All public transport links must be hard-wired into the new Okehampton rail timetable for the service to succeed

Eric Partridge
How the railways once linked communities in North Cornwall to West Devon as shown on a map drawn in 1985 by former British Railways engineer David Wroe

By Richard Wolfenden-Brown – Chair, Connect Bude

Whilst members and supporters of Connect Bude are inspired and encouraged by OkeRAIL’s historic achievement in successfully campaigning to reopen the rail line to Okehampton, they are urging all relevant partners to ensure that the new rail service is connected by reliable integrated bus services, so that communities across the broad and unconnected ‘rail desert’ of North Cornwall and West Devon can genuinely access and benefit from the reopening of the line.

At a recent online rail industry meeting attended by a member of Connect Bude, one of the Network Rail bosses stated that “the Department For Transport allocated funding for the Okehampton reopening principally to support the social equality and ‘levelling-up’ agenda and that this was specifically aimed at the rail desert of North Cornwall, rather than at Okehampton itself”.

‘Until a time when Beeching is reversed all the way to Holsworthy and Bude, it is essential that public transport links are hard-wired into the rail timetable, so that car owners can confidently make the green choice to use public transport, and those without private transport can finally gain direct access to the rail network.

‘What drivers and non-drivers both want is ‘rail-iable’ bus connections from Bude, Holsworthy, Halwill, and also from Launceston, Tavistock and other communities within the area of impact of the Okehampton station(s) so that they can all connect with ease to the new rail services.

The final journey – Bude to Okehampton 1st October 1966

‘Just as a river needs its tributaries in order to thrive, the main line at Okehampton needs connected communities, if the passenger numbers are set to flow and not run the risk of drying up.

If we are serious about zero carbon then rail provides the greenest form of public transport, so reversing Beeching, restoring branch lines and reconnecting cut-off towns and villages is the way forward for our communities and our shared environment . Lines run to the coast at Barnstaple and Newquay but there is a very clear ‘gap on the map’ with no line to Bude. When the line to Bude closed in 1966 the plan was to substitute a bus route in place of the rail line.

This policy was (somewhat curiousy) known as ‘bustitution’ and explains why, even today, Bude appears on the departure board at Exeter St David’s as ‘Bude – by bus’. Given the history, asking for a direct bus link to Okehampton Station and later Okehampton Parkway seems entirely fair and sensible. Perhaps one day soon the departure board at Exeter will read ‘Bude – by Train!’

In his introduction to the announcement this week about the creation of Great British Railways, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “In 1825, this country invented something that spread its iron web across the earth and transformed everywhere it touched.” For many towns this transformation was short lived, as lines closed and communities lost their connectivity.

However, the historic reinstatement of the line to Okehampton, if successfully served by feeder bus services, will now give many towns across the country, including Bude, a clear route map to being re-transformed by rail reinstatements.

Connect Bude has actively supported OkeRAIL since 2016 and is currently awaiting the result of its application for £50,000 from the Restoring Your Railways fund to undertake a full feasibility study into extending the line towards Bude. The outcome should be known before the end of May.

If the levelling-up agenda is the driving factor in choosing the projects to support, then Connect Bude is hopeful that it is in with a good chance.