In October 2014 Network Rail issued its draft of the Western Route Study, which covers our area, for consultation and is available for download here.
This is the Association’s response to that study:
RESPONSE TO THE CONSULTATION BY THE TARKA RAIL ASSOCIATION
1.1 This document focuses on the train service on the Exeter – Barnstaple railway line but having regard also to future proposed destinations based upon the timescales identified in the study and also wider issues where they have a direct or indirect influence on the line. The first part examines the infrastructure of the line. The second part looks at rolling stock and the service that will be required to meet passenger demand over the next 25 – 30 years.
1.2 In preparing this response, we have had regard to the very comprehensive and helpful Study and are very pleased to have the opportunity to comment. We have previously submitted a copy of our Strategy for the Line and this is now being reviewed contemporaneously with the Study. We have also been engaged with First Great Western (FGW) in discussing the future within the context of the forthcoming Direct Award Franchise which will cover the period up to the rolling stock cascade and which is absolutely key to the continued success of the Tarka Line.
2.1 The main issues which need to be addressed are:
a) Line speeds
b) Level crossings
c) Operational flexibility
e) Car parking
f) Resolving longer term capacity issues.
2.2 Line Speed: There has been a considerable investment in track renewals in recent years and we are very pleased to learn that FGW and NR are examining how the benefits of this can be maximised through increased line speeds. However, there remain a number of constraints where relatively minor expenditure could have significant benefits in the short term. These are Penstone Bridges (to the south of Copplestone) which require a 55mph limit in the middle of an otherwise 70mph section, and at Kings Nympton Station where a considerable speed enhancement could be gained through the building out of a short length of platform and the consequent straightening of the track alignment.
2.3 Level Crossings: There are three public level crossings and numerous occupational crossings. The latter have or will have telephone links to Crediton Box (Didcot Signalling Centre in due course). Of the other three, we would yet again ask for the crossing procedure at Eggesford to be speeded up. Network Rail should review how the procedure may be improved through the adoption of a more modern technological solution. We are very disappointed to understand that the renewal of Salmon Pool and Umberleigh crossings has been deferred until 2017 as the first of these in particular will assist in achieving increased line speed.
2.4 Operational flexibility: Experience shows that the ability to have two trains north of Eggesford would bring enormous benefits primarily through the provision of a “lock in” facility at Barnstaple (for which TRA continue to offer to purchase a token instrument). These include greater operational flexibility and enabling occasional excursion trains with consequent economic benefits for the area, and could facilitate freight operations should this become needed in the future.
2.5 Stations: The Study assumes that by the end of CP5 all trains will be three car. We firmly believe, based on growth trends, that three car trains will be needed as soon as the rolling stock cascades starts to be implemented as there is clear evidence that current capacity constraints are contributing to a lower rate of growth than hitherto. This will require the platforms at Eggesford to be lengthened. However, there is no doubt that four car trains will be required in CP6 and so it makes economic sense to extend the platforms here (and, where necessary, at any other railhead station) are to four car length. Another issue relates to “Harrington Humps”. Where two car trains are the norm, the humps work well in that passengers can be reasonably certain as to which door to use to exit a train. When three or four car trains are operated, this is not the case and so the length of the humps need to be reviewed as train lengths increase.
2.6 Car Parking: Although provision of car parking is not normally a NR responsibility, the land so used normally is. There is an urgent need for car parking to be provided at two railhead stations – Eggesford and Copplestone. In the case of the former, the land owner of the former goods yard is not opposed to car parking but has not so far been able to agree terms with Devon County Council. The Council have also identified the need and a site for car parking at Copplestone. In this latter case, car parking provision would enable the Morchard Road stop to be omitted from most train services.
2.7 Resolving longer term capacity issues: Our own studies have shown a likely trebling in passenger numbers from 600,000 to 1.8m by the end of CP6 in 2025. This takes into account housing and economic growth in mid and, more particularly, north Devon in the same period. Our Strategy proposes additional passing loops at Copplestone and in the vicinity of Portsmouth Arms to accommodate a more frequent two trains/hour service beyond 2025 and so the planning process should start in CP6. If the feasibility study favours the Crediton – Okehampton – Tavistock – Plymouth line as the diversionary route for seawall services, (and which TRA supports), then this will clearly create additional capacity for the Tarka Line, the implications of which would need to be carefully considered in respect of both routes.
3 SERVICES & ROLLING STOCK
3.1 Service development: We see a regular hourly service, seven days a week with
late evening trains on Fridays (as now) and Saturdays as being necessary as soon
as possible but, as mentioned above, trains of three car length by 2017 and four
car length by 2020/1 with a more frequent service (or six or eight car trains) from
2025. These are justified given the very high levels of overcrowding that occur
on many services already, especially in the summer and during school holiday periods
and further evidence can be provided if required. There needs to be an earlier Monday
3.2 The Devon Metro proposes separating the Tarka Line service from the Exmouth – Paignton circuit where, we understand, half hourly trains are to operate from 2017/8. The Study does mention extending Tarka Line trains to Honiton or Axminster and this is something we fully support, not least as we see this as the first step in achieving a long term objective of having some trains operating throughout to and from London. However, at present the constraint is that there is only one path every two hours which would not be available when the route is being used for diverted FGW trains. Therefore, we urge NR to undertake the construction of an additional passing loop in the vicinity of Whimple as soon as possible.
3.3 Rolling stock: The most suitable type of rolling stock for a Barnstaple – Axminster service would be Class 158 as it would offer a suitable ambience for these medium distance journeys. Also, such trains have almost identical operating characteristics as the Class 159s operated by SWT which as well as similar speed and acceleration also have the added advantage of being able to couple together in the event of a failure. Therefore, in considering platform extension works and line speeds, regard should be had to the length and weight of these trains.
4.1 There are many positive aspects, but given the current restrictions in capacity, speed and operational flexibility, they need implementing sooner rather than later.
John Phillips Philip Shelton Alan Clark
Chairman Research Officer Stations Officer
In November 2015 the Department for Transport issued its stakeholder consultation document for the prospective South Western Rail Franchise.
The Association has formulated a response and this has been submitted to them.
In April 2016 the Association issued its revised and updated strategy document for the Exeter to Barnstaple line reviewing the points made in the original document from 2013 and making a structured case for improvements in the period 2016 to 2025.
The document in full can be found below.
|Environmental Impact Study PDF|
|Upcoming Engineering Works|
|Newton St Cyres|
|Exeter St Davids|