MEDIA RELEASE  4th May 2010


Following much lobbying by the Tarka Rail Association, and with the financial support of Devon County Council, a new much needed, earlier train will run on Sundays from 23 May 2010, departing from Exeter St Davids at 0839 and Barnstaple at 1000.

The train from Barnstaple also serves Exeter Central.

Details of the times of the new train are set out on the enclosed sheet.  It means:

o An earlier arrival in both Barnstaple and Exeter for shopping and leisure

o A longer day for walks in the countryside (See our Walks Brochure for details)

o Earlier long distance connections at Exeter St Davids to London, the Midlands & North and into South Devon & Cornwall

o By changing at St Davids, options for longer days out by the sea or along the Exe Estuary.

John Phillips, Chairman of the Tarka Rail Association said “We are very grateful for the support of Devon County Council in meeting our aspiration and also to First Great Western and Network Rail to enable this new train to run.  I am sure it will be very popular as it gives many new travel opportunities.  It brings to seven the total number of Sunday services along the line – the best ever that I can recall!”

“With Groupsave tickets where three or four people travelling together go for the price of two, or with discounted fares using a Devon & Cornwall Railcard, there is now an even better reason for getting out and about using our local community rail line!” he added.

For details of  these new services please check out our Travel Info page
MEDIA RELEASE  6th August 2010


The Tarka Line Flowers Competition is held every year.  Each station along the line is invited to take part and volunteers carry out the planting and tending of the flowers.  The aim is to make the stations, all of which (except Barnstaple) are unstaffed, as attractive as possible for the enjoyment of passengers.  The Competition is organised on behalf of the Tarka Rail Association by Janet Day and First Great Western provide generous sponsorship.  Five categories of prizes have been awarded (with this year’s winners in brackets): Overall winners (Yeoford), Best tubs/planters (Newton St Cyres), Best wildlife conservation (Umberleigh), Best flower beds (Chapelton) and best kept station (Barnstaple).

Yeoford were the overall winners this year and received the Tarka Rail Association Rose Bowl and a certificate, together with complimentary train tickets from First Great Western.  The award was won by John Mountjoy and Clifford Bayber.  They have worked very hard this year in transforming the station.  Their award was made special by the fact that they had taken the decision to take a traditional approach to gardening by incorporating both flowers and vegetables in the display. As an added bonus, passengers will be able to help themselves to the runner beans and other crops when ripened!
Newton St Cyres was awarded the prize for the best tubs and planters which are an absolute delight. Although not judged as part of the competition, the team are working very hard to transform an area behind the platform which will provide a small garden in which to relax on the Signalman's Seat which has been erected where the signal levers used to be years ago.
The Umberleigh prize was won by Andy Hedges.  Andy has carefully tended the multitude of wild flowers growing at the rear of the platform with an outstanding display of roses.  He also plants up the flower tubs and has restored the old concrete station sign seen in the background. 

Mr & Mrs Simon Lewis are regular winners at Chapelton, and this year is no exception.  They have consistently maintained the flower beds to a very high standard and it is a delight to sit for a while on the platform of this fairly remote and quiet station. 

Finally, Janet Day  was the rightly proud recipient of the award at Barnstaple Station, which has seen many improvements over the past year.  She has undertaken a number of innovative planting schemes with the assistance of Mike and the two Davids who were not able to be present, but to whom thanks are also due.  The future tasks at this Station are formidable as the Tarka Rail Association will, under Janet’s direction, be tackling the redundant platform  2 which the Association has taken responsibility for.

John Phillips, Chairman of the Tarka Rail Association said “The standard was very high this year thanks in no small part to the efforts of Janet Day in organising the competition.  I should also like to thank the judges.  Most of all however, on behalf of the Association and First Great Western, I should like to thank all those who give up their free time to make our stations attractive for passengers who I know (together with train crews and      
MEDIA RELEASE 10th October 2011


The work of the Tarka Rail Association (TRA) on behalf of the North Devon Line between Barnstaple and Exeter has again won national recognition. At its Community Rail Awards banquet, held this year in Sheffield, the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) named former TRA Chairman John Phillips of Down St. Mary as the nation’s “Outstanding Volunteer”.

