I've been watching this topic develop with interest, as you can imagine
As I suspected it might, it has wondered off a bit. To be fair to the DfT, they did frame the question specifically on branch lines, rather than considering it in terms of "lightly-used" stations on main/secondary lines, such as Appleford, Culham or the Oxfordshire Halts.
So lets consider the question again:
Should branch line services continue to call at all branch line stations, or could the needs of most passengers be better met by omission of some of the intermediate stops on some or all of the trains, so that the final destination is reached more quickly?
It wont surprise you to learn that my answer is "no", but my reasoning might surprise you instead.
You see, I think a major lesson from the last few years is that the needs of most passengers have
been better met by omission of some of the intermediate stops on some of the trains, but
only when this has been part of an overall frequency improvement.
Lets look at the evidence:ST IVES
When improved frequency services were introduced, the main loser was Lelant during the daytime. However, Lelant Saltings isnt that far away, and during the evening where reaching it in the hours of darkness might be an issue, trains do still call at Lelant itself.FALMOUTH
When improved frequency services were introduced, some services were not scheduled to stop at Perranwell. However, Perranwell has still ended up with a better service overall.NEWQUAY
The recent axing of the early morning Newquay line services may suggest that the improved frequency local services have not proved as popular as hoped. However, there is no evidence to suggest that not calling at the intermediate stations on the local services to save a few minutes has worked either.
In truth, the main driver of improving Newquay line fortunes will always be the continued development of direct summer links with London and CrossCountry destinations. Frankly, saving a few minutes on local services will have very liitle effect on the overall picture. Providing them will always be a question of social need, which is best served at present by leaving them broadly as they are.
This might change in future if the Newquay-St Austell line is ever restored, but lets face it, that prospect seems a very long way off.LOOE
When improved frequency services were introduced, some intermediate service calls were missed out in some services, but this did not have a great impact on the overall service level provided at these stations. There have been peaks and throughs in the revisions since, but one fact seems obvious - the Looe line services will always load well during the summer, and significantly less well during the winter. This will remain the case regardless of overall journey time or calling patterns.GUNNISLAKE
Frankly, it is difficult to see how improving the overall journey time by removing service stops would have any beneficial impact on this route. People mainly use it because in many cases it is their only means of getting to where they want to go.
I can see an important need for reduced journey times should the Tavistock link be restored, but it is likely that the infrastructure will be configured to allow all-stations Gunnislake-Plymouth and fast Tavistock-Plymouth services to co-exist.EXMOUTH
This line has a successful, long established service pattern of 1tph all stations and 1tph limited stop. Indeed, even the "specialist advisors" who tested an outline specification in the run-up to the current franchise being awarded advised against altering this.BARNSTAPLE
The current off-peak daytime hourly stopping pattern that TJ outlined was agreed by pretty much all the stakeholders along the route from FGW and local government right through to user groups and passengers. I cant see any obvious reason why this should be changed in the foresseeable future.
The request stops that I suspect Btline has more in his sights are the ones that arent included in the daytime hourly stopping pattern. To be frank, these have a very limited service now and are generally sparsely served (if at all) outside the peaks. Therefore the question, whether one wants to admit it or not, is should they exist at all?
Since my exit from the TransWilts campaign, I have extensively travelled on the Devon & Cornwall rail network to try and ensure I got my facts straight before the new franchise process got underway. This included getting off at the likes of Portsmouth Arms and Kings Nympton to see if anybody did actually use them. The answer is yes
- not all that many I admit, but they are
being used, and fulfill a clear need to those who do.
Looking at branches elsewhere on the FGW network, it would be a brave civil servant or TOC executive who risked the wrath of the locals by missing out stops on the Severn Beach Line
and as far as the Thames Valley branches
go, there just doesnt seem to be a case on any of them to deviate from the current calling pattern. Indeed, the debate there is likely to focus heavily on the future status of their direct links with London in the wake of electrification, Crossrail and IEP.