Full steam ahead for Welsh hospital park & ride

Glangwili Hospital works with heritage steam railway as faces Carmarthen P&R site closure

Rhodri Clark
10 May 2023
The Gwili Railway (Rhodri Clark)

 

A Welsh NHS board is finalising plans for hospital staff to park at a steam railway station as a long established park & ride service succumbs to funding shortages.

Glangwili Hospital is on the north western outskirts of Carmarthen. The PR1 park & ride bus service was designed to ease pressure on car parking at the hospital and reduce the number of cross-town car trips. Some motorists may opt to bypass the town centre by taking a longer route along the A40, but the AA Journey Planner recommends using the A4242 and A484 through the centre of the historic town of Carmarthen.

The PR1 service, operated by local business Morris Travel, departs every 30 minutes from a car park at the United Counties Showground in Nant-y-ci, west of the town. This is conveniently sited near the A40, the trunk road into Carmarthen from the hospital’s western catchment area.

The service is also by shoppers and others visiting the town centre, as well as Glangwili hospital staff, outpatients and visitors. Parking at Nant-y-ci is free and a day return ticket to the town centre or hospital costs £1, with free travel for holders of bus passes or accompanied children.

The park & ride will close on 16 June. Edward Thomas, Carmarthenshire County Council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “The cessation of the PR1 service was amongst a wide range of budget saving proposals put forward to our residents in January and we have also consulted with Hywel Dda University Health Board, who part fund the service.

“The decision to bring this service to an end is due to the significant financial pressures placed upon our council, and indeed all local authorities, the low number of passengers that utilise the service and the significant number of alternative bus services that will keep Nant-y-ci, the town centre and the hospital well connected.”

Andrew Carruthers, executive director of operations for Hywel Dda UHB, said: “Parking at Glangwili hospital continues to be a challenge for our patients, visitors and staff due to insufficient space on our site for the number of vehicles visiting the site. While the park & ride facilities have been in place for some time, we are aware that the passenger numbers are very low and understand the council’s need to make these changes.

“We would like to reassure members of our community that improving parking facilities and access to the hospital continues to be a priority for the health board. We are working with Gwili Railway to finalise plans for their site that will enable staff to access 144 parking spaces, relieving the significant pressure on the hospital site during peak visitor times.

“We are also working on plans that will provide an additional 50 parking bays at Glangwili as part of the women and children’s centre development that will be completed during the summer.”

The Gwili Railway is a volunteer-led visitor attraction which offers trips on vintage steam and diesel trains along part of the former railway from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth. The car park at its southern terminus adjoins the northern end of the Glangwili Hospital site. Its main operating days from spring to autumn are Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Currently the PR1 service is used by an average of 4.3 passengers per vehicle trip. This is a low number in comparison with city park & ride buses, but the PR1 operates in a rural area. As with any bus service, there are peaks and troughs in demand during the day. Vehicle trips to Nant-y-ci in the morning may be empty or nearly empty but are unavoidable because the bus has to return to the park & ride site to collect passengers travelling to the town centre and hospital. The same may also apply in reverse in the evening. Each empty or nearly empty trip would affect the service’s average loading figure, masking the loadings on the busiest trips of the day.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, some staff at Glangwili hospital said they were unable to use the park & ride service because it did not operate when their shifts began or ended. The bus runs on Mondays to Fridays only, from 7.30am to 6.25pm. In February 2020 a second service, the PR2, was added to provide a half-hourly service in the evenings, with the last bus leaving the hospital at 9.45pm. It also provided an earlier journey from Nant-y-ci to the hospital, before the PR1 started its operating day.

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