Freedom Of Movement?

Anglesey from Holyhead mountain, with ferries for Ireland in view
A Tale Of Islands: Holyhead island, Anglesey and Salt Island, the ferryport (with two ships for Dublin), are all visible in this photograph
We’re walking in the air; we’re floating in the midnight sky… Prior to the referendum of June 2016, the two sides of the debate regarding whether to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union gave a range of arguments to support their positions. Some of these arguments, on both sides, were probably valid; others perhaps less so. One of the leave campaign’s biggest arguments was the issue of ‘Freedom Of Movement’ across the European Union. Immigration figures exceeding emigration is, or was, apparently a serious concern for certain sectors of the population. There is however a difficult problem, if the UK border force are to be able to stop people moving to this country without permission they need to check everybody’s passport at the border. This is not to much of an issue at ports and airports, where travel is slowed by embarking and disembarking from ferries and aircraft anyway. A land border however, where people are used to uninterrupted travel on foot, bike, bus or train, or in car, is rather more difficult.

Stena Europe ferry and class 150 train at Fishguard Harbour
Backdoor to Blighty? Stena Line ferry from Ireland at Fishguard Harbour
This was clearly a sticking point during the first stage of negotiations with the EU. The only option for avoiding passport controls on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic appeared to be to have Northern Ireland effectively remain within the EU, with freedom of movement, and introduce passport controls on routes between the island of Ireland and mainland Britain. I was concerned however that, with the Scottish desire to remain in the EU, a similar package might be demanded by Holyrood; which would have resulted in a land border with England (to the detriment of the cross-border rail links). Instead, it now appears that the whole United Kingdom will need to maintain alignment with certain rules of the EU, in order that hard borders are not necessary. The leave campaign’s dreams of abolishing the freedom of movement between the EU and Britain are now looking almost as outlandish as the squadrons of flying snowmen in Channel 4’s vintage Christmas animation.

Within the United Kingdom however, freedom of movement within the public transport system can be limited. For some time now, I have been concerned about a certain aspect of the Cardiff/Newport Metro proposals. It is possible that the project will include a new station to serve Caerleon. That in itself would be no bad thing, in fact I am strongly in favour. The issue is that the likely service offer is an hourly train between Cardiff Central and Abergavenny. As with stations on the ValleyLines network, the most-important market for travel to/from Caerleon is probably commuting to/from Cardiff and Newport. The proposed Cardiff-Abergavenny service would thus cater for that core market, but terminating at Abergavenny as planned could limit the station’s usefulness for people with other travel patterns.

Panorama of the buildings on the island platform at Hereford railway station
Off The Metro? Hereford station, which could unfortunately be left beyond the Cardiff/Newport Metro services serving a possible new Caerleon station.

It is my opinion that the proposed hourly stopping service between Cardiff and Abergavenny should instead run through to Hereford, where the line to Worcester branches off the Welsh Marches Line. Worcester is probably not an important destination for many people in Caerleon, but extending their trains to Hereford would make places like Worcester just one change of train away from them. To reach Birmingham with just one change otherwise, the people of Caerleon would first have to travel south to Newport (thus heading in the wrong direction).

First Great Western class 180 and London Midland class 172 units at Worcester Foregate Street station
Onward Connections? Trains for Birmingham and London serve the line from Hereford through to Worcester, where this photo was taken.
Hereford also has trains along the Cotswolds line to Oxford, which would be two changes away from Caerleon if the trains terminated at Abergavenny (although changing at Newport and Didcot might be quicker, thanks to 125mph running on the Great Western Main Line). Even so, I feel that running Caerleon’s trains through to Hereford, instead of stopping them short of that important junction station, would be severely limiting the ‘freedom of movement’ by rail for the people of Caerleon.

That’s it for this blog for 2017; all that is left is for me to wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Welsh Welcome

View of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station from an East Midlands Trains service on the Midland Main Line.
Parting Shot: on the last East Midlands Trains leg of the holiday, I finally grabbed this shot of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, having missed similar shots earlier in the holiday.
Following the grand finale (our visit to Lincoln), Thursday (August 17th) was the end of our stay in Leicester. Our return to Wales would be the reverse of our outward journey; retracing our steps to Whitland. Thus, we boarded a Meridian (222023 on this occasion) at Leicester to take us to Derby for onward travel by one of the rare CrossCountry Intercity 125s.

Class 73 in LORAM refurbishment advertising livery
Painted Peels: another locomotive spotted from our train to Derby was this class 73 with artificial weathering.
On the way to Derby we overtook a bright yellow train; a Network Rail track machine of some kind, hauled by a blue locomotive. I had a faint hope that it would catch us up during our near half-hour wait at Derby and fortunately it did, allowing me to see that the loco was 50008 ‘Thunderer’. A class 50 in use on the modern railway was a nice surprise and really unexpected. It came to a stand just short of the station, then a few minutes later ran through light engine leaving the track machine behind. It was only then that I was able to read the loco’s number, but the track machine remained a mystery at that point.

