Exeter–Barnstaple Rail Service
NDPTU’s Proposal for Radical Change

Barnstaple station accounts for more than 70% of the usage of the entire Exeter–Barnstaple line (see Figure 1). This is because it serves as the railhead for a population of over 100,000, contrasting with the rural area between northern Devon and Exeter (see Table 1), but the trains are slow and frequently overcrowded.

To avoid their disadvantages, people who need to gain access to the main line for onward travel must drive to Tiverton Parkway. They do this in substantial numbers. Others, probably in even greater numbers, elect not to use rail at all. It is likely that these problems account for the fact that usage of the line has increased by just 61% over the past 15 years (see Table 3), while rail travel over the country as a whole is widely reported to have doubled.

We believe there is a simple, efficient and quick way to improve journey times and make far better use of trains and carriages, thus addressing both problems. This could be done on the existing track. At present, an hourly service operates for part of the day, but because the trains take over an hour to traverse the (mostly single track) line between Exeter St Davids and Barnstaple, this requires 3 trains on the line and two passing places per journey. Our proposals would reduce the journey time to under one hour — we believe 55 minutes is possible now — and with the infrastructure improvements and line speed enhancements currently underway and anticipated in the near future this could drop to 50 minutes.

An hourly service could operate using just two trains on the line, with just the one passing place at Eggesford, which is approximately half way. However, there would need to be fewer stops than at present. Each stop adds to the journey time. It makes no difference if it is a request stop, as the timetable must allow for these stops to be used. We propose a regular hourly service with trains calling at just three evenly spaced intermediate stops: Umberleigh, Eggesford and Crediton. These would be developed as local railhead stations with good access, car parking and connecting bus services.

Below is a two-hour fragment of an illustrative timetable showing how a fast limited stop service would work, giving Barnstaple – Exeter St Davids a 55-minutes hourly service throughout the day, with journey times to Exeter Central of 60 minutes. Wessex Trains proposed such a service some 10 years ago (see presentation). They were prevented from implementing it by local insistence on the retention of the full quota of intermediate station stops. This made the much needed improvements in the service overall impossible to achieve.

Barnstaple, dep. 07:02:00   Exeter Central, dep. 06:55:00
Umberleigh, arr. 07:12:00   Exeter St Davids, arr. 06:58:00
Umberleigh, dep. 07:13:00   Exeter St Davids, dep. 07:00:00
Eggesford, arr. 07:28:00   Crediton, arr. 07:09:30
Eggesford, dep. 07:29:00   Crediton, dep. 07:10:00
Crediton, arr. 07:46:00   Eggesford, arr. 07:27:00
Crediton, dep. 07:47:00   Eggesford, dep. 07:30:00
Exeter St Davids, arr. 07:57:00   Umberleigh, arr. 07:44:30
Exeter St Davids, dep. 07:59:00   Umberleigh, dep. 07:45:30
Exeter Central, arr. 08:02:00   Barnstaple, arr. 07:55:00
  Barnstaple, dep. 08:02:00
EXETER to BARNSTAPLE   Umberleigh, arr. 08:12:00
Exeter Central, dep. 07:55:00   Umberleigh, dep. 08:13:00
Exeter St Davids, arr. 07:58:00   Eggesford, arr. 08:28:00
Exeter St Davids, dep. 08:00:00   Eggesford, dep. 08:29:00
Crediton, arr. 08:09:30   Crediton, arr. 08:46:00
Crediton, dep. 08:10:00   Crediton, dep. 08:47:00
Eggesford, arr. 08:27:00   Exeter St Davids, arr. 08:57:00
Eggesford, dep. 08:30:00   Exeter St Davids, dep. 09:00:00
Umberleigh, arr. 08:44:30   Exeter Central, arr. 09:02:00
Umberleigh, dep. 08:45:30  
Barnstaple, arr. 08:55:00  
Barnstaple, dep. 09:02:00  

In drafting this we have taken into account the distances beween the stations, current linespeed limitations, data from current and previous timetables and empirical recordings of current journey times. It does not take into account any recent or planned linespeed upgrades, so the journey times could well be further reduced.

The diagram below is based on usual railway practice in planning timetables. In this case, it shows a standard hourly pattern of trains which is repeated hour after hour throughout the day. Hence its title: “Exeter-Barnstaple Standard Hour Diagram”. We show it for just two hours to show the principle. On it, each colour represents one train, showing departure, arrival and station dwell times. It also shows where trains pass each other in opposite directions. For clarity the station departure and arrival times are shown for only the first train in each direction. We leave open the question of where the trains go beyond Exeter Central; it could be to Exmouth or to Axminster.

