The Salisbury-Exeter line was a partial Beeching closure. The old express service from Waterloo to Exeter and Plymouth was abandoned and the Salisbury-Exeter section of the line was reduced over most of its length to single track, with the expectation that full closure would follow. However, the local communities fought for the line’s survival and passenger numbers soon started growing again. Templecombe station was re-opened in 1983 by popular demand, followed by an additional passing loop near Tisbury (unfortunately not in the station as the south platform had already been sold). After a long campaign by local councils, an hourly service between Waterloo and Exeter was reinstated in 2009. This was made possible by building a “dynamic loop” at Axminster, at a cost of £20m, of sufficient length that allowed trains to pass with ease, and an additional platform.
The continued growth of rail usage has led to an urgent need to improve services further and SERUG was formed in 2016 to lobby for these improvements.
The increase in house building in all towns along the line (especially in the Yeovil and East Devon areas) will result in further capacity issues and there is little opportunity to increase services without infrastructure improvements. Every station between Salisbury and Exeter has seen substantial passenger growth over the past decade. At peak times, trains are often full and standing all the way from Waterloo to Yeovil (a journey of well over 2 hours). The average speed of even the fastest train between Waterloo and Yeovil is just 53 mph! There are few places of similar population and distance from London with such slow services.
The western part of the line has seen a huge increase in usage by commuters between Axminster and Exeter. It is not possible to run more morning commuter services without additional track capacity. Additionally, the section from Yeovil to Exeter is also used as a diversionary route when the Great Western Line west of Taunton is closed. Capacity west of Yeovil is very restricted and insufficient to cope with even the basic timetable when diversions are in operation.
We wish to work with train operators and other rail-focused organisations to promote the line and its journey opportunities, but we remain firmly independent. We receive no funding from any rail operator, train builder, Network Rail or other commercial organisation with a focus on railway operation. This is vital as our Proposals are long term.
Our current objectives
Improved Resilience and Capacity between Salisbury and Exeter
New passing loops and associated upgraded signalling would improve timetable resilience and also allow the following:
- A half hourly service throughout the day between London Waterloo and Yeovil Junction
- Development of the long-awaited Devon Metro services between Exeter and Axminster
- Improved capacity to allow the diversion of GWR services, when the line between Exeter and Taunton is closed.
Replacement of the current class 158 and 159 diesel units
Reliability of these 30-year-old units is now very poor, despite recent engine overhauls. Their maximum speed of only 90mph makes them amongst the slowest main line trains on the UK network. The specification of new rolling stock must meet de-carbonisation targets, so trains should be electric/diesel bi-mode powered.
Corridors and first-class accommodation to be retained. Luggage space is currently poor and must be increased with new rolling stock.
Electrification & Faster journey times
Line speed to be increased to 100mph where practical (new train specification should also take this into account). Electrification westwards from Basingstoke to (at least) Salisbury will also assist acceleration capabilities, contribute to the Government’s de-carbonisation strategy and help to reduce journey times. The current fastest time from London to Yeovil is 2hr13min – the target should be 2 hours with existing stock and circa 1hr 50min with new rolling stock.
Increased Seating Capacity on all trains
Some services west of Salisbury are still formed of only three carriages (approximate seated passenger capacity of 190), resulting in overcrowding and unpleasant travelling conditions. All services should have a seated passenger capacity of at least 320. Overcrowding is a regular occurrence – and this now includes services into and out of Exeter in the morning and evening peaks, as well as towards London.
The ability to join and split trains at Yeovil Junction
Known as “permissive working,” this would enable a wider range of journey opportunities, including through services to Weymouth, Westbury, Bath and Bristol. With the recent development of Yeovil Junction as a train depot the argument for permissive working is strong.
How can the operator fit more trains into the timetable?
Ideally, we need double track all the way from Salisbury to Exeter, however SERUG recognise that full reinstatement of double track is unlikely in the short term. We support Network Rail’s recent CMSP study (see the News section) which solves the immediate capacity issue without the expense of double track throughout.