I’ve just spent a week in the Brecon Beacons and took the opportunity to try a Transport for Wales train from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff.
Ebbw Vale Town Station (the end of the line) is very basic and very exposed; a ticket machine, a one train per hour frequency and a small shelter is about it – a far cry from say Merseyrail with it’s 15 minute frequency and staffed stations with ticket offices/toilets. The ticket machine, whilst working, needed quite a hard pounding on its keyboard for it to take any notice of what you were trying to tell it. At busy times you get the impression that folk would not bother queuing up to use it as it takes too long and you could easily miss your train as a consequence because the turnaround time of incoming trains to outgoing is very short indeed. I noticed quite a few fellow passengers buying their tickets from the guard and having used the ticket machine I know why.
The outbound train was a 2 car Class 150 (see photo above at Ebbw Vale Town Station) and I’d say that it was 2/3rds full throughout the journey which started at 11.37. Of course, this made me wonder what rush hour services would be like (having heard they were normally overcrowded) but more on that aspect later on in this posting.
The ride was very smooth on the 150 but it was regularly hitting overgrown branches which were clearly in need of being cut back. The stations called at along the line seemed to be as basic as Ebbw Vale.
The journey each way takes almost exactly an hour and a day return, which can be used on any train, is presently (Oct 2019) £8.40.
The return journey was at 16.34 from Cardiff Central and within 5 mins of the set time of departure it was standing room only on the elderly 2 car Class 142 ‘Nodding Donkey’ which had an onboard toilet (I’m guessing that the 150 must have had one too but did not notice). People remained standing until the station call about 30 mins into the ride up the valley. Like the 150 the 142 was regularly hitting over hanging branches. The ride back was not bad for a 142 (seen below at the exposed Ebbw Vale Town Station) but obviously not as smooth as the 150 and there was quite a bit of wheel screeching from the 142.
I noticed that the station platforms along the branch seemed capable of taking 4 car trains but whether 4 cars are ever provided I could not tell. My guess is that when 4 cars are finally a reality they will fill to capacity very soon and 6 car trains probably need to be the Transport for Wales aim.
Oh and one final thing, which fits with a recent posting of mine about Merseyrail’s Maghull and Maghull North Stations. The car parking provision at Ebbw Vale Town Station whilst being reasonably significant across 2 car parks was unsurprisingly not enough and I had to park some distance away from the Station.
Both trains were clean and punctual. Marks out of 10 for Transport for Wales – 7.