Problem buying SailRail ticket

Discussion in 'Fares Advice & Policy' started by 181, 2 Jul 2019.

  1. 181

    181 Member

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    I'm trying to buy a ticket from Didcot to Rosslare for this Friday, but so far without success.

    Loco2.com offers a SailRail standby ticket, but when I click 'add to basket' it says 'Sorry, we weren't able to confirm your booking.' Raileasy says 'no fares found' if I search for departure at 07.00; if I search at 08.00 it offers me a ticket for Friday night's boat. Virgin Trains shows tickets only for the night boat; Transport for Wales and Great Western don't offer Rosslare as a destination; and the Trainline a) only shows the night boat and b) says 'not available to buy' for that.

    If I search for Dublin instead, loco2.com doesn't find any tickets to either Dublin Ferryport or Dublin Port (Stena), and neither does Raileasy. Virgin does offer both Dublin routes (or indeed via Dublin to Rathdrum which is my actual destination), and lets me get at least partway through the booking process (I haven't tried completing the purchase as I'm not certain that I'll have to go that way).

    Has anyone else encountered a problem like this? Does anyone know what the problem is likely to be, and whether I'm likely to be able to buy a ticket from a station or whether there is something preventing such tickets being sold at all?

    A test booking to Rosslare for Thursday, or for later in the month, does work, so maybe it's just that the allocation of SailRail places on the boat has sold out for Friday, but my impression and experience was that that was very unusual (and it wouldn't explain why some sites offer Dublin tickets and some don't); has anyone else encountered it?
     
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  3. Flying Snail

    Flying Snail Member

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    It's likely due to no space allocations being available, it is an issue with all the routes as it requires the ferry operators to release the spaces before the rail booking system can sell them.

    Currently the regular ferry on the Fishguard route, Stena Europe is off getting major life-extension work done. The route is being served by Stena Nordica which has a much lower passenger capacity and has had problems earlier this year due to this so it is no surprise they have cut the sailrail allocations.

    Have you checked the Stena website? Direct bookings for foot passenger tickets are listed as sold out for the afternoon sailing right through July with one or two exceptions. Europe was due to be back by now but has been delayed, I would expect they will keep the lower allocations until it is confirmed when she will return.

    For the return trip try booking directly with Stena in Ireland by phone, their agents can add bookings where rail agencies cannot so there is a chance you can get a space otherwise unavailable.
     
  4. 181

    181 Member

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    Thankyou -- it's good to know that the lack of Fishguard tickets is a known and temporary problem rather than a mystery that might go on indefinitely.

    (The wider vagaries of what you can buy where seem, in my experience of 7 previous visits to Ireland since 2006, to be another matter -- SailRail tickets have never seemed to be as easily available one might expect, although I've almost always managed to find something suitable in the end. This time, in addition loco2.com not offering any Dublin tickets, I found that Virgin didn't offer any tickets from Cholsey for either early afternoon boat from Holyhead, although it did offer a night sailing; from Didcot, one station along the, line it offered Dublin via either ferry company; and from nearby Oxford it offered those plus Rathdrum, but the latter via Irish ferries only).

    I've now booked outward travel via Dublin using Virgin, and the return from Fishguard on Monday using loco2.com who were able to sell me that ticket (I just need to remember to collect it before I leave the UK).
     
  5. bkhtele

    bkhtele Member

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    Trainline via Stena site appear to be selling these tickets for a .80p fee. You should also be able to buy them at main railway stations. (At least the standby tickets which rarely have restrictions.)
    Various online apps are very variable as often the sailing/irish timetables appear not to be loaded into the system!
     
  6. 181

    181 Member

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    As mentioned above, for my outward journey I had to travel via Dublin because loco2.com was unable to sell me a ticket via Fishguard, presumably because of the lower-capacity ferry as described by Flying Snail (I ended up going via London as well due to the signalling problems north of Banbury -- I don't know whether a Didcot-Ireland SailRail ticket is normally valid that way, but I didn't have to pass a barrier at Paddington, I used Oyster to avoid any complications on the Underground, and although the ticket didn't work the barriers at Euston the gateline staff accepted it without question).

    On the way back, I encountered a more serious problem, which could have resulted in me and other people being stranded. Loco2.com had sold me a Rosslare-Didcot ticket (which I'd collected on my outward journey) without a problem, complete with one reservation coupon for the boat and the Fishguard-Cardiff train, and one for the train from Cardiff to Didcot (the reservation coupons themselves are undated, but they include the ticket number which also appears in small print at the bottom of the ticket). When I tried to check in at Rosslare, the people in front, who had bought their ticket from the Trainline, were being told that the boat was full and they couldn't board, but I had the impression that this was because they hadn't collected the ticket and just had a display on their phone; however, I was then also told that the boat was full and my reservation wasn't valid, although there was a chance that space might become available. Several other people were in the same position, although I don't know where they'd bought their tickets. Irish Ferries said that their sailing to Pembroke was also full for foot passengers, although space might be available once they knew how many people had checked in with the vehicles. Fortunately, a few minutes later (presumably once the Stena vehicle check-in was complete), the Stena staff said that space was available after all and I was given a boarding pass. I don't know whether anyone was left behind, although some people didn't emerge from the terminal to board the shuttle bus until about 5 minutes before sailing time, so they may have come close.

