Local by Rail

Sugar Loaf Station on the Heart of Wales Line

What if

It’s June in the year 2020 and you are standing on a Railway Station early in the morning. You are dressed for work and heading for Swansea, and you have purchased a Heart-of-Wales-Line- Saver online, so you have ticket in hand, jacket over one shoulder, and the birds are singing. Also it’s not raining.

Just beyond the platform, the Local By Rail Hub is opening up. Operated from a building reminiscent of the old GWR wagons, the hub acts as a distribution point for local produce. Local by Rail staff manage and receive orders and then re-distribute freshly gathered and prepared food to chefs, hoteliers etc.

The 8.15 into Swansea draws into the station and comes to a stop. Behind two smart passenger carriages is a guard van. A man in his twenties, wearing a “Local by Rail ” tee shirt and pushing a large trolley open up the door. Inside – lamb shanks from Builth Wells, strawberries from Craven Arms, apple juice and pear schnapps from Knighton, stone baked pizza from Llangybie and gourmet cheese from Llandysul. Crates labeled for different restaurant chefs and hoteliers are neatly transferred to the trolley. The door is closed again.

You board the train in one of the clean and airy passenger carriages and take a seat. The familiar whistle sounds and the train pulls out of the station.

You arrive by train into Swansea at 8.15 am – time to grab a coffee along by the Waterfront before your first meeting. A text message from your boss – “Stuck in traffic. Please send apologies”


Later, on Shrewsbury station

Your old mum and dad are on their way back home after a few days holiday.   They’re waiting for a train with all their suitcases and paraphernalia and your mum listens carefully to the announcement in Welsh and also in English whilst your dad grapples with the suitcases and drops his smart phone:

The next train to arrive at Platform 4a will be the 10.45 from Crewe, travelling from here along the Heart of Wales Line, stopping at Church Stretton, Craven Arms, Hopton Heath, Bucknell, Knighton, Knucklas … the microphone crackles loudly … passengers wishing to visit the Elan Valley Dams should leave the train at Builth Road where they can hire an electric bike for the last leg of the journey.

Passengers are also advised to tap old mud from their walking boots before boarding the train.

For passengers wishing to bring mobility scooters on the train please use the cycle carriage. This facility is located between the second carriage and the buffet.

The buffet on this train is run by third year students on a Powys catering course. This award winning service has been especially popular and the home-made “Breakfasts-by-Rail” are delicious.


Weekend Special

On your way home, you pick up a leaflet from Swansea station about the Local by Rail Weekend Special. You think it would be perfect for your Cousin Elise and her friends who are coming over from the US for a month and you haven’t a clue what to do with them.

There are different options and this one sounds good – travel on the first day from Swansea along the line to the Local by Rail Hub, catch a hydrogen fuel-cell powered local network taxi to the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, stopping off at Wright’s Emporium for an extraordinarily good lunch not to mention the cakes. Back on the train and a short journey to Llandovery. Evening meal and stay over at “The Level Crossing” which is a posh bunkhouse.

Take a ride in the acclaimed “viewing carriage” with floor to ceiling windows which make for great viewing, especially across Cynghordy Viaduct. Arrive at Llanwrtyd Wells with an option to try out bog snorkeling or explore Wales’ “smallest town” before cycling back to Llandovery on electric bikes and catching the last train back to Swansea. Final meal at swanky hotel and inclusive overnight stay in rooms overlooking Swansea Bay.

Perfect for your visitors. You book it.

Just as you pull into your station a helpful announcement

“This train will stop at Sugar Loaf Halt. For passengers leaving the train at Sugar Loaf please remember that the new compost toilets at the station still don’t have locks on the doors. The Train Company apologises for any inconvenience that this may cause.”


You arrive home, tired and hungry. You have received a text message from B, who was supposed to be cooking a special dinner for you.

“Stuck in traffic. Please buy chips”

Written by Rachel Francis. First published in Broad Sheep Magazine. June 2015


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