Tag Archives: Fishguard

Stena Shocker

A view of the harbour at Goodwick, Fishguard
Harbouring change: a view of the harbour at Goodwick, Fishguard. Stena Line’s ferry terminal is out of shot to the right.
Stena Line have today introduced a new ferry timetable which has played a part in the start of a new chapter for the Great Western Railway. Apparently, the ferry timetable between Fishguard and Rosslare has remained largely unchanged for decades. Today however all four departures have been shifted by at least an hour, some almost as many as three.

Train and ferry at Fishguard Harbour
Changes all round: the ‘Stena Europe’ and the trains connecting with it will both run at different times from today
Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) have, for their part, reworked the Fishguard rail timetable to ensure rail connections are available. However, they have been forced to breach the terms of their original 2003 franchise agreement. That contract required only two trains per 24 hours, and specified that these must run between Fishguard and Swansea (or Cardiff), connecting with ferries and either running through to/from London or connecting with London services.

Obviously, so far ATW have opted to connect with First Great Western services to and from London Paddington rather than run through services themselves. In light of Stena Line’s changes however, the London connections required by the 2003 franchise agreement are no longer provided. One of the ferries now arrives at Fishguard Harbour fairly late in the evening; by the time the connecting train reaches Swansea or Cardiff the last train to London would be long gone with the first morning train to London not due for nearly four hours, thus breaching the terms of the 2003 contract.

Intercity 125 train in London Paddington station on arrival from Swansea
Link Lost: London Paddington (pictured) is no longer be reachable from one of the two ferries from Rosslare to Fishguard.
In fairness to ATW, the London service no longer appears to be a reasonable requirement given Stena’s new ferry timing, unless I have misinterpreted the franchise agreement the only way ATW could possibly comply would be to either run through to London themselves (and their staff probably don’t have the required route knowledge) or somehow make First Great Western provide an additional service in the middle of the night. The departure time from Cardiff would be about 1am and arrival in Paddington about 4am (or slightly earlier if First Great Western, using a 125mph train, ran the service). Meeting that requirement would therefore cost a lot of money for very little gain (is anyone likely to find a service at such unsociable hours useful?).

ATW cannot be let off the hook completely however, since another aspect of their changes also appears to breach the franchise agreement. The new rail timetable shows that the problematic evening train, which couldn’t connect into a London service, terminates at Carmarthen, without even a connection to Swansea. That, according to the 2003 franchise agreement, is clearly a breach of contract; through services to at least Swansea are mandatory. Since publishing their timetable, it seems ATW have realised this and the Real Time Trains website is now showing that the new evening boat train, the 22:14 from Fishguard Harbour, will run through to Swansea after all. It will terminate there at 00:04. The 21:58 arrival at Fishguard Harbour however, which would connect into the overnight ferry, is now shown online as starting from Carmarthen at 21:03, thus involving a change for passengers from Swansea and Cardiff and breaching the 2003 agreement. That is also a change from ATW’s PDF timetable leaflet, which suggests the service would start from Manchester Piccadilly at 15:30 (with a suspicious instantaneous reversal in Carmarthen station).

Arriva Trains Wales class 150 at Cardiff Central on a Fishguard service
Lost train: the Fishguard boat train about to leave Cardiff at 10:57, a service which did not call at Swansea. From today this working is replaced by a service from Swansea to Fishguard, so not only will passengers have a slower route they will also have to change at Swansea.
It isn’t only the timetable that isn’t clear, ATW’s current contractual commitments are also shrouded in mystery. Although the 2003 franchise agreement is available online, the contract for the additional Fishguard services introduced in 2011 is not. For this post, I attempted to gain a clear picture by submitting a freedom of information request for the 2011 contract. My request was refused on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. We therefore cannot be sure if the Arriva are allowed to use the local services that do not connect with ferries to meet requirement for services to run through to/from Cardiff or Swansea, and we don’t know if reducing Fishguard’s train service from 7 trains each way (per 24 hours) to 6 (the 01:50 overnight service is withdrawn now that the sailing it existed to connect with is no more).

GWR class 387 electric multiple unit at London Paddington
The future now arriving: class 387 electric unit at London Paddington.
Stena’s unprecedented changes are not today’s only shock to the established Great Western status quo. You will also get a shock, a potentially lethal one, if you touch the overhead wires on several sections of the Great Western main line, including between Paddington and Maidenhead. There, class 387 Electrostar electric multiple units have become the first electric trains to carry fare-paying passengers on a section of line electrified under the current Great Western electrification project. Sections further west have been live for testing purposes for some time, but cannot be used for passenger services yet due to gaps in the overhead line between them and Maidenhead.

