Bus – rail integration: Montpelier to Chepstow

Chepstow Bus Station, with Yutong E12 Electric Bus from Bristol

How easy is it to make a journey combining train and bus services? Tim Weekes takes a trip from Montpelier to Chepstow by train and bus, to see how bus – rail integration can work.

Clifton Down: A transport hub

As you approach Clifton Down station by train these days, the onboard announcement tells you that you can change here for a wide range of destinations by bus. This is no exaggeration. Local services to Cribbs Causeway, Stoke Bishop, The Centre, Broom Hill and Stockwood call here. You can also catch the National Express coach service to London Victoria, the Bath Bus Company’s ‘Tootbus’ open top tour of Bristol, and the Newport Bus service T7 to Chepstow.

A few years ago I travelled by train from Montpelier to Chepstow, a journey of less than 30km. The connection times were very poor and included a very long wait at Severn Tunnel Junction. Things have improved since then, with better service frequency on the Severn Beach line. But the best journey time is still around 1 hour 45 minutes.

This time I would take the train to Clifton Down and then catch a bus from there to Chepstow.

Newport Bus service T7 provides an hourly service through the day from Clifton Down station to Chepstow. The first two services fail to connect well with Severn Beach line trains, but from 10.00 onwards you have 12 minutes to get from the station to the bus stop on Whiteladies Road. Clifton Down Station has poor accessibility, but for an able-bodied person this is a reasonable connection.

Confusion at the bus stop

Although the bus stop had extensive information about the services calling there, a group of people who were unfamiliar with the area were struggling to understand it. The real time tracking display only showed local services. This led them to believe our bus (which was a few minutes late) had been cancelled. I was able to find it on the Newport Bus tracker on my phone, but by then they had given up and gone.

Bus stop information at Clifton Down Station
Bus stop information at Clifton Down Station

I was pleased to see the bus stop showed directions to Clifton Down train station. Then I realised that the arrow was directing people away from the station! FoSBR has reported this to local councillors, who will try to get it corrected.

The T7 bus when it arrived was a Yutong E12 fully-electric vehicle. The ride was remarkably smooth, quiet and free from vibration. There were about 20 passengers on board. After a call at Cribbs Causeway Bus Station, we took to the M5 and M48, arriving in Chepstow on time at 10.53. My total journey time from Montpelier to Chepstow was just under one hour.

On board Newport Bus service T7 to Chepstow
On board Newport Bus service T7 to Chepstow

This journey shows how when trains and buses work together they can provide a really useful service. There is no easy way to provide a quick or direct train service from Bristol to Chepstow, but the T7 bus service does a good job of filling the gap.

Room for improvement

Is there room for improvement? Yes!

  • Ideally, all services calling at a stop should show up on the real time information screen. If services can’t be shown, it should be made very clear that this is the case.
  • It is hard to understand how a sign can be put up that directs people away from a station instead of towards it!
  • Chepstow bus station is on the opposite side of town to the train station, 10 minutes walk away.
  • Clifton Down Station needs to be made more accessible. This is one of the busier stations in the West of England, but wheelchair access is poor.

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