On Trains & Buses

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Evidence of network fragility

Posted on August 26, 2018

Reading time: 4 minutes.

Train timetabling hit the news for the wrong reasons in May and the aftermath persists several months later. Major changes planned for December have been postponed until May next year after the problems that hit users of Northern and Thameslink Great Northern. It was a combination of late completion of engineering works, delays to trains cascading from one operator to another and poor administration across the board that caused a multitude of poor experiences like the cancellation of trains on the line between Oxenholme and Windermere. None of this sold the railway at all well and it is easy to say that the transport is ailing under the current government, especially given all the cuts to bus services that have happened since 2010.

There are too many observations that can be made but this entry pertains to a second encounter with Arriva Trains Wales operations on the Cambrian Coast Line this summer. The first already has inspired an earlier entry regarding the lack of air conditioning on a train on a hot day. Such things did not impact things so much the second time around so much as delays to train services.

Having fancied the idea of travelling as far as Pwllheli for quite a while, I finally did just that and went for a walk to the top of Yr Eifl too. The day was sunny so that helped with views of the surrounding scenery. What helped too was that there was enough capacity on trains for comfortable travelling.

This time around, a four carriage train conveyed me from Wolverhampton to Machynlleth where it divided with two of the carriages continuing to Aberyswyth and another two going all the way to Pwllheli. What you need to do is ensure that you ensure that you were on the correct part of the train and that is complicated by the fact that it turns around at Shrewsbury. That meant that I was on the wrong part so I needed to move to the right one and that was busier than where I had been ensconced.

There was a delay on the way too but that had less of an impact on my plans than my overestimating how long it takes to ascend and descend Yr Eifl, a feat that took me two hours so I abandoned any thoughts of walking back to Pwllheli in favour of a return bus journey from Llithwaen. A late train delayed my departure from Pwllheli but you cannot depend on that for allowing extra time and a late train is better than a cancelled one; there had been some of those on the day I was travelling.

Because of someone falling ill on a train earlier in the day and a decision to cut down waiting time at Harlech, my departure was delayed by around forty minutes. With a single-track line having only so many passing places for trains, it is very vulnerable to such things and one delay can have a heavy impact on the timeliness of others. There is one of these passing points between Machynlleth and Caersws where I have been held up on past journeys while Tywyn is another. Being held on a train stopped at a station is not so bad but when it is stationary out in the middle of nowhere, that is a very different feeling.

The length of the delay was another concern especially when I needed to catch the last train of the day from Wolverhampton to Macclesfield. This is the sort of thing that drops in ideas like changing at Shrewsbury to get to Stockport from where a taxi gets used to complete the journey. The possibility of a change at Machynlleth is another but that often is not the case as it was in my case though it can take time to join up two trains to make one with four carriages. Splitting it again at Shrewsbury does not help timeliness either and it reduced capacity for everyone on board so I questioned the sense of the manoeuvre. Thankfully, I made my intended connection despite all this.

Handily, I split my tickets so that there was one set between Macclesfield and Wolverhampton and another between Wolverhampton and Pwllheli so that made a delay repay application a little easier even if meant that a train conductor might not have been as aware of my plans. The other catch is that I used the Virgin Trains app so day return tickets are not as accessible for capturing in a screenshot like ordinary off-peak return ones. There has been no reply yet but there may be a backlog and I already have a £10 voucher to use from a complaint about the previous journey along the Cambrian Coast Line. Patience is needed sometimes but the experiences will not stop my continuing to explore this part of Wales.

Update 2018-08-28: Yesterday, I got an email response saying that the delay/repay scheme only applies when the railways are the cause of the delay. Since it was due to a passenger, there is no compensation due to me. Because of the sum of money that is involved, I am going to leave the matter to rest.

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