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Author Topic: Seeking out those Transport for Wales train fares  (Read 1717 times)
Mark A
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« on: September 10, 2023, 02:54:36 pm »

Needed to go to Chirk and come back from somewhere in the north, hence my need for the 06:57 from Bath Spa to Bristol last Monday though thankfully I made it to the 06:48 as the later train was cancelled.

Before travelling and researching the fares, it emerged that TfW return fares to Chirk allow travel via Newport *or* Birmingham New Street and as I've not travelled by train for ages, their first class price of ~£99 - at any time of day - was very attractive. Look up the Crosscountry 1st class return Bath Spa to Birmingham, with railcard, and you may well agree, as that's a three figure number beginning with 'Two'.

So, 6:40am and there's me buying a 1st return ticket to Chirk from the ticket office. :-)

Up to the platform and quite a few people on the up platform awaiting the London train, which was a cheerful sight.

On to the 06:48 IET (Intercity Express Train) to Swansea, internally clean, externally not brilliant. Just a couple of people in first, which was otherwise tumbleweed. No ticket check, and all off at Bristol, including me.

The station's a building site, the subway now smells of pies, and no AMT coffee any more, but fairly easy, from the subway, to find the platform for...

... the 7:35 Plymouth to Edinburgh. Surprised to see 1st around a third full at Bristol, and filled up a little more as we headed north. I was travelling with a rucksack, and a chap was somewhat unwilling to move his feet from the gangway to allow me to work it into the space beneath the seats in the bays of four, but hey ho. Several others had put bags in the space for wheelchair users.

A little after Parkway, the door at the head end of the carriage opened and one of two catering staff appeared with tea/coffee and a small trolley, the coffee in a very battered stainless flask, the trolley mute as to what it contained. People were asked if they'd like anything else, which meant a bit of a guessing game. On asking, it was 'Biscuits' and then very quickly and quietly '... and bacon rolls'... so, asked for one of those, which very quickly arrived courtesy of her colleague: the bacon roll was as expected. Everything in disposable cardboard, thankfully blown polystyrene is vanishing from public-facing catering.

A few miles north of Ashchurch, the train hit an obstruction which thumped and rattled its way beneath the carriage - though not in a particularly concerning way. It's still a sound I as a passenger never want to hear again and the same can also probably be said for all who work in the rail industry.

New Street, the deep retaining walls on the approach bearing a crop of young and thriving buddleia that doesn't bode well for their structural integrity in the future.

Up to the concourse. Two armed police, and three police with very cheerful sniffer dogs practically outnumbered the passengers, which was a bit curious at 09:00 on a Monday morning.

Gazing down on all, a large animated bull.

Finding the 09:20 TfW service to Holyhead was a slight challenge, as there was little visible signage it involved going out through the barriers, and then being in sight of the escalator to its platform - behind a glass barrier, but not impossible to guess where the additional ticket gates are. Then it was a matter of finding out which bit of platform 4 is 4c and this *could* have been better signed. But in came the newish TFW train, cheerfully full(ish) but not rammed, clean inside and out, windows beautiful, and off we went to Chirk.

The takeaways from the outward trip: to buy rail tickets, people really need 'Expert mode'. The 6:57 from Bath can be as flakey as it was in the last century.

Part 2 to follow.


Mark A
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« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2023, 03:36:20 pm »

Interlude... after four days on a boat...


Mark A
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« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2023, 05:18:45 pm »

... the return trip... which needed to be from suburban Manchester.

Already in possession of a TfW 1st class ticket from Bath to Chirk and back, the two nearest stations to Manchester that are on route for that ticket are in two different directions - they're Wolverhampton and also Shrewsbury, so I needed an additional ticket to take me as far as one of those.

Checking, the on-the-day price for a 1st single to Wolverhampton is nearly £70 and, for Shrewsbury, National Rail were quoting £77. (This is the first class fare via Wolverhampton then Wellington) - so I thought I'd buy a standard ticket to patch that part of the journey.

By now I was on the tram, sailing past what had been Manchester Central's station throat, with about 15 minutes to spare, heading for the TfW 12:30 departure from Picadilly, which Realtimetrains indicated was a loco and coaches, but... I had no ticket.

Firing up TfW's app, 1st class tickets for sale for that service were, for some reason, either not for sale at all or on sale at the 'Via Wolverhampton' price. However, there was a fixed-train-only standard advance ticket at £13-ish so I bought that just as the tram dived dramatically across the road and into the hole in the wall of Piccadilly Station. We need ticket offices, but purchase via an app is also very useful.

Up onto the concourse, the station busy. The TfW train was waiting, and, sure enough, was loco and coaches, so, though the barrier on a phone barcode and with five minutes to go, a quick walk to eyeball the 1st class. Around 4 people in the first class carriage so I asked the first member of staff I saw there about excess fares. As he was catering staff, he quite reasonably didn't know but advised me to take a seat and the TM(resolve) would sort it. I needed to know the price though so he pointed me to the train manager two carriages up.

By the time I'd reached the train manager two carriages down via the platform, the member of catering staff was somehow already there, briefing him that there were two people in first class wanting to upgrade - and also 'A chap who has a ticket from Shrewsbury and wants to excess to 1st class from here' at which point I chimed up with: 

'And that's meeeeee!'.

A quick conversation ensued - no problem to upgrade but I needed to know:

'Is this at TfW prices or the £77 Crosscountry price?' I think he replied to the effect 'Goodness, I'm not that mean. Do go and sit down and I'll be round to sort it." By now he'd probably realised that I came from 'Penalty fares threatland'.

