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Author Topic: South Wales - service reliability issues  (Read 2641 times)
grahame
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« on: September 25, 2019, 10:51:16 am »

From Wales Online

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Rail services in south Wales have been hit by a series of cancelled or delayed trains today with passengers complaining they can't find anyone to tell them what's going on.

Transport for Wales has been deluged with angry customers complaining about short, overcrowded trains, cancelled trains and online services showing the wrong information.

In replies on Twitter, the operator has blamed a broken down train causing knock on problems across the network and said that more trains than normal have needed repairs at the same time.

Departures boards show rail services leaving Cardiff for the Valleys are delayed by up to half an hour.

One commuter said: "Pathetic! Absolutely pathetic!"

Not such a new story - although it may be a relatively new story for Wales; we'ver heard similar fom Northern, Southern and Great Western many times.  How have reliability figures for the Welsh Vallies stood up under the change of franchise?
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« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2019, 10:50:25 pm »

I've no idea about actual figures, but there have been several 'difficult' mornings recently, partly track/signalling issues and partly weather-related. Fortunately the dire situation of last Autumn (huge proportion of stock out of service with wheelflats IIRC) hasn't arisen (yet) but the 150 accessibility works can't be helping. When TFL first took over, I occasionally heard people talk about things improving a bit but I suspect that was partly because TFL took over at the tail end of the autumnal issues; the real improvements are promised and to an informed observer are  clearly 'real' but are still some way off, and intangible to a casual observer.

If the Pacers are replaced like for like (in terms of numbers of vehicles) come January, it will be an improvement capacity-wise as it the 15m cars will be replaced by 20m cars. With the 150 mods in progress the number of 2-car Pacers floating around is annoying - in recent years the 2 car diagrams have mostly been 150s (except on short journeys like Coryton/City) to maximise room on the 2 car sets so the 'downgrade' makes a big difference to crowding. Off-peak there are a lot of 2-car Pacer diagrams now as there are a lot more couple-splits in the day now there's more capacity to do this to juggle things around to maximise peak capacity.

A big issue is the relative intensity of the valleys service - nothing compared to what happens on Southern Region but on infrastructure that in places isn't much better than on rural lines. Cardiff Central is essentially a 'through' layout but at times of disruption becomes effectively a terminus if a particular route is closed. PLatform 8 has helped but in reality the peak service now relies on the extra platform so the redundancy is being lost. With trains turning short, naturally they will show 'on time' until they've actually moved, and there will be last minute swaps to ensure things are kept moving. What's a concise, unpatronising way to say "hang on - we are working with this but we can't solve all the issues at once"?  Passengers don't see the complexity of this, and just see a lack of information. This is an issue in any industry of course - people feel they're 'experts' and don't realise that their 'simple' problem is part of a much bigger and more complex picture. (And it's a factor in the current political situation...) But at the same time there is a need to ensure the customer is served well.

The Rhymneys becoming loco-hauled causes minor delays as well. The trains aren't doing too badly, especially considering that they're running on Sprinter timings - passengers must be behaving reasonably well with the doors. (The services that already terminated at Cardiff has largely 1 minute dwells but the second one each way is running largely on 30 second dwells, going by RTT - in which case it's impressive that they're keeping remotely to time). The issue however is that they can't run through to Penarth, so several Rhymney-Penarth journeys are now split, with more complex use of the capacity. Also it means there are more trains to cross over to/from the depot in the height of the peak.

For example the 08.30 ex-Radyr used to turn around in Plat 7 to form the Treherbert, but now splits to form the Penarth as well, so that the ex-Rhymney arrival can terminate. In theory it would arrive a few minutes early but usually 'only' arrives on time as the previous Treherbert terminator usually isn't slotted into the depot until the Merthyr has crossed over. As such, by the time the ex-Radyr has split, the Penarth portion is usually a few minutes late. Meanwhile, The loco-hauled RHymney (if on time) has arrived in P8 and can't cross over to the depot until  a couple of minutes after the Penarth has left. This means the next city line and Vale of Glam services are in a queue for P8.

The City Line workings being 153 doesn't help. I'm never quite sure how many 153 diagrams are involved (there are 3 in total) and it seems to vary, but it seems to have increased since the ex-GWR 153s arrived. Off-peak a 153 is fine on these journeys but at peak times they are, unsurprisingly, rather full at peak times and in particular are prone to losing time at Central and Queen Street.

