Letter to the North Devon Journal

The letter below relates to an article under the headline, “Campaign to miss out stations on Tarka Line meets MP’s opposition”, which appeared in the North Devon Journal of 7 June 2012. Accompanied by a photograph taken at Copplestone station of four Mid Devon Councillors and Central Devon MP Mel Stride carrying a large “Don’t stop our Tarka stops” poster, it said that the MP had presented a petition, signed by 470 people, against the closure of smaller stations to Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening. In a letter to the secretary of state, the MP had claimed that the services provided by the stations were vital to communities within his constituency, particularly in areas lacking other forms of public transport.

So, Mid Devon Councillors and MP Mel Stride have presented a petition objecting to a proposal for reducing the number of intermediate stations on the Exeter–Barnstaple line (NDJ, 7 June, page 14). Your article portrays this as a blow to North Devon Public Transport Users, which sees this cull as vital to a radical overhaul of the rail service aimed at substantially shortening journey times (to about 50 minutes, not 45 as stated) for the majority of its passengers.

Far from regarding it as a blow, NDPTU welcomes it, for it spurs us to set out a few inconvenient truths. They relate to Mr Stride’s assertion that the stations are vital to communities within his constituency, “particularly in areas that lack other forms of transport.” Let’s test this by looking at two examples typical of Mid Devon, Lapford and Copplestone.

In 2010–2011, Lapford attracted 2,374 passengers[1]. This might look like a lot. In fact, it was about seven a day on average. With eight trains a day, this was about one passenger per train, or four in each direction.

Copplestone, where the councillors were photographed, had 10,024 passengers[1], making it one of Mid Devon’s busiest. That is well under 30 passengers per day, or about 15 in each direction. Every train is booked to stop there if needed; 28 daily (but fewer on Sundays). On average, barely more than one passenger per train.

Lapford’s population in 2001 was 991. Copplestone’s was 894. Recent building has raised it, perhaps to 2000. One station, then, with four passengers a day making journeys out and back; another with about 15. This hardly suggests communities to which the rail service is vital.

However, we must agree on one thing with Mr Stride. There are communities with no public transport. But they do not include Copplestone and Lapford, which, other than on Sundays and in the late evenings, have a frequent bus service.

They deserve better. As bus subsidies are reduced or removed altogether, their numbers grow. NDPTU endorses the principle of subsidising public transport. But rail is the most expensive of its forms. Support for it should be focused on what it does best: rapid transport for large numbers.

That is one reason for concentrating the rail service on four railheads which carry 90% of the line’s passengers: Barnstaple, Umberleigh, Eggesford and Crediton. The substantial savings this would entail could then be used to support and extend the rural bus network.

[The following paragraph was included at the end of the letter but was not published.]

Some of this could be linked to the trains at the railheads. Services to places losing their stations could even be enhanced. We could have an integrated public transport network, serving more people, better. That would be worth petitioning for.

John Gulliver (on behalf of NDPTU)

NDJ 7 June 2012 Copplestone221

[1] See passenger usage figures for 2010–2011.


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