Pilning railway station serves some fields just east of the English entrance of the Severn Tunnel. The village of Pilning is a mile to the West, with a series of warehouses and the area known as Severn Beach 2-3 miles away. The station has had a limited service for a number of years, although it has declined from its already very sparse service in roughly 2004 from 1 or 2 trains per day (every day) to 1 train per week in each direction (both on a Saturday). Electrification works meant raising the footbridge, a cost which was deemed prohibitive. Thus, the second down platform was taken out of use, and only two trains per week run, both running on a Saturday from Cardiff to Bristol and beyond to Taunton. Therefore, despite being in England, it is impossible to get a train from England to Pilning as it is the first station on the English side of the Severn Tunnel. One has to go into Wales and double back in order to get there.
St Andrews Road currently serves an industrial estate by the Severn Estuary. I only visited it because I had time between visiting Pilning and returning back to London. Its annual patronage has been in the 5 figure level, but in the past few years it has seen a steady decline down to about 5,000 in the most recent period.
An uncharacteristically late alarm went off as I sat at home eating breakfast. Pilning has two trains on a Saturday, one at about 08:30, and the other at about 15:30. It is impossible to get from London to catch the earlier train, so I had to settle for the later one, giving me a lunchtime departure from Paddington station to Newport in South Wales. Having negotiated the tube, I arrived in Paddington with plenty of time to spare. I spent it wandering aimlessly around the concourse until I “bumped into” (they saw and approached me) a person who I knew. We established that we were going for the same train, and that's what happened. For half the journey we spoke about things (life, trains and other random things) and for the other we didn't because he'd got off the train.
The day was also my first journey on the new InterCity Express Trains (IETs) built by Hitachi to replace the ageing InterCity 125s (remember those?) on various routes. They are currently only in service on the InterCity network out of London Paddington (Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth etc.) although they will be rolling out across a number of long-distance services in the next few years. Hopefully. I find the trains much more open and spacious compared to the HSTs, although the seats and general ride is less comfortable. The amenities are better. I'm certainly not opposed to them, as some hard-line HST enthusiasts are.
Quick appraisal over, I was at Newport (South Wales) for 45 minutes in the wind. There were fewer passengers than expected remarked one station attendant, possibly due to the Scotland v Wales rugby match that was in full swing as I wandered around the rather ugly station. They seem to have managed to cover up the older, more architecturally attractive parts of the station, whilst leaving the fairly awful new-build parts in full view.
After about half an hour, my train to Pilning popped into view. Engineering works in Wales meant that instead of running from Cardiff, the service was starting from Newport instead. I took advantage of the declassified first class section while waiting to depart back to England and Pilning. Despite being served very infrequently, Pilning is not a request stop. However, it has been known to be accidentally missed out more often than most stations, probably due to its very sparse service. (I should point out that drivers forgetting to stop at stations happens very, very infrequently (think of the number of trains that stop at stations over a day and how rare it is to have a failure to stop).) Just to make sure, I let the guard know that I wished to alight at Pilning. We went through the tunnel back to England and broke soon after to stop at Pilning.
I wasn't the only one to get off at Pilning. Another person joined me on the platform as four people got on. Despite only getting 2 trains per week, Pilning saw nearly 500 people in the last year, or between 4 and 5 people per train. This is quite a high rate, especially for such a small station. As I found out later, all six of us were railway enthusiasts to some degree.
The person who got off with me took a quick picture of the train departing before leaving. I then surveyed the station. It is located by a fairly derelict scrapyard-thing, and a large number of portakabins and maintenance equipment used by Network Rail when they are working. Coupled with a few nearby dual-carriageways and motorways gave the station quite a claustrophobic feeling despite its distance from any population settlements.
The facilities are very basic. There is a shelter with a salt bin inside, the normal information posters and a help point. There is no bin or indeed station specific lighting (although the industrial-looking lamps used by Network Rail would probably do the job very well). The former platform 2 is clearly visible, if overgrown.