    Although I wasn't able to buy an outward ticket via Fishguard, hearsay evidence (in the form of an overheard conversation between another passenger and the lady behind the counter in the cafe in the terminal at Fishguard) suggests that there have been problems in the westbound direction too.

    It appears that the UK rail reservation system isn't communicating properly with the Stena system, and is issuing reservations of which Stena have no knowledge -- this could presumably apply to other routes, not just the Fishguard one. Alternatively it could just be that the Stena check-in staff are badly trained and don't recognise railway-issued reservations as applying to them (I do seem to remember that on a westbound journey via Fishguard some years ago they pushed away the reservation coupon that I'd put on the desk in front of them and checked me in as if I didn't have one). Either way, it's not clear to me whether it's a recent temporary problem, or a long-standing one that has only come to light because of the current reduced passenger capacity.

    If it's a staff training issue I can presumably draw it to Stena's attention. If it's a failure of one reservation system to communicate with another, this is more serious; does anyone know who I should take it up with?

    And does anyone know what rights (refund, alternative transport, accommodation and/or compensation), if any, I would have had if stranded? The next service via the same route would have got me to my destination more than 12 hours later (after 3 or 4 hours at Swansea station in the middle of the night); the last train to Dublin for several hours had just left, and although it appears that I could have got home the same day by getting a taxi to Wexford, a bus to Dublin and the afternoon Dublin Swift sailing to Holyhead, as I don't have a smartphone I wouldn't have been able to check that at the time; and I wouldn't know how to set about finding a (doubtless very expensive) last-minute flight. One would hope for quite generous arrangements in those circumstances, but on the other hand I wouldn't want to rock the boat (pun not intended) too much with SailRail tickets in case it made the train and ferry companies feel that they were too much trouble and should be abolished (especially on the lightly-used Fishguard route -- there was a healthy-sized crowd checking in for the two ferries at Holyhead on the way out).

    (My final gripe is that my Advance ticket insisted on the 7-minute dash, further reduced by slight lateness, from platform 0 to platform 1 at Cardiff, rather than the 6-minute same-platform change at Port Talbot, but that's presumably a quirk of UK advance ticketing rather than anything to do with SailRail, and compared with a 12+ hour delay, an extra 30 minutes at Cardiff wouldn't have been significant).

    Despite all this I mostly enjoyed my journeys, but the ticketing arrangements do have room for improvement.
     
  7. ForTheLoveOf

    ForTheLoveOf Established Member

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    Thanks for the update! Sounds like a somewhat worrying and frustrating journey but at least you made it.

    In terms of your rights if you had been denied travel on the ferry, since this is a CIV ticket you are entitled to the usual CIV protections - which are, broadly speaking, the same as NRCoT protections.

    Stena would have been under an obligation to provide you with overnight accommodation if they were unable to procure alternative transport. If you had been delayed you would also entitled to compensation, however the threshold for compensation is a longer length of delay than the normal compensation arrangements within Britain.

    As to the change location, journey planners are required to suggest an interchange at the 'higher priority' interchange station where there is the option of changing at different stations without affecting the journey time. Cardiff Central is shown as a "medium" interchange station in the industry data (see www.brtimes.com), so interchange must be suggested there rather than Port Talbot Parkway which is shown as a "small" interchange station. And whilst I suppose it would be possible for individual sites to develop this capability, there is no industry data indicating which changes are likely to be same or cross platform.
     
    Last edited: 10 Jul 2019
  8. Indigo2

    Indigo2 Established Member

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    I don't have any direct knowledge but I think it's highly unlikely something as sophisticated as you are describing exists. It's much more likely, I think, that someone at Stena tells someone at Transport for Wales rail what they want the quotas to be and the TfW person sets them accordingly in the rail reservation system. But that's all just a guess.
     
  9. 181

    181 Member

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    Thankyou for your sympathy and the rest of your reply. Fortunately I only had to worry for 10 or 15 minutes (plus a few minutes on the outward journey before I realised I had time to go via London, but missing the lunchtime boat from Holyhead would have been less inconvenient than being stranded in Rosslare).

    That sounds plausible. If your guess is right, then the sequence of events would have been something like:

    • Stena reduce the quota to a very low number.
    • Either they fail to inform TfW, or TfW get the message but fail to act on it, so SailRail reservations continue to be made in excess of the reduced quota.
    • Stena sell reservations either a) for all the remaining places on the boat, or b) for the rest of their internal foot passenger quota if there is one.
    • If a), not as many people turn up in vehicles as booked; if b) further foot passenger places become available at the last minute once all vehicle passengers are booked in.
    I think maybe I'll send the same letter/e-mail to both companies and see what they say.

    Given that the boat counts as a TfW service for the purposes of the railway booking system, it's odd that Rosslare doesn't come up as a destination on TfW's ticket-selling webpage (both versions of Dublin do, but no Irish railway stations).
     
