Have your say on future of Tarka Line

People in North Devon should take part in Great Western franchise consultation before March 31 if they want to influence how new operator will run the line.

A North Devon councillor is calling on local people to make sure they are heard as a new operator is sought to run the Great Western Railway franchise, which includes the Tarka Line from Barnstaple to Exeter.

The Department of Transport is consulting the public on the criteria potential bidders need to meet and these views will be used to help draw up a shortlist.

Among the questions being asked is whether trains should call at all branch line stations or some left out in order to allow faster journey times.

Councillor David Luggar, who represents the Landkey, Swimbridge and Taw ward, has urged people in North Devon to have their say before the March 31 deadline on how they would like to see the service operated and to help safeguard it for the future.

Current operator First Great Western – part of FirstGroup - used a “get out” clause last year to announce it would end the franchise in 2013, but has since indicated it would be bidding for the new 15-year contract.

It is understood at least another three companies could also be vying for the contract, which would provide long distance, commuter, regional and branch line train services from London to the Midlands, Gatwick Airport, the Cotswolds, South Wales and the South West.

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“If people have their say that would really help us to maintain this branch line,” said Mr Luggar.

“It’s crucial we have a good rail link up to London. I’m a frequent user and it’s a good service but the line from Barnstaple to Exeter does need to get the time below the hour. Affordability and the standards of service are also the main issues we want to highlight.”

He has written to Transport Minister Teresa Villiers to raise his points and a response from the department said it expected the new franchisee to work with local authorities and rail partnerships “to deliver enhanced local services.”

It also revealed electrification of other parts of the Great Western route would in time see newer trains and carriages being rolled out to other parts of the network such as the Tarka Line. It said a review of fares and ticketing was also under way.

To view and comment on the Great Western consultation document, go to www.dft.gov.uk/consultations.

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