The Barnstaple–Exeter rail link has been hit hard, twice over. The first blow is a consequence of necessary work by Network Rail to relay several miles of its track. This is an operation we must all be pleased about. When finished, we can be certain of a smoother ride. It will also make a faster service possible, in the near future, even if not immediately.
In the meantime, First Great Western’s sterling efforts to provide alternative means of transport must be applauded. So, too, must be the support given to passengers by FGW’s staff, particularly at Barnstaple itself.
The weather has struck the other. Like our roads, railway lines in Devon have been hit by flooding. The Barnstaple line has been badly affected, especially where it joins the main line at Cowley Bridge. One can only applaud the work of Network Rail to repair the damage. One must also acknowledge that the rains which have generated the floods have made the task of track renewal harder and be patient if its completion takes longer than expected.
Thirteen years ago, the line was similarly hit by flooding. Then, no trains ran at its Barnstaple end for many weeks on end. Even this was but the culmination of successive winters of floods. The line lost a third of its passengers. It took a good six years to regain them.
Since then, as on other lines, passenger numbers have increased greatly. Moreover, heavy engineering work done at the time has obviated further flooding at the line’s northern end. Now we must hope that the present disruption of service will not last much longer and that the line will emerge stronger than ever. Once that happens, we can all return to the most urgent question: what kind of service do we want it to offer?
John Gulliver (on behalf of NDPTU)
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