‘I tried to get a train home from Cardiff to Carmarthen and it was a …
Relying on public transport if you live in Wales is always a good laugh. Relying on public transport if you live in west Wales is absolutely hilarious. Unless you have somewhere to be at a specific time, that is. The problem with growing up in west Wales is that you become accustomed to a transport infrastructure which is so severely lacking that when you tell people about it in other countries they think you’re joking.
If you want to get a train from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth, for example, it takes you six and a half hours. No, I typed it correctly. Six and a half hours. The two towns are 45 miles apart, about the same distance as there is between Cardiff and Swansea. But I like train travel, I love it. There is nothing better than the thrill of getting a seat at a table and reading a newspaper as you hurtle along past some of the wonderful scenery Wales has to offer. We’re constantly told that it’s a better way to travel than by car, and it is, or it should be. It’s more pleasurable, it’s greener, and it means fewer cars and therefore fewer accidents on the roads. You can get the latest WalesOnline newsletters e-mailed to you directly for free by signing up here.
With this love of rail travel in mind, I travelled to Cardiff from Carmarthen on Sunday to meet some old friends as I turned 40 over the weekend. By the time I returned I was certain I had turned 50. My train home was scheduled to leave Cardiff Central station at 5.36pm, arriving into Carmarthen station at 7.30pm, giving me half an hour to get home to watch Wales v Fiji in the Rugby World Cup. Almost two hours for a journey of around 60 miles has always bugged me slightly; Cardiff to London takes the same amount of time but is more than twice as far. But nevertheless, it was timed perfectly to allow plenty of time to get home for the match.
Alas, as I set foot onto platform 4A at Cardiff Central my heart sank. Watching the information board like a football fan checking for score updates as his team gets hammered, every two minutes there was a further blow. Delayed, 25 minutes. Delayed, 30 minutes. Delayed, 35 minutes. Cancelled. It suddenly dawned on me: you cannot plan anything in Wales if you are relying on train travel. You simply cannot. I asked a member of staff on the platform when the next train to Carmarthen was likely to be. The man said he couldn’t tell me but that he would recommend getting to Swansea on the next available service and then seeing what was what from there. There might be a train at some point, there might be a bus, at what time he couldn’t say.
Is that what rail travel has come to in Wales? "We can’t guarantee you’ll get home but we can probably get you halfway at some point and then we’ll see what happens." Thanks. Do you sell lottery tickets as well?
I’d rather be stranded in Cardiff than stranded in Swansea (there’s more pubs), and besides, there wasn’t currently a train to Swansea as it had been cancelled. The next train home was scheduled to leave Cardiff at 7.54pm - a full six minutes before the rugby kicked off. Having made my way back into the city, I watched my Trainline app intently as it ticked along, revealing delays once more to that service. I was quite annoyed at this point - how was it so difficult to travel 60 miles? I’d spent £25 on a ticket, I just wanted to use it.(Image: Media Wales)
The final train home was scheduled to leave Cardiff at 10.30pm, arriving in Carmarthen at 32 minutes past midnight. By that stage I didn’t have the will to walk back to Cardiff Central and watch that doom-filled information screen make a mockery of my hopes again, so I went to a corner shop, bought an iPhone charger, sat in a Wetherspoons until it had enough juice and phoned my boss to inform him of my hell and ask if I could swap my next day off for the following day. I then booked a hotel on Late Rooms for £72. Tomorrow was another day, and I would try again to get home.
After sharing my railway woes on social media, it was quickly apparent that this is a common thing in south Wales; this wasn’t bad luck that you should just brush off as a once-in-a-blue-moon mishap. One woman said the 10.30pm train west from Cardiff is often cancelled, which weirdly made me feel better about not bothering to hope it would run successfully, while another said that in her experience, “the trains to Swansea get cancelled regularly, making an absolute mockery of any green agenda if the public can’t rely on public transport”.