Returning to the Fishguard ferries, a definate plus is that there is now an extra train connection on the Irish side. Before, the only night ferry had rail connections in Rosslare. Now, it appears the new earlier timing of the Fishguard to Rosslare daytime sailing will allow it to connect with a train to Dublin which previously left Rosslare just before the lunch time boat from Fishguard arrived. As far as I can make out, given the differenced between Real Time Trains and the ATW timetable booklet, the connections shape up as follows:

Monday – Friday services – Old Timetable

Dublin Connolly 16:37
Rosslare Europort arr. 19:25
Rosslare Harbour dep. 09:00 21:15
Fishguard Harbour arr. 12:30 00:30
Fishguard Harbour dep. 13:29 01:50
Swansea arr. 03:47
Swansea dep. 03:52
Cardiff Central arr. 16:00 05:01
Cardiff Central dep. 16:25 05:12
London Paddington 18:32 07:30
London Paddington 08:45 20:15
Cardiff Central arr. 10:46 22:30
Cardiff Central dep. 10:58 22:32
Swansea arr. 23:28
Swansea dep. 23:45
Fishguard Harbour arr. 13:27 01:33
Fishguard Harbour dep. 14:30 02:30
Rosslare Harbour arr. 18:00 06:30
Rosslare Europort dep. 07:20
Dublin Connolly 10:15

Monday – Friday services – New Timetable

Dublin Connolly 13:36
Rosslare Europort arr. 16:26
Rosslare Harbour dep. 08:00 18:10
Fishguard Harbour arr. 11:15 21:25
Fishguard Harbour dep. 12:50 22:14
Swansea arr. 00:04
Swansea dep.
Cardiff Central arr. 15:19
Cardiff Central dep. 15:26
London Paddington 17:30
London Paddington 07:45 16:45
Cardiff Central arr. 09:49 18:48
Cardiff Central dep. 09:49 18:50
Swansea arr. 10:45 19:45
Swansea dep. 11:00 20:11
Fishguard Harbour arr. 12:30 21:58
Fishguard Harbour dep. 13:10 23:45
Rosslare Harbour arr. 16:25 04:00
Rosslare Europortdep. 17:55 05:35
Dublin Connolly 20:44 08:46

Fishguard Facilities…

…And ‘Connections’

As the Welsh Government’s consultation on the next Wales & Borders rail franchise draws to a close (ends 23rd May 2017), so to must my series of posts regarding issues that I hope the new franchise will address. In this instalment, I discuss some of the problems with station facilities and bus-rail integration, using examples from Fishguard. The consultation on improving bus services in Wales, due to end on 31st May, might also be relevant to this discussion.

Continue reading Fishguard Facilities…

5 Years Too Late

Fishguard & Goodwick station in 2013
Modern failure – The re-opened Fishguard & Goodwick station
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an online article from one of Pembrokeshire’s local newspapers regarding a proposal for a Fishguard and Goodwick railway museum. Apparently, the town councillor behind the idea is discussing the possibility of locating the museum at Fishguard & Goodwick station with Pembrokeshire County Council.

Goodwick station before demolition
Worthy Heritage – Goodwick station before demolition
Five years ago, I would almost certainly have thought this was a great idea. However, in August 2011 Pembrokeshire County Council demolished the original 1899 station building, which would have made a great home for the museum. In fact, not only could it have housed the museum it would itself have been a worthy exhibit. However, although Pembrokeshire County Council have constructed a replacement building, it does not have the stylistic qualities of the original.

Somewhere else which might have made a good home for a railway museum is Boncath station, which was up for sale recently, but Boncath isn’t the most accessible place in the world. Goodwick is better in that regard, but the new station building is a total failure in aesthetic regard.

The article referred to is here.

Since this is a rather short post, and relates to the old building at Goodwick station, I have recovered and re-published one of the old posts on the subject from my long-lost original blog. The recovered post can be found here.

Slackening Stena

I’ve not much time for blogging at the moment unfortunately, so the promised comprehensive coverage of the new TrawsCymru T5 service will have to wait. Some other news has just reached me that I really thought should be covered though, so here goes.

