Lost Welsh Independent Bus Companies

It was before Christmas 2017 when the idea for this post entered my head after learning about more Welsh bus company collapses. Though I might have had the motivation to write it up then, the topic felt unseasonal so I left it to one side for a while.

There are plenty of reasons why the subject is too sober for what was supposed to be a joyful time of year. In the companies listed below, there seems to be a repeating story of hardship and subsequent collapse. In some cases, business management was not what it should and the Welsh traffic commissioner never takes too kindly to sudden closure of any bus company and there has been too much cause for hearings to take place in Welshpool.

Most of the affected concerns operated rural bus routes under council contracts, an easier revenue earner during the years of Labour government in London but much tougher now in more austere times. Such is the geography of Wales, that many firms prospered once more funding was on offer from the late nineties until the end of the next decade. One bus industry professional commented that he was involved in setting up a business in the nineties because public subsidy was about to increase and the Cheshire bus network was much stronger back then so the same might have been possible for Wales.

That is not how it is now and bus patronage cannot be helped by service cuts either so a vicious circle comes into being. Then, smaller firms suffer and the hilly nature of Wales makes it hard too for large operators with Arriva and Veolia pulling out of mid Wales. It all makes for a troubled network so the presence of the Welsh Government support TrawsCambria network is invaluable because we cannot say that all is well yet.

When you see the list below, it is easy to see how instability can rein so anything that helps has to be good. After all, bus passengers need to sure that services will operate as advertised and the last thing that councils need is repeated re-tendering of services. Hopefully, the decline can be halted and we see a reduced number of failures over time. You only can hope for better.

D & J Jones and Son

In the wake of the collapse of GHA Coaches, this Wrexham based operator took on a lot of extra work before it too collapsed immediately before Christmas 2017. It was said that staffing issues were the cause rather than financial pressures but it left Wrexham Council with the task of replacing many services in order to keep transport services going in the borough.

Express Motors

2018 started with much change in the bus network in northwest Wales (Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy) because of this operator’s loss of its licence. The cause was a coach crash in France that revealed discrepancies in vehicle maintenance records. There were two family owned companies on site with similar names, one offering private and the other providing local bus services. Both were closed and a replacement company appears not to have been set up to continue in the bus service business. The result is that all council contracted routes were retendered.

GHA Coaches

GHA Coaches rose very quickly across North and Mid Wales as well as Cheshire and Shropshire. It now looks as if the expansion may have been too rapid for service quality declined and cashflow problems meant that taxes were unpaid and service quality suffered too. In the end, the company was wound up by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The company’s directors tried starting another company but were disqualified from continuing with such operations by the traffic commissioner, an understandable action given how quickly GHA Coaches had collapsed and the chaos that resulted.

Padarn Bus

Llanberis’ Padarn Bus was another bus company that failed in northwest Wales and there was a fraud investigation mounted after that happened. That happened in 2014 and so comes before others on this list. It was a sign of what was to come.

Silcox Coaches

This Pembrokeshire operator failed for financial reasons not long before GHA Coaches. The business had been sold in order to gain added investment that never materialised. It then was bought back by the family that owned for much of its long history but it never recovered.

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…