Train company Great Western Railway has pledged action over train cancellations between Bere Alston and Plymouth, after being told by locals that the Tamar Valley Line was ‘not just a branch line but a lifeline’.

Locals packed into the church hall beside the Holy Trinity Church in Bere Alston on Tuesday evening last week to voice anger at cancelled trains leaving schoolchildren and commuters stranded. The problems have got worse since the pandemic.

At the meeting arranged by Bere Ferrers ward borough councillor Angela Blackman, four GWR executives faced a barrage of questions over train cancellations and the fact that replacement taxis failed to show up or were hours late.

Emma Taynton-Young, from Bere Ferrers, whose two children travel into Plymouth for school, said ‘what we are frustrated by is that it always the 7.25am that seems to be cancelled’.

Beatriz Camp, who lives in Bere Alston, said she often had to drive her husband Rob into work in Plymouth when trains were cancelled, a trip which took her two hours. Taxis often failed to turn up and that people were ‘being lied to’ by the railway company.

‘You guys know that, you know ahead of time [that a train] will have to be cancelled, so why don’t you put in place something to replace the trains? You know there will be people waiting up and down the line.

‘You have a lack of drivers, you know that before the cancellation happens, so how can you not have sorted out something? You are lying to us. We are just hearing excuses not action.’

Another woman, who lives in Bere Alston, said: ‘My son is taking his A-levels. He has said students he knows from Callington, Gunnislake and Bere Alston are planning their journeys in by car on the days of their exams because they don’t want to get to the station and find the train is cancelled, then they are not there for 9 o’clock and that is two years of their lives out of the window.’

The driver shortage is partly being put down to a backlog in carrying out driver training, both in training new drivers and refresher training for existing ones.

There was a 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. ‘We are in a far better position than we were last October.’

Paul Reid, who lives in Gunnislake, stressed the importance of the line, saying: ‘We have just had our bus service slashed to one every two hours, the toll on the bridge to get to Plymouth is going up and we are all suffering. For you, this is only a little branch line but for us it is not just a branch line, it is a lifeline.’

Barry Milsom, GWR train service delivery and performance director, responded: ‘I do not see this as not being important to you, I see this as really important, hence why we are here tonight.’ He added: ‘I recognise that any cancellation isn’t acceptable and we will do our utmost to improve.’

One audience member raised the fact that station staff at Plymouth Station had been powerless to just put people into a taxi back to the Tamar Valley after being left stranded. ‘I’ve been in Plymouth Station when there have been ten or 12 taxis sitting there and the station manager has said “nothing to do with me’’.’

panel of GWR executives meet locals in Bere Alston church hall over Tamar Line train cancellations
The panel of GWR executives with Bere Ferrers ward borough councillors Angela Blackman and Peter Crozier (Liam Davies/Tindle)

Mr Godfrey said the contract for GWR’s central provider of taxi services was currently out to tender. ‘What we will do as a result of your feedback is we will make sure this gets built into the new contract.’ People suggested using taxi firms close to the stations in the Tamar Valley. Mr Milsom pledged to look at this, saying: ‘If there is a solution that we can take away from yourselves this evening then we will do that.’