Whilst I was at the station watching the occasional train passing (and having varying degrees of success attempting to photograph them), the group who had boarded the train at Pilning returned in cars. One came onto the platform and asked if I needed a lift anywhere. I said I was fine and was going to stay for a bit. This I did. They departed in their cars, once again leaving me to try not to get blown off the platform.
To St Andrews Road
After a while on the windswept platform, and with no trains due for half an hour, I decided it was time to walk to Severn Beach (about an hour's walk) to get myself to my next destination. I walked through several small collections of houses, past a bus stop (which has an infrequent bus service at weekdays only), across a B road and into a field. Attempting to follow a path of my map which didn't exist (or that I couldn't find) I found myself the wrong side of quite a deep ditch. Without the courage to jump over to continue on an alternative path, I retraced half my route and went back onto the B road for 10 minutes before I found my next path.
The route from Pilning to Severn Beach is not very walkable. I had barely spent 10 minutes on actual paths (not including the 20 minutes wasted wandering around random fields) before I hit a Tesco distribution area and another industrial park. I followed it round into a residential area of Severn Beach, and approach the station. Severn Beach is the terminus of the Severn Beach branch. With 30 minutes before the next train, I walked slightly further to capture the grey muddiness of the Severn Estuary. In then returned to catch the train to St Andrews Road.
Severn Beach has no ticket machines, so I had to get my return tickets from the guard. This was done in the 30 seconds on the approach to St Andrews Road station. I was actually surprised that the transaction had been completed in such a short time. I alighted, thanked the guard and looked at the station.
St Andrews Road Station
The station is rather intimidated by everything around it. For a start, the single passenger line is flanked by a 5 track freight yard. Huge silos and other industrial buildings push the little 3 coach platform down whilst towering cranes straddle all the railway tracks, used in the past to lift freight off the wagons. The station is on the wrong side of all the railway lines. The passenger line is on the estuary side, but that is private land so the exit has to go onto the public road, located the other side of the multiple tracks. A footbridge links the two. The platform has a shelter, various signs and an electronic help point. One sign incorrectly states that St Andrews Road is a request stop, which it most certainly is not. The other side of the footbridge sees another load of information posters, plus a seemingly silly number of bike racks
I only spent just over half an hour between trains at St Andrews Road. As mentioned before, I hadn't planned to visit the station until a few days before travel. It had got dark in the time I had been at the station, so I jumped on the first train I could, which took me back to Severn Beach.
Back to London
A short turnaround time meant I could only grab a poor quality shot of the train at Severn Beach before I got back on to go the full length of the branch line to Bristol Temple Meads. Once at Temple Meads, I had almost an hour before my booked service back to London, giving me enough time to walk into the centre of town to grab some drinks that weren't stupidly overpriced like the ones in the train station are. Who charges 99p for a small bottle of water? WHSmiths apparently (other shops also sell overpriced water).
The round trip to the middle of Bristol took me most of my hour, so I only had quarter of an hour to wait on the platform. I still had a pork pie and some oranges to consume on the train home. Being fairly late departure (20:35) on a Saturday evening, there was a reasonable concentration of drunk people. I put down a 15 minute wait at Bath Spa to the conduct of these people. Further along, I was treated to the drunk man's train “song”, the lyrics consisting only of the phrase “we're on a train” with the vowels elongated to various different lengths to emphasise something.
The shortish delay at Bath was enough for me to just miss my train from London out to my house, giving me half an hour to sit on a very windy London Bridge platform, wishing for the warm hug of my bed.
I wasn't very impressed with Pilning. Similarly to Barry Links, there wasn't anything particularly special about it. I'm glad I visited, but I won't be returning. As for St Andrews Road, regular readers may know that I enjoy empty industrial areas. A part of me hopes St Andrews Road continues to decline, further emphasising that feeling of loneliness, whilst the rest of me does not think wishing economic decline on industrial areas is a good thing. I am not known for my support of Thatcher, after all.
Also, having not visited Wales for the first year and a bit of my blog, I have visited it thrice in as many months. There's still an awful lot in Wales I haven't done.
Author - Felix