Signage for a Modern Railway

What sort of signage is appropriate to direct public transport users to the nearest railway station? The answer to the question depends on the type of railway.

Steam Railway signConsider the Dartmouth Steam Railway, which operates between Paignton and Kingswear in the Torbay area of south Devon. According to Wikipedia, this is a “heritage railway”, for which the Wikipedia definition is “a railway that is run as a tourist attraction, in some cases by volunteers, and which typically seeks to re-create or preserve railway scenes of the past”. As another local example, Wikipedia labels the South Devon Railway, operating from Totnes to Buckfastleigh, also as a “heritage railway”. For railways such as these, especially where the main motive power is steam-driven locomotives, it is wholly appropriate to use a sign similar to that shown here to direct the public to the stations on the railway.

However, the Barnstaple to Exeter line is not, at least by Wikipedia’s definition, a “heritage railway”. As can be seen from the facts and figures, its principal function is conveying passengers from the north of Devon, boarding mostly at Barnstaple station, towards Exeter (and in many cases beyond, although this is not shown in the accompanying figure).

So what sort of signage would be appropriate for this railway? It is our contention that any indication of steam power, with its romantic connotations of “railway scenes of the past”, is totally inappropriate for what should be a workaday portion of a modern 21st century railway that is part of the European network. Yet what do we find as we approach Barnstaple station by road? On the bridge across the river we encounter the following two signs, one behind the other:

Barnstaple station direction sign

The first, “national” sign appears suitable enough for part of the national rail network, although, perhaps as a sign of the times, it is noted that commercial interests ensure that the “Superstore” has a larger typeface than anything else on the sign. The second, “local” sign, however, shows the route to be taken for the Tarka Line, which, from the steam locomotive, is clearly a “heritage railway”. Are these two railway features one and the same? We cannot yet tell.

Tarka Line direction sign

When we reach the roundabout depicted in the previous two signs we find the following confirmation. The two signs having the same background sheet of metal may give some reassurance, although, on closer inspection, the Tarka Line sign appears to have been riveted on as an afterthought.

Barnstaple station and Tarka Line direction sign

There are no further signs in the intervening quarter of a mile. When we arrive at the station we see the familiar national sign, shown on the left of the next picture, but then — surprise! — there is absolutely no further signage whatsoever regarding the Tarka Line.

Barnstaple station approach showing only Network Rail sign

On the information board in the station entrance we can see that the local Train Operating Company is right up to date with a new “phone app” and, as a nod to the leisure visitor, there are walks to be had from the station, but where is the Tarka Line?

Barnstaple station information board

The message here is that, for the vast majority of users of this part of the British railway network, the brown Tarka Line signs are an anachronistic waste of money. They have no place here and simply add unnecessary clutter to the already excessive “street furniture”.

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