While the pride parade was amazing, and we did have some fun in Cardiff the train journies were horrendous. If you follow us on Instagram you would’ve seen our posts and stories documenting our journey back. I am demanding a full refund from Transport For Wales and figured the best way to explain to you just how bad the journey was on Sunday is to post the letter I’ve written to TFW (and also sent to my MP, AM and the Transport Minister for Wales).
So strap in, cause it’s ~2500 words. I’ve not edited it, so it’s exactly as I’ve sent them, without the illustrative pictures of Snappy (but with the picture of my broken flask).
To Whom it may concern,
I would like to walk you through the hell that has been my weekend travelling on Transport For Wales.
I’d like to preface this with, I already have a voucher from a complaint I had made last month that I have yet to use. And after this, probably won’t use.
We were going to Cardiff for the weekend, and yes there are buses but those journeys are as long and there is only one bus from Aberystwyth a day going to Cardiff. I had to work Friday morning, so we would’ve missed it.
I chose train travel on purpose though, I wanted to travel by train rather than by bus for three very good reasons.
- I get travel sick. Tablets do not always help.
- My wife may be pregnant. Very early stages with some very obvious symptoms. Like nausea. Not great for buses.
- I have a three-year-old. A very well behaved one, but one that is easier to feed and entertain on a long journey on a stable train at a table.
My issue in July wasn’t about delays but more about the way we were treated by staff. On this trip, we got delays, cancellations and poor staff attitude (both dismissed by staff and shouted at by staff again).
Let’s start with Friday shall we.
Friday, my possibly pregnant wife, my three-year-old child and I got on the 13.30 train from Aberystwyth to Birmingham New Street. Except we all sat down and were told the train wasn’t going to Birmingham. It was only going as far as Machynlleth. Nothing on the board while we waited at the station, no staff to tell us this until we were on the train, no announcements. Buses would be provided to take us to Shrewsbury.
As mentioned above, I did not want to get on a bus. But by time we’re told this, we’ve already on the train and on our way so it’s not like we could get off and try for a different train.
At Mach we all get off, and get on a bus going straight through to Shrewsbury. However, we miss the connecting train to Cardiff that left at 15:40pm. By time we got there at around 16:30 there wasn’t a train to Cardiff until 17:16. So, we go to a cafe, have a brew and a cake and come back (£10.90).
The 17:16 to Cardiff is fifteen minutes late.
Did I mention that I had timed this journey so we would arrive in Cardiff for 17:38, meaning we could check into our hotel and be in time for dinner around six and an early night as I knew after a long day my child would be hungry and my wife exhausted?
We roll into Cardiff at 19:37. Two hours later than I planned and needed. Two hours.
By time we’ve found the hotel, checked in, gotten food, eaten it and relaxed a little, it’s gone nine pm.
My child is three.
Still, I vow to complain about that when I get back and we carry on with our weekend. It was quite nice, a little loud at times, we went to the Lego store and found a great cafe. Their brownies were amazing.
So, let’s talk about Sunday.
I have sworn a lot this weekend. Not at people, but in describing just how monumentally bad this journey home was. I am struggling to find politer words to describe it so we’ll let the events speak for themselves.
Now, being Sunday, having a small child and generally travelling on public transport a lot, I had very carefully organised this trip back to Aberystwyth. Even in the summer, there aren’t many Sunday buses in town back to our village, so I wanted to make sure that the train we got meant we didn’t have a huge wait in Aberystwyth before a bus or meant we’d have to get a taxi at a cost for roughly £20.
So, we had a couple of hours and went to the museum. Generally disappointing but while we’re there I check the train times, because I suffer from anxiety and my wife is feeling particularly ill this morning (threw up twice at the museum) and my kid was sick in the night so I’m keen to get us home.
The train I want to catch has been cancelled. Not sure why, no information available. The next one seems to get us home at twenty past nine, way too late for my sick wife and three-year-old. The only other option is a train at 12:10, changing in Cwmbran, change at Shrewsbury. It’s 11:30. We’ll never walk it there on time, no matter what google maps tells me, not with a sick wife and a three-year-old so we get a taxi (£7.00), we get in ten minutes before the train leaves and…it’s a bus.
Let me draw your attention back to the bit above where I did not want to catch a bus.
