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.
Author - Felix