Two Rural Welsh Railways

Here are a few rural Welsh railways with websites devoted to their promotion. The information has been moved from elsewhere on the web during a spring clean so that it lives on. Hopefully, some can make use of this posting.

Conwy Valley Railway

It’s nearly ten years since I first travelled along this stretch of the National Rail network and guidebooks were issuing warnings about the future of the line. Then, an elderly diesel multiple unit was what plied the scenic route but more modern 150’s carry on the service these days. The operator has changed too with Arriva Trains Wales having taken over from a now defunct First North Western in the intervening years. The website is a Conwy Borough Council microsite and very useful it appears too. So far, all those fears from a decade ago have proved unfounded though trains are replaced by buses in the winter months and there is the hourly X1 Llandudno-Blaenau Ffestiniog service operated by Express Motors on other days of the week too. With its passage through pretty alluring countryside and its connections to the Ffestiniog narrow gauge railway, let’s hope that its future isn’t imperilled by an inclement economic climate or public spending cuts.

Heart of Wales Line

This website comes from the Heart of Wales Line Forum, one of a number of community rail partnerships in Britain, and it does look as if they promote a railway that needs it. Despite  their best efforts, the service level comes to four trains each way from Monday to Saturday and two each way on Sundays. It’s a long rural line too as it winds its way from Craven arms in Shropshire to its eventual destination of Swansea. Trains don’t start from or terminate at Craven Arms though because Shrewsbury is the actual northern terminus though I have seen the single carriage train that plies the line attached to a two car set at Crewe on Sunday mornings. Now that I think of that, I wonder if it still is the arrangement though a vague memory leaves me with the impression that it has changed. On the Welsh side of the border, the route does wind through at least one narrow valley before round the Brecon Beacons National Park, first to its north but then to its west. The latter has been planting ideas of exploring the park’s western reaches from this line though that has yet to come to pass. Well, it’s never any harm to have ideas in mind…

Two losses

In the last few days, two types of services have been coming to an end. First up is the well-regarded Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway  company which stopped running services between Wrexham and London on Friday. While Virgin will continue to run one service each way from Wrexham to London and back, most will find themselves going via Chester or some other route. Sadly, I never got to try WSMR out for size so I don’t know what I’ve missed. Nevertheless, I do know what it’s like to be travelling on the last services of something that were a good thing.

My reason for saying that is that DFDS Norfolkline’s last sailing from Birkenhead to Dublin is departing in just under an hour (checking in probably has closed in by now). A day trip to Dublin and Howth had me traveling on the last sailing from Dublin to Birkenhead last night and it was a forlorn event. You could hear the captain’s voice breaking as he announced the end of something that had been going since 1995. Indeed, other members of the crew were welling up at times too. After all, this is something that could be missed. P&O do operate a ferry from Liverpool to Dublin and back but they don’t accept foot passengers like the others did. The result is that foot passengers will be losing a seven hour sailing that allowed the chance for some more sleep when travelling between Merseyside and the Irish Republic. Everyone will need to go to Holyhead or some other port now.

The service seemed busy enough on the seven hour sailing that I undertook but I don’t know how things were going during the week or on daytime sailings and the Irish economy isn’t going very well at the moment while the British one is having its troubles too; the Holyhead-Dublin sailing that I used in the middle of the day wasn’t that busy so that might be a hint. Then, there was the takeover of Norfolkline by DFDS so that might result in a change of priorities too. Still, the Birkenhead-Belfast operation continues though the days of getting evening meals and breakfast on the price of the sailing are gone after the end of the month. Fares will cost more by the looks of things and you’ll need to pay for any food as well. Was it impossible to keep the Dublin route going on this basis?

Good things sadly can come to an end and I suppose the WSMR’s demise is but another example that sounds very similar to the sea travel tail that I have related here. My only wish is that everything works out OK for the staff caught up in both of these less than positive changes. There’s something about both that makes them sound like the ends of eras.

Update 2011-01-31: There seems to be swathe of route discontinuations in train with BMI pulling its Glasgow-London service and Air Southwest doing the same with its Newquay-Gatwick and Plymouth-Gatwick runs. Interestingly, there is no mention of the news on the former’s website while it is there on the latter’s. In truth, DFDS wasn’t so communicative about the Dublin-Birkenhead route either.

Saving precious pennies II

I was recently pondering a trip to Cardiff and the standard Off-Peak return starting from Macclesfield kept coming to £57.90. This was rather more than I was expecting so my mind turned to the idea of re-booking or split ticketing. It might constrain my journey options (a good few good around by Birmingham) but doing the split at Shrewsbury does save money when doing so at Crewe costs even more. The Off-Peak Return from Macc to Shrewsbury comes to £18.80 while the same for Shrewsbury to Cardiff stands at £26.50 with the total cost coming to £45.30, not a staggering reduction but a step in the right direction and at a price that I feel it should be. I don’t know who is setting the prices but £12.60 is still quite a difference.