There are lots of people standing around, some bus coordinators who work for the bus companies and not a Transport For Wales staff member in sight. I’m not sure what to do, I can’t imagine Cwmbran station is very big or has amenities that are open on a Sunday; I don’t want to be stuck there. But there’s no one to ask, the bus companies can only tell me when and which bus to get on but there’s no one to ask if we will be able to get a train to Shrewsbury when I get there. A concern given that the bus will take longer and we will miss the connection that we’re supposed to get.
The queue for tickets is about half a dozen people deep, the TFW staff are all on the other side of the ticket barrier and the one guy I do manage to grab has no idea and asks one of the bus drivers which doesn’t fill me with confidence.
We get on the bus, we get to Cwmbran, I manage to find out there is a train to Shrewsbury about ten minutes after we turn up; so we’re lucky. Any more traffic and I dread to think.
Train is late. Not much but it adds up and I’m not even sure what train I’m even going to get in Shrewsbury but at least we can eat if we’re stuck there for a bit. The train is hot: no air conditioning. Open windows do nothing but we manage. I buy some welsh cakes and some juice for my child at extortionate prices (3.30) but not much choice otherwise.
Get to Shrewsbury at 15:09, we’re late, but not so late that we won’t miss the next train to Aberystwyth. The guard on the train tells us the train to Aberystwyth will leave from Platform Five. It does not, luckily I notice it leaves from 4b before we head down there and camp out for half an hour. Still, the next train is at 15:28, we’ll get into Aberystwyth at 17:20 and have time to catch a bus home.
Buoyed by this development, I leave my wife and child on the correct station platform and go to Starbucks to get us some cold drinks because they are both overheated and dehydrated. I also get my child a sandwich (11.90). He needs food and instead of having lunch and then getting a train I’ve had to skip lunch to catch the train. There is music playing in the shop, someone who can’t pay, and some announcements that sound like they’re being made by Borrowers so I don’t catch what’s being said. Still, the train is still on the board, still platform 4b and my wife comes to tell me it’s the front two carriages and she’s getting on to get us seats. My first drink has been made, so this is fine, I think and I took the sandwich cold for expediency’s sake.
So I get our drinks, head out to the train. Train is closed. Possibly pregnant wife and three-year-old are on said train. I start to panic. A lot. I get shouted at by the guards, I tell them my wife is on the train. They tell me no one is on that train. Apparently, first two carriages means the first two to head out, not the first two that head in. Not sure how I’m supposed to know that bus lesson learned I suppose.
I try those carriages. Also closed. Panic intensifies. I get shouted at again. I repeat the bit about my pregnant wife and child. They give me a snide look and say they have to decouple the train and I obviously wasn’t listening to the announcement while I was in Starbucks. You know, the announcement over the music playing in there that sounded like it was made by Borrowers (or possibly mice).
Still, I resist the urge to cry, get a handle on my breathing and am reunited with my wife. On another train with no air conditioning, less windows and more people. Free water, good, but at least I had sense to get those cold drinks (and caffeine-free) from Starbucks because my child is sweating buckets and I don’t think he’s had a pee in a few hours despite the amount of water I’ve gotten him to drink. The water did mean I could take some painkillers for the headache I’d developed dealing with this, and some of my anxiety medication after being shouted at by staff at Shrewsbury.
We get close to Machynlleth and I am feeling confident that my plans of dinner and an early night for my child (and us) will come to pass after the hell of the day we’ve had.
No such luck.
We pull into Mach station and get told that because of a broken door, we all have to get off the train. We can stay on the train but it’s cooler on the platform and we’re going to have to get off eventually. So off we get, more free water and it is cooler. My kid is drenched with sweat, I get more water into him and take his t-shirt off to cool him off. He’s already tired and hot and upset and starts crying.
Trying to console him, we knock our flask onto the floor. It shatters inside. I pour out what’s left of the tea before throwing it in the bin. I’ve had it a week. I’ve attached a picture of some of the broken bits for you and a link to where you can buy a new one on eBay.
I ask the TFW staff member – Mo – politely how we’re supposed to get home from Aberystwyth as we’re going to miss the bus now we’ve been delayed. I mentioned that I know it’s not her fault personally, but that I am pretty annoyed. She says it’s not their fault, there’s nothing they can do, we’ll have to wait for the next train. There’s no road travel available; no buses.
