Thursday 23rd February 2023
After visiting Telford, Skelmersdale and Bicester it’s time to take a journey on another new bus route and this time one linking England and Wales. Last week I went to Chester to take a ride on the new TrawsCymru route T8 which passes through Flintshire and Denbighshire to terminate at what’s become a bit of a TrawsCymru interchange hub in the small town of Corwen.
The T8 launched exactly a month ago on 23rd January providing an hourly service on the Chester, Mold, Ruthin, Corwen corridor, previously served by a two-journey a day route X1. Arriva’s route 4 runs half-hourly between Chester and Mold taking just over an hour whereas the new T8 takes a slightly more direct route and does it in 41 minutes. Mold to Ruthin is another 25 minutes and 29 minutes from there brings you to Corwen making for a 95 minute end-to-end southbound journey time, while a northbound journey is timed to do it in 88 minutes (because the Mold to Chester is only 33 minutes instead of 41). There’s a generous layover allowance of 21 minutes in Corwen and 36 minutes in Chester giving a four hour round trip time for each bus.
M&H Coaches are running the service with four Optare Solos and coincidentally the livery being used is akin to TrawsCymru by using red, green and white colours, but not the fully fledged new-look livery to be found on buses on some of the other routes in the network as seen here on route T6 in Neath last summer.
I travelled on the 12:19 departure from Chester last Wednesday.
The bus was already in the central parking area at Chester’s relatively new “Bus Interchange” enjoying its 36 minute layover when I arrived and at precisely 12:19 Aaron, the friendly M&H Coaches driver appeared and drove the bus round to the departure stand E where three of us boarded and we were off, picking one more passenger up as we headed out of Chester towards Broughton.
This route is another one with confusing destinations for unwary members of the public. Although all the signage in Chester’s Bus Interchange including electronic departure displays…
… and printed departure lists at the stand showed the T8 they all referred to the destination as Ruthin rather than Corwen because of the now outdated EU requirement to split bus registrations into 30 mile or less segments. It really is time this practice stopped and we actually had one benefit of Brexit chalked up, doing away with that misplaced rule. It even had me worried that I’d misread all the information beforehand and the bus didn’t go to Corwen so I’m sure less informed passengers are confused.
Back on the bus, Aaron had a stash of printed timetable leaflets alongside his ticket machine which I noticed another passenger helped herself to as well as me.
This is the first new bus route I’ve travelled on in this series with a printed leaflet available on the bus so top marks to TrawsCymru and M&H Coaches for that. (There is a printed leaflet for Trainlink but I didn’t see any displayed anywhere.)
As we continued along the Broughton Road temporary traffic lights for road works were causing long delays resulting in us arriving at the large Retail Park on the edge of Broughton ten minutes down and from where one passenger boarded and made a short local journey.
I also noticed as we passed through what is Flintshire there wasn’t any references to route T8 on bus stop plates. In fact there wasn’t a reference to much at all on most of them.
Flintshire doesn’t seem to do bus stops.
By the time we reached Mold, Aaron had managed to regain six minutes with the two passengers who’d boarded with me in Chester alighting and three new passengers boarded. There was no further custom until we reached Ruthin where we arrived back on scheduled time and the other Chester originating passenger alighted as well as one of the three Mold passengers.
It was then on to Corwen where we picked up one passenger on the outskirts of the town and she and the two from Mold all alighted at the terminus. All told that’s eight passengers which, judging by the numbers on board the three buses we passed in the other direction looked about average for current loadings.
It’s a lovely route with some great Welsh scenery to enjoy along the way.
The TrawsCymru network has been gradually expanding over the last few years and although there was a setback a couple of weeks ago when the recently introduced route T19 between Llandudno and Blaenau Ffestiniog was withdrawn by Llew Jones as commercially unviable, that was very much the exception to the business model, it being the only commercially operated route in the network, the others are all funded by Transport for Wales/Welsh Government/local authorities. I understand Denbighshire has committed funds to the T8, for example.
There are plans for a new T22 (Caernarfon to Blaenau Ffestiniog via Porthmadog) which seems to be taking for ever to get off the ground, probably because it’s envisaged it’ll be operated by electric powered buses and finding a depot to house the charging equipment can’t be easy. I saw a report that the T1 between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen will soon be operated with electric vehicles.
