Council asked to support new pleas for a direct London train on the Tarka Line

Efforts to get a direct train link from Barnstaple to London will roll on ahead tomorrow (Wednesday) despite a tepid response from rail operators.

A motion by Councillor Ian Roome to a full meeting of North Devon Council will call for support for a daily through Tarka Line service that would cut out the need for commuters to travel to Tiverton or Taunton.

The line is run by Great Western Railway (formerly First Great Western) but there have been some suggestions South West Trains – part of the Stagecoach Group –would be interested in adding the new service if a deal could be struck.

Mr Roome will urge the council to back the scheme and tell train operators it supports the idea.

“A 7am train from Barnstaple to London would be fantastic for the local economy and for tourism,” he said.

“Sometimes we are out on a limb here with the rail network so a direct link to the capital would be a real bonus.”

But the operators were less forthcoming – GWR told the Gazette it was not keen and SWT said potential extensions or amendments to franchises would be a matter for the Department for Transport to decide.

‘Can only be good news’

Barnstaple county councillor Brian Greenslade is keen to see a straight through London service on the Tarka Line and said he had become that aware South West Trains (SWT) was interested in developing it in partnership with current franchise holder Great Western Railway.

He said SWT (part of Stagecoach Group) had rolling stock ‘sitting idle’ at Exeter and putting the two together would be a neat solution.

“Having a clear journey right the way through could only be good news for the area,” he said.

“When I go to London I can’t catch the 7am train from Barnstaple because it arrives about 15 minutes after the London train has left Exeter St David’s. The first train does not stop at Tiverton either, you have to go to Taunton.”

Mr Greenslade has also written to GWR managing director Mark Hopwood asking him to support the proposal or offer an alternative.

‘Longer journeys, less people’

But a spokesman for GWR said it would see passengers face longer journey times and on a train capable of carrying less people.

“The 07.00 is a key service for commuters, school pupils and students to Exeter Central,” they said.

“Should we take the option these would either need to change trains at Exeter St David’s or face a wait, prior to continuing to Waterloo.

“We appreciate the option from SWT, with whom we have a good working relationship, and will continue to work with them about the potential to bring further service improvements in the Devon area.”

SWT said it was only possible to run one train per hour between Exeter and Barnstaple, and to increase that would need investment from the Government.

A spokesman said the company worked closely with communities and stakeholders across the network to find ways to improve the service.

“This close partnership working has enabled South West Trains to significantly increase its services in the West of England, with new services and additional seats available this December,” they said.