“Please help me persuade Arriva Trains Wales to use appropriate rolling stock on the Fishguard daytime boat train, and more” – Thomas J. Wheeler

Description

Thomas J. Wheeler

The 10:57 Cardiff Central to Fishguard and the 13:30 Fishguard Harbour to Cardiff Central (which continues to Cheltenham Spa) are very special services. This is because they are the only express services into and out of west Wales, calling at only Whitland, Carmarthen, Llanelli and Cardiff. They avoid the slow line into and out of Swansea and instead normally take the Great Western’s express route to Pembrokeshire, the Swansea District Line. It is great that the Swansea District Line, which is now largely freight-only, is used by these services and that these express services exist.

Sadly however they are not timetabled to take full advantage of the route they take, they are operated using totally inappropriate rolling stock, they do not call at Bridgend and Port Talbot Parkway and there are no other express services between Cardiff and Carmarthen/Pembrokeshire.

Despite being the most limited-stop service in west Wales, the rolling stock used on the Cardiff – Fishguard – Cheltenham expresses is almost invariably a class 150 Sprinter. Class 150s are suburban commuter trains, not long distance express units. They have wide doors at 1/3 and 2/3 of the length of each coach, opening directly into the passenger area. These are designed to speed boarding on busy commuter routes, but reduce the space available for seating and let cold air directly into the seating area when opened. I feel the most suitable rolling stock for this service (at least between Cardiff and Fishguard) would be a class 158 ‘Aphaline’ regional express unit (also known as ‘Express Sprinter’). A class 175 is also a regional express design and would also be suitable, however they are more expensive to run than class 158s and therefore a 158 would probably be more appropriate in west Wales where revenue is unlikely to be as high as for the current 175 services to Manchester. Failing that, a pair of class 153 units (ie. a 2-car train) would still be more suitable than the current class 150 unit, which is very much the wrong tool for the job. However, unlike 158 or 175 operation, class 153s would not increase the top speed above the 75mph of the current class 150.

The following are some of the best timings between points on the route:
Cardiff Central – Port Talbot Parkway (calling at Bridgend) – 31 minutes (eg. 14:39 Cardiff to Carmarthen)
Port Talbot Parkway – Llanelli – 29 minutes (achieved by the 22:47 from Port Talbot to Carmarthen, one of the few other services that avoid Swansea)
Llanelli – Carmarthen – 22 minutes (non-stop on the 13:30 Fishguard to Cheltenham)

From the above timings it can be seen that, with 90mph capable rolling stock, Cardiff to Llanelli can be done in around 1 hour, with stops at Port Talbot and Bridgend. The 13:30 from Fishguard is allowed 1 hour 17 minutes between Llanelli and Cardiff, the same time as most services via Swansea, despite being non-stop.

The fast times above total 1 hour 22 minutes between Carmarthen and Cardiff, so it would probably be reasonable to assume that a class 158 (a 90mph capable unit) could be timetabled at 1 hour 25 minutes to run from Carmarthen to Cardiff Central calling at Llanelli, Port Talbot Parkway and Bridgend. That is 16 minutes faster than via Swansea, which normally takes at least 1 hour 41 minutes.

With time savings like that available, it is time the grossly underutilised Swansea District Line was used for a more frequent express service between Cardiff and Carmarthen or points west (ideally hourly but more realistically about every 2 hours). Services to Swansea are very important however, so this cannot be implemented by diverting existing services, the Swansea district line services would need to be additional.

Problem History

  • 1 Thomas J. Wheeler reported the issue on FixMyTransport. close 16:01 20 Nov 2011
  • 2 Thomas J. Wheeler wrote to Arriva Trains Wales close 16:01 20 Nov 2011

    Here is the letter that Thomas J. Wheeler wrote.

    Underused Infrastructure & Inappropriate Rolling Stock

    The 10:57 Cardiff Central to Fishguard and the 13:30 Fishguard Harbour to Cardiff Central (which continues to Cheltenham Spa) are very special services. This is because they are the only express services into and out of west Wales, calling at only Whitland, Carmarthen, Llanelli and Cardiff. They avoid the slow line into and out of Swansea and instead normally take the Great Western’s express route to Pembrokeshire, the Swansea District Line. It is great that the Swansea District Line, which is now largely freight-only, is used by these services and that these express services exist.

    Sadly however they are not timetabled to take full advantage of the route they take, they are operated using totally inappropriate rolling stock, they do not call at Bridgend and Port Talbot Parkway and there are no other express services between Cardiff and Carmarthen/Pembrokeshire.