HSS ferry Stena Explorer at Dún Laoghaire
Stena Explorer at Dún Laoghaire. Source: Wikipedia, Benjamin.nagel, Wexcan.
Reading this week’s North Wales Rail web newsletter, I have discovered that the Stena HSS (Highspeed Sea Service) sailings between Holyhead and Dún Laoghaire have been withdrawn. I believe the high-speed vessel, ‘Stena Explorer’, once ran several services a day year-round. Over the years that has reduced to a seasonal services, but now the end has come. According to Wikipedia the ‘Stena Explorer’ had two sister ships. The ‘Stena Discovery’) was once used between England (Harwich) and the Netherlands (Hoek Van Holland) but was sold off by Stena some time ago. The other, the ‘Stena Voyager’, worked between Belfast and Stranraer, but both that service and the ship have now been scrapped. In all cases a conventional ferry service has and will continue (although Stranraer sailings have moved to a different port in the same region), but Stena’s fast ferry services are now gone from UK shores. The ‘Stena Lynx III’, a different design of fast ferry, once ran seasonally between Fishguard and Rosslare but that service ended some time ago, before the extra Fishguard rail services could provide connections into it. Speaking of Fishguard-Rosslare, the conventional ferry ‘Stena Europe’ is temporarily out of service. While in the past I have seen Stena temporarily provide an alternative ferry for the route, this time passengers are asked to use Pembroke port instead of Fishguard, which has no sailings until 17th February.

While Stena has now axed all three of its fast ferries between Wales/Scotland and Ireland, Irish Ferries are still advertising their “Jonathan Swift” fast ferry between Holyhead and Dublin. Stena’s reasoning for stopping the fast ferries (and in their last days running slower than before) apparently was high fuel costs. Surely Irish Ferries must have a similar problem with the “Jonathan Swift”, so perhaps that is under threat too. It is a shame that air travel does not appear to be suffering from high costs in the same way; aeroplanes cause higher greenhouse effect than most other modes of transport and as such a decline in air services would be most welcome.

Credit where it’s due for the photo (obtained from Wikipedia as I haven’t a good picture of a ferry to use).

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.

Three More Months

There are now just three months left to run on the three year trial service of five extra trains each way on the Fishguard Harbour branch line. The Welsh Government have launched a community survey as part of their review of the service. I have produced a new video (part of my ‘Trains For Fishguard’ series) to mark the occasion and publicise the survey.

Class 150 train at Fishguard & Goodwick station
Don’t Pull The Plug: train at Fishguard & Goodwick

The review, and the survey, will shape the future service on the line. I hope the result will be an improved service not a reduction.
FishguardTrains.info has more information, and a link to the survey.

Countdown To When?

I was planning to launch a countdown timer to mark six months remaining on the Fishguard 3-year trial rail service. Unfortunately, my attempts to extract the date of the final day from Arriva Trains Wales have proved unsuccessful. Therefore, I’ve taken a guess, and the countdown is currently set to mark 09:56 on the 6th September (the launch event for the trial service was centered arround the first 09:56 departure). If and when I find out the real date, I will endevour to update the countdown.


EDIT May 23rd: Timer is now counting down to 21:00 on the 6th September, the departure time from Fishguard of what, I believe, will be the last train under the current trial arrangment. There’s been no official confirmation of the date but that appears to be the only timetable change date in September.

An Unviable Branch?

It was a line with two trains a day… Now (until the trial ends, probably in September) it has seven, but is that enough to make the Fishguard branch viable?

Fishguard & Goodwick train
Enough trains? Class 153 and class 150 at Fishguard & Goodwick station

The January 2014 issue of the magazine Modern Railways suggests that, if this was mainland Europe, even the current level of services would not be sufficent to safeguard the line’s future. The French equivalent of Network Rail apparently requires a minimum of nine trains a day to justify the long-term future of a route (ie. heavy repair work). In Germany that minimum level is a two-hourly service (one train every two hours) for 16 hours a day.

Back to Wales, and both the Fishguard branch and the Heart Of Wales Line fall short of the frequencies required across the English channel. Let’s hope the conclusion of the Fishguard trial is that a greater, rather than lesser, frequency is warranted.

What We’ve Lost

This was originally posted on my old blog on 11 September, 2011. I have recovered the post, but not the photographs which went with it originally. The pictures featured may or not be the same ones.

Look what Pembrokeshire County Council was willing to throw away:
Fishguard & Goodwick station in June 2011

Fishguard & Goodwick station in June 2011
Alas, no more. Fishguard & Goodwick station in June 2011
This was the building of Fishguard & Goodwick station, which if restored probably would have been the nicest of any minor station on the national network. It has been demolished now, what a senseless act of vandalism.

Update: 23rd Nov 2011. I’ve just realised something. As well as everything else this distruction has lost us, we have lost probably the best spot to take photographs for promotional material to advertise the new rail service, and the opening of the station (without a nice building) next year. There is the brick hut to provide shelter, but that’s not the same.

Retrospect: Feb. 2016 The brick shed isn’t even used for shelter. All passengers have access to is a rail-industry-standard shelter; basically a bus shelter. These are bigger and look more robust than your average bus shelter, but just as draughty.