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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.