Figure 2 : Exeter–Barnstaple Standard Hour Diagram

Please note these proposals are derived from our own research. We would welcome any comments, observations or constructive criticism.

What about the other eight stops currently in use? Their use is very small (see Table 2). We hold that the small numbers of users would be better served by connecting buses, which would deliver them to the nearest railhead. This would entail short bus journeys, which is how many public transport users start or end their journeys, and the bus would run closer to home than the existing train stations for most people. Public transport in the rural areas would be improved, not disadvantaged.

The potential cost saving of one train in operation is very significant in itself. But we don’t argue for this primarily on cost grounds. The faster journeys would attract many more users, particularly at Barnstaple, which is the railhead serving over 100,000 people. The carriages saved could be used to lengthen the trains, thus relieving overcrowding and providing for growth in usage. This would result in both significantly lower operating costs and significantly more fare revenue, requiring far less subsidy.

The subsidy reduction would more than pay for an improved bus service in the area that the Exeter–Barnstaple rail line serves. These savings could be spread out much further to improve rural bus services across all of north and mid-Devon.

Suggested Improvement of Bus Service: Exeter–Crediton–Chulmleigh

We now offer for public consideration a suggestion to enhance public transport in part of the catchment area served by the rail line, in this case for the area between Crediton and Chulmleigh. It would replace the train stops at Copplestone, Morchard Road and Lapford while improving an existing bus service and providing coordination between bus and rail services. We believe this would greatly improve access to convenient and efficient public transport for a great many more people than either the current rail or bus services do.

Figure 3 below shows how buses run currently (using data from the May 2013 timetable) between Chulmleigh and Exeter; as can be seen, the service is non-standard against the clock.

Figure 3 : Chulmleigh–Exeter Bus 377 Diagram as at Present

Figure 4 shows how the service could be run with standard departures at the same number of minutes past each hour, using an additional bus which could be more than paid for from the savings from running a third train on the rail line. (For clarity the minutes past each hour are shown only for the first Chulmleigh-Exeter-Chulmleigh cycle of the first bus.)

Figure 4 : Chulmleigh–Exeter Bus 377 Diagram as Proposed

From Figure 4 and the table above it can be seen that, with this scheme, Crediton Railway Station becomes the exchange point between buses and trains, with buses timed to arrive at the station just before each train and to leave after its departure. Buses from Chulmleigh would connect with Exeter-bound trains while buses to Chulmleigh would connect with Barnstaple-bound trains. We advocate the introduction of through ticketing, by which people joining buses from Chulmleigh onwards could purchase through tickets to Exeter, with due allowance for discounting for off-peak travel and the use of railcards; similarly for the reverse direction. Buses would continue to call at Crediton High Street one minute before the railway station when travelling towards Exeter and one minute after the railway station when travelling towards Chulmleigh. The bus service is shown as running regularly between 07:00 and 20:00 but the actual duration of daily operation would be determined through local government. Although the proposed service loses the link between three of the buses and the RD&E Hospital, its regularity and frequency should allow easy connections with the hospital buses in Exeter.

The following table shows how Figures 2 and 4 fit together to produce a combined bus/train journey between Chulmleigh and Exeter Central for a typical passenger (changing between bus and train at Crediton Station), reducing the overall journey time by almost 15 minutes each way compared with the bus alone. This exemplifies perfectly the central tenet of North Devon Public Transport Users, namely, to provide better integrated, more efficient, regular public transport for more people at lower overall cost to the community as a whole in terms of the financial support required.

Chulmleigh, dep. 07:58 (Bus)   Exeter Central, dep. 17:55 (Train)
Crediton Rail Stn., arr. 08:43   Crediton Rail Stn., arr. 18:09
Crediton Rail Stn., dep. 08:47 (Train)   Crediton Rail Stn., dep. 18:12 (Bus)
Exeter Central, arr. 09:02   Chulmleigh, arr. 18:55

The timings of the trains and the buses in Figures 2 and 4 are for illustrative purposes only. Provided that the basic relationships are held constant, they could be shifted to any point within the hour, e.g. to improve connection times with trains at Exeter St Davids. This provides an illustration of the Taktfahrplan principle explained elsewhere on the website.

We believe that this proposal, though just one of a number of possible proposals, offers a valuable, worthwhile and cost-effective improvement for public transport in the wider area currently served by the Exeter–Barnstaple railway line and we invite comment and discussion.

Back | Forward