Costs of Running Trains on the Exeter–Barnstaple Line

Broadly speaking, except on Sundays, two kinds of service operate on the Exeter–Barnstaple line:

Using figures taken from a report commissioned by Cambridgeshire County Council on the possible development of train services in the March–Wisbech area, North Devon Public Transport Users has estimated the cost of the hourly operation in the middle part of each day. It has also estimated the cost of an alternative operation, still running at hourly intervals, but serving just three of the intermediate stations (Crediton, Eggesford, Umberleigh), with greatly reduced journey times between Exeter and Barnstaple. This alternative service would, we believe, require just two train sets to operate it, with a consequent reduction in costs.

In round terms, we give the figures for the two kinds of service below:

Total annual service cost for 2-train operation £2,500,000
Total annual service cost for 3-train operation £3,000,000
Cost difference £500,000

Please note that our figures do not take into account the costs of the early morning and evening services or the costs of maintaining stations. Nonetheless, we can draw the following conclusions:

  1. Running that third train to serve Morchard Road, Copplestone and Yeoford stations for part of each day for six days each week costs somewhere between £400K and £500K per year, or between £1,300 and £1,650 per day.
  2. This is for a total of about 60 passengers each way per day on average.
  3. Since most passengers will be using carnets or railcards of one kind or another, the average fare per journey is unlikely to be more than about £2.50. This means a total revenue from the farebox for these three stations of about £300 per day.
  4. The cost of provision of the 3-train service is about five times as great as the fares paid by the users for whom the third train is necessary.

These calculations do not allow for the fact that a substantial proportion of the passengers using Morchard Road, Copplestone and Yeoford stations travel up to Exeter on the first train each day, i.e. the ‘morning commuter’, which is part of the 2-train operation. On 21st March 2013, for example, a total of 18 boarded at these three stations. In so far as this was a typical day, it implies that the use of the 3-train operation is even lower than assumed above. It also implies that the ratio of revenue to costs is even less favourable than noted above.

Note that the cost of the additional train is not the only subsidy that the few users of the minor stations receive; the line as a whole is heavily subsidised and this is an additional subsidy. See also the article “More Figures – Now Let’s Have the Facts”, which covers the wider points.

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