What 'cattle truck' Bath-Bristol commuter trains are really like as passengers call GWR a 'disgrace'
Train passengers in Bath have said the commuter services to Bristol and back are a “total disgrace”. Several commuters have raised issues around cleanliness and lateness. When we took a typical Bristol-Bath journey ourselves one issue came up again and again with our fellow passengers, though – overcrowding.
Asked what people wanted to improve the experience of getting to and from work every day, most said more carriages. But the train operator insists it is providing more seats than ever before. Here’s what commuters told us about their daily grind.
‘The issue is overcrowding – the train becomes a cattle truck’
Chris Hornby, who has been commuting from Oldfield Park to Clifton Down via Temple Meads for five years, said the services are usually busy.
He said: “Services are generally overcrowded, especially on the return back to Bath. Weymouth trains never have enough carriages. “New timetable changes have added needless 30 minute waiting times for trains up to Clifton in the morning.
You get a varied standard of carriage and cleanliness.
He added: “Personally, don’t see why they can’t either increase the number of carriages around peak times or consider specific services between say Abbey Wood/Parkway to Bath/Trowbridge during peak commuter times. “It would make a big difference to people’s lives with such small changes.” Another man, who wished to remain anonymous, also gave us a typical complaint about the train journeys between Bath and Bristol, and vice versa.
It’s one which came up repeatedly. He said: “I usually get the 8.10am GWR train from Bath to Bristol which is supposed to arrive by 8.28am. “Punctuality isn’t usually an issue.
It’s often a couple of minutes late which I can live with. “The issue is overcrowding. When I get on at Bath I’m usually standing and, if not, then others are.
“The next stop is Oldfield Park where the train is inundated with passengers.”
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Services are so busy that aisles are also congested, the passenger added. He said: “The aisle between the seats is full and so is the area by the doors. “The next stop is Keynsham which is where the train becomes a cattle truck.
“Quite often there is simply not enough room for everyone to board. “On occasions we’re told at Bath that the train won’t stop at Oldfield Park or Keynsham because there is no room for anybody else to get on. “The train is three carriages when it should be at least four but ideally five.
“We were told that the GWR changes on December 15 would lead to bigger trains but I have seen no evidence of this. “On the return journey in the evening if I get the 6pm Paddington train then punctuality and overcrowding is not an issue. “If I finish earlier and catch the 5.45pm then overcrowding is an issue once again.
“People are crushed against the doors and we’re often told not to try to board for safety reasons. Again, this is a three-carriage train when it should be at least four.”
Are some Bristol-Bath trains better than others? And why not just drive?
Our angry man’s tip about getting a Paddington train was also shared by others.
Lucy Brennan, another commuter who has been doing the journey for nearly 20 years, said: “The London trains are good. “The small local ones are better than they used to be, but still often overcrowded, dirty and unreliable. “If you can, the best thing is to go in just after 9am, when everything is better.
“My main gripe is that they’re nearly always overheated and dirty.”
Bath Spa is often extremely busy at commuting times, with many heading for Bristol
Jackie Claverton pointed out the real consequences train delays could have and argued the poor service made people more likely to jump in the car. She said: “My daughter was late for an interview in Bristol this week. Not impressive.
“The office manager sympathised though: ‘We all know the trains are a nightmare!’ “She missed the 11.24am by a whisker because the university bus was late and the next train was delayed by 19 minutes, so an easy journey to Cabot Circus for noon turned out not to be. “And people wonder why we drive cars in Bath!”
Twitter user @crae1563, who has been doing the journey on and off for seven years, also said the trains forced them to drive. They said: “It’s a total disgrace. Overpriced, late and overcrowded.
“Most of the time I drive as it’s too expensive and I don’t particularly like standing.” Clearly with the climate crisis increasingly talked about – and plans afoot to introduce a clean air zone in Bath – many of us would rather not use the car if we can help it, however.
Plan for a clean air zone in Bath
And when your commute is doable by train, at least in theory, shouldn’t it be the most logical way to travel every day? One passenger at least, Twitter [email protected], had no overcrowding gripes and didn’t turn to driving, though.
He said: “It’s expensive but very reliable in my experience over the past 12 months.” He had not considered any other options as the trains are “superior”, he added.
What we found on a typical Bristol-Bath journey
As journalist for Bath Live, I often take the train into Bath from Bristol myself. On January 22 I took the 5.11pm Gloucester train which was passing through Bristol Temple Meads.
The train was delayed by seven minutes and arrived at 5.18pm to a packed station. The three coaches were immediately rammed and people were left squashed in the aisle. A group of four colleagues happened to be talking about the crush when I came in – they said they find the service a constant battle.
One said: “It’s just so expensive to do this every day and it’s constantly packed. There needs to be more carriages. “It has definitely got worse over the years.
It is madness to only have three carriages on at once. “It’s always as crowded as it is now and it’s worse for people trying to get on after Bath – they often just can’t get on.”
A Great Western Railway train in Bath (Image: Paul Gillis/ paulgillisphoto.com)
A 12 month season ticket between Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads will cost you GBP1,736 with the average journey price being GBP4.34. A day return at peak times could cost as much as GBP9.40 for what is a 15 minute journey.
The group I spoke to – who had each been commuting for five, three and two years respectively – said they had no other options but to take the extremely busy service. One said: “The traffic would be too horrendous to try and get into Bath and it’s not as green if we all drove – I don’t want to drive, but they definitely need to supply more carriages. “They know that Bath to Bristol is the most busy but don’t have more services.”
Get traffic updates near you with In Your Area – In Your Area – enter your postcode in our widget below. Ben Alcok added that his regular commute between Oldfield Park and Bristol had once left him so frustrated he wrote a poem about it. He added that they have “not been too bad recently”.
Mr Alcock said: “Late 2018 I can remember trains getting cancelled and I had to catch a train back to Bath Spa and then to Bristol. “I even wrote a poem about it – I was that frustrated! “Every now and then the train can be 5-10 minutes late in the morning at 8.50am and evenings around 5.50pm.”
What do you think? Email email@example.com with your thoughts on this, as well as pictures and information about other Bath stories.
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What Great Western Railway say
Despite the complaints of people we spoke to – particularly about overcrowding on small trains – the train company insists it has increased the number of seats available.
A spokeswoman for Great Western Railway said: “There has been no reduction in service at all – actually, far from it, we are providing significantly more trains and carriages than we have ever done before.”
She said a new fleet of trains had recently been introduced and described the launch of a new timetable, on December 15 last year, as ‘successful’.
The spokeswoman added: “We are now providing more than 7,000 additional seats between Bath and Bristol every weekday compared to before the arrival of new trains; as well as increasing a number of the three-carriage trains (Portsmouth to Cardiff services) to five carriages.”
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