (it may have been three) Intercity 125s ran through non-stop heading towards Cardiff. Since the Paddington services normally call at Port Talbot, I surmised these were empty stock moves to Cardiff to provide rugby extra services. Also, as if to prove that Arriva Trains Wales’ shortage of decent rolling stock is still present, the Gloucester to Fishguard service called as scheduled, but worked by a class 150.
Class 175 train passing Port Talbot signal box
Signalbox and Steelworks, a view from the new footbridge at Port Talbot Parkway, with a westbound class 175/1 in the foreground
I’ve gone all the way from Gloucester to Fishguard & Goodwick on that service before, it was a 150 then too and wasn’t my idea of fun. Sundays are different, but the unit which works the Gloucester to Fishguard service is normally supposed to be the class 158 which does the Fishguard boat train the next day, so a 150 on one service generally implies the other will have been or will be.

Eventually, rugby fans started alighting trains from Cardiff, including three other members of my family. Thus reunited, we were able to embark on the next leg of our journey; by car. We eventually found our way out of Port Talbot and onto the M4.

This story has now been continued in this blog post.

Hollow Victory

Class 150 approaching Whitland with a train to Fishguard
The daytime boat train comes into view, approaching Whitland
We probably will never know for sure, but I think today (6th September 2014) was the last day of the Fishguard’s trial enhanced rail service. This post went live at 21:00, as the last train of the day was scheduled to depart Fishguard Harbour. We can, however, be fairly sure that there will still be six trains per day (plus one at night) on Monday as the Welsh Government have annouced that the trial was a success and agreed to fund the service as a full component of the Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) franchise, which runs until 2018.

I wasn’t able to make any of the trial services today, but wanted to mark the occasion with a trip on the line so had to settle for the daytime boat train. In the event, I was dropped off at Whitland station at about 12:10, in time to see a class 150 unit arrive from Pembroke Dock on a Swansea-bound service. Once that had left, I moved to the westbound platform to await the Fishguard service, which was being shown on the passenger information system. I noticed that the remaining calls on the service were listed as “Fishguard Goodwick and Fishguard Harbour”. I have noticed that mistake before at Llanelli, but this suggests the problem is more widespread and still hasn’t been fixed.

Passenger information display at Whitland station showing 'Fishguard Goodwick' calling point
The ‘and’ is missing: Information display at Whitland
The boat train duly arrived, almost on time, about half an hour later. Sadly, the unit was another class 150, not what one hopes to see on the only express service into and out of south-west Wales. After some time when this woefull allocation of stock was ATW policy, I believe the service is now supposed to be worked using a much-nicer class 158 unit. However, they often seem to be short of 158s and the dreaded 150s have to deputise. I boarded along with (I think) six others. Since I was starting from Whitland however, rather than coming all the way from Cardiff, the views on the rural trip along the Fishguard branch largely made up for the metro-sliding doors and absence of legroom on the 150.

Train and passengers at Fishguard & Goodwick station
Local Traffic: Passengers leave the train at Fishguard & Goodwick
A little while later, we arrived at Fishguard & Goodwick where I alighted along with many others. Providing a useful local service on the Fishguard line is therefore proving to be a worthwhile use of the Welsh Government’s money. I dashed out of the station and, after looking both ways, across the road to grab a video clip of the train heading down towards the harbour. After that, I started climbing the hill towards ‘Stop and Call’ (where that name comes from I have no idea) to find a vantage point to film the unit departing Fishguard & Goodwick with the return trip to Cardiff. Another ‘Trains For Fishguard’ video is therefore a possibility, maybe even for release on Monday, but I’m not making any promises. A quick walk down the hill got me to Goodwick town centre just in time to catch the Optare Solo on Richards Bros’ 410 bus service all the way up to Stop and Call, then back down, across and up to Fishguard. There, I had a fair wait in the library (looking railway books) before heading back outside to catch the Richards Bros 412 home. Flagship Optare Tempo YJ55BKF* was on the working, as I had expected.

