Passengers travelling on the Tarka Line are enjoying new, larger trains and more of them from this week.

One of the new Class 158 trains on the Tarka Line at Copplestone. Picture: Andy HedgesOne of the new Class 158 trains on the Tarka Line at Copplestone. Picture: Andy Hedges

The new Great Western Railway (GWR) timetable has been launched today (Monday, December 16) and for the Barnstaple to Exeter service this means 'new' Class 158 trains.

The three coach Class 158 trains have been moved from the Cardiff to Portsmouth route and have recently been refurbished.

They are air conditioned and built for longer distance journeys, with more tables than Devon's usual local trains, as well as free wifi and power sockets.

A three coach Class 158 has 200 seats, up from 140 or 106 in the two coach local trains which they replace on the line.

The number of daily services between Barnstaple and Exeter has also increased to 17 Monday to Thursday and on Saturday, with 18 on Fridays and 13 on Sundays.

Richard Burningham, manager at Devon and Cornwall Rail partnership, said: "The service just introduced is far and away the best in terms of service frequency the line has seen in its 165 year history.

"The service is hourly seven days a week through the day, with earlier and later trains on weekdays.

"Looking back to the beginning of the century, in summer 2001, there were just nine trains each way Monday to Saturday and five on Sundays.

"In 2001, the Tarka Line saw 199,295 journeys. With train service improvements in 2007 and 2008, that had risen to 387,015 by 2009 and, in 2018, 680,008 journeys were made on the line, an increase of 241 per cent on 2001 and 76 per cent on 2009."

Plus a three more services a day will run between Paddington and the South West, running non-stop between Reading and Taunton.

GWR expects average journey times to improve by as much as 11 minutes between Paddington and Penzance and seven minutes between Paddington and Plymouth. 

A two-hourly semi-fast service between Paddington and Exeter St Davids will call at Reading, Newbury, Pewsey, Westbury, Castle Cary, Taunton and Tiverton Parkway. 

The introduction of the new timetable initially caused some concern for passengers using Stagecoach buses to connect to Barnstaple Station, but Stagecoach has revised its own timetable to come back into sync before the new trains went live.

GWR has suggested travellers should check the new timetables before setting out to avoid being caught out.

It has seen changes across the board and is being billed as the biggest timetable change since 1976.

Mr Burningham added: "It is not just the journey time savings in long-distance journeys to London, it is also about the significant improvement to many local trains across the two counties. 

It is no exaggeration to say that Devon and Cornwall local services will be the best they have ever been." 

To check out the new times, go to www.gwr.com/timetable2019 .