    Despite being the most limited-stop service in west Wales, the rolling stock used on the Cardiff – Fishguard – Cheltenham expresses is almost invariably a class 150 Sprinter. Class 150s are suburban commuter trains, not long distance express units. They have wide doors at 1/3 and 2/3 of the length of each coach, opening directly into the passenger area. These are designed to speed boarding on busy commuter routes, but reduce the space available for seating and let cold air directly into the seating area when opened. I feel the most suitable rolling stock for this service (at least between Cardiff and Fishguard) would be a class 158 ‘Aphaline’ regional express unit (also known as ‘Express Sprinter’). A class 175 is also a regional express design and would also be suitable, however they are more expensive to run than class 158s and therefore a 158 would probably be more appropriate in west Wales where revenue is unlikely to be as high as for the current 175 services to Manchester. Failing that, a pair of class 153 units (ie. a 2-car train) would still be more suitable than the current class 150 unit, which is very much the wrong tool for the job. However, unlike 158 or 175 operation, class 153s would not increase the top speed above the 75mph of the current class 150.

    The following are some of the best timings between points on the route:
    Cardiff Central – Port Talbot Parkway (calling at Bridgend) – 31 minutes (eg. 14:39 Cardiff to Carmarthen)
    Port Talbot Parkway – Llanelli – 29 minutes (achieved by the 22:47 from Port Talbot to Carmarthen, one of the few other services that avoid Swansea)
    Llanelli – Carmarthen – 22 minutes (non-stop on the 13:30 Fishguard to Cheltenham)

    From the above timings it can be seen that, with 90mph capable rolling stock, Cardiff to Llanelli can be done in around 1 hour, with stops at Port Talbot and Bridgend. The 13:30 from Fishguard is allowed 1 hour 17 minutes between Llanelli and Cardiff, the same time as most services via Swansea, despite being non-stop.

    The fast times above total 1 hour 22 minutes between Carmarthen and Cardiff, so it would probably be reasonable to assume that a class 158 (a 90mph capable unit) could be timetabled at 1 hour 25 minutes to run from Carmarthen to Cardiff Central calling at Llanelli, Port Talbot Parkway and Bridgend. That is 16 minutes faster than via Swansea, which normally takes at least 1 hour 41 minutes.

    With time savings like that available, it is time the grossly underutilised Swansea District Line was used for a more frequent express service between Cardiff and Carmarthen or points west (ideally hourly but more realistically about every 2 hours). Services to Swansea are very important however, so this cannot be implemented by diverting existing services, the Swansea district line services would need to be additional.

  • 3 Julian Walker commented close 16:15 20 Nov 2011

    Hello Thomas,

    I gather that Arriva Trains Wales will be putting more trains into Fishguard in the near future.

    However, I feel your call to have more trains not stopping in Swansea will fall on deaf ears - Swansea is just too important a destination from West Wales to have many trains missing it out.

    I agree with your suggestion that better rolling stock and faster journey time should be possible for the two trains you mention.

    anorak
    admin
  • 4 Thomas J. Wheeler commented close 11:07 21 Nov 2011

    The Welsh Assembly Goverment funded extra trains from Fishguard (06:53 to Clarbeston Road, 08:04 to Manchester, 09:56 to Carmarthen, 19:00 to Clarbeston Road and 20:50 to Carmarthen) started in September.

    You may have noticed I mentioned Swansea was an important stop, and that therefore no existing trains should be diverted via the Swansea District Line without a suitable replacment (ie. the current frequency of services via Swansea should not be reduced in any way). However I feel that the priority for additional services to and from Carmarthen and points west via the Swansea District Line is higher than for more services via Swansea. This is because the road journey time from Carmarthen to Cardiff is so much quicker than trains via Swansea. Even 1hr 25mins via the District Line isn't quite enough, but it would be a start and not require expensive infrastructure improvments.

  • 5 Thomas J. Wheeler commented close 23:37 25 Nov 2011

    See http://fishguardtrains.info/?p=52 for some disscusion on a possible 2012 campaign for greater use of the Swansea District Line to provide an express service to Carmarthen and Pembrokeshire.

  • 6 Thomas J. Wheeler commented close 13:54 26 Jan 2012

    While the long-term objective of this was an hourly class 158 express service between Cardiff and Carmarthen, with 2-hourly extentions into Pembrokeshire, I feel a shorter-term goal is needed. This is partly to try and get some improvement as soon as possible, but also because the rail infrastructure needed to run the express services I propose could be under threat once the capacity (but not the journey times) on the slower route via Swansea is increased thanks to the Gowerton redoubling in 2013.

