Signage for a Modern Railway — Feedback

This article does us a service by pointing to the oddly disconnected signage on the approach to Barnstaple’s railway station. It should be compulsory reading for those who determine what signs go where.

Take that ‘steam engine’ sign. The article rightly shows its inappropriateness to the Exeter to Barnstaple line, which is part of the national rail network. It also sets it against a brown background, a device used throughout the country to indicate things of recreational significance. There is no allusion to the railway’s public transport function. Instead, the line is implicitly lumped in with things like the Lydford Gorge, Totnes Castle and even north Devon’s Gnome Reserve. All fine things, of course, but none has anything to do with the means people use to get from one place to another.

Such signs do not just grow overnight, like mushrooms in the grass. They are erected deliberately in chosen places and involve choices from publicly acknowledged coding systems. The good old former BR two-way arrows sign, white on a red background, whether free-standing as in the picture of the approach to Barnstaple station, or on a white background as on some of the directional signs illustrated, is accepted throughout the land to denote ‘public transport railway station’. The brown-backed signs, as noted, imply recreational sites.

That both coding systems are used in close proximity does more than clutter the urban landscape. It confuses the public (as the article asks, are the Exeter to Barnstaple railway and the Tarka Line the same thing, or two different entities?). It also reveals confusion in the minds of the planners. What do they regard as the primary function of the railway? A significant part of the public transport network or a recreational facility, promoted not least as a tourist attraction?

That the line is extensively marketed as ‘Tarka Line’ suggests that recreational and tourist factors are uppermost in the planners’ consciousness. Behind the planners are the local councils. Isn’t it time to abandon, not just the steam train signs, but the ‘Tarka Line’ illusion as well?

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