Current TRA Chairman, John Burch of Ilfracombe, to whom John Phillips passed the baton last October, also caught the attention of the ACoRP judging panel. A bus transport professional all his working life, Burch’s work to provide more finely dovetailed services between the trains and buses particularly at Barnstaple station deservedly won him 3rd place award in the Local Transport Integration category.

Rising to receive the immensely prestigious award in Sheffield’s City Hall packed to the walls with representives from rail lines across the U.K., John Phillips was heard to murmur, “I never expected this.” The judges, however, were of quite another mindset, citing John’s “legendary” diplomatic and visionary skills. By deploying those skills and by establishing very close professional relationships with First Great Western, Devon County Council and Network Rail, John leaves a remarkable record of achievement.

Believing that keeping fares reasonable was key to building traffic, statistics -- which he and Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership (D&CRP) colleague Richard Burningham painstaking compiled and submitted to First Great Western management in 2005 -- convinced FGW to test and subsequently to adopt a “reduced fare strategy” throughout Devon and Cornwall . . . with impressive results. Tarka Line passenger journey figures, which numbered 239,997 in 2004, rose (by 61.3%) in 2009 to 387,015; topped 446,000 in 2010 and are projected to exceed half a million by year’s end.

John’s mettle was tested to the full in 2006, when FGW, which had newly acquired the franchise, proceeded to axe the most popular train of the day, eliminating from its published timetable the 10:00 departure from Barnstaple to Exeter. Tireless personal lobbying of FGW, with whose Regional Manager, Julian Crow, John had already established a firm working relationship, and numerous TRA and D&CRP passenger surveys secured reinstatement of the train.

The Tarka Line is not alone in finding itself in a quandary. Does it, with its single track, exist simply to provide fast connections between two large conurbations 39 miles apart, which between them account for some 70% of total traffic, or should it safeguard and nurture a loyal ridership from the smaller and growing communities along the track? Under John’s leadership the line has successfully resisted the closure of any intermediate station, and much energy has been pumped into all stations along the line regardless of size. Each now has an electronic information system to keep passengers appraised of line operation, a regularly up-dated TRA notice board detailing the group’s activities and an annual garden competion.

Asked in what he takes most pride during his six-year tenure as TRA Chairman, John cites ”simple but crucial” changes to the line’s timetable: the establishment of a regular clock-face timetable for most of the day six days a week, with trains departing from Exeter St. David’s at 27 minutes past the hour, and from Barnstaple at 43 minutes past; the introduction of a Friday only, late evening train from Exeter (22:52) & Barnstaple (00:05) for those enjoying a late night out without “designated drivers” or winter road closures to deal with. (From December 11, the 00:05 Barnstaple departure will connect with the overnight sleeper service to Paddington.) And lastly the provision of an additional earlier train each Sunday, bringing the number of Sunday-only return journeys to seven. By stopping at all stations along the line, this new “Hikers’ Special” service has proved of particular value to leisure travellers, many of them using one of two free 52-page Tarka Line Walks booklets -- another Phillips brainchild.

Both Johns -- Burch and Phillips -- attended the ACoRP ceremony as guests of First Great Western, and were seated on either side of the company's Managing Director, Mark Hopwood.  The table arrangement provided a valuable opportunity for the two Tarka Line representatives to familiarise Hopwood with the special challenges facing the Barnstaple to Exeter line and with their vision of the future.

TRA’s repeated calls for an improvement in rolling stock are to be answered -- almost immediately. FGW plans to eliminate the elderly and uncomfortable, bus-like “142” units before year’s end -- news with which both Johns are unanimously “delighted!”
MEDIA RELEASE 19th December 2011


At first glance the 11:43 Tarka Line service from Barnstaple to Exeter on Monday, 19th December, seemed a train like any other. But not quite. Keen-eyed observers might have spotted a larger-than-usual percentage of men in suits, their heads bowed over calculators. Melanie Harvey, the Line’s Station Manager was on hand, as was Richard Burningham MBE Manager of the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership. For a drab December day there seemed a lot of passengers with cameras.

The men with calculators conferred, and nodded sagely . . . . and suddenly it was official. On board the 11:43 departure was Jenny Kelly, 10, the Tarka Line’s 500,000th passenger      
Magic may have played its part, but there’s no arguing with the line’s recent passenger figures. As recently as 2004, some 240,000 passenger journeys were made on the 39-mile route. Last year the Tarka Line clocked up 446,000, and on Monday December 19, 2011, half a million.

