The re-opening of Okehampton station on the GWR route, Devon took place today with the RT Honorable Grant Shapps, Transport Minister as the guest to officially open the line. Photographs by Jack Boskett

An historic day for Dartmoor

Eric Partridge
The re-opening of Okehampton station on the GWR route, Devon took place today with the RT Honorable Grant Shapps, Transport Minister as the guest to officially open the line. Photographs by Jack Boskett

By Mike Rego

At 7.30am on Saturday, 20th November, the first regular daily scheduled passenger train departed from Okehampton railway station to Exeter after an absence of 49 years.

The train, a four-coach Class 150 Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) left Exeter St Davids at 6.32am and arrived at Okehampton at 8 minutes past 7. As the train drew in to platform 3, the Hatherleigh Silver Band started up on platform 2 and the first arrival of the newly re-instated daily service drew in to rapturous applause from passengers and railway staff alike. Many had been there since before 6.00am in order to ride on the first train out since the last regular daily service finished on 3rd June 1972. Others were there just to witness or photograph this historic event.

The excitement on the platform was palpable, with railway enthusiasts, local inhabitants, television and radio crews, Network Rail and GWR staff all wanting to make sure that they were part of this momentous occasion. This all follows eleven months of re-laying and preparing the line, which with eleven miles of new track, 24,000 concrete sleepers and 29,000 tonnes of ballast came in ahead of schedule and under budget! It is not often that one sees passengers alighting from a train and fist-pumping the air with a sense of achievement, and railway staff and awaiting passengers applauding with delight.

Whilst passengers were alighting from and boarding the train, Network Rail and GWR staff were giving out flags and timetables, children were being given special packs of stickers and cut-out trains, even Okehampton Railway chocolate bars, and television and radio crews and journalists were trying to interview everyone and anyone, be they passengers or railway staff.

Okehampton railway station probably hasn’t seen such excitement, other than a Royal visit perhaps, since the original opening celebrations in 1871.

Admittedly the railway is still a shadow of its former self, when under the days of the Southern Railway the Atlantic Coast Express or ACE as it was known, would thunder down from Waterloo, hauled by a Bulleid 4-6-2 ‘light pacific’ West Country or Battle of Britain class steam locomotive, separating at Okehampton into separate trains for Plymouth or North Devon and Cornwall.

Dr Michael Ireland, Chairman of OkeRail, buying one of the first passenger tickets on the platform at Okehampton Railway Station, 13 years after setting up the campaign to restore passenger rail services to and from Exeter. “I had complete faith in this… One of the biggest battles I had was convincing the public locally and in the rural hinterland as far as Bude that this was possible, so it was getting people to believe that the railway was possible.” © Mike Rego / Stuart Calvert, Capital Delivery Director for Network Rail, whose team did all the building and engineering work, arriving at Okehampton station early on Saturday morning to help prepare for the first day. © Mike Rego / The first passenger train pulling into Crediton Station © Chris Saville / The first passenger train passing Bow Station on its way to Exeter © Chris Saville / Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps waves off a train filled with campaigners who helped get the Dartmoor Line rebuilt © Jack Boskett / Mark Hopwood, managing director of GWR and Grant Shapps hold up the Dartmoor Line name plate at the official reopening of The Dartmoor Line watched by Sir Peter Hendy (Chair, Network Rail) and Cllr Andrea Davis (Cabinet Member Devon County Council) © Jack Boskett / The trains are currently terminating at Exeter St Davids, but it is planned that after December 12th they will terminate at Exeter Central, which is more convenient for shoppers, and in the New Year there will be trains running all the way through Exeter to Exmouth. © mike rego / Because the line is a single track operation from Crediton, the train driver has to physically exchange a single line electronic token (rather like a large key) with the signalman at Crediton, in order to guarantee that only one train can be on the line at any one time. © mike rego / There was much excitement on the platform as arriving passengers alighted from the inbound train from Exeter and departing passengers boarded in eager anticipation for the historic first journey to Exeter. © mike rego / The Hatherleigh Silver Band were in place by around 6.30am to celebrate the return of rail services and entertain waiting passengers. © Mike Rego / “…we are going up to Exeter to shop – for the price of the tickets I can come up now, I can go on the train, I haven’t got to sit through all of the traffic, I haven’t got to park, and people might say ‘well, what about my shopping?’ but you’ve got to carry your shopping back to the car you might as well carry it back to the train.” © mike rego / The view from the footbridge looking down on to the platforms at Okehampton in the calm before the storm, early in the morning. Trains for Exeter will depart from platform 3 on the left-hand side. Network Rail will be refurbishing the station buildings over the winter months. © mike rego / Kazia Burza, a Revenue Protection Inspector with GWR, normally based at Exