Bus Branch Lines are bus routes which link with rail services. It’s not a new concept, but GWR is showing renewed interest in promoting this way of feeding passengers into the rail network.
GWR in Devon
With the opening of the Dartmoor Line from Exeter to Okehampton, Devon County Council partnered with GWR to maximise the reach of the new train service. The result was the new No.118 bus service from Okehampton to Tavistock. This service is operated by Dartline. The bus provides an easier alternative to the 15-minute walk from Okehampton Station to the centre of the town. It then continues to Tavistock via Lydford. Some Sunday journeys are extended to Gunnislake.
Tavistock and Lydford have between them a population of around 15,000 people, so service 118 significantly adds to the catchment of the Dartmoor Line.
Earlier, in 2021, Devon County Council and GWR partnered to provide another ‘Bus Branch Line’ service connecting to the national rail network at Totnes. Service 164, operated by Tally Ho! Coaches, calls at Halwell, Kingsbridge and Salcombe.
Both services are timed to connect with train services, making it easy for people to complete their journeys by public transport.
Back to the 1960s?
One of Beeching’s principles was that, where possible, buses should be used instead of trains.
This led to many branch lines closing even though they were financially viable. It was argued that buses could provide an equivalent service at less cost to the taxpayer. But many of these bus services lasted only a few years, leaving scores of places with no usable public transport.
This argument was still being made in the 1990’s. FoSBR was formed in 1995 to protest against plans to substitute buses for trains to Severn Beach. So what is different about GWR’s concept?
Extending the network
For too long, buses and trains have been seen by some as competitors. In reality, they should complement each other. Buses are relatively cheap to run and offer flexibility, but trains are often quicker and give access to a national network. Rail’s perceived lack of flexibility is actually one of its strengths, because the presence of a train station is a clear commitment to a future service. A bus service does not inspire the same level of confidence.
The Okehampton to Tavistock bus service is of particular interest because there have long been calls to reopen the railway that once connected these towns. If it is well-used, the bus service could prove the need to reopen the railway.
We will be keeping an eye on this, and also looking at opportunities to develop Bus Branch Lines closer to home.
FoSBR has been campaigning for some time for better integration between buses and trains in the West of England. ‘Bus Branch Lines’ essentially takes this concept and applies it to more rural areas where there are currently fewer bus services.
Main image: GWR