Tarka Line is in the top ten

Joseph Bulmer

Passenger numbers rising, with 461,387 journeys made last year, according to new figures

THE Tarka Line is one of the top ten fastest growing branch lines in Britain, according to new figures published by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC).

Passengers made 461,387 journeys on the Exeter–Barnstaple line between April 2010 and March 2011: 47 per cent up on 2007 and 2008. With numbers jumping by 17 per cent in the last year alone, the line grabbed sixth place in the branch line league table.

Passenger numbers have been rising every year since 2001, thought to be due in large part to train service improvements, reduction in off-peak fares from 2006 and the introduction of a largely hourly weekday service from 2008.

A delighted Richard Burningham, manager of the Plymouth University based Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership which works to promote the line said: “More and more local people and visitors are taking to the trains and long may this continue. We certainly intend to do all we can to make sure it does. The continued increase in use of the line reinforces the case for more rolling stock and train services in the new Great Western Franchise starting in April 2013.”

The Partnership undertakes a large amount of promotion, including 60,000 line guides and promotion of days out. It regularly distributes many timetable and fares leaflets.

The non-profit partnership – of local authorities, the rail industry and Plymouth University – works closely with the Tarka Rail Association, helping to fund and distribute the Association’s two walks booklets. The Association also works to improve train services, with recent successes being the new late night Friday train and an earlier train on Sunday mornings.

Chairman John Burch was please with the passenger growth but added: “These figures show we urgently need to be working towards increasing capacity on the line. Our attention has turned towards serious consideration of the available options of additional rolling stock or infrastructure improvements.”

Edward Welsh, director of corporate affairs at ATOC, said: “A combination of reliability, value for money, comfort and better promotion have contributed to increasing numbers of local people using branch lines as a way to get out and about throughout the year.

“The resurgence of many of these lines is good news for rural economies. Having a rail link that brings hundreds of thousands of people a year into towns and villages helps to ensure vibrant and thriving rural economies.”

The Tarka Line is one of six First Great Western branch lines in the national top ten.

First Great Western regional manager west Julian Crow said:

“It’s great to have six out of the top ten branches for growth, and really validates all the work we’ve been doing to develop these lines.”

He described it as “a shining example” of the way in which careful investment and partnership to improve the rail network could produce “hug benefits” to customers and the local economy and said they would continue to work to maintain this success.

The Tarka Rail Association works to represent users of the Barnstaple – Exeter line. More information can be found at www.tarkarail.org.