Rheilffordd Calon Cymru

Every so often I get photographs of railroads and assorted links to railroad stories from my friends traveling around the globe. It goes without saying that this is always appreciated. It is flattering to realize that when one of my friends happens upon a train somewhere, they think: “Oh, wait. Maybe Ralf would like a picture of this!” Of course I would! And I always like to share those pictures with the readers of this blog.

The latest photo appearing in my mail inbox is courtesy of Patrick Grother, who was visiting family in the UK:

GWR Class 800 at London Paddington (Patrick Grother)

This is one of the new Hitachi built Class 800 diesel-electric bi mode multiple units delivered to Great Western Railway. In my humble opinion these are awful trains and a major step backwards in rail travel comfort. Here is a report on my trip on one of those trains: A ride on the Class 800.

Just a couple of days later, Michael in London, he of macfilos.com fame, sent me a link to a story in The Daily Telegraph (UK). It is an interesting little blurb about a railway station in the middle of Wales:

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That station is on the “Heart of Wales Railway Line”. Technically it runs from Craven Arms in Shropshire to Llanelli in Wales. However that rail line is part of the longer route from Shrewsbury to Swansea.


And that is why this little story in the Telegraph struck a cord with me. Just a few, short years ago, while in London, I decided to do another one of my day rail trips. After consulting the timetables and maps, my route was going to be from London to Shrewsbury, then from Shrewsbury to Swansea/Cardiff and from there back to London Paddington. It was going to be easily done and I would be back in London for dinner. Well, the best laid plans…

London to Shrewsbury was a cinch. Everything was right on time and the train from Shrewsbury to Swansea left the station bang on the advertised. Calling it a train was a bit of a stretch however: it was a single Class 153 diesel rail car.

Heart of Wales Line DMU

My “train” on the Heart of Wales line. Photo by Ralf Meier

Hopefully nowadays the rail service from Shrewsbury to Swansea consists of better equipment. Back when I did that route however, these Class 153s were another abomination foisted on the British rail traveler. It’s the typical litany of complaints: the diesel engine is roaringly noisy, the seats are awful and cramped in, there is no toilet, no trolley service, diesel fumes, and worst of all, one can hardly see the scenery because of the way the interior of the rail car has been laid out. Of course that is particularly ironic since the line is being touted by the tourism authorities, the operating railway company and by Wales itself, as very scenic. With a bit of neck craning one could actually see the countryside go by. And it is indeed quite scenic.

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“Heart of Wales” Line. Photo: Welsh Tourism Office

To my astonishment the rail car was full. Mostly locals I surmised. At quite a number of stations the passenger turn over was surprisingly high. So we puttered on and eventually reached the little station of Llanwrtyd Wells: just another routine stop on the route and we should be on our way in a minute or two. A minute or two turned into 10 minutes. Then 15 minutes. Strange noises were emanating from the diesel power pack and my fellow passengers began to have that “what now?” look on their faces. Finally the guard (conductor in US parlance) came through and informed us that the rail car had broken down and we would all have to detrain here at Llanwrtyd Wells. Since this was the last service of the day, buses would be arranged and then take us on to Swansea. No word on how long this would all take from the guard.

So we all dutifully got off the rail car and milled around Llanwrtyd Wells station waiting for onward transportation. Most of us were pretty sanguine about this whole affair. There wasn’t much we could do, but wait for the promised bus. The village itself was miles away, the station was just an empty brick building without any services. Then to our great surprise the “broken down” railcar trundled off whence it came: towards Shrewsbury. Astonished looks all around and a few of the famous British stiff, upper lips started to tremble a tad.

Llanwrtyd Wells (Wales) Village Station

My fellow stranded passengers at Llanwrtyd Wells train station. Photo by Ralf Meier

It slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t going to have dinner in London that evening. In fact I was not even sure that I would be able to make it back to London at all. I had absolutely no idea when the last train for London would leave Swansea. After about two hours a bus showed up. This one was going to stop at all the stations down the line were passengers were going to get of the train originally. Anybody for Swansea was to wait for a second bus, which would go straight to Swansea Train Station. That turned out to be me. Everybody else piled on the first bus and I soon found myself alone in the middle of Wales, at a train station without trains until the next day.

By now it was dark and I was starting to harbor some nasty thoughts about the British rail system when, low and behold, the second bus appeared. A full sized bus no less. It seemed a bit overkill for one passenger, but then, it did get me to Swansea. Just in time to catch the last train to London Paddington. This one was a “real” train. A Class 180 “Adelante” DMU. It got me into Paddington a few minutes after midnight.


First Great Western Adelante2

An example of a Class 180 “Adelante” DMU. Photo by Ralf Meier

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