Sunday 13th January 2021
* that’s Welsh for confusion.
I’ve always liked the TrawsCymru network and brand. It’s grown in size and extent over the years providing frequent links across Wales, mostly on corridors where there’s no rail option.
The branding is consistently applied thanks to the Transport for Wales policy of specifying and even providing the vehicles for many of the routes, and has just been updated with a smart new look building on the traditional green, white and red.
Some routes are branded TrawsCymru Connect, particularly shorter routes which feed into the network.
I see route T12 between Wrexham and Machynlleth, which I travelled on when it first began in early 2019 is now one such TrawsCymru Connect branded route, which is a bit confusing as it’s a long route – longer than the other cross east-west Wales route, the T3 between Wrexham and Barmouth, which gets full on Traws Cymru branding, including on the double decks which can be found on the route.
But I’m even more confused about what the future holds for TrawsCymru as a network of frequent cross-Wales routes.
Transport for Wales has recently commissioned consultants Arup to carry out a “bus network review” for the Welsh Government which it’s reported has recommended rationalising the Welsh bus network in a number of places so there are fewer but more frequent routes serving main corridors with less duplication (as Arup sees it) and less diversions to serve residential areas or destinations such as a regional general hospital (in the case of Llandudno).
This will no doubt lead to some unhappy passengers when they find out they’ll need to either take a long walk at the start or end of their journeys or change buses, maybe even twice, for a journey which could previously have been made direct.
But it’s the Review’s take on Traws Cymru which has left me puzzled.
It is reported that frequencies are going to be reduced, in some cases quite substantially, indicating a possible downgrading of the network’s status, but at the same time yet another new route has recently been added to the network – the T19 between Llandudno Junction and Blaenau Ffestiniog – with another one – the T22 between Caernarfon, Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog to come shortly. Six new battery electric buses costing £3.6 million are on order for these two routes.
As an example of possible changes ahead, the Review reckons the hourly route T1 between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen (where rail fanatics talk fondly of reinstating the tracks) will be cut back to just two to four journeys a day.
Meanwhile there’s talk of a new T7 between Chepstow and Bristol (taking over the current X7) which would become one of the most frequent routes with six journeys a day whereas ironically the route is not exactly ‘TrawsCymru’ but more ‘TrawsEngland’ where most of the route lies (it drops off the network map in the bottom right corner as shown above).
Route T19 joined the Traws Cymru network on 29th May. It’s shown on the updated diagrammatic route map (see above) and added to the route listing underneath but slotted in at the end, rather than in numerical order which niggles me.
The T19 has simply replaced the previous route numbered X19 but now under the TrawsCymru brand. The timetable seems similar and it’s still operated by Llew Jones who also operate the less frequent route 19 which also links Llandudno with Betws-y-Coed but using the western side of the Conwy Valley.
The T19 uses the eastern side giving a quicker journey time along the A470.
Of course there’s also the Transport for Wales branded rail service between Llandudno, Llandudno Junction, Betws-y-Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog which has comparable journey times to the T19 and a similar sparse timetable. Which did make me wonder about the Traws Cymru brand – maybe it would make more sense to either brand the network as Transport for Wales in similar style as the trains now are – or even better trains using the main cross Wales lines (ie along the north coast, mid-Wales, south Wales, Heart of Wales and Conwy Valley) should be branded as TrawsCymru – to give a sense of integration.
All the more so as it’s good to see journeys on the Monday to Saturday timetables on bus and rail along the Conwy Valley offer good coordination. There are four return rail journeys a day approximately every three hours and there are five return bus journeys which very broadly slot in between the train times.
The last southbound train from Llandudno is as early as 16:17 but there are later journeys on the T19 at 16:45 and 18:10. Northbound the reverse holds true with the last T19 leaving Blaenau Ffestiniog for Llandudno at 16:50 but there’s a train at 17:35.
Unfortunately though the same positivity doesn’t hold good on Sundays when two of the four return rail journeys run at pretty much the same time as the bus – eg leaving Blaenau Ffestiniog there’s a train at 14:59 and a bus at 15:00; a train at 17:28 and a bus at 17:40. There are similar clashes southbound too. What a shame; and a wasted opportunity. It’s integration Cornwall style!
One could hope proper integration would mean one timetable presentation showing both train and bus, common fares and inter availability of tickets.
Against all this background, I thought I’d give the new route T19 a try out yesterday.
There was a convenient departure leaving Llandudno Junction at 12:08 which gave a reasonable connection with my train arriving at 11:59. It was a little tighter than I like but I decided to go with it, knowing the bus stop is conveniently sited right alongside the station exit.
Right outside the station there’s the usual poster board supposedly containing “Public Transport Information”….
…. and a little further along, by the bus shelter too.
But less impressive is the useless information posted on them – although there is a train timetable on the bus shelter display.
The bus stop timetable case is useless.
Just after midday a bus on route 19 turned up heading towards Llandudno and I was rather perturbed to overhear a couple enquiring about the T19 departure time to be told by a Llew Jones member of staff on board it was 12:38.
After a quick check on Google maps advising it was 12:08 I also enquired of said member of staff and he explained he was referring to the previous X19 times, as he didn’t have a T19 timetable, which turned out not to be very helpful.
There’s nothing less reassuring than empty timetable cases and staff giving out conflicting information with what’s available online.
We kept our fingers crossed he was wrong as my travel companions were in a hurry and I had a connection further south. Luckily almost as soon as the 19 had headed off into Llandudno a smart looking bus on the T19 duly appeared.
This Optare Tempo had previously been used by New Adventure Travel on the T9 Cardiff to Cardiff Wales Airport route which has been suspended since the pandemic.
It ‘s been given the fresh new look (designed by Best Impressions) with an updated and much bolder logo with the same quality comfortable seating inside ….
…. as well as a couple of tables in the rear raised section.
Although I found the rear facing high back seats meant the forward view from the forward facing seats at the tables was very restricted…
…. ironically making the lower level forward facing section a better bet for scenery spotting – and there’s lots of scenery to spot on this route as it speeds down the valley.
There were six of us on the journey down to Betws-y-Coed and Blaneau Ffestiniog, with one leaving us soon after we began to head south down the valley along the A470 at Gian Conwy.
Our driver wasn’t hanging about and we soon arrived at the only major settlement on this section of route at Llanwrst where we turned off the main road into the bus turning area and pulled up behind another similarly branded Traws Cymru vehicle in the new livery waiting there and were all asked to change buses.
No-one explained why.
Two passengers got off as we retraced our route around the side roads of Llanwrst leaving the three of us to alight in Betws-y-Coed and the bus continued empty on to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
I was sorry not to be continuing on, as it’s a great section of route down to Blaenau but I had another important mission … trying out one of Transport for Wales new Fflecsi branded DRT operations which had began in the Conwy Valley last November.
That experience will be covered in the next riveting episode to be uploaded during the coming week.
In the meantime I’ll leave you with a rear end view of the new “connecting Wales/cysyiltu Cymru” branded bus while I further ponder the future of TrawsCymru.