The Cardiff Valley Lines are a number of railway lines which run from Cardiff up the Welsh Valleys around the city. Given the commuter status of the lines, and the continued need for additional capacity due to the large demand for the railway, it is surprising that a least used station would be found. Gilfach Fargoed sits just south of Bargoed on the Rhymney Line. It was used by just over 5000 people in the past year, a figure which is very high for the station (usually it manages around 3,500 people per year). So, although not in the least used stations list proper, it does have a patronage significantly lower than other stations in the area. Thus, I decided it warranted a visit.
From Edinburgh, the journey is not a complicated one, but it is long. I already had cause to visit Cardiff, so I decided to go earlier than I needed to in order to visit Gilfach Fargoed.
The now normal alarm for a 06:52 train woke me up. I had quite a full rucksack to lug down to the station, but a much longer train journey where I didn't have to carry it. My first train was to Crewe. I do like travelling on the West Coast Main Line (WCML), but I generally don't like doing it too far south. There are some fantastic bits of scenery along the whole route, but the Lake District and Borders section from Edinburgh/Motherwell to Lancaster is the best. South of Lancaster, the fabulousness of the scenery is punctuated by some utter abominations of towns and cities.
Crewe, or to give it its full name, Change at Crewe, arrived. I changed, and boarded the next train to Cardiff, running via Shrewsbury and Hereford. Providing a 2 car train for a Manchester to Carmarthen service is a seriously bad idea. The combination of long-distance and local passenger flows lead to a crowded service. All the seats were taken and quite a few people had to stand. Not fun.
But, 3 and a half hours later, I was in Cardiff. It was late lunch and I had 30 minutes before my train to Gilfach departed. Gilfach has a regular hourly service. That may sound good for a least used station, but there are 4 trains per hour which run on the line in question.
A Pacer turned up to take me to Gilfach. The train wasn't very crowded, but then the real crowds join the train at rush hour. That's why Transport for Wales have felt the need to introduce class 37 loco-hauled sets of mark 2 coaches (for non-rail enthusiasts: 60s locomotives and slam-door coaches) to deal with the rush hour passengers. Anyway, the journey up the valley was a rather good one. I hadn't expected the Welsh Valleys to be so lovely (I apologise to the people of the Valleys for underestimating their local area). It was also quite a long slog up, given the frequent stopping and the 13 mile distance.
The train departed Pengam (the stop before Gilfach) and the conductor came down asking if anyone wanted to get off at Gilfach Fargoed. I was the only one. She asked me to come to the front set of doors because of the short platform. Not even a whole coach could fit on the platform. As I got off, I thanked her, watched the train depart, and then looked at the tiny station.
The platforms are 16 metres long. This is not long enough for the coaches of most trains (these tend to be 20 – 23 metres long). The facilities are fairly basic, as one can imagine. Both platforms has electronic departure boards with the comically awful automatic announcements that I am used to from Welsh stations. Yes, Ebbw Vale Parkway is pronounced “eee bee vee”, and one doesn't actually have to pronounce “Ystrad Mynach” at all. Just go up to a Welsh person, say nothing, and they'll immediately understand that you mean “Ystrad Mynach”. There are also the normal station signs, ramps up to the road bridge, and a shelter on each platform. These shelters look as if they have been set on fire numerous times.
Just over 30 minutes later, a train back to Cardiff arrived. I decided that I had seen everything I needed to, so I got on it.
Gilfach Fargoed is arguably one of the cutest little stations I have visited. If it was well-maintained with little wooden shelters and a couple of baskets of flowers, I'd properly love it. But it isn't, so I don't.
I'm not sure if there is a way to boost patronage for the station. Bargoed has quite a healthy patronage, so stopping 2 trains per hour may encourage people who live further south to use Gilfach rather than Bargoed. The length of the platforms poses some problems too. The loco-hauled commuter trains that I mentioned earlier can't stop at Gilfach Fargoed because of the short platforms. In fact, Gilfach Fargoed has a gap of 90 minutes between trains from Cardiff from 16:43 to 18:18 (16:01 to 17:31 from Cardiff). That does leave a gap at the start of the PM peak where the station gets no service. Although there are departures at 07:04 and 07:18 to Cardiff in the AM peak, there isn't a departure from 07:18 to 08:18, which leaves a gap of arrivals into Cardiff between 8am and 9am. A train from Gilfach arriving into Cardiff at about 08:30 would be very useful.
Other than the length of the platforms, quality of facilities and level of service, Gilfach Fargoed is a perfect station.
Yes, in December 2017 I visited both Barry Links and Golf Street in the dark, took some awful photos, and didn't actually get the train to or from Golf Street. Such was the quality of the blog nearly 2 years ago.
The Edinburgh to Aberdeen line has quite a collection of little stations, especially between Dundee and Carnoustie. Of the 5 stations between the 2, 3 have an annual patronage that regularly falls below 1000 per year, 2 often fall below 100. Until 2019 they were served by only 1 train per day each way, but this was doubled to two per day at the May timetable change. This makes it possible to visit all three of them. I chose the evening because I have no way to get up to Carnoustie for a 6am departure from Golf Street. The only problem is that the evening departures come 40 minutes apart, which is tight for a proper visit of a least used station (I tend to allow at least an hour per station as a rule). However, I'd already visited Barry Links properly, so I allowed myself to do it in the 40 minutes.