One Sunday night passenger said she was on the train back from London to Llanelli but her connecting train at Swansea was cancelled at the last minute, while one person said they resorted to getting a taxi from Cardiff to Carmarthen on Friday night after a concert due to their own train disaster. One woman said it took her nearly 10 hours to get to Carmarthen from Manchester after waiting in Hereford for two hours, then another hour in Swansea, only for her Swansea to Carmarthen connection to be cancelled at short notice.
Having spent the night in a city centre hotel I set off back for Cardiff Central on Monday morning in the same clothes as the day before, but now with the addition of a large ketchup stain on my T-shirt. I scuttled through the streets hoping that I wouldn’t bump into anyone I knew because they would have assumed that things have gone bad and that I now live in a park. Up the concrete steps to the platform once more. The 10.40am train to Carmarthen was on time (well, three minutes late) and I was finally on my way home. Until we arrived in Bridgend where the train ground to a halt. ‘What now?’ I thought. At this stage my 60-mile journey home was turning into a Welsh, scaled down remake of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I was convinced John Candy was going to get on with a big storage trunk and sit next to me. We sat for half an hour as an information message lacking any real information was read over the carriages. People were offered another train on the opposite platform taking them back to Cardiff, but that would take around 50 minutes (it is around 20 miles to be fair).
A vehicle hitting a bridge near Pyle had caused this latest delay. Obviously, the safety of passengers is paramount and Great Western Railway would not budge the train until that was guaranteed, but it all added to the frustration of not being able to get home anywhere near on time. Thankfully, the train began to move again, arriving in Swansea one hour and 20 minutes after leaving Cardiff. A 30-minute wait in Swansea turned into a 55-minute one due to further delays, before finally I arrived in Carmarthen at 1.48pm - three hours after I’d left Cardiff, and more than 20 hours after I had initially planned to leave the Welsh capital. And we’re meant to be encouraged to leave our cars at home and travel by rail?(Image: Media Wales)
Getting answers from Transport for Wales and Great Western Railway is a bit reminiscent of travelling by train too - it can be hard work and you’re left not really knowing who to blame for the mess you’ve just waded through. Sunday evening’s fun and games were connected to Transport for Wales services, and Monday’s fun and games were on a Great Western Railway train. One delayed or cancelled train affects the next, adding more angry passengers onto packed services, pushing everything back, creating a seemingly never-ending transport concertina. I genuinely think both companies put too much emphasis on how much the Welsh public care about who’s operating the train. As long as there is one and it's moving, we're perfectly happy.
A spokesman for Great Western Railway said: “We apologise to those who were delayed/caught up in the incident; operational safety of the railway has to come first in such events, and Network Rail allowed time to assess any damage to the bridge. We would also take the opportunity to remind anyone delayed that they may be entitled to Delay Repay compensation, and that they should get in touch online." Transport for Wales has been asked to comment.
I want to catch more trains, I really do. I want to travel to Cardiff more often to meet up with friends and colleagues without adding to the smog, without filling up my car with fuel more often that I have to, and without worrying about a city centre parking space. But it's hard to feel enthused about rail travel when it takes so long and costs so much - I was forced to pay for a single ticket on Monday to get home, despite having paid for a day return (which was only half used) the day before. I may attempt to claim that back, I may not. Technically I could have stayed at the train station deep into the night and at some point (maybe) got a train or been offered a bus trek across south Wales, but my exasperation with the railway service in Wales left me exhausted and fed up.
We live in a small nation and we don't expect miracles. At the end of the day (or sometimes the following day), we just want to get home.
- ^ Carmarthen (www.walesonline.co.uk)
- ^ Aberystwyth (www.walesonline.co.uk)
- ^ takes you six and a half hours (www.walesonline.co.uk)
- ^ Cardiff (www.walesonline.co.uk)
- ^ Swansea (www.walesonline.co.uk)
- ^ e-mailed to you directly for free by signing up here (www.walesonline.co.uk)
- ^ Rugby World Cup (www.walesonline.co.uk)
- ^ 'I went on one of the most epic train journeys in the world right here in Wales' (www.walesonline.co.uk)
- ^ Llanelli (www.walesonline.co.uk)
- ^ Bridgend (www.walesonline.co.uk)
- ^ online (www.gwr.com)