Class 50 locomotive 50008 at Derby with a rail grinding train
Thunder And Grinding: ‘Thunderer’ with the rail-grinder before the loco moved off alone.
An hour after our scheduled departure from Leicester, we seated ourselves on the 10:30 CrossCountry departure from Derby (bound for Plymouth), led by 43304. As we headed south, I was finally able to identify the yellow machine the class 50 had brought to Derby as a rail grinding train. Our reserved seats were, as we had been told, at a table but they were facing backwards (we had been told otherwise). I’m guessing therefore that the train was the wrong way round, unless the route involves a reversal somewhere. The man opposite us kindly moved elsewhere so that we could face forward, but CrossCountry’s dreaded ‘reservable on-route’ policy forced us back into our reserved seats at Birmingham. Before that, an interesting sighting was a Travelodge in Burton-On-Trent, housed in a former Midland Railway Grain Warehouse (or so the writing on the wall declared). A rather more sombre observation was two Eurostar (class 373) power cars with parts of their sides missing; probably in the process of being scrapped. At the time, I did wonder whether they could be the two power cars being refurbished for display at the national college for high-speed rail, but I think it more likely that the ones I saw were practically on the scrapheap.

CrossCountry and First Great Western Intercity 125 trains at Bristol Parkway
Parkway Interchange: ‘our’ CrossCountry IC125 leaves us on the platform at Bristol Parkway
For the record, the rear power car for our ride south was 43357. I saw this once we had alighted at Bristol Parkway, where I had planned a much shorter wait (11 minutes) than on our outward journey. The same-platform connection into the 12:42 service (bound for Cardiff with 43134 on the front and 43155 ‘The Red Arrows 50 Seasons Of Excellence’ bringing up the rear) went smoothly enough. Table bays aligned with the windows are almost like hen’s teeth on Great Western IC125s so we resorted to airline-style seating but at least I had room for my legs as the overhead racks took my suitcase.

Two First Great Western Intercity 125 trains at Cardiff Central
Arrows Of The Great Western: The ‘Red Arrows’ power car at Cardiff Central, with a second class 43 in the background at platform 1
At Newport, the guard made an announcement advising passengers for stations beyond Cardiff Central to change at the latter (avoiding the need to change platforms, which would have been necessary had we changed at Newport). At the time, I agreed with that advise given the time of day. Later on, although Cardiff Central is generally much nicer than Newport station, I would have to advise changing at the latter for Pembrokeshire stations as in my experience the late-afternoon services to Pembrokeshire normally depart Cardiff full and standing. Anyway, I had planned to catch the 13:49 service from Cardiff Central, bound for Milford Haven; assuming it wouldn’t be busy at that time of day. Big mistake. During the scheduled 17 minute wait in Cardiff, I slipped into not really paying attention and was rather taken by surprise as our train rolled into the platform. By the time I reached the train, a class 175/0 (2-car) which had stopped a fair distance along the platform, it looked like pretty much all the seats were taken with a small number of passengers still in the queue to board.

First Great Western Intercity 125 (with power car 43191) at Swansea station
Made it at last: 43191 on the rear of the train that eventually brought us to Swansea.
Not so much a welcome, really. Over five days* of travelling on East Midlands Trains, London Midland and Northern services, and even CrossCountry Turbostars, we had little trouble finding a seat. But now? We had come almost within two hours of Whitland and were crowded out. It seems that two carriages is not enough on a fast train between Cardiff and Swansea, even at off-peak times.

* not counting the travel out and back days

Class 150 diesel multiple unit at Swansea station
Sorry Sight: 150241 waits at Swansea with the Pembroke Dock service we would be catching. Swansea to Pembroke Dock is a long way to go on one of these uncomfortable Sprinters.
A GWR train to Swansea was due ten minutes later, so we waited for that. 43122 on the front and 43191 on the back, due into Swansea at 14:46. While there, a Manchester to Carmarthen service passed through; we could have taken that to get closer to home but in the hope of seeing 43002 and 43185 again I opted to wait until the 16:00 Swansea to Pembroke Dock service (which we would have had to wait for at Carmarthen anyway).

The river Towy seen from a train on the lifting bridge which crosses the river just outside Carmarthen
A Bridge Too Far: this shot was taken from ‘our’ train as it crossed the river Towy just after the call at Carmarthen. In my opinion, a class 150 is so uncomfortable they should be limited to services of under an hour in duration; Swansea to Carmarthen is right on the limit.
After the next train from London had arrived (not with heritage power cars) we boarded the final train of our trip; 150241. I think the overhead racks must have taken my suitcase on this too, as I don’t remember having it squashed against my legs. Unlike on the Great Western services however, getting my case up out-of-the-way is not sufficient to make room for my legs. A class 150 simply does not provide the necessary legroom in the airline-style seats and the table bays are few in number and not aligned with the windows. Oh well, I was getting off at Whitland anyway; at least I didn’t have to go all the way to Pembroke Dock on the thing.