I’m a big fan of the TrawsCymru network which provides some excellent links across Wales to compliment the rail network although it’s a pity the new website for the network no longer contains a network map which is a very serious omission.
It does also seem strange the new T8 doesn’t call at Chester railway station after it leaves the Bus Interchange. I would have thought that would make for a useful interchange for those, like me, arriving by train from England wanting to access this part of central Wales.
There are two other TrawsCymru routes which serve Corwen. Route T10 was introduced in July 2021 providing a link to Betws-y-Coed and Bangor while the long standing route T3 between Barmouth and Wrexham also calls.
The bus I travelled on arrived into Corwen at 13:54 and having laid over returned to Chester at 14:15, the same time as a bus on route T10 left for Bangor, having arrived at 14:00, and a T3 passed through towards Barmouth, also at 14:15.
The T3 heading towards Wrexham is scheduled at 14:30.
One of the passengers who’d got off the T8 joined me on that journey towards Wrexham.
As you can see from the earlier photograph the bus interchange is adjacent to Corwen station on the preserved and delightful Llangollen Railway and it was interesting to see the extensive work taking place to build a substantial building on what used to be a very bare platform confirming the period of Administration is now well behind it with healthy finances once again which is good to see,
As for the sustainability rating for the new route T8, I’ll give it a 9/10 not least because the Welsh Government are increasingly committed to fund public transport as an alternative to road building.
The final blog for New Bus Route Week tomorrow will be back on my favourite topic – trying out a new DRT route in Kent.
As the reader who moaned about the new web site the last time it was mentioned here, I’m pleased to say it does now have a map. Of course they can’t make it easy, so it’s under “About us” rather than “Routes and maps”.
And it doesn’t show the 460 or the X43, despite their timetables being included on the “Routes and maps” page. Which of course also beggars the question about why the 460/X43 are included and the X47/X75 aren’t, despite the latter’s timetables saying its “TrawsCymru Connect X75”. The omission of the X47 is especially bizarre since it plugs a big gap in the network.
As you say, a little strange that the T8 doesn’t call at Chester rail station; Google Maps lists Avanti + the T8 as the quickest way to get from London to Corwen: 200 miles in 8 minutes under 4hrs (car estimated to take just over 4 hrs) – so, a shade over 50mph average – including a 13min walk between the train and the T8 in Chester. The train gets you to Chester in just over 2hr: the T8 Chester to Corwen is just under 2hr. G-Maps estimates a car could get between Chester Station and Corwen in 70 minutes, so an actual express coach might cut the overall journey to three and a half hours. Cutting out the 13 minute walk might well mean more passengers.
I expect that TfW are battling with financial issues – but I don’t know how they measure the ‘income’ side; can they set the extra cost of the short trip to Chester station against additional income generated from the better through connection? – or would most of the extra profit be taken by Avanti (i.e the Westminster government)?
Many thanks for four interesting new bus routes – none by our ‘enterprising, innovative and customer-friendly’ commercial bus companies; and I presume that, with the take-over of the big groups by even larger combines, imaginative risk-taking is now pretty dead.
Oooh, finishing en route to Wrecsam. Tantalising.
On the printed timetable extract in your photo, the first timing point seems to be Corwen.. shouldn’t it be Chester? Maybe a misprint…also, your driver was perhaps over-enthusiastic in pulling on to the stand at 1119 for a 1219 departure!
Times now synced!
Many thanks, again, for an interesting blog.
The livery carried by the M&H Coaches has been around for a little while, and I seem to remember it was to show financial sponsorship by Denbighshire CC for the bus/routes upon which it was used. I’m not sure whether its similarity with the TrawsCymru livery was intentional or not!
I used the T8 the first week after it was introduced, catching the return journey from yours – the 1415 from Corwen, and, like you, was impressed with the interchange facilities at Corwen. Unfortunately, also like you, I was disappointed by the numbers using it, for apart from one or two making short hops, I had the solo to myself.