One of the tweets in the article raises the issue of trains showing 'on time' when they're not. A bit part of that is the service showing 'on time' until it's moved and therefore passed a timing point. As mentioned above that's a particular issue at times of disruption when there's a lot of turning short and waiting for a slot to move (or a driver). Perhaps at times of disruption a manual intervention could remove 'on time' and change to 'Delayed' or 'At platform' or whatever. Another issue is the 'long siding' nature of the upper parts of the valley routes. If the train hasn't started that journey, it's still 'on time' even if it's not, and even after starting I suspect the system is only updated if the signaller manually logs a call from the crew to confirm departure. Estimating departure based on delay to the preceding journey is potentially hazardous, as the system can't predict every possible factor - for example will diagrams be stepped up, stops skipped etc, whch could cause the delay to reduce? (Stepping up is unlikely at 'long siding' locations of course, but the system design has to accommodate every possibility.) However perhaps a manual intervention would help - e.g. if it's clear that a 'previous' working is running late, a manual message could be added to the next journey advising that it is estimated that it will be 5-10 minutes late or whatever, but this will be updated when it's started at xxx. However that's long and complex and customers will just ignore long and complex, and would prefer to see 'on time' and then consider it a lie when it fails to match reality! People caught up in secondary disruption are also less understanding as they can't see the original issue in the way that those caught on the failed train or in the flooded valley location might do.  But equally they are a customer and adversely affected by the situation.

ONe helpful thing TFW has done is put up posters at some station showing the planned formations. (It probably doesn't take into account the difference between Sprinter and Pacer capacity through!) However information on short forms is poor. I think it was mentioned here at some point that the manpower wasn't available to update this information, which isn't great. Info screens (and Iris Tiger) can and often will show number of carriages, and Journeycheck should show short forms, but in reality the info isn't there.

Manual advice such as 'avoid this one as it's short formed but in 10 minutes there's a train with more room' might be helpful. For example at Queen Street I sometimes use the 17.36 (to Vale of Glam) to reach Central. However it's quite a busy train and usually quite full as a 4 car Pacer. When there's a shortage it seems to draw the short straw a lot, in which case it's rammed. If I can see the info in time I'll wait for the 17.41 which goes to Penarth and therefore isn't too busy as it's a much shorter journey. However if the info isn't shown, I only know it's short-formed when I see it arrive, by which time I'm in the boarding scrum and can't be bothered to escape to the other platform! A manual announcement would be potentially good 'extra mile' customer service - along the lines of "Passengers for Central note that this train is short formed and likely to be busy, but the Penarth service is on time and is usually much less busy." That would require local knowledge but that local knowledge intervention is the sort of thing that makes for good customer service.

So basically... the things that affect every TOC to some or other degree!
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Rhydgaled
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« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2019, 01:40:15 pm »

If the Pacers are replaced like for like (in terms of numbers of vehicles) come January, it will be an improvement capacity-wise as it the 15m cars will be replaced by 20m cars.
Sadly it's looking like they won't be, unless TfW has a new trick up it's sleeve that they have not yet made public. At best, it's looking like 12 class 170s (8 of which are 3-car), five single class 153s and five class 230s (releasing four 150s) may have entered service between TfW taking over last year and December 2019. In terms of vehicles that is:
  • 2-car 170s = 8
  • 3-car 170s = 24
  • 2-car 150s (released by 230s) = 8
  • 1-car 153s = 5
Total = 45
30x 2-car Pacer is of course 60 vehicles. I've quoted the maximum number of class 150 vehicles released by the 230s, rather than the 230s themselves, since I don't know how long the vehicles are on a class 230 (possibly only 15m like the Pacers) and the 230s won't be used in south Wales anyway.

However, while a 3-car class 170 (3x23m = 69m) is longer than a 4-car Pacer (4x15m = 60m), I believe the class 170s are intended for use on Maesteg-Cheltenham and Cardiff-Ebbw Vale services. I'm not sure but I think these are mostly booked for single 150s meaning even the 3-car sets will only release a 2-car unit for Pacer replacement. Some of the Ebbw Vale workings might have a 153 attached, so that will help, but really we're only looking at 37 incoming vehicles (plus the mark 2s used in the peaks) against the 60 outgoing ones. The first few months of 2020 are going to be painful methinks, particularly given that the PRM modification programme for 150s/153s/158s is still ongoing (will they finish on time, no PRM-compliant 153s have appeared yet) and that the capacity of PRM-modified 150s and 153s is probably lower than unmodified units.

Missing from the above are the class 769s. The latest rumour I've heard is that those will be in service Feb 2020 at the earliest, but I didn't catch whether that was the first unit in service then or the date they expect to have either the first 5 or all 9 available for service. Even if the Feb 2020 date is for nine units and the first 5 make it into service by the end of December (which I think is unlikely), they presumably won't be able to diagram all 5 and even if they could they'd still be slightly short of the number seemingly needed to replace Pacers.
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« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2019, 03:16:52 pm »

If the Pacers are replaced like for like (in terms of numbers of vehicles) come January, it will be an improvement capacity-wise as it the 15m cars will be replaced by 20m cars.
Sadly it's looking like they won't be, unless TfW has a new trick up it's sleeve that they have not yet made public. At best, it's looking like 12 class 170s (8 of which are 3-car), five single class 153s and five class 230s (releasing four 150s) may have entered service between TfW taking over last year and December 2019. In terms of vehicles that is:
  • 2-car 170s = 8
  • 3-car 170s = 24
  • 2-car 150s (released by 230s) = 8
  • 1-car 153s = 5
Total = 45
30x 2-car Pacer is of course 60 vehicles. I've quoted the maximum number of class 150 vehicles released by the 230s, rather than the 230s themselves, since I don't know how long the vehicles are on a class 230 (possibly only 15m like the Pacers) and the 230s won't be used in south Wales anyway.

