In the latest timetable issued by Transport for Wales South Pembrokeshire Rail Action Group noted “no significant changes on the Pembroke Dock line.” And that’s the line that serves Narberth, Saundersfoot, Tenby, Penally, Manorbier, Lamphey and Pembroke.
They did, however, note some improvements with connections on the Milford Haven to Cardiff to Manchester rail corridor.
Transport for Wales states that the timetable booklets are a guide, as they do not include planned engineering work or any on-the-day disruption. Rail travellers are advised to use online journey checkers to plan their journey.
Over the past few months, many trains have been cancelled, despite the society’s expectation that train driver recruitment should have led to a reduction in train cancellations.
Recent updates have given the principal reason for these cancellations and delays as a shortage of trains, mainly due to safety issues with the Class 175s, which Transport for Wales says are “more than 20 years old” and “travel thousands of miles each week.” The latest announcement on the rail company’s website states:
“We’re pleased to confirm that our extensive repair programme for our Class 175 fleet is now coming to an end. Earlier this year a number of mechanical faults were found with the fleet, resulting in them being taken out of service on the grounds of safety.
“Our engineers have been working round the clock to get the trains back into service as quickly as possible, but the problem has resulted in some cancellations and other trains being busier than usual in recent months. We’d like to thank customers for their patience while this work has been ongoing.
“Just two trains now need repair out of the fleet of 27 trains. With only 12 Class 175 trains now required for service following the introduction of the new Class 197 trains, we now have enough serviceable 175 trains to meet the timetable requirements.”
During this crisis, Transport for Wales attempted to replace the absent 175s by sourcing ‘spare’ units from other train operating companies across the UK. This resulted in only a few being supplied – for example, a Northern Railway unit was running on the Pembroke Dock line on Sunday, June 18.
In addition to the Class 175 issues, there were supply shortages with the introduction of the brand new Class 197s, as well as technical problems with the Class 230s (which are rebuilt trains that previously operated on London Underground lines). All these shortages resulted in the redistribution of rolling stock, in order to affect the minimum number of passengers as possible. They also led to replacement buses on some routes, as well as shorter trains. Unfortunately, as South Pembrokeshire is an area with ‘quiet’ routes, SPRAG has noted “extremely high levels of disruption to the timetable.”
The practice of p-coded trains, or ‘pre-cancellations’, where train companies cancel trains before a 10pm deadline the night before, has been called into question by the Office of Rail and Road, the independent regulator of the UK’s railways.
In January, the government body pointed out that over the past year there had been a significant national rise in train service cancellations, using p-coding to remove or cancel specific trains from the planned timetable that cannot be operated, usually due to a shortage of train crew or suitable rolling stock.
The Office of Rail and Road explained that pre-cancelled trains are not included in the official statistics, giving the impression of better performances than were delivered. Furthermore, when trains are removed from the timetable at 10pm the night before travel, passengers leave for the station not knowing that the train has been cancelled, and p-coding can affect passengers’ eligibility for Delay Repay - a scheme offering compensation when trains run more than 15 minutes late.
The Office of Rail and Road has instructed the rail industry to change how they record ‘pre-cancellations’ and to introduce a more passenger-friendly and transparent way of working when making late changes to services. A suitable plan has yet to be implemented and until the practice ceases, they will continue to publish this data on their website (dataportal.orr.gov.uk) to ensure full transparency.
West Wales rail stations have been promised targeted improvements this year. Tenby and Carmarthen stations are among the stations benefiting from a programme of targeted improvements worth over £1 million. Transport for Wales has confirmed that it aims to create clean, friendly, and welcoming stations for rail customers in Wales and the English border areas. The investments have focused on enhancing signage, flooring and customer waiting facilities. Tenby and Carmarthen have already received improvements.
There used to be a railway station at St Clears, which was closed in 1964, and efforts to have it re-opened have been ongoing since the 1970s.
The UK Government committed £4.7 million towards a new station. Groundwork and surveying were undertaken at the site between February and March 2022 to begin the work of upgrading and reopening the station.
Now there is uncertainty over funding – with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change Lee Waters MS confirming this month that costs had increased significantly. “In the short term, we do have a financial gap without a very clear way of addressing it.”
In a joint statement, Network Rail and Transport for Wales explained that the delays were caused by “challenges faced during the Covid-19 pandemic and the current economic climate” but they were “determined to work through these challenges to deliver the best possible station for St Clears in the future.”
Mr Campbell, Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales said: “There’s no denying that a new station in St Clears would provide so many benefits for the town and area - as well as meeting wider Welsh Government active transport and decarbonisation targets.
“I would urge the Welsh Government to working alongside stakeholders to ensure that this long-awaited project is delivered and delivered soon.”
One of SPRAG’s recent developments is helping to establish an umbrella group across Pembrokeshire of public transport campaign groups. The newly-titled Pembrokeshire Rail Oversight Forum (PROF) covers SPRAG, Pembrokeshire Rail Travellers’ Association (PRTA) and North Pembrokeshire Transport Forum (NPTF). The aim is to present a united front in public transport issues affecting our county, in particular to the transport providers and the decision-makers at local and national government level.
South Pembrokeshire Rail Action Group aims to campaign for improvements and modernisation of rail services to and from Pembroke Dock, in order to connect South Pembrokeshire to the rest of the country. Sign up to the SPRAG mailing list to receive updates and actions you can take: Send your name and closest train station to [email protected] .