Tracks And Trees

Part 2 in my model railway series teased that I had played around with some track, arranging the layout, but did not show the track plan I had in mind. That will be revealed in this post.

Model railway track on baseboard
Computer-Aided Design: the track plan from SCARM
As the frost on the grass in the completed baseboard photograph last time shows, it was rather cold outside back then; so I detached the legs and brought the board inside for the track laying. I started by eliminating most of the plans I had created on the computer, one by one. When only one was left, I placed the track on the board in that configuration and took a photo. Next, I rearranged the track to match the layout arrived at using real 00 gauge track as described previously; and photographed that too. After flicking back and forth between the photos, I decided on the plan I’d invented in the physical world (rather than the virtual realm of layout-planning software).

As I only have a 4 foot by 2 foot board, there is clearly not much scope for an extensive track layout in 00 gauge. Even a traditional train-set oval would never fit* so my layout is based on the ‘Inglenook Sidings Shunting Puzzle’ concept. That involves three sidings, one a bit longer than the others, and a headshunt. I do like my passenger trains though, so I’ve added an extra line (for a short passenger platform) to the basic Inglennook plan. Trains in that platform will have nowhere to go, but maybe one day I’ll be able to add a second board with hidden sidings for trains to run to.

* even if it would, I doubt a minimum space continuous run could be made interesting; if space is limited end-to-end layouts are more likely to be fulfilling in my opinion.

Just in case you’re wondering how the shunting puzzle works there’s a website on the topic.

Model railway track laid out on baseboard
It just fell into place: the chosen track plan, designed without the aid of a computer
With the track plan finalised, I was keen to get some locos running, so I grabbed some IPA (Isopropyl Alcohol) and paper towel and tried to get the track clean. The clean(er) track was then carefully pinned to the board, with the exception of the curve heading off the end of the board and the platform road (the latter because I didn’t have suitable track). I tried to avoid driving the pins fully home so that the track can be lifted to allow the messy landscape modelling to take place. A couple of Peco buffer stops were clipped onto the ends of the short sidings; this was harder than expected and I wonder if they will ever come off again.

I had a go at cleaning the wheels of one or two locos as well, but unfortunately the initial tests were disappointing; something still isn’t clean enough. The locos still don’t run smoothly enough to run the layout without them (or the stock being shunted) hitting the buffers rather hard.

Office drawer full of network cables
Top Drawer: collection of network cables at work, waiting to be put to use (the brand-new ones in plastic wrap are tied up with wire that is useful for tree-making).
That’s the track story, now what about some trees? At work one of my roles is ‘IT guy’. As such, I have drawers full of cables and every now and then I install some of them. The new cables are often tied using wire wrap things, which I keep in a pile on my desk in case the cables ever need to return to storage. A while ago, I decided the pile was getting rather big and I was never going to use all of the ties. I was about to throw some away when I realised they are basically wire, so why not use them for the same job that modellers use other odd bits of wire; making trees?

Office desk with model trees and wire cable ties
Wire Trees: my desk at work with two trees (the black one is on a black background so doesn’t show up well) and the material used to make them
So that’s what I did, I made one then and there (it must have been a quiet time at work). Several weeks later, while waiting for a slow computer to do something (while trying to fix a problem on it), I built a second tree and used the webcam on my laptop to take some photographs (I don’t tend to take any other camera to work with me). The trees need more work to finish them, but will presumably end up on the layout at some point.

Cloudy, With Heavy Detours

Photo of bus-stop X50 branding with TrawsCymru T5 timetable
Rebranding Exercise: the logo of the former TrawsCambria X50, together with a timetable for the TrawsCymru T5
It’s that time of year again; January the fifth, the anniversary of the launch of the TrawsCymru T5 service (which runs between Aberystwyth and Haverfordwest). Last year, to mark the first birthday of the service, I criticised the use of the single service number ‘T5’ on what is really a collection of different routes. This year, I will explain why I believe that only one of those routes deserves the ‘TrawsCymru’ tag.

In 2010, a consultation was held regarding improvements to what was then the TrawsCambria network, which at the time consisted of the following services:
X32 Bangor – Porthmadog – Dolgellau – Machynlleth – Aberystwyth
X40 Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – Lampeter – Pencader – Carmarthen – (Swansea – Cardiff)
X50 (Aberystwyth) – Aberaeron – Cardigan
550 Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – New Quay – Aberporth – Cardigan
X94 Barmouth – Dolgellau – Bala – Llangollen – Wrexham
704 Newtown – Llandrindod Wells – Brecon

Having already read rumours that it was planned to rename the network TrawsCymru, I spoke up in favour of retaining the ‘TrawsCambria’ brand when I visited the consultation roadshow. Professor Stuart Cole’s reply, as I have written before, was that the old name had some ‘baggage’. He may have meant there were intellectual property difficulties with using it (the TrawsCambria name might belong to Arriva, I’m not sure) but my preferred interpretation is that he felt passengers had negative experiences tied up with the TrawsCambria name.