    My Short-Term Proposal
    Arriva Trains Wales are currently training drivers on class 67 locomotives and will shortly be doing the same for mark 3 driving van trailers. These locomotives and driving trailers are expected to be used on Holyhead-Cardiff express services. This should enable the class 175 unit currently used on the via Wrexham express service to return to other services, releasing the Sprinter unit that replaced it on franchise services when the express was introduced. If this Sprinter unit is a class 158, it could be used for express trains to Pembrokeshire. If it is a class 150, then it could be used on the Maesteg line services to release a class 158.

    Either way, a class 158 will then be available for Pembrokeshire services. I suggest this unit work a morning service from Fishguard or Milford Haven to Cardiff (via the Swansea district line), then head to Fishguard and back as the existing daytime boat train before running an evening (17:50ish) express (via the Swansea District Line) from Cardiff to Fishguard. The class 150 unit currently used on the Fishguard daytime boat train would then be available for other services, I suggest filling some of the 2-hour gaps in the (generally) hourly ATW Cardiff - Cheltenham Spa service.

  • 7 Thomas J. Wheeler commented close 13:47 20 Apr 2012

    Unfortunatly it would seem that the class 158 fleet is to be diverted to north Wales to provided longer trains. This probablly means there is only now only one solution to the dreadful rolling stock and insufficent service from south-west Wales to Cardiff. That solution would be to use locomotives and the only rolling stock Arriva Trains Wales actually own, their mark 2 coaches.

    Ideally, since a locomotive-hauled train would have more coaches, it would be put on the busy Llandudno or Swansea to Manchester services to relieve overcrowding. That would release a 2-car 175 unit which could operate the current Swansea District Line service from Cardiff to Fishguard and an additional express service each way (about 07:56 from Fishguard and 17:54 from Cardiff). However, while that would increase capacity on the Manchester trains, it would remove accessible toilets from such services (the mark 2s would only be a stop-gap measure, working for about 6 years, and as such I doubt the cost of fitting accessible toilets would be justified) so it may have to be the loco-hauled stock on the district line (much better than 150s, but probably a few too many coaches).

  • 8 Thomas J. Wheeler commented close 19:39 01 Jun 2012

    I haven't been able to actively pursue this issue due to my university workload, but from railway forums I've been picking up suggestions that a class 158 will be used on the Fishguard Boat Train once damaged class 175 units are returned to service.

    If that happens, is this the problem fixed, or should I keep this problem page open to try to deal with the very limited use of the Swansea District Line and consequental uncompetitive journey times by rail in this part of the world?

  • 9 Thomas J. Wheeler commented close 09:07 18 Aug 2012

    I believe a class 158 is now being used on the daytime boat train, but only on weekdays. Woefully inappropriate stock is still used at weekends (although I think the weekend service is strengthened to 4-car for the summer period). So the problem is partially fixed.

    Could you please advise on whether I should make a seperate problem report to try to deal with the very limited use of the Swansea District Line or is it better to retain it is an extention to this issue.

  • 10 Thomas J. Wheeler commented close 21:59 01 Oct 2012

    I have read reports that woefully inappropriate class 150s are back on the boat train every day. That was a very short-term correction of the suituation and it wasn't even a complete solution while it lasted.

  • 11 Thomas J. Wheeler asked for advice. close 00:56 31 Mar 2013

    Should I create another problem report regarding overcrowding on the 17:39 Cardiff to Milford Haven service (in fact, is there one already, that area's rather too cluttered for me to see what's already been reported)? I'm not sure how bad it is now the service has, supposedly, been lengthened from a 2-car class 175 to a 3-car one, but it was awful before. As the last service of the day that connects to Fishguard, I feel it's rather important Pembrokeshire passengers should be able to get on it.

    I think a Swansea District Line service a bit later, overtaking the 17:39 and connecting into it at Carmarthen, would be a great solution to that problem. Hence that problem is linked to this one, so perhaps it's better to stick with this one topic.

  • 12 Thomas J. Wheeler commented close 21:29 14 Dec 2013

    I have heard rumours that decent rolling stock should now be in use on the service but I haven't had a chance to check it yet. Also, given that last time a 158 was diagrammed it only lasted until the next timetable change I can't be sure it will last this time.

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  • started 20 November 2011
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