I used 7 tickets for the journey, which required a lot of patience with the fairly awful touch-screen ticket machines that exist at Haymarket station (and indeed most other stations in the UK). But, I completed the transaction with plenty of time to spare, and decided to board a delayed service which took me as far as Dundee. It was a very crowded LNER service from London, so my timeliness (and their lack of it) didn't pay off that much. Instead of hanging around at Haymarket, I hung around at Dundee station, the one which had its station piano smashed by some absolute planks. I stayed on platform 4 for my train to Monifieth.
Monifieth is another station that lies along the Edinburgh to Aberdeen line which has a low patronage (below 10,000 per year). This doesn't qualify it for the list proper, and it is not of sufficient interest for it to be covered as part of the blog (frequent readers may remember stations such as Chathill, Angel Road and other stations which have an annual patronage well above the 1000 per year limit have been covered due to limited service or other reasons of interest – see individual blog posts for justifications). Balmossie station is about 1 mile south of Monifieth. The walk between the two is a very pleasant one: a tarmac cycle and walkers route runs along the side of the Tay estuary.
Of the three, Balmossie is the most inconvenient to navigate. The platforms are staggered: the down platform (towards Carnoustie and Arbroath) is directly east of the footbridge, but the up platform (towards Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh) is further east along the line. One has to walk up a mud track after crossing the footbridge to get to it. Although the platforms are pretty much wooden skeletons, they have all the basic facilities: benches, signs, bins and electronic departure boards. The up platform even has a wooden shelter (the luxury).
I had about an hour at the station, which I used trying to take pictures of the outside of the station without too many locals questioning my sanity, and taking pictures of the trains which passed occasionally.
My train onwards to Barry Links was showing as on-time, but was held at Dundee for a late-running express to Aberdeen. That meant it arrived 15 minutes late. Nobody got off, but I got on (slightly obviously).
Barry Links Station
7 minutes and 1 intermediate stop (Monifieth – remember that one?) later, I was deposited on the Barry Links platform along with 2 other people. The train departed, and the level crossing barriers remained down for another 5 minutes as other trains passed through. Some of the cyclists waiting at the barriers were getting quite irate by the end of it, something which I had no sympathy for as they could have used the bridge. They didn't and must have lost about 10 minutes.
Slight idiots aside, Barry Links station has 2 normal platforms, none of that skeletal stuff that Balmossie and (spoiler alert) Golf Street have. Its shelter is also an upgrade on Balmossie's: some metal and see-through plastic affair on both platforms. That must mean Barry Links has a higher patronage. But, it doesn't. Barry Links has been the least used station in Scotland for years (alternating with Breich) and has at times been the least used in the whole of the UK (it was for 2018). The signs, bins and electronic departure boards exist as expected. Except they don't. Someone has managed to get the departure boards the wrong way round, so my train onwards to Golf Street was advertised on the wrong platform. Top marks to Transport Scotland.
The 40 minute wait had been eaten down to 25 minutes with the delay, but increased to over 30 because the Edinburgh to Arbroath service that I was to catch to Golf Street was 6 minutes late. That meant I saw a few trains passing through.
Slightly too soon, my train to Golf Street arrived and I boarded (but only after taking a quick snap).
Golf Street Station
2 minutes down the line, the train arrived at Golf Street. Only the very front door was to open. Again, 2 people got out as well as me. They left, and I surveyed the station.
The station has very short platforms. They can just about fit 2 coaches on, so most trains have to use selective door opening (SDO). The platforms are skeletal (as alluded to earlier), with the same facilities. There is only one shelter: situated on the down platform. This seems very silly to me: more people are going to be waiting for trains at Golf Street to go to Dundee and further south/west rather than to go the 1 or 2 stops north to Carnoustie (1000 yards further along the line) or Arbroath.
I spent just over an hour taking pictures and doing some 'proper' trainspotting. During that time, the friendly Carnoustie locals had things to say about my existence. Well, 2 people (and I don't know if they were all locals). The first pair were in a car, and, once they saw me, said “it's not an actual station” as they drove off. I know this to be false for a number of reasons:
I may not be an expert in many things (or anything really), especially definitions and spellings of words (just check all the typso that I've made in the previous posts), but I'm pretty confident that I can identify railway stations.
The second was a man. He came out of a house I assume that he had a right to be in to make sure that I didn't think that I was at Carnoustie station. I thanked him and said I was just taking pictures of trains. Apparently a lot of people are idiots, because they think that the 8 signs that all have “Golf Street / Sràid a' Ghoilf” printed on them, they actually have “Carnoustie / Càrn Ùstaidh” printed, when this is clearly not the case. (Exceptions made if the person is blind/partially sighted, perhaps obviously.)
After a short intermodal service had passed through, I decided it was time to walk to Carnoustie station (the actual one) to catch my train home. This happened.
All three stations are hardly rural or remote. Therefore, their patronage could increase significantly if they got a reasonable level of service. An argument could be made that some are too close to other, more established stations. However I would only make that argument for Golf Street. Barry Links could have a more reasonable patronage (not that high, but not stupidly low) if it had a more regular service. Ditto with Balmossie. Perhaps my previous suggestion of introducing a shuttle between Golf Street and Barry Links (the stations being at either end of Carnoustie Golf Links) to transport the rich golfing lard-tubs about the links, could work. (It couldn't.)
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Author - Felix