Monday 8th July 2019
Today’s been a varied travel day starting with a Pacer and Class 37 hauled commuter train in the Cardiff Valley, followed by a journey on a brand new inter-urban bus up a Welsh valley then three more bus rides across the tops of the valleys, a poorly patronised but impressive express bus ride from Swansea to Carmarthen and ending the day on a rural bus route further into mid Wales plus a train ride on the Heart of Wales line to Llandrindod Wells with just me on board.
Let’s start at the beginning. Transport for Wales are still running a lot of Pacer trains on the Cardiff Valley lines. You only have to stand on Cardiff Central or Queen Street stations for a short while and you’ll soon hear the familiar Pacer style screech as they come and go.
My early morning trip up to Bargoed at 06:50 from Queen Street this morning was no exception and for a contra-peak journey had a moderate load although only three of us travelled the full 45 minute ride to Bargoed.There’s no early morning journey to get you all the way to the terminus at the head of the valley at Rhymney where I was aiming to pick up one of the two southbound peak journeys now operated by a Class 37, so I settled on Bargoed which is fifteen minutes down the line. The first journey which shuttles just to Cardiff Central and is destined for a Class 37 at 07:43 was a Pacer joined to a Class 150 this morning as driver training is not yet complete on the 37s; but the second 37 designated journey, the 07:42 from Rhymney (07:57 from Bargoed) duly appeared with the distinctive sound and shape of this fine diesel locomotive pulling four traditionally blue and grey liveried coaches. It was quite an early morning sight.This journey has been retimed by 3 minutes (was 08:00) but you’d never know from the printed and online timetables but this was just one of many timetable inconsistencies I stumbled on during today which the unwary traveller could be caught out with.
Despite the issue of manual doors (particularly their shutting at stations) we made good progress and kept to time until just before Cardiff Queen Street where red signals were our downfall arriving into Cardiff Central nine minutes late.
It started off quiet but was soon a busy trip with plenty of standing passengers by the time we reached Cardiff.
Commuters seemed used to the new arrangements which have been operating for a couple of weeks now and the guard gave regular announcements about how to open the doors and posters were also displayed at stations. I doubt many people took notice and everyone was coping fine.
Transport for Wales have introduced these ‘Thunderbird’ type arrangements to release other trains for conversion to meet looming accessibility deadlines at the end of this year. That’s looking like a very tight timescale to me, and as mentioned above, there are plenty of Pacers still around and new train deliveries are running notoriously late. Still in the meantime it’s great fun to take a commute on a ‘proper train’ and well worth a ride (there are two comparable journeys in the evening peak back from Cardiff to Rhymney).
It was a complete contrast to follow this with a ride on one of the twelve smart new Volvo B8 MCV bodied buses introduced last week by Stagecoach for Traws Cymru on routes T4 and T14.
The Welsh Government have stumped up £2.1 million for Powys County Council to buy the new buses which feature very comfortable seats (train companies and the DfT please note)……..extensive luggage space …usb, Wi-fi (although my phone wouldn’t connect) and the latest innovation – seat back down lighting – the purpose of which I’m still struggling with…
I caught the 09:10 from Cardiff to Hereford route T14 which is the joining together of three previously separate routes to provide a handy through service. Five of us travelled to Merthyr Tydfil via Pontypridd, so it was a quiet run but an extremely impressive fast journey arriving into Merthyr Tydfil just after 10:00 – it would have taken fifteen minutes longer by train!.
The ride was smooth and comfortable and by using the segregated dual carriageway A470 for most of the way you feel you’re really making progress in a way the train can never do. The T14 along with the T4 and the Stagecoach branded X4 journeys provide an impressive 15 minute frequency between Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil which is well promoted on the buses…….and in Merthyr Tydfil bus station…
……except that there’s a bit of brand confusion ……..although it was impressive to see leaflets on board the bus ….…..but not helped by an out of date poster in Merthyr Tydfil bus station by the departure stand.Sadly that was just one of the negative images of Merthyr’s bus station. What an absolute dump. This bus station gives a simply appalling impression of bus travel.I tweeted a dozen or so photographs this morning so won’t include them all here; just a small selection to give blog readers an idea of just how bad it is.There are plans to build a new bus station and encouragingly work is due to start this year. It can’t come soon enough.
But in the meantime Stagecoach you don’t cover yourselves in glory with this type of presentation…
….nor displaying out of date and misleading timetables (route 6 has different tunes to those shown).It’s no good trumpeting a smart brand on buses if crucial timetable information is out of date.Let’s hope the new bus station doesn’t follow Cardiff’s example where I see the former site right outside the station is now redeveloped but no sign of the new replacement bus station next door getting underway.
From Merthyr Tydfil I took route 6 across the top of the valley to Aberdare and from there route 8 over another valley top to Glynneath.It’s a route I’ve done before and serves up some great views along the way.Catching a bus from Aberdare’s bus station is a much more positive experience than Merthyr – I particularly liked the departure listings including a helpful map.And full marks to Stagecoach for having Aberdare timetable books on both buses I travelled on.
In Glynneath I took the hourly First Cymru X7 which runs down the valley via Resolven to Neath and then via a quick route into Swansea. Most passengers got off in Neath and I was the only passenger travelling through with five others boarding in Neath.This route (along with others) is branded Cymru Clipper and has obviously recently been renumbered into a new family of lower X numbers along with the similar X8 to Banwen, in the neighbouring valley. Except all the bus timetables displayed at every stop we’re still showing X55 and there were even two old out of date posters inside the bus advertising the old route numbers including the X58 (now X8).
It seems First Cymru joins Stagecoach South Wales in being a bit tardy when it comes to updating information. The great Information ‘Open Access’ revolution may be coming, but let’s get the basics right first please
My next journey was to Carmarthen and I’d originally planned to get back on the tracks and take the train but as we pulled into Swansea’s bus station I spotted the three journey a day Traws Cymru route T1S which runs fast up the M4 and A48 taking just 53 minutes.The T1S connects with the hourly T1 from Carmarthen on to Aberystwyth to provide a through facility from Swansea but it very much needs better promotion. The Traws Cymru website is a bit clunky to use and there were no T1S leaflets available at the First Cymru information counter in the bus station. Perhaps not surprising therefore only four of us travelled all the way through to Carmarthen. As the Welsh Government pay for this service, as well as overseeing Welsh trains, it would seem a good idea to provide combined timetables and integrated ticketing. You know the kind of thing the private sector is always being chastised for supposedly not doing.
After a refreshment break in the delightful Carmarthen I caught the 17:50 route 280 to Llandovery. This route has been on my ‘to do’ list for a few years and it didn’t disappoint with some splendid views across to the Brecon Beacons National Park.We took ten passengers home from Carmarthen with just three on board as we left Llandeilo where we picked up two more. By Llangadog they’d alighted and the remaining three got off between there and Llandovery, where I was the only one left.￼ Llandovery is a lovely small Welsh town and a great setting for a bus terminus even if it is just a car park.￼From Llandovery I took a train at 19:43 for my last journey for today on the gorgeous Heart of Wales line, north to Llandrindod Wells where I’ll stay tonight. I was the only passenger all the way from Llandovery to Llandrindod Wells tonight. If this had been a bus route it would’ve got the chop by now. But this is a train, so as it costs about ten times or more the cost of a bus, it continues!
It’s been a very enjoyable day’s travels.Roger French