Your article on the future of train services (Journal 10th July) gives the impression that both the Tarka Rail Association (TRA) and Cllr Greenslade, leader of North Devon Council, have been campaigning for faster trains to connect Barnstaple with Exeter, and that “the greatest frustration was persuading Network Rail to increase speed limits”.
The situation is far from being that straightforward however. Cllr Greenslade has been a participant in the “Devon Metro” proposal — a plan for local rail services in the Exeter region — which settles for a journey time of 75 minutes – even slower than today! Presumably he has relied on the “railway experts” in the TRA, which his Council called in for advice. The TRA has itself put forward a £multi-million plan for extra passing loops. This would enable stopping trains to follow fast services hourly. Effectively this would speed up the service, but entail providing an extra train just to serve a few lightly used halts, mainly in mid-Devon.
The cost implications of the TRA plan are glossed over. They suggest that they could be funded from developer contributions, which would be mainly levied in northern Devon where the major new housing is planned. So what we have is a very expensive proposal to continue to serve minor halts, used by barely more than one person per train service. A well-used fast train followed by one which would carry barely more than a taxi load. To be paid for by North Devon, which is itself currently lacking in some very basic public transport requirements, such as bus shelters.
Cllr Greenslade was no doubt sent a copy of the TRA strategy paper. Perhaps he failed to notice the glaring errors of facts and statistics in it. The real “railway experts” — the planners at Network Rail — will have noticed the errors and the lack of a business case. They can hardly be blamed for being less than enthusiastic to invest in faster line speeds when a 55 minute journey is already possible but for the numerous little-used stops.
North Devon Public Transport Users has put forward another plan — details on ndptu.org.uk: provide an hourly fast service using existing infrastructure and rolling stock, calling only at three intermediates, while serving the minor halts with an improved bus service feeding into the train service at Crediton.
This would greatly improve rail connectivity in northern Devon, take cars off the link road, increase rail usage and fare revenue, while saving enough money to invest in better bus services and provide a real business case for line speed upgrades and modern rolling stock.
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