New blueprint for rail travel in East Devon
- Credit: Tim Dixon
Rail campaigners this week expressed their confidence in the future of the railways by launching a new blueprint for the line through East Devon.
The Salisbury to Exeter Rail Users’ Group (SERUG) have reviewed and updated their objectives following the impact of the pandemic on rail travel. They support efforts by the rail industry to plan for the day when more passengers will return to the railway.
They point out that rail is the most sustainable form of public transport. Following the pandemic, commuter travel is likely to fall, but leisure travel is forecast to increase. Value for money is therefore critical and SERUG is lobbying for a simplified fares structure.
The campaign group will continue to work with the rail industry, MPs, local councils and other parties to develop a passenger-focused railway that offers reliable services, a safe and pleasant travel environment, and better rail connections with local transport networks.
The West of England has a higher than average percentage of over 60s, many of whom rely on station staff to assist in planning journeys. Whilst access to online booking and ticketing will develop, station staff also provide the human touch and a degree of security for passengers which, SERUG say, is highly valued. They believe that opening hours of ticket offices should be increased. Disabled access is also important at all stations.
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The West of England Line Study in 2020 provided specific proposals for improvements and is supported by all MPs whose constituencies adjoin the line. The current infrastructure presently struggles to cope with the pre-pandemic timetable, let alone the desired improvements required to meet likely future demand.
More passing loops west of Honiton, and upgraded signalling, would make the service more reliable and cut delays. It would also allow the development of the long-awaited additional hourly Devon Metro service between Exeter and Axminster. SERUG also seeks the reinstatement of the pre-pandemic hourly through service to Waterloo as soon as possible.
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The reliability of the 30-year-old trains used on the line still gives cause for concern, despite recent engine overhauls. Their maximum speed of only 90mph makes them amongst the slowest main line trains on the UK network. New rolling stock needs to meet national de-carbonisation targets. Trains may therefore need to be able to run on electric as well as diesel power for part of their journey.
As a minimum, new trains should have corridors, catering services, comfortable seating, and a good passenger environment, with better luggage space than currently, standard and first-class accommodation.
Cancelled during the pandemic, the re-introduction of catering services on trains is essential. Few stations on the line west of Basingstoke provide on-platform catering, and those that do are not open all day. SERUG believes that passengers will not be successfully encouraged to use a long-distance railway without a catering facility for the majority of their journey.
Most services presently running west of Salisbury are formed of six coaches, which gives a seating capacity of around 380 passengers. At the moment, this assists with social distancing, but would provide good capacity when services and passenger numbers return to normal. New rolling stock should match the current capacity.
Commenting on the blueprint for the line through East Devon, the Chairman of the Salisbury to Exeter Rail Users’ Group, Bruce Duncan, said: “Exeter has become a vibrant city and its railways have evidenced its growth, shown by increasing numbers of passengers, including many students.
“The proposed hourly Devon Metro service from Axminster and Honiton to Exeter cannot run because of the current single track, so requires double track at Whimple. This is recommended in the report we concluded with Network Rail and others in March 2020.
“I do hope all parties will lobby their MPs and Council members, and ask for that to be delivered. This would be an excellent result and also enable the railway to be a better timekeeper. Passenger support is critical in delivering Government funding for this investment.”
Further information can be found on SERUG’s website at: sites.google.com/view/serug.