  10. Flying Snail

    Flying Snail Member

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    I would expect that it is something along those lines as well. The ferry operators do not use the rail reservation system either at booking or passenger check-in, I do not believe they get any notification of actual tickets sold, the numbers of sail-rail passengers presenting for travel are unknown until boarding closes. Added to that it is pretty typical for people to show up and buy at the port minutes before travel, most of the times I travel I do this and have never been turned away yet.


    The shuffling around of allocations between vehicle and foot is something that happens, especially at busier summer times when large numbers of families in cars travel, they tend to keep the vehicle allocation both because they do not want to turn away this custom and also because delaying vehicle check-in to re-allocate capacity can quickly cause vehicle queues and delay departure.

    It is very unusual for the ferries on any of the Irish Sea short crossings to fill to passenger capacity, Dublin-Holyhead, particularly the swift sailings would be the biggest risk and in the summer if they are cancelled Ulysees can be pushed towards the high end but turning foot passengers away is very unusual. on Rosslare-Fishguard it is almost unheard of, the ship you were on, Stena Nordica was really designed for freight with a small passenger load and only has capacity for 400 passengers, the regular ship, Stena Europe carries 1400 people and actually has a smaller vehicle carrying capacity so you can imagine how many more people would have needed to show up to create any risk of being full when the service is running normally.

    If you want added assurance it is best to book directly with the ferry operators from Ireland on-line or by phone as they will issue you a booked place for the ferry crossing and provide the rail ticket at check-in. This is only possible for single or return trips originating in Ireland but there is nothing stopping a GB passenger booking one way tickets from either side and ensuring their ferry booking for the return leg by purchasing that ticket from the Irish side. It also has the advantage of effectively removing the "Advance" restrictions you get with GB rail issued sail-rail tickets but you will have no rail reservations unless you get a ticket office to manually issue them.

    None of that sort of thing surprises me, the accuracy of the data in the rail booking systems and how that is interpreted by the various booking engines is inconsistent at the best of times.

    Another thing to watch out for is dodgy connection times at Holyhead. Currently the default booked train for the 16.45 Swift sailing from Holyhead is the 16.14 TfW arrival, this gives 1 whole minute to get from train to ship check-in before the official closure time. I used this sailing last month and that was the rail connection the various booking engines provided. I had no intention of actually using this connection but people unfamiliar with the timings will not know it has no leeway and as it turned out that train was delayed and even though IF were not on time with check-in nobody from that train made the connection.
     
  11. paul1609

    paul1609 Established Member

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    Im not a regular user of sailrail but on my recent trip I think there were about 6 sailrail passengers on the outward journey and 2 of us on the return. This was Holyhead to Dublin. In Ireland there was absolutely no problem with acceptance but on the Galway line at least I got the impression from the friendly staff that they didn't see these tickets regularly. Has anybody been on a service recently with lots of sailrail customers?
     
  12. bkhtele

    bkhtele Member

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    During the summer & other peak occasions it can be busy. Otherwise a handful. The tickets are not well publicised. Also the fishguard Rosslare connections are getting worse.
     
  13. 181

    181 Member

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    I'm an occasional user (about every couple of years on average, usually in spring or summer), and my experience is also that numbers vary. Last Friday my rough estimate from the size of the queues was that maybe 150 or so people (divided between the two ferry companies) were checking in at Holyhead after the arrival of the train at 12.49. Boarding at Rosslare on Monday morning there were maybe 20 or so foot passengers, although I think not all boarded the train at Fishguard.

    SailRail tickets may be a rarer sight on the Irish Rail network than they otherwise would be because a) it can be difficult finding a booking site that sells tickets to destinations beyond Dublin, b) some people may want or need to break their journeys overnight in Dublin, and c) the ready availability of Irish Rail's web-only fares means that buying a separate ticket for the Irish leg of the journey makes little difference to the cost -- I think it was slightly cheaper for my journey last week. (Probably many SailRail pasengers are only going to Dublin anyway).

    I haven't followed things in detail, but my impression is that the latest change at Fishguard (a year or two ago) was a net improvement -- I would think that, as getting on and off trains and boats in the middle of the night is likely to be a minority interest, more people would benefit from the gain of a connection towards Dublin from the afternoon westbound boat than would suffer from the effective loss of the eastbound overnight journey to London. (Interestingly I see that Fishguard still has a train arriving and departing in the small hours at the time when the ferry used to run -- I can't imagine that it's very busy).
     
  14. bkhtele

    bkhtele Member

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    Ah, I havent tried the daytime sailings glad there are improvements. I was disappointed when they moved the station. Before you could walk off the ferry @ Rosslare on to the train. Now it is a 5/10 min walk ok if it is not raining.
    I did check the rail system yesterday & there is some availability next week but not every day.
     
  15. 181

    181 Member

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    I thought the Man in Seat 61 ought to know about this issue, so I sent him a brief e-mail; he said

    'Rail industry is allocated a set number of ship places to load onto it's own system, Stena cannot access or check these, but it's possible they told Transport for Wales Trains that the number needed to reduce and they didn't action that, so more people turned up than there were places, given it's July.'

    Given his background in the railway industry I presume he knows what he's talking about, so this supports the hypothesis put forward above.
     

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