GREAT Western Railway has reintroduced the 05:42 service from Gunnislake on the Tamar Valley Line as they work to improve services on the stretch of track following a public meeting where users of the line expressed frustration at being left stranded by frequent last minute cancellations.

In an email sent to Bere Ferrers ward borough councillor Angela Blackman thanking her for organising the public meeting which took place on May 3, head of public affairs for GWR Jane Jones, said: ‘We are working on performance improvements and I am setting up a meeting with or stations team and our road transport providers and I will report again on both issues. We were also asked at the meeting when the early morning service (05:42 from Gunnislake) would resume. I am pleased to confirm that it will be running from next Monday, May 16. All our temporary timetable changes on the line are restored.’

She also asked Cllr Blackman to send on suggestions for local taxi and bus companies which the train company could utilise as replacement transport in the event of a service being cancelled. An updated train timetable be accessed via the Great Western Railway website, with the services now showing on their online journey planners and the app.

At the public meeting organised by Cllr Blackman, local residents of Gunnislake, Calstock and the Bere peninsula directed anger at four Great Western Railway executives over repeated cancellations on the Tamar Valley Line, which are leaving them with no way to commute into Plymouth to attend work or school - a situation which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. One resident urged that the Tamar Valley Line was ‘not just a branch line but a lifeline’ to so many who utilise GWR services on the single stretch of track which runs between Plymouth and Gunnislake, particularly in the wake of slashes to hourly bus services and an increase in the toll charge on the Tamar Bridge. Residents seriously affected by these cancellations further expressed anger at how replacement services such as taxis put in place by Great Western Railway were insufficent as they could not be relied upon.

Great Western Railway has attributed the last-minute cancellation of their services on the line to a driver shortage inflicted by the pandemic, which has left the company with a backlog of driver training to complete. Ongoing social distancing restrictions being continually imposed and lifted left them unable to complete in-cab training. There was a total backlog of 2,000 hours in driver training, GWR head of drivers Ben Godfrey admitted, although there had been something of a catch up in the last few months and an additional 14 drivers working on the Tamar Valley Line since October, saying: ‘We are in a far better position than we were last October. What we will do as a result of your feedback is we will make sure this gets built into the new contract.’ Train service delivery and performance director, Barry Milsom, one of the four executives present at the meeting, pledged to make the necessary improvements, saying: ‘If there is a solution that we can take away from yourselves this evening then we will do that.’