Remember I posted about Arriva Trains Wales recently?
Well, I e-mailed the Office Of The Rail Regulator with my thoughts, questions and perceptions.
I got a response the other day. Far better and a whole lot more informative than the response I got from Arriva Trains Wales when I had cause to contact them. So thanks to the folk at the Office Of Rail Regulation a) for reading my comments and questions and b) for explaining why things are the way they are.
The response is below for anyone who’s interested.
“The issues are, first, the train has quite a short (15 minute) turn-round in Birmingham before it goes back to Aberystwyth, then it has a tight connection at Shrewsbury with a number of other services (noting that, normally, every other train does not run to Aberystwyth, but to Chester; when it is an Aberystwyth service, it connects with the two-hourly Cardiff – Holyhead service, and vice versa), and a short time in which to reverse the train.
After that, it has a run over a single track railway, with passing points at Welshpool, Newtown, a spot in the countryside known as Talerddig, and at Machynlleth. This means thatlate running in one direction will almost always result in delays to trains in the opposite direction. Because of the journey time from Machynlleth to Aberystwyth and back, and the various other timetabling constraints that apply (fitting between other services, etc.), trains usually pass at Talerdigg, which is not ideal, not least because it means that both trains have to come to a standstill there before they can proceed, extending journey times and shortening the potential turn-round time at destinations.
If the train is more than a few minutes late back at Shrewsbury, where it has a short time in which to reverse and where it has connections to make, it will have lost its path, and will follow the stopping train to Birmingham, and will be over half an hour late at Wolverhampton. If the train is running as little as six minutes late at Wolverhampton, it will lose its slot in the timetable into Birmingham, will disrupt a whole group of interlinked services on this section of the route if it is allowed to proceed, and will arrive in Birmingham after it should have started on its next journey to Aberystwyth, so the whole cycle will start again, with the train having to follow a stopping train out to Wolverhampton.
Therefore, it is standard practice to terminate a late-running train from Aberystwyth (or Chester) at Wolverhampton, sending passengers forward on the next CrossCountry or East Midlands service. Unfortunately, passengers will have to travel from Birmingham on the stopping train, so, although the disruption to other services is minimised, the next train to Aberystwyth will start late from Wolverhampton… And so it goes on.
One cause of crowding on the Aberystwyth to Birmingham service is the less-than-ideal long gap between the Shrewsbury to Birmingham train and the Aberystwyth train, which means that most people tend to use the latter, which is already well loaded with passengers from central Wales. The service interval in the opposite direction is much more even.
The West Coast Main Line timetable is to be recast, with the intention that this will take effect from December this year. This will introduce a third train each hour (off-peak) between Euston and Birmingham and between Euston and Manchester, and more through trains between Euston and Holyhead via Crewe. The opportunity has, therefore, been taken to ease some of the problems with the Aberystwyth service, and to improve the overall pattern of services in north Wales. In addition, the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has aspirations for an hourly service to Aberystwyth, and is prepared to fund extra rolling stock and network enhancements to permit this, although these extra services are unlikely to be introduced in the December timetable. Network Rail intends to invest in improved signalling at Shrewsbury to enhance the flexibility of the station’s layout, which will help improve reliability.
The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) does not have sight of the actual timings currently being planned, but understands that the effect of extending the Aberystwyth service to Birmingham International, whilst improving connectivity, creates a much longer turn-round time, and so would obviate the need to terminate the train at Wolverhampton in the event of minimal late running. Other changes would include easing the short stop at Shrewsbury for the reversal, improving the headway with the Shrewsbury – Birmingham train, and other easements on the route to Aberystwyth itself, thus improving reliability.
The WAG funding, although probably not available in the same timescale, would extend the passing loop at Talerddig, which would obviate the need for the trains to stop when passing each other, thus shortening journey times whilst improving reliability.
Further, we understand that the Birmingham (to be International) – Chester service (alternate hours with the Aberystwyth service) will be projected through to Holyhead, thus giving an exact hourly service between Shrewsbury and Holyhead when combined with the two-hourly Cardiff – Holyhead service (and an hourly service between Birmingham International and Holyhead, albeit with a change at Shrewsbury in alternate hours). In the hours when the Euston – Chester train is not extended to Holyhead, there will be an excellent connection into the Cardiff/Birmingham International – Holyhead service, and vice versa.
Some information on this subject is contained in Network Rail’s latest route plan, which can be found at
Consultation on the proposed timetable changes with statutory consultees such as local, county and other levels of government, and with Passenger Focus, will take place later in the year when the timetable is more nearly complete. In addition, as mandated by ORR, Network Rail is producing a Route Utilisation Strategy for the railways in Wales (and associated lines) in conjunction with train operators, funders of train services and others, and a draft for consultation is being prepared, which should be available on its website (www.networkrail.co.uk) later this Spring.”