New station needs further thought

In your Exmouth Journal front page article last week (The next stop – new rail station) you quote me as being supportive of the idea of a new rail station on land at Lower Halsdon Farm. I am afraid this is not accurate and I would be grateful if I might set out my position.

Your reporter caught up with me on my mobile while I was having breakfast in a Portugal hotel. Our conversation was necessarily brief, but at no time was Lower Halsdon Farm mentioned – we discussed a site further to the north, which I made clear I could not comment on specifically.

As you rightly say, the Avocet Line Rail Users Group (ALRUG) is generally supportive of the county council’s priority to improve rail provision in the A376 corridor. Indeed, we have been pressing local authorities and the rail industry to build new stations at Monkerton and Newcourt and to enhance capacity for Exmouth commuters. We have recently been instrumental in bringing these groups together to make such a case to Network Rail.

Earlier this year, ALRUG produced a “manifesto” setting out the argument for developing the Exeter to Exmouth railway line. For much less than the cost of a new road, Exmouth would get an environmentally friendly and sustainable transport alternative, perhaps with a train as often as every 15 minutes. Copies are available from ALRUG or at Exmouth station.

So far as a new station to the north of Exmouth is concerned, we have never seen a firm proposal and so are, as yet, unable to form a view. In recent years the only reference to an “Exmouth North” station has been occasional press speculation about a “new station at Brixington”, which has been mildly amusing as there is no railway at Brixington, nor any prospect of one being built there.

Any new “Exmouth North” station could only be sited on the existing line, which runs alongside the estuary. To be of any more use than the existing Exmouth station to the people of north Exmouth, such an additional station would have to be accompanied by a large car park and new bus terminal at the end of an extended Dinan Way running right down to the river.

Any such proposal for estuary-side land would, of course, be highly sensitive. It would probably attract enormous environmental opposition and, depending on the chosen location, would be likely to be opposed by the residents of Lympstone and/or Exmouth.

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Your article last week pointed out that the fields at Lower Halsdon Farm are particularly important for wading birds at high tide. My own view would be that Lower Halsdon Farm is too close to the existing Exmouth Station for the rail industry to entertain the idea of an additional station there.

Wherever any new station were to be built, it would have consequences for the train timetable and the capacity of the line. This would probably require new infrastructure, perhaps in terms of a passing loop and consequent signalling. This is all pretty expensive and would need a strong business case, with proven cost benefits

While, in our view, the line warrants such investment, there is a great deal of further thought required before any concrete proposal for a new “North Exmouth” station can emerge, to be supported or otherwise.

As always, ALRUG will expect to be involved in such discussions about the future of the line. Although we represent rail users, we are also, by definition, local residents and will want to make a considered view that takes into account any environmental or other local concerns.

Tony Day,

Chair, Avocet Line Rail Users Group.