“ Arriva Trains Wales aka Trenau Arriva Cymru in Welsh is a railway company that runs urban and inter urban passenger services throughout Wales. „
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Having lived in Aberystwyth for 10 years i've often used the Arriva Trains Wales service between Aberystwyth and Birmingham New Street as well as some of there other Welsh services from time to time. To be fair to Arriva most journeys i've taken have been ok but a significant number have still encountered difficulties. Almost everyone living in Aberystwyth has at least one horror story about the train and I wouldn't recommend anyone rely on their timetable. Delays of 2 hours are not uncommon. However to their credit they are yet to leave me stranded but there have been cases when i've missed connections and been late for meetings or others have been late meeting me.
The Good things:
Services from Aberystwyth are every 2 hours with the first train leaving just after 5am (useful to get anywhere from Aberystwyth by a sensible time) and the last (which only goes to shrewsbury) leaving at about 7:30 pm. The first train leaves Birmingham at around 6:30am and arrives in Aberystwyth at 9:30, the last leaves Birmingham at 8:30pm and arrives around 11:30pm. So if you miss your connection you'll find yourself stuck waiting for another 2 hours in Birmingham, Wolverhampton or Shrewsbury (the main connection points for this train). If you live in Aberystwyth (and i'm guessing the same applies for any other welsh town on the line) you'll often find somebody you know on the train and quite often in the waiting room when you've just missed a connection.
The staff are generally friendly and helpful and will provide information about connection times and platforms. They will sometimes coordinate the holding of other Arriva trains in Shrewsbury if your train is slightly late and you (and half the other passengers) are going to be taking that connection.
In recent years the trains have generally increased in size from almost always having 2 carriages to now having 4 between Birmingham and Machynlleth and then splitting with 2 going to Aberystwyth (more on this later). This has eased overcrowding but it can still be an issue at busy times.
Some of the problems are entirely there fault others are not. Much of the line is through very rural areas with few passing places and old track. However the trains all seem to be at least 20 years old, they are slow, not wonderfully comfortable and frequently overcrowded.
Catering is only from a small buffet cart which may or may not be present on any given journey. Get food before you board! if you find yourself stuck in Shrewsbury for 2 hours there is a nice pizza place opposite the station or the town centre is only 10 minutes walk and has several fast food outlets.
The trains to Aberystwyth (and I think some other Arriva Trains Wales services) split in half at some point and so getting in the right carriage helps. Typically 4 carriages run between Birmingham and Machynlleth where the train splits with 2 carriages going to Pwhelli and 2 going to Aberystwyth. In the past this split occured in Shrewsbury and half of the train would go to Chester and the other half to Aberystwyth. This can be confusing when boarding at Birmingham and to add to the confusion the train changes direction at Shrewsbury. Further confusion is usually created by last minute platform alterations at Birmingham New Street and Wolverhampton and the train often disappears from departure boards once its failed to arrive for its timetabled time. The result can often be a mad rush from one platform to another in order to find the train.
The trains between Aberystwyth and Birmingham typically do the route one way and then turn straight around and return. So the train arriving from Aberystywth will turn into the train to Aberystwyth if you are waiting in Birmingham. Turn arounds are supposed to be about 10 or 15 minutes on the timetable but delays of 10 or 20 minutes are standard so the turn around is often rushed. If the train is delayed further it will often terminate early at Shrewsbury or Wolverhampton leaving everyone who is waiting for it in Birmingham to find other services to Shrewsbury or Wolverhampton. This frequency happens without any announcement or with announcements only 10 minutes after it has happened (by which time you've missed the only train which could connect you). If this happens to you just aim to get to Shrewsbury and staff there should be able to help (its an Arriva Trains Wales run station) but they are often unaware of cancellations or large groups of people missing connections. At this point they will usually tell you to wait for the next train (if there is one) or organise taxi's and minibuses. I am yet to be dumped in Shrewsbury without them managing to arrange alternate travel, although at one point when I was traveling about once every month I did keep the addresses of some b&b's near the station on me just in case. If you get offered a choice of minibus or waiting two hours for a train you may find it better to wait 2 hours as the minibuses tend to have virtually no leg room and anyone who suffers from travel sickness may not fare too well on the windy welsh roads.
Overcrowding is still a frequent problem and Arriva occasionally pickup extra carriages in Machynlleth or Shrewsbury but its very hit and miss. They also seem to be taken by surprise whenever the university term at Aberystwyth begins and ends and 7000 students want to leave/arrive in Aberystwyth within 2 days. The university only publish dates of term 2 years in advance. The 5am service from Aberystwth to Birmingham also turns into a commuter service after shrewsbury and stops in extra stations and is usually packed way beyond capacity with people standing down the entire length of the train. The same can occur on the 4:30pm and 6:30pm services leaving Birmingham.