I’m surprised to read the T19 was commercial – I thought that its being brought under the TrawsCymru banner implied sponsorship by the Welsh Government. It was withdrawn to a large protest from the locals. Its a pity an opportunity to develop it by integrating it with the rail service, also run by TfW, and possibly extending it to Dolgellau was missed. I’m sure that would have been useful, but now we shall never know!
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Printed timetables are practically non-existent these days but Cardiff Bus has a paper map and timetables for each of the areas it covers.
Stagecach Porth depot also has produced a printed timetable for all its routes that it covers.
I was very surprised to see a fully functioning Stagecoach travel office at the bus station in Skegness in the summer and even more surprised to find a full set of timetable leaflets for local services inside, along with a set of children’s books, one for each of the open top bus characters. Full marks to Stagecoach for this and an excellent family event to launch a “new” (51 plate, new to open top!) open top bus. I wonder if this is down to local management.
On the subject of timetable leaflets, I was at Mansfield bus station today and it too has a travel office with what looks like a full set of TrentBarton leaflets available to take away. TrentBarton are the smaller presence in Mansfield; the larger operator (Stagecoach East Midlands) doesn’t provide printed timetables there even though it’s the same company as in Skegness! So it does look as though Stagecoach generally has delegated such decisions to depot level.
Nobody should need a car, Public transport should be good enough.
The run to Chester station would have to be done twice, cutting into the layover. Last time I was there there were a lot of Arriva buses there where they appear to layover.
The Traws is growing into a really useful network.
Corwen station looks well cared for.
I thought TrawsCymru was supposed to be a longer distance limited stop network to fill in the gaps in the rail network. If so I wouldn’t consider Optare Solos as suitable vehicles. Also, why the lack of proper branding? Together with the neglected bus stop flags the service is invisible to the casual observer.
Does anyone know what the single fare from Chester to Cornwen and vice versa is please?
No, but according to the website you can buy a 1bws ticket from the driver which costs £6 and can be used for most buses in North Wales that day.
I believe the single fare is £2 if traveling from England into Wales, but not from Wales to England, the 1 bws day ticket though £6 adults is really good value with the area covered
I caught the T8 the first week it was operating, & busiest section was Ruthin to Corwen, i was the only one on board from Chester, although i was on the 08.18 from Chester
Have to admit, i’m surprised by the running time in the timetable over the Chester to Broughton section which is 10 to 15 minutes, the bus i was on just about kept to the timetable, traffic in the other direction to Chester was nose to tail from Saltney to Chester City Centre [as it was the morning peak], i can see issues with busses on T8 keeping to timetable, particularly in the peaks.
& yep does feel as though Flintshire County Council have given up on providing bus info, [even at stops], they used to publish good timetable books too
The current £2 single fare cap applies only for travel within England. Since there are restrictions on local movements on the T8 between Chester and Saltney/New Glynne Arms, the £2 fare does not apply on the T8.
Noswaith dda a diolch am deithio ar y T8 ac am feddyliau’r darllenwyr / Good evening and thank you for travelling on the T8 and for readers’ thoughts.
‘There’s a generous layover allowance of 21 minutes in Corwen…’
This is to ensure connections are available there. As RF states, Corwen is now something of a Traws Cymru hub and that’s very exciting.
‘… coincidentally the livery being used is akin to TrawsCymru by using red, green and white colours…’
This is currently to Denbighshire County Council’s design but vehicles will soon benefit from the full ‘red’ Traws Cymru® application, the first of which we understand will be treated in the next few days.
‘By the time we reached Mold, Aaron had managed to regain six minutes…’
Coinciding with the launch, on the very same day in fact, there began significant roadworks in Saltney. Other than that, our observations confirm that the timings are accurate and that there are few punctuality problems to report other than one journey through the town of Yr Wyddgrug/Mold: that journey is the subject of a variation with the Office of the Traffic Commissioner, to assist drivers in keeping to time (without altering the public timetable).
Revd Stuart Samuel: ‘… I was disappointed by the numbers using it, for apart from one or two making short hops, I had the Solo to myself.’