However, while a 3-car class 170 (3x23m = 69m) is longer than a 4-car Pacer (4x15m = 60m), I believe the class 170s are intended for use on Maesteg-Cheltenham and Cardiff-Ebbw Vale services. I'm not sure but I think these are mostly booked for single 150s meaning even the 3-car sets will only release a 2-car unit for Pacer replacement. Some of the Ebbw Vale workings might have a 153 attached, so that will help, but really we're only looking at 37 incoming vehicles (plus the mark 2s used in the peaks) against the 60 outgoing ones. The first few months of 2020 are going to be painful methinks, particularly given that the PRM modification programme for 150s/153s/158s is still ongoing (will they finish on time, no PRM-compliant 153s have appeared yet) and that the capacity of PRM-modified 150s and 153s is probably lower than unmodified units.

Missing from the above are the class 769s. The latest rumour I've heard is that those will be in service Feb 2020 at the earliest, but I didn't catch whether that was the first unit in service then or the date they expect to have either the first 5 or all 9 available for service. Even if the Feb 2020 date is for nine units and the first 5 make it into service by the end of December (which I think is unlikely), they presumably won't be able to diagram all 5 and even if they could they'd still be slightly short of the number seemingly needed to replace Pacers.

150s have become much in the minority recently on Maesteg/Cheltenham/Ebbw Vale services.     Just about everything, Pacers, 150s, 153, (including pairs and triples), 158s and 175s
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grahame
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« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2019, 07:52:41 am »

Not so much South Wales ...

From Wrexham.com

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The introduction of a new generation of train, which was set to come into service on the Wrexham to Bidston line in December, has been delayed Transport for Wales (TfW) confirmed to Deeside.com.

The train operator – which has been ‘celebrating’ the first-year anniversary of taking responsibility for rail services across Wales and the Borders this week – will, instead replace the current trains operating on the Wrexham, Bidston line with Class 153 trains – or ‘Scuds’ as they are affectionately known.

Trains currently operating on the line – Class 150 trains – are being redeployed to South Wales in a bid to boost capacity, the change will take place when the new December timetable kicks in.

The move which has been labelled a “significant retrograde step” by influential passenger group, the Wrexham Bidston Rail User Association (WBRUA).

A lot of negative comment about 153s and there unsuitability for the line ... amongst which I noted:

Quote
A Transport for Wales spokesperson said: “We’re currently investing £40 million on refurbishment of our existing fleet, alongside acquiring additional trains so that we can increase capacity for all our customers throughout the Wales and Borders network.

“In our December timetable change we will be introducing Class 153 trains. These will run in pairs on the Wrexham-Bidston route, providing more seats for our customers than current trains.

“The Class 153s are currently being refurbished and will provide a much improved customer experience including a reconditioned interior and accessible toilet facilities.

I know we no longer have class 153 units on any GWR services but very interesting to note accessible toilets being fitted;  in a single carriage train, the number of seats lost would be significant.   Noting that the trains will run in pairs, will the refurb and fitting be only made to half the units?   Also noting from the article that the 153s on Wrexham to Bidston are a temporary measure until the 230s arrive - so TfW probably has other plans for the 153s in a cascade once the 230s are running (otherwise not worth investing in an upgrade / refurb).

Personally, I love the 153s ... but appreciate that on the Wrexham to Wirral line with lots of intermediate stops, door layout will slow down station duties.



Looking at what will be running beyond December that was not expected some time back ...

Pacers (142 and 143) with Great Western, with Northern and with Transport for Wales
153 with multiple operators
HSTs with GWR and East Midlands and Scotrail

In some cases with refurbs to upgrade them to meet new standards, in other cases through derogation.  So much for the promises I recall that they all would be gone by 1.1.2020.   Having commented on what reads as a broken promise, there remains excellent life in many of the trains.
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« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2019, 06:39:30 pm »

Not sure you'd say excellent life if you had to stand on a crowded Pacer Valleys commute on a dark wet Autumn morning/evening.  Somewhat sweaty experience.

Incidentally, I had my first journey on a re-bogged 150 last week.  Dot matrix destination display in each carriage and an annoying "The next station is XXX. Thank you" announcement every 4 or 5 minutes.  Why "Thank you"? 
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grahame
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« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2019, 06:46:06 pm »

Not sure you'd say excellent life if you had to stand on a crowded Pacer Valleys commute ....

I wouldn't - I said excellent life in many of the old trains, not all of them.  I expect you might enjoy a castle to Rhymney; agreed that a 142 to Treherbert isn't.
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