Response to G R Parkhouse

The letter below was sent to the North Devon Journal on 17 June 2012.

Contrary to GR Parkhouse’s assertion (Letters, June 14), someone from North Devon Public Transport Users was at the “Save Our Railway” public meeting on May 31. It was true, though, that Nick Harvey was not there. Neither, I believe, was there anyone from the District Council.

The latter is regrettable. The “McNulty Report”, the subject of the meeting, floats many ideas which, if taken up, will have serious consequences for local government, which could have to play a larger role in the management and financing of rail transport.

NDPTU takes this report and the Secretary of State for Transport’s Command paper, “Reforming our Railways: Putting the Customer First”, which followed it, seriously. A considered appraisal of their significance for northern Devon will appear on our soon-to-be-launched website.

There will be points on which we will agree with “Save our Railway” campaigners. They include concern about the possible closure of station ticket offices, reductions in station staff and the removal of conductors from trains.

There will be few who, faced with lengthy and complex rail journeys, do not appreciate how helpful staff at Barnstaple’s ticket office are, or how inadequate the machines that might replace them can be.

No one who has seen how supportive platform staff are when, for instance, a disabled person needs to travel, will say that we do not need them.

Nobody who witnessed, as I did recently, the deft way in which a conductor on a late-night Exeter–Barnstaple train dealt with a drunk who had set the fire alarms off will doubt the value of such staff. More people like that conductor are needed, not fewer.

Where our group will differ is in continuing to advocate the radical overhaul of the service on the Barnstaple line in order to give northern Devon the faster trains its large population needs. These will attract yet more passengers than now, making even more staff necessary.

At the same time, switch precious resources from lightly used stations, which absorb far more than their fair share, into bus services that can reach places and people far beyond the railway.

Above all, ensure that buses and trains work together. Integrated public transport, inclusive and of high quality, with each element doing what it does best, should be our true goal.

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