Returning to the news that the full Fishguard trial service is to continue, there is a key question: is it good news? Yes, of course it is. It is however not quite a decisive victory. The survey carried out, towards the end of the trial period, to help inform the decision of whether to continue with the service suggested that more options were under consideration than just ‘retain service’ or ‘cancel service’. One possibility was retiming the second train of the morning out of Fishguard to provide an arrival in Carmarthen at arround 08:45, instead of arround 9am at present. Another was replacing the last evening train with a later service, in the process eliminating one of the changes that are currently required at Clarbeston Road. There was even an option of additional workings to make the service run every three hours throughout the day. The government’s announcment however does not mention any of these further improvements, the level of service available during the trial will continue unchanged. Good news then that the service will be retained, but not as good as it maybe could have been. And, as seen today, ATW still fails to get the name of one of Fishguard’s stations right and still fails to provide suitable rolling stock for the boat train (although I suppose if there is no 158 available it is better to run something than canceling the train and providing a replacment bus; that said, sitting on YJ55BKF I did wonder whether it was more comfortable than a class 150).

* I don’t know if Richards Bros officially have a flagship, but I refer to Tempos YJ55BKE and YJ55BKF, which are of the same spec, as flagships as they are the best buses I have yet been on.
Note: I did just about get this post out at 21:00, but it was incomplete. I’ve edited it to extend it quite a bit.

End Of An Era

December 21st (2013) was the end of an era for bus services in Ceredigion. The following is my travel report on the day.

Soon after 6pm I arrived at Aberystwyth station to catch the final 18:15 Aberystwyth to Cardigan X50 service.

Optare Tempo YJ55BKE in Aberystwyth
Departure Time, YJ55BKE stands ready at Aberystwyth with the final 18:15 X50 service to Cardigan.

I thought it rather fitting that the vehicle used was YJ55BKE, one of the two Tempos ordered and route-branded for the X50 service. I think this is only the second time I have seen an X50 vehicle on this service (the timetable means the two buses were not sufficent to cover both this working and the two evening full-length 550 runs, so other vehicles have had to substitute). I took this service as far as Aberaeron, passing the Arriva Pulsars on the final northbound 50 service and the penultimate northbound 40 service.

At Aberaeron I alighted to await the final CymruExpress 40 service to Aberystwyth.

Aberaeron Christmas X50
Merry Christmas? The final evening X50 service to Cardigan, with Aberaeron’s christmas lights in the background.

YJ55BKN, once an Arriva-liveried Tempo on the TrawsCambria 550 and X40 but now part of Richards Bro’s fleet, passed on the 17:36 Cardigan to Aberystwyth 550 service (which due to regulations on service length now changes to X50 at Aberaeron). Perhaps this distracted me enough to miss Arriva’s final CymruExpress 50 service, the 18:15 from Aberystwyth. Either way, I did not see that service so I wonder if Arriva failed to run the final 50 service. While I was waiting, one of the Arriva Pulsars came up from the New Quay direction running Out Of Service. Since it wasn’t stopping I only had time to catch part of the number plate.

Final Arriva 40 bus, Aberaeron
The last Arriva 40 arrives at Aberaeron

I spent some of the rather long wait for the 40 taking photographs of the Christmas lights on Alban Square. The final 40 service finally arrived, rather ungloriously formed of V580ECC (complete with the old-fashioned bus seats which I believe are now largely confined to Northern Rail’s Pacer fleet). As I boarded, the driver realised I was out to ride the last 40 service, my camera was probably a dead give away. Then he asked, “it’s a shame isn’t it?” I think my reply was “In a way, yes.”

Onboard the last 40 service
Retro Seats: onboard the last 40 service

What I meant was, it’s a shame the bus depot in Aberystwyth is closing, and it’s a shame some of the staff Arriva have made redundant may be unable to find alternative employment. However, I’m not sorry at all that Arriva have left the area, their policies have been obstructive in the aims of providing a good overall public transport service and at times they have displayed incompetence. I stress that I attribute these problems to the distant management, the local staff are probably completely blameless and had they been employed by the local independent operators instead of Arriva I’m sure we wouldn’t have had these problems.

End of the line
End of the line: the last Arriva 40 at Aberystwyth

At Aberystwyth, after taking some photos of the last 40 at the station, I quickly dashed over to the Arriva depot to see if I could photograph the fleet. It was however too dark and the photographs didn’t come out well enough. Then it was time for a lift home by car, passing ex-Arriva (now Richards Bros) Optare Tempo YJ06YRZ (heading into Aberystwyth on the final 550 service) as we left the town.

Off into the night
Off into the night: YJ55BKE departs Aberaeron for Cardigan on the last direct evening service

EDIT 1st Jan 2014: added photographs from the day