Tag Archives: Carmarthen

LLAnBranches – Going West?

Class 150 approaching Whitland from the Pembroke Dock branch
Sprinter To Swansea: A class 150 about to leave the Pembroke Dock branch and join the main line to Swansea
I am part way through the January 2015 issue of ‘Modern Railways’. On page 14, there is a piece hailing the success of Community Rail Partnerships. Over six years (2006/07 to 2012/13) they report an overall patronage growth across the regional passenger sector of the UK rail network of 23%. Within that though, the use of lines supported by Community Rail Partnerships grew by 45%. Further growth on many of the lines is apparently now being hampered by the national shortage of DMU stock.

Flags and flowers at Fishguard & Goodwick station
Community Involvement: Flags and Flowers at Fishguard & Goodwick station
It is a shame then that one of Wales’ Community Rail Partnerships, the one covering the Pembrokeshire branches (including, if I recall correctly, the line from Swansea to Carmarthen) appears to have become defunct. It was called ‘All Points West’, but I noticed some time ago that their website URL now pointed to something totally irrelevant. Arriva Trains Wales’ website still mentions ‘All Points West’ but they have since removed the hyperlink when they learned that the ‘All Points West’ site was gone. They obviously had no money for web hosting, and I don’t think they exist any more at all. They were, if I recall correctly, either part of or supported by SWWITCH, the South West Wales Integrated Transport Consortium. SWWITCH itself now appears to have gone the way of the dodo. There now doesn’t seem to be any single co-ordinated body promoting the rail network in the bottom left-hand corner of Wales, just a handful of independent, mostly informal, groups.

Class 150 unloads passengers at Fishguard & Goodwick
Local Traffic: Passengers alight from a class 150 at Fishguard & Goodwick station
In terms of promotion, as I remarked in one of my ‘Trains For Fishguard’ videos, it is a shame that the lines do not have a marketing name. Another of Wales’ Community Rail Partnerships is a great example of the opposite end of the scale: ‘The Heart Of Wales Line’. That has to be one of the best marketing names out there, but south-west Wales has nothing.

The best idea I’ve come up so far is to resurrect ‘All Points West’ as ‘LLAnBranches CRP’, the Landsker Line And Branches Community Rail Partnership. A bit of a mouthful, but the main route from Llanelli through to Clarbeston Road could be simply the ‘Landsker Line’ as it roughly follows the boundary between the areas where Welsh is spoken more (north of the line) or less (south of the line).

Flowers decorating the platform at Fishguard & Goodwick
Platform Plants: decoration at Fishguard & Goodwick
Perhaps trying to bring about the ‘LLAnBranches CRP’ is something to add to my already stupidly long to-do list for 2015. I’m REALLY slow, so I might need 100 of me to get all my work done. In other words, it is unlikely I will get round to doing anything about it. Still, at least I’ve managed a blog post to start the new year, and it wasn’t even the rant about the new TrawsCymru T5 service I’d expected to post, so that is still to come. I hope 2015 will be a happy year for you, me and the rest of life on earth.

The Core Conundrum

TrawsCambria has a hole at it’s core. A key function of the network the Welsh Assembly Government created around 2004/5 was bridging the gaps in Wales’ rail network. Four of the network’s six routes, at least in part, mirrored long-lost rail links:

  • X32 Bangor – Caernarfon – Porthmadog – Dolgellau – Aberystwyth
  • X94 Wrexham – Llangollen – Corwen – Bala – Barmouth
  • X40 Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – Lampeter – Pencader – Carmarthen
  • 704 Newtown – Builth Wells – Brecon – Merthyr Tydfil

Of these missing rail links (listed in bold above), the one that has attracted the most calls for re-opening is probably Carmarthen – Aberystwyth. Thus, the X40 was a core route of TrawsCambria and this is evidenced by the fact it carried more passengers than any of the other TrawsCambria routes. However, the X40 is no more, having fallen victim to Arriva’s CymruExpress operation, which itself is now gone. The TrawsCymru TC1 service, intended to replace and enhance the X40, has not yet materialised, leaving a hole at the core of TrawsCambria/TrawsCymru.

40 service bus in Aberystwyth
Arriving From Carmarthen: a Lewis’ Coaches 40 service approaches Aberystwyth
Instead of the X40/TC1 we have two normal services, the 40/40c. This is actually one through service, with a change of service number at Lampeter. The 40/40c service largely follows the intended route of the TC1 but with standard buses rather than the high-specification TrawsCymru ones. The obvious solution is to steal back the six new buses ordered for the TC1, but the current route takes 2hrs 15mins to get between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen. That is rather slow, compared to the car, exceeding the recent recommendation (in the Winckler review) that TrawsCymru services should not be more than 50% slower. But what can be done about it? Not a lot, it seems; the 40/40c is already faster than the X40, after most of the detours were removed under Arriva’s CymruExpress.

Bus on service 40 at Aberaeron Alban Square
Eclipsed by the car: First Cymru Wright Eclipse on the 40 service
The only detour remaining is that to Pencader, but removing that would mean finding a replacement bus service for Pencader. This could easily end up doubling the overall running costs and might only have a small impact on the overall journey time. With no other detours, the only thing left to do would be change the entire shape of the service to make it more direct. That would mean missing out Aberaeron or Lampeter, possibly both. The reduced revenue that would result would almost certainly make such a proposal unworkable.

Is it time for plans to be drawn up for a new express rail link between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth? That would allow the 40/40c to remain as local bus services, eg. making detours to Pencader? Meanwhile, the Welsh Government look like they are planning to upgrade the 40/40c to a TrawsCymru route in June or July, ignoring the Winckler review advice that TrawsCymru services should avoid detours.