I don’t want a bus (see above) plus, a bus will take longer and we would still miss the bus home. I walk away because I just don’t see the point of even trying to get help from TFW staff any more.
I start crying. I’d take more anxiety medication but at this point any more would’ve tanked my blood pressure and I’d be travelling to Aberystwyth in an ambulance. Which would’ve been quicker and possibly preferable.
You’d think I’d have learnt my lesson in July but either I’m an idiot or the staff members really don’t care. Not sure which is worse at this point.
We sit in the waiting room. Three-year-old is feeling better, I manage to get him to have a pee, and some more water and we catch the 17:45 train to Aberystwyth. We get to Aberystwyth at 18:20, much later than I intended. I can’t even calculate it any more.
It’s taken six hours to get to Aberystwyth from Cardiff. Six. It’s bad enough I have to cross the border to get anywhere in my own country without it taking two hours longer every time I do it. That’s four extra hours travel time this weekend alone. With a pregnant woman and a three-year-old, and anxiety.
We get home, with some chips, at 19:30 (£9.00). Luckily the last bus from Aberystwyth is at seven. My wife has a bit of a cry because she’s exhausted and possibly pregnant and full of hormones. My kid consoles her, has some water, I let him watch Shaun the Sheep for a bit to calm us all down and I put him to bed at 20:30.
I paid £88.00, with a disabled railcard, to travel on two coaches for a few hours, to be delayed by two hours on both trips and get shouted at and disregarded by staff. It took me seven hours to get my family home. It’s 2019. You treated your paying customers like a nuisance today, like sheep, herding us around in uncomfortable and cramped quarters. My head is still ringing and I am still anxious. My kid is dehydrated. My wife is sick. We’re all exhausted. It’s 2019. Why even take over a train service if you cannot run it? Why aren’t any of your staff trained in customer service? Or just plain common decency? I was not the only one with kids, though mine looked the smallest. Every trip just shows to me how train travel is not family-friendly. It’s expensive and difficult and you’re basically making it impossible for families to travel anywhere by train.
How is this better than Arriva? How are you better? I’ve had some awful train tips over the years on this line; I’ve travelled the Birmingham to Aberystwyth line hundreds of times but this, this was the worst. And that includes a trip where the staff threatened to call the police due to overcrowding on the train.
In light of this I want:
- My £88.00 back. All of it.
- I want £25.00 for my broken flask which would’ve been fine if we hadn’t had to get off the train at Machynlleth.
- And I want £33 for everything I had to buy to keep us alive (not the chips at the end) that would’ve been cheaper had I had the chance to got to a supermarket and do a packed lunch as planned. Call it compensation for the emotional stress we’ve been through.
I still cannot convey just how angry I am. And I’m a writer, I’m supposed to be good with words.
I’m sending a copy of this letter to my MP, Ben Lake. my AM, Elin Jones, the transport minister for Wales Ken Skate and the local newspaper The Cambrian News.
If I do not get a satisfactory resolution i.e. £146 and an apology, I will be taking this to the Rail Ombudsmen and seeking a higher amount of compensation.
I fancy my chances of at least getting my train fare back at least. Today is Monday and I’m still as angry. Snappy doesn’t seem to be much worse for wear. He was so good, with only a few tears when I tried to cool him down. We are so lucky he’s such a good kid. I would not have blamed him or any other kids on the train that day to have had a tantrum or be demanding. He’s been quite cheeky today as he sometimes is when he’s overtired but still pretty good. I think Bethend’s bath has done the world of good and I need some more sleep so I’m heading to bed early.
Responses So Far
- A refund for the train tickets (but no apology or acknowledgement).
- Reply from Ben Lake MP’s office asking to keep them updated. They encouraged me to go to the Ombudsmen.
- Reply from Elin Jones AM’s office asking for clarification.
- Reply from Transport Minister Ken Skates MP’s office asking for permission to share my info under GDPR.
- Reply from Ken Skates MP’s office which was bullshit. I have yet to reply.
- Still no apologies – probably going to report them to the ombudsman.
- Bethend is not pregnant but we are trying and given her symptoms it was a definite possibility.
- I have replaced the tea egg.
- I’m getting a coach for our xmas trip!