TrawsCymru T5 bus in Haverfordwest, with branding showing place names from along the highly indirect routes
Failing To Keep It Clean: TrawsCymru T5 bus in Haverfordwest, with branding showing place names from along the highly indirect routes
The logical thing therefore, in my opinion, is to ensure the new brand is a squeaky clean example of a top-notch long-distance bus service.

If I recall correctly, the consultation suggested moving to a limited-stop coach network as one of the options. While a limited-stop direct service would be ideal for long-distance passengers, in many cases the TrawsCambria services were the only public transport available. My response to the consultation thus included the proviso that limited-stop services should not come at the expense of bus services which stop anywhere. This comment was echoed some time later by Dr Victoria Winckler, who the Welsh Government commissioned to review the network; the need for speed does not outweigh the need for a bus service.

TrawsCymru T1 bus (foreground) with TrawsCambria liveried bus in the distance
Change Of Brand: TrawsCymru T1 bus (foreground) with TrawsCambria liveried bus in the distance
But, if you’re going to have a flagship brand, that brand has got to stand for something, otherwise what is the point of creating that brand? I don’t think anyone has done that with TrawsCymru; if I recall correctly there were requirements for TrawsCymru livery, free WiFi, smartly uniformed staff and minimum legroom in the invitations to tender for several TrawsCymru services, but most bus operators have services with most of those things anyway. The legroom requirement might have been a Unique Selling Point, but either it was ignored or the value specified was the same inadequate legroom found on most normal buses (I must get a tape measure and check one of these days). More relevantly, there appears to be no criteria for deciding which routes should be branded TrawsCymru. Dr Winckler’s report put forward one view which I had come to myself by that point; that TrawsCymru services, while not being limited stop, should avoid detours.

As I have posted previously, Dr Winckler felt that TrawsCymru journey times should ideally be no more than 33% slower than by car. Again, as I stated before, the 412 and 550 services (which have now been merged into the TrawsCymru T5) flouts this recommendation to a serious degree. The TrawsCymru website has the cheek to call the T5 a direct service, but a service which travels via New Quay, Aberporth, Fishguard and Mathry Road to get from Aberystwyth to Haverfordwest cannot be taken seriously as a realistic alternative to private cars. Even the faster journeys which omit Aberporth are too slow; Cardigan to Haverfordwest via Fishguard is a lost cause for end-to-end competitiveness and likewise (to a lesser degree) Aberystwyth to Cardigan via New Quay is a big detour.

Of course we need all those detouring services; the need to provide a bus service to as many places as possible trumps end-to-end speed, but such services cannot be sold as a useful long-distance travel option, so why are the Welsh Government trying to do so by branding them as TrawsCymru? If we can’t afford direct services IN ADDITION to the slow ones, then we should wipe the TrawsCymru brand away and just run local buses.

TrawsCambria X50 bus in Cardigan, note the branding on the bus does not include New Quay, because the route didn't.
Much Missed: TrawsCambria X50 in Cardigan, note the branding on the bus does not include New Quay, because the route didn’t.
Of course, I am largely repeating myself here; previous blog posts have covered this topic (this one, for example). I think however that this is the first time I’ve gone over it in detail since the T5 launched and confirmed that yes, they did go ahead and do exactly what I had been hoping they wouldn’t; the major detours of the former 550 and 412 service have been included in the TrawsCymru network.

Aside from WiFi, TrawsCymru means nothing more than TrawsCambria did; the new brand is tarnished at least as much as the old. In fact, if anything, the problem is worse. While TrawsCambria included the 550, which should always have been just a local service, it did at least also feature three or four direct X50 services each way daily between Aberystwyth and Cardigan avoiding New Quay (with direct short workings between Aberaeron and Cardigan in addition); the T5 has just one direct journey per day in each direction between Cardigan and Aberystwyth. Plus, TrawsCambria never included the service between Cardigan and Haverfordwest (via Fishguard), which may well be the most indirect bus service in Wales (it takes almost twice as long as driving); TrawsCymru does.

‘The most indirect through service in Wales, at twice the travel time of driving’, hardly a great advertisement for TrawsCymru is it? The only part of the T5 which deserves to be TrawsCymru is the sole remaining direct service between Aberystwyth and Cardigan, without the extension to Haverfordwest (there is, I think, a possible extension south of Cardigan which might work, but that’s a story for another day (maybe 5th Jan 2018!).