Now, TfW, reliability-wise, have been having another terrible year, but this was the time that it all fell into place. Loco, carriages, lovely cycle storage in the DVT(resolve), not that I needed that but it was well used, buffet counter and kitchen with good sightlines to passengers and to the outside world, the buffet staffed by at least three people.

The train manager sorted the ticket excess, and then one of the catering staff was quickly round collecting tea, coffee and drinks orders from the now five or so in 1st Class - given the reliability issues with the trains and that it wasn't quite straightforward to buy tickets it's not surprising that there was so few. One put his feet on the seats but took his shoes off first, bless.

Then, menus: both the light bites variety and dining and thankfully TfW have thankfully moved on from the immediate post-covid-hitting dining menu, as they were probably getting feedback about it.

Thanks to the train, its planning, its prep, the signalling, even though some of the signalling was string and board, and particularly the staff, the entire journey (as far as Newport) couldn't have been better. It was also a spectacularly stress-free alternative to the M6/M5, and, being at the same end of the train as the DVT, the only time I head the loco was on the climb away from Hereford.

The Manchester to Shrewsbury leg cost around £28 overall for the ticket and £34 for the food + a couple of glasses.

Now, is Newport the place where the journey fell somewhat apart? Of course it is, but that is something for another post.


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« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2023, 06:39:03 pm »

Thank you Mark, a good review and some potentially useful tips.

...the subway now smells of pies...

If the spelling is correct and not a typo, that's an improvement.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2023, 06:44:04 pm by TonyK » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2023, 07:45:14 pm »

Good looking scran there.

Must find an excuse to travel on a TfW dining service again soon.

"The dispicable rip off of the last 30 years has truly been nothing but a great train robbery." - Ben Elton

Full public ownership of the railways. Now!
Mark A
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« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2023, 01:31:33 pm »

Now, is Newport the place where the journey fell somewhat apart? Of course it is, but that is something for another post.

So, off the train from Manchester at Newport, which set the tone by *still* being a building site, grey sheet metal hoarding, poor sightlines and train running information and no notices with indications of timescale or 'What we're doing'.

Something terrible was going on with the signalling system, and i think that Crosscountry had lost the use of the line to Gloucester. A platform change was announced and the lifts were quickly in great demand as there were lots of people travelling with luggage and the (newish) Newport lifts are on the small side.

'Nipping' across the bridge to check the destination of the GWR (Great Western Railway) 158 train alongside platform 4, the departures listed it as for Bristol Temple Meads, but the driver confirmed he was taking it to Portsmouth. Thankfully it was five carriages. Less thankfully it was very full and very standing, but on I got and after a bit, off we went, so I was now fully immersed in 'See-it-say-it-sorted-land'.

The aircon was working, but a few of the windows were open and also with people standing in the vestibules and keeping the end doors open, this negated it. There were actually a few spare seats, but even when they had the opportunity, people were reluctant to leave the vestibules and sit, and also passengers with seats were too keen to use the adjacent one to store small pieces of luggage. There were also several people travelling with children in pushchairs who understandably had chosen to keep them in said vehicles.

I found a seat and nursed my 110 litre rucksack containing things, the rucksack having previously nestled in a rucksack-shaped luggage rack at waist height at the end of the carriage aboard the train from Manchester. One of the rucksack things is 95 centimetres in length, which I think makes it ineligible as luggage as far as several train operating companies are concerned - the maximum length allowable being 90cm which incidentally probably rules out every pushchair out there.

The train came to a halt at a signal and an unsettling message appeared on the beautifully readable information display at the centre of the carriage, spreading an air of existential doubt. Even more unsettling, the message persisted even after we were on the move again, and disturbingly, persisted when the set was hammering downhill in the depths of the Severn tunnel.

At Bristol, crowds waiting to board. Deciding that I could free up a seat, I left the Portsmouth service and headed for an IET (Intercity Express Train) which was to leave very shortly.

Climbing aboard the IET, several of the vestibules were packed with people standing in them, which was odd as there were plenty of seats available. Seems to be a customer training issue, or perhaps travellers in GWR-land now have Stockholm syndrome. In any case a member of platform staff was attempting to sort this as it was hampering his efforts to get everyone aboard and departure time was approaching rapidly. I got off the train again, and with the continuing benefit of that 'TfW 1st Class return ticket to now-a-distant-memory Chirk', a quick sprint up the platform to board in 1st Class.

The IET, externally, turned out to be the dirtiest one that I'd ever been on. The interior and seats were clean but the carpet indelibly marked throughout. Staffing issues meant that it left a quarter of an hour late - the train manager came on to the PA (Public Address) to indicate he'd had an unexpected back to back turn and off we went at speed for me to leave the train at my destination (at which there were a good number waiting to get on). 1st class was largely tumbleweed country, but once the train left, a clear run to the first stop at Bath, where the ticket gate (correctly) swallowed my lovely ticket.

And that's the tale of my out and back trip. It really brought home how good rail travel is when it's resourced and it all comes together - and especially when the staff involved have something that they feel good about delivering. A lot of empathy for staff more locally - at the moment I can't see a route for GWR to get where they need to be. (Though one easy fix would be for Hitachi to clean the IEP (Intercity Express Program / Project.) exteriors - a very old fix to make an untidy room instantly more presentable is to clean the windows inside and out).

Perhaps GWR in particular needs a Chris Green (as well as a change of government).

The return journey was very much one of two halves.

All this must leave staff at all levels in danger of feeling despondent at times at the chasm between the quality of what they're working with versus the value of what the system *could* deliver - rail travel can make such a positive contribution to people's lives - something which extends far beyond the lives of people who travel by rail.


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