Tarka Rail Association Chairman, John Burch, on hand to witness the historic event, expressed his delight. “Any way you look at it, these are remarkable figures -- the highest in the line’s 157 year history. In fact Tarka is now the sixth fastest growing Community Rail line of around 80 in the U.K. A lot of factors come into play: petrol prices are soaring; the A361 can be a nightmare in winter while even in snow the railway just keeps on running; the old 142 rolling stock has been replaced by more modern and comfortable coaches. There’s now a special late-night service on Friday evenings, and in the summer we get a lot of leisure customers keen to explore our incredible scenery.”

Burch has spent his professional life in the transport industry, and is a nationally known expert on bus transportation, but his enthusiasm for his local rail line is infectious. “Passenger footfall is up all along the line and, with figures like these, we must be doing something right!” Richard Burningham agrees. “The Tarka Line has come a long way in the last ten years, thanks to a lot of hard work by a lot of people.”

Julian Crow, First Great Western's Regional Manager said "Devon's local railways are busier than at any time in their history, and the half-millionth passenger is a real milestone on the Tarka Line. We look forward to continuing our work with the Tarka Rail Association and other partners as we develop these important routes for the benefit of local passengers."

And where will Jenny be taking her family with those free First Class tickets? “Back to          
A rather awe-struck Jenny, travelling back to Northampton with her mother Vicki, 48, suddenly found herself the centre of attention, and her Mum the proud possessor of a set of four First Class tickets presented by First Great Western and good for travel anywhere in the company’s empire. As other passengers looked on, the ten year-old posed for the press cameras.

The officials were adamant. She was the 500,000th passenger. (Mum was only number 499,999!) Recovering from her shock, Vicki spent the first leg of the journey texting husband Stephen, younger daughter Ellie, 8, and the rest of the family. “They think I’m having them on. They just can’t believe it,” she gasped to a fellow passenger. “It’s like some        
MEDIA RELEASE 26th January 2012


As word gets out, the popularity of the Tarka Line’s new late-night Fridays only service from Exeter to Barnstaple is growing. Trains depart Exeter Central every Friday at 22:48, and Exeter St. David’s at 22:52, arriving Barnstaple at one minute to midnight.

But that’s only half the story! Now there’s the “Night Tarka Limited”.

At five minutes past midnight in the wee small hours of Saturday morning, this new service departs Barnstaple direct to Exeter St. David’s, arriving at 01:00 -- in perfect time to connect with the “Night Riviera” sleeper service arriving Paddington at 05:13 on a Saturday morning. Ideal for an early morning transfer to Heathrow -- or linger in bed until seven o’clock and still hit the city in plenty of time for whatever your weekend holds in store.

Got an early morning flight from Gatwick? No problem. The “Night Riviera’s” 04:05 arrival at Reading connects perfectly with the first Reading to Gatwick departure of the day at 04:34, arriving Gatwick at 05:54.

On a budget? The “Night Riviera” offers seats as well as beds (but be sure to reserve.)

MEDIA RELEASE  7th December 2014


Regular users of two of the most heavily used Tarka Line services between Exeter and Barnstaple can soon breath a sigh of relief.

Starting on December 16, the 07:00 southbound departure from Barnstaple (dep. Umberleigh 07:09, Eggesford 07:30; Copplestone 07:43, Crediton 07:55) will carry an additional coach providing over 70 extra seats. The notoriously overcrowded 16:57 northbound departure from Exeter St. David’s will also be strengthened with additional rolling stock.

In making the announcement Tarka Rail Association (TRA) chairman, John Phillips, noted that several organisations have had a hand in addressing the problem. “It’s not a simple matter of saying ‘why don’t they just put on more coaches’” he explained. “The fact of the matter is there are no more coaches! And there won’t be for another two or three years, when electification on other parts of the rail network frees up additional diesel rolling stock for the South-West. First Great Western, the current franchise holder, has done wonders with the limited equipment that the Department for Transport makes available to them. Finding these additional coaches is no small achievement, but the result of innovative scheduling and the fine-tuning of complex service rotas.”

John also credited his Devon County Council and the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership colleagues for their “polite persistence” in insisting that some way had be found to provide a measure of relief to the Tarka Line’s fare-paying passengers, and for the Partnership in particular for negotiating the use of the extra coach on the morning train.

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