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I’ve landed on Bow Street

Friday 16th April 2021

It used to cost just £14 to land on Monopoly’s Bow Street but in 2021 the latest new station of the same name (added to Britain’s rail network on 14th February) has come in at a tad higher cost than that – an eyebrow raising £8 million – to build. And I reckon the “Mortgage Value of Site” will be somewhat more than £90.

When I wrote about the station, located just over 3 miles north east of Aberystwyth, in a couple of previous blogs (here and here) I struggled with the idea it was costing so much to build a one platform, basic facility affair, all the more so as it was serving a nearby village with a population of just 2,000.

So following the Government’s announcement at the beginning of this week the English can once again hop across the border into Wales I made my way over to Bow Street today to take a look.

The Welsh Government funded half the £8 million cost with the DfT handing over the other half from its New Stations Fund (NSF). This NSF’s second funding round has seen two other new stations hit the tracks – Warrington West (in December 2019) and Horden, County Durham (in June 2020), with two others – Portway Parkway (near Bristol) and Reading Green Park – yet to open.

Bow Street’s credentials were boasted as featuring “cycle storage, park and ride facilities, and a multi-modal transport interchange”. As you can imagine I was particularly interested in the latter especially as an innovative ‘docking platform’ for buses to pull up alongside had been promised. It turned out to be nothing more than a fancy bit of kerb. And the cycle facilities are just six round pole stabling thingies.

Commentators on my previous blogposts observed the park and ride was probably aimed more at passengers travelling towards Machynlleth and on to Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton and Birmingham rather than into Aberystwyth, since the current two-hourly frequency is hardly going to attract motorists to forgo the last few miles as they drive into the nearby town centre. Maybe once the train frequency improves this will change as motorists aim to avoid Aberystwyth’s traffic queues.

However, the car park capacity is just 73 spaces so not many park and riding passengers are anticipated even in good travel times. There were no takers today save for just one car hidden away in the far corner

I printed off Transport for Wales (TfW)’s original specification for Bow Street station to take with me today so I could do an inventory check and make sure that £8 million has all been spent on……

As you can see from the following photographs the inventory checks off pretty much perfectly….

Passenger shelter with perch type seating (check – except flat seating [much better than perch seating]).
Uncovered, on-platform seating (check)
An information point and real-time passenger information (check)
Ticket vending machines (plural) (check – only one)
Closed circuit television (check)
A two-way help-point system (check)
Covered cycle shelter with space for up to 7 cycles (check – looks like just six cycles to me but…)
…. as a bonus facility there’s space for a few more cycles, uncovered, right by the platform.

Then there’s that bus shelter with its promised timetable information….

…. sadly there’s no printed timetable information only a useless real time display that refers you to the non existent timetable. And a blank plate alongside which I assume is meant to display the bus stop flag.

The multi-modal interchange opportunities the station heralded are somewhat academic and more appealing to theorists than anything to do with practical timetabling. Local bus route 512 operated by Mid Wales Travel, runs via Bow Street on its route linking Aberystwyth with Borth and Ynyslas but there’s a much better timed connection between the hourly bus timetable and two-hourly train timetable at the next station up the line at Borth itself.

Lloyds Coaches route X28 provides an hourly bus service between Aberystwyth and Machynlleth so the potential connection at Bow Street is somewhat irrelevant, and all the more so as the times don’t connect while the third bus route through Bow Street, TrawsCymru’s route T2, is currently on a restricted six/seven journeys a day so is largely irrelevant to multi modal possibilities.

But you’d struggle to find out all of that since no information is displayed – not even train timetables.

As you’d expect there’s good access to the new platform including both a ramp …

… and a few steps.

Around 2,000 people live in the nearby community of Bow Street now benefiting from their new station and there’s a new UK Innovation and Research Centre associated with Aberystwyth University located about three-quarters of a mile away along the A4159 which may also bring some custom.

And I reckon it’s the “improvements to the existing A4159 junction with the A487” mentioned in the checklist which have consumed a hefty chunk of that £8 million spend. Not so much a “New Station Fund” but more a “Road Junction Improvement Fund”.

As now.
As was.

Not only that but the improvements have included building a footpath and cycle path along the A4159 towards the new Research Centre which must have cost a fair bit.

However I think it would be optimistic to expect many people to use the train to access this facility especially while the train frequency is so poor, and it’s quite a long walk.

I thought my audit was going so well I should take a read of the small print displayed on the Information Board and it soon became evident the person writing it hadn’t done their research …

…. with cycle storage allegedly on the platform …

… and even more worrying, the station apparently has two platforms!

Pre-Covid estimates made for the Welsh Government predicted “Bow Street station would generate 30,000 annual trips and take nearly 466,000 vehicle miles off the local road network a year – helping reduce carbon emissions and congestion and parking issues in nearby Aberystwyth”. That’s around 40 passengers a day (assuming a return journey each).

I was pleasantly surprised that as my train arrived at Bow Street at lunchtime today another passenger alighted and five people were waiting to board to travel into Aberystwyth, with the same number alighting on the next train arriving from Aberystwyth.

Not bad for a small village. But I’m not sure it’s all been worth £8 million – especially as the hourly bus route 512 called by with a similar number of passengers on board while I was visiting.

Interestingly the house alongside the entrance to the new station off the A487 has painted a welcome message on its rear, facing the station. Perhaps they’re not keen on the £8 million spend either.