Services such as these take time to bed in and to be understood. We are nevertheless heartened by the buzz the T8 has caused locally and by the initial loadings. This week, there have been standing passengers from the *west* of Mold towards Chester. Yes, the weather during the early part of this week has been kind for February and, yes, it’s half term hereabout. The last time we had standing passengers on the predecessor *twice-a-day* X1 (Ruthin – Chester only) was in December 2019 immediately before Christmas. (The service was suspended during much of 2020, owing to the health emergency, BTW.)
With spring before us, we can look forward to ridership increases.
‘I understand Denbighshire has committed funds to the T8…’
This is a good example of a what can be achieved in partnership with WG, TfW, Denbighshire County Council and operator M & H Coaches Ltd.
‘It does also seem strange the new T8 doesn’t call at Chester railway station after it leaves the bus Interchange.’ Gareth Cheeseman then commented, ‘The run to Chester station would have to be done twice, cutting into the layover.’
The original plan was and remains to terminate at the rail station. This, however, would result in a reduced layover which prohibits such a move. Given the distance travelled, it is important to ensure there is sufficient layover for driver breaks and to allow for recovery owing to unpredictable Chester congestion. It is difficult to adjust layover at the Corwen end without widening the gap passengers would face were they to change to and from the T3 (Wrexham – Corwen – Barmouth) or T10 (Corwen – Bangor). We take feedback seriously and we will continue to look for a solution to this.
Peter Brown: ‘I wouldn’t consider Optare Solos as suitable vehicles.’
I was pleased to note that when specifically asked about this that the official North Wales bus monitor employed by BUUK via WG funding commented that the seats were fine. Who knows what may happen if the T8 is successful.
Starmillsite asked, ‘Does anyone know what the single fare from Chester to Corwen and vice versa is’
Adult single = £5.00
Adult return = £5.80
Remember the Denbighshire/local authority-introduced 1bws ticket offers a day’s unlimited travel on any operator’s buses in North Wales (except service 28) at £6 for adults, with child and English/Scottish bus pass holder concessions, and a family ticket.
Credit as regards the T8 is very much due to M & H’s managers and to their drivers.
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Many thanks indeed Peter for taking the trouble to respond in this way; very much appreciated. Well done on the T8 and fingers crossed it will succeed.
Thanks for the Denbigh CC comments …. it is always good to hear the “other side” and that they read this blog!!
I did wonder about the layover at Chester being for drivers’ breaks …. maybe with experience about running times it may be possible to extend to the station in the future.
In my experience it can take anything up to 3 months for a route to settle down …. if T8 can be given all through the summer then so much the better.
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Luton Dart to open on March 10th
It will only operate for 4 hours a day and will only carry a limited number of passengers for which no fare will be charged
The full service will start at the end of March. Ther existing bus service will be withdrawn at a later date
We were let down by the T19 in July, while returning from a holiday in Betws y Coed. Conditions were perhaps exceptional, as the heatwave affecting much of England was finally causing discomfort and disruption in Wales. When my partner and I left our hotel (the rather nice Glan Aber) we knew that the Conwy Valley Line would not be running, but were hopeful that some trains to Crewe were still serving Llandudno Junction. The T19 was our “plan B”.
However, we were somewhat less hopeful when we spotted the Blaenau bound bus leaving the station about 40 minutes late (a Solo, unbranded) . Would the Llandudno journey actually operate?
In the event it didn’t. Fortunately, plan C, using the 19 got us to the Junction without incident – we observed the incoming bus arrive on time, set down passengers and park up. The bus pulled into the stand a few minutes before departure and we left on time
When we got to Llanrwst, some locals confirmed that the T19 had not run “due to a breakdown”. They were somewhat peeved at having to use the less direct route. Our midi-coach was not licenced for standing passengers, but fortunately despite the displaced passengers and numerous regulars on the 19, no-one was left behind.
Fortunately, despite some cancellations, our train to Crewe (Avanti) turned out to be running, albeit on somewhat extended running time, exacerbated by buckled points outside Chester. At Crewe we were able to get a train to London Euston. At least the Euston Flyer (just down the road, more or less opposite the British Library) was open and serving food!
A good job there was a plan C – at one point I was checking overnight options on my phone to cover getting stuck at the Junction, Chester or Crewe
I did not know about the EU 30 mile rule. What was the reason for it ? What was perceived to be the benefit ?