Bidston – Wrexham Line and its new rolling stock

We may still be in lockdown and being advised not to use public transport if at all possible but one day we’ll get past this health crisis and be able to ride trains and buses once more.

Being a railway enthusiast I try to keep an eye on what is happening across Merseyside and was interested to pick up on the latest developments for the Borderlands Line between Bidston and Wrexham which is now operated by Transport for Wales.

We knew that new Class 230 train units, with the ability to run on battery power, were being supplied for the route by Vivarail so news of the testing of these units seemingly being successful is obviously welcome. Here are a couple of links about the new units and their testing:-

vivarail.co.uk/first-trip-on-230006/

vivarail.co.uk/new-images-of-230006-on-the-mainline/

Quote from Vivarail website article ‘the UK’s first battery hybrid being built for Transport for Wales to operate the Borderlands (Wrexham-Bidston) line. The train is powered by 2 batteries on each driving car with 4 gensets on the middle car to charge the batteries and as a secondary source of traction.’

In the medium to long term I still hold the view that this line should become a part of the Merseyrail network.

My thanks to Jonathan Cadwallader for the lead to this posting.

Liverpool to Chester by train – It demonstrates why passengers think our railways are dysfunctional

Having heard about the new(ish) train connecting Liverpool to Chester (via Liverpool South Parkway, Runcorn, Frodsham and Helsby) I decided I needed to try it out.

My TfW Liverpool – Chester train (via Frodsham)

Did you know Liverpool to Chester (and back) is now served by 5 daytime trains each hour – 4 Merseyrail and 1 Transport for Wales. You may not even know that Transport for Wales runs a train between the two destinations because if you use the internet to call up Liverpool – Chester trains invariably it will default to the Merseyrail Service. Certainly if I had not known about the TfW hourly service I would never have found it via the usual rail enquiry sites. Both trains call at or terminate at Liverpool Lime Street – Merseyrail via the underground platforms and TfW via the mainline platforms.

But after quite some faffing about on the internet I found the TfW timetable and rocked up to buy a ticket at Lime Street Station but even then the really helpful lady I bought the ticket from seemed to expect me to want to go via Merseyrail – This new TfW service is being kept very quiet indeed. I had to say I want to go via Frodsham before she realised I did know what I was asking for although I did wonder if she was also wondering where my carer was.

I got on the 11.36 train and it was almost empty but based on what I’ve already said I can’t say I was surprised. But what a nice ride it was, the TfW 3 carriage Class 175 DMU’s are comfortable and I had a table all to myself. I spread out my flask, sandwiches, crisps etc. and made a mess, which I subsequently cleaned up I might add. My ticket was checked by a very polite guard. Just behind me an older couple had found an item that had been left on the inbound service to Liverpool from Chester. What impressed me was the care and attention the guard took and the assurance that he would hand the item in a Chester’s lost people, animals, baggage office.

The service takes a few minutes more than Merseytravel as it travels a longer route but frankly you would not notice the difference. And now my gripe…..

Just before the train set off we were given a friendly lecture (oddly not with a Welsh accent nor indeed was it repeated in the Welsh language), via an announcement, on what would happen to any passenger found to have a Liverpool – Chester ticket on them meant for the Merseyrail service. Basically, being forced to listen to Max Boyce jokes would be their punishment. I nearly got off at that very moment even though I had the right ticket in case they started to play the jokes via the tannoy anyway. I got the distinct impression that TfW may have to deal with this sort of problem regularly so they were hoping that any miscreants holding a Liverpool – Chester ticket would get off their Liverpool – Chester train before they had to call British Transport Police out. But how would the miscreants have known about the all but secret TfW train in the first place?

Now call me grumpy but what the hell does it matter which train you get to Chester from Liverpool Lime Street if you’ve bought a ticket – same start point, same finish point and almost the same travelling time. The only difference is the particular pieces of track your train clicks and clacks along. This nonsensical situation sums up our dysfunctional railway system to me. Integrated transport my foot.

My Merseyrail train from Chester to Liverpool

Interestingly, on my return journey via Merseyrail there was no announcement about what would happen to passengers who got on their train with a TfW Chester – Liverpool ticket. Maybe they’d rather not say as their punishment could be chucking off such unwelcome passengers at Bache (how do you pronounce that?) Station to collect trolleys in the adjacent Morrisons car park? But then again Merseyrail don’t seem check tickets on their trains so you’d not come unstuck until you encountered a ticket barrier at a central Liverpool Station. Oh no, you’d be sent to Mersey Ferries to listen to Gerry Marsden singing Ferry Cross The Mersey on continuous loop (readers of Bill Bryson’s book Notes from a Small Island will get this one) until you promised not to fall foul of railway rules again.

A world where a train ticket is only valid via one route to the same destination is one where the powers that be just can’t be bothered to put the passenger first. There got that off my chest.

I actually enjoyed my trip and will gladly travel to Chester via the TfW train again, although I’d be even more glad if my Merseytravel old beggars travel card would be accepted on it, but that’s another story.

There’ll be standing room only in the Valleys

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.

A photo from my train ride can also be seen on my Flickr page at:- www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Merseytravel – Their over 60’s travel card and the new(ish) Liverpool (LS) to Chester train

Those of us over a certain age and who live within Merseyside/Liverpool City Region have a card which gives us free bus, train and ferry travel within Merseyside and in some cases beyond it.

For example we can go to Chester by train (via Merseyrail) from anywhere within Merseyside for nothing but there are two direct train services from Liverpool to Chester. There’s the long standing one via Merseyrail along the Wirral Line but in very recent times a 2nd route has been added from Lime Street Station to Chester. And you may by now have guessed what my query is…..

How come Merseyside residents over 60 can go via one route to Chester from Liverpool for free but this facility is not available on the new alternative route? And why am I asking this question? Because someone asked it of me and off the top of my head I did not have an answer.

Thinking about it, I can’t see what the problem is; surely it’s just another route to the same destination? Whether Merseytravel (the public body responsible for passenger transport on Merseyside) pay a subsidy for over 60’s travel to Merseyrail or to Transport for Wales (who operate the Lime Street – Chester train) for each journey the end result is pretty much the same is it not? It’s still the case that only eligible Merseyside/Liverpool City Region residents can have an over 60’s travel card, all it does is offer them another route to get to Chester, indeed it may well be a far more convenient route for some card holders.

So what am I missing here? Answers on a post card………..