THE railway line between Exeter and Barnstaple, known as the “Tarka Line” sees the line operated by Great Western Railway while the rail’s infrastructure is maintained by Network Rail.  

A committee of various backgrounds is looking after the rail users while skilled industry presidents are there for all community and transport representation.  

The Tarka Rail Association is one of the oldest rail user groups in the UK.

Originally formed by a group of volunteers who wished to save the line from being another victim of railway closures – that is no more - the line is now faced with new challenges, namely how to get more passengers on board.  

Our railway is reaching capacity on key college and leisure services.

The last official figures on the North Devon line (January 8 – November 11, 2023) show 632,714 journeys were made (Figures supplied by Wessex Trains/Great Western Railway and compiled by Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership).  


The line is now about to break all passenger records by going above 700,000 journeys in a year!  You might be reading this thinking “so who is using the line?”

The answer is quite vast; students wishing to go to Exeter to study, commuters who work in Exeter, Crediton and Barnstaple, tourists who are making Devon a destination for a holiday, shoppers who are ready to spend a day out in Exeter or Barnstaple or indeed using other lines to reach different towns and cities.  

This list is not complete and we respect those who wish to make the modal change from private vehicle to sustainable public transport.  

A Barnstaple to Exeter Central rail ticket is currently £13.30 return and those who have purchased a £12 Devon and Cornwall Rail Card get a third off for a year meaning the same return journey is less than a tenner.  

Can you consider the price difference when using a car?  Fuel, MOT, car wash, insurance, road tax, fair wear and tear (tyres) and of course parking charges.

Is it any wonder why we are seeing a growing society that is using the railway if provided with the correct infrastructure?


The Dartmoor Line, to Okehampton, has recently celebrated its two-year anniversary.

Being the first ever restored railway in the UK, the Dartmoor Line has a lot to celebrate, more than 550,000 journeys were made using the service that stops at Okehampton, Crediton and Exeter and that has been a huge benefit to the communities.  

Crediton station is now a very well used station as both the Dartmoor and North Devon lines stop here meaning the town has a service every half-an-hour to Exeter.

Thanks to the brilliant work by Great Western Railway and Devon County Council, we now have connecting buses that arrive in time for your North Devon line service and remain at Barnstaple Railway Station to pick up passengers to Lynton, Combe Martin, North Devon District Hospital and Ilfracombe.

The Tarka Rail Association is fully aware that the hourly service is now reaching passenger capacity leaving Barnstaple during the week and weekend.  

At peak time, we are seeing three-carriage GWR units leaving Barnstaple full and standing and this is making challenges to the other stations along the line namely that we are seeing suppressed demand (communities along the line are finding there is no capacity for them to get on board).  


The TRA has seen many comments on social media about the capacity issues that have resulted in logged complaints to GWR (please continue to report to GWR complaints) and health issues augmented by being packed into a carriage.

We are taking these comments very seriously and that is why DCC, GWR and Network Rail are supporting our aim to provide a service that meets the needs to the customers.  

We will keep moving with giving the passengers additional capacity and also move the North Devon mainline to Exeter into a modern line that has a more frequent (two trains per hour) and faster service. 


We have not forgotten our ACE Rail campaign to extend the line to Bideford - now officially the largest conurbation in the South West not in any way connected to the rail network and in the only Devon district without a railway station yet.

We must focus on the existing line infrastructure being modernised to meet the needs for today first otherwise Bideford would have the same issues and there would be no room to get on board.

Please use the GWR complaints page to report in any journeys that you had to stand all the way from Barnstaple to Exeter, had no capacity and other concerns to: .

Please can we ask users of the North Devon Barnstaple to Exeter line aka Tarka Line to engage with your area’s MP to make sure they are aware that housing growth has far exceeded the current railway’s hourly service capacity and that we need higher capacity trains and additional trains per hour to serve our communities.

Article jointly written by Tarka Rail Association Chair Mike Day, joint vice chairs Tim Steer and David Northey and president Andrea Davis.