But I’m sure they appreciate that newly improved road junction.

And the seats with a splendid view of the car park.

Just need to put a hotel on the site now. That’ll push the rent up to a wapping £950 if you land on Bow Street.

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.

14 thoughts on “I’ve landed on Bow Street Leave a comment

  1. Strange that the Welcome to Hell sign isn’t in Welsh?yet another parkway without parkway in the name although it does seem to serve a fairly large village and another village to the north called Pen y Garn.Boy,or should it be Bow,racers will probably roar around the empty car park at night since unlike firearms Wales,or virtually any other country, doesn’t have any restrictions on owning cars.they will probably litter too throwing their white Starbucks long coffee cups on the ground not to mention their McDonald’s boxes from their car windows?

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  2. Roger, your comment about the road improvements reminds that that a few years ago Milton Keynes installed new bus lanes at one of their many roundabouts which was rebuilt and improved at the same time and very probably out of the same (government?) bus lane funding. The very short bus lanes appear to be on sections of road which never seem to have a queuing problem!
    I suspect that much of the huge cost of new stations these days is taken up with associated road improvements being loaded onto the budget..

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  3. All this for a tiny village with a perfectly adequate local bus service for the majority of needs, whereas in England much larger places can’t get on the rail map at all. Utterly ludicrous.

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  4. As much as I love to see new stations opening, the justification for this one seems pretty thin … with 2 or 3 buses an hour running straight to Aberystwyth (and also serving the hospital and Morrisons) and taking 10 or 15 minutes for the journey, it’s hard to see that there’s a huge benefit to having a train that cuts the journey time down to 7 minutes (but for most people in the village will add 5 or 10 minutes’ walk compared with getting the bus) even when the frequency is increased to hourly. For staff and students at Aberystwyth going to the nearby campus, the hourly bus that goes straight there will be a better bet, and will there be enough people travelling between the campus and the wider world – including the 15 minute walk to the station – to merit the cost of it?

    I’m not saying that Bow Street shouldn’t have a station, but there were probably better places that that £8m could have been spent – it seems like an odd one to prioritise.

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  5. The timetable at present is reduced; however even in normal times the service is only two-hourly (hourly until about midday). Since the running time between Aber and Bow Street is only 7 minutes, one would have thought that, if they were really serious about P&R, a 20-minute or 30-minute shuttle service (rather like the erstwhile St Ives one) would be possiblr in the “in-between” times.

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  6. Just why is it so ridiculously expensive to provide a village station on a single track line that is already in operation? Somebody is taking the proverbial.

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  7. One has to question the business case for this and the actual costs. Average percentage of the population using rail is about 10% but this is considerably distorted by London and other large cities. I suspect with this station 5% would be optimistic so an average of about a 100 uses Monday to Friday. How the £8M is justified I do not know. For the station itself I would costs it at no more than £1M
    Why the large car park? If you have a car for a journey that short you are likely to travel by car and not drive to the station and then get a train which would take far longer even allowing for traffic and the train will not take you door to door

    To me a far better investment would be to increase the frequency of the 512 from hourly to say every 20 minutes. The cost of that at a guess would be no more than about a £100.000 a year and would provide a much better and more attractive service. The 512 should the journey time as about 11 minutes so would be quicker than the train as well for 99% of the passengers and cheaper

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  8. I believe that the eventual aim is for an hourly train service between Aberystwyth and Birmingham, but more trains are required to resource this; the usual timetable (pre/post C-19) still has 2-hour gaps for just this reason.
    I don’t believe that the reason for Bow Street Station is to provide Park and Ride for Aberystwyth, but for “up country”, as mentioned in one of RF’s previous posts. If it means that passengers don’t need to drive into Aberystwyth to catch the train, then it’ll reduce congestion in the town.
    I daresay that there will be new housing following the station anyway . . . this often happens elsewhere.
    I’m not sure that £100K would provide an increase in Route 512 to 3 BPH . . . in broad terms this would buy 1 bus and 1.5 drivers, so an additional hourly bus on the route between 0700 and 1900 five days a week. In an aside, train fares are very often cheaper than bus fares now for comparable journeys.

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  9. The pre-Covid timetable had hourly trains until about 11am, then 2-hourly.

    Just don’t say “Sunday service”.

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  10. I wonder how often people from Bow Street (or perhaps the outskirts of Aberystwyth) travel towards Machynellyth and beyond (but only towards Shrewsbury)? And how many of them would take the fairly slow train especially considering that if they are driving to a P&R station then many will think “why don’t I just drive the whole way”. Plus you would imagine that one of the main places to go to in Wales is Cardiff and the south coast, and the train line from Aberystwyth is useless for this.

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    • The P&R isn’t likely to be aimed at people going to Machynlleth, but those going on to Shrewsbury or the West Midlands.
      Google Maps gives the driving time from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury at just shy of 2 hours, which is slightly longer than the train – for Wolverhampton or Birmingham, it’s an even longer journey. There will be plenty of people who do have access to a car but don’t want to be driving for 2 or 3 hours each way, and especially people living in the wilds of west Wales who don’t want to do battle with motorways or busy city centres, who might well be happy to drive to the station and then get on the train.

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  11. Given the small number of people living in the catchment area of the station and the typical number of the population using rail in these sorts of areas being about 5% then the amount of traffic to Shrewsbury and West Midlands will be insignificant in my view

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