FIRST Great Western ('FGW') has recently released figures

on the usage of the Tarka line between Barnstaple and

These show an increase in passenger numbers of 40% for

February 2008 compared with the same month last year.

This comes against an equally positive longer term trend

that has seen passenger journeys rocket from 199,295 in

2001 to 301,131 in 2007, representing a 51% increase

over that period.

I believe that the Tarka has huge potential going forward

and yet it faces a key challenge and one that I took up

with FGW's chief operating officer during a recent

meeting. That of the provision of appropriate and

sufficient rolling stock.

This is an issue of some concern as the Tarka currently

runs with Class 142s (or 'Pacers') which are very basic

two-wheeled carriages that tend to 'see-saw' as they

travel. Consequently, they do not provide the most

comfortable long distance ride.

If the line is to realise its full potential as a serious

commuter option then I believe the 142s will need to be

phased out.

Resources, of course, are always tight and there are a

number of rail operators scrabbling for a limited supply of

modern rolling stock but we must hope that FGW do

secure appropriate upgraded carriages in the not too

distant future. With oil at well over a hundred dollars a

barrel and a proven record of consistent growth in

passenger numbers the Tarka line has truly exciting


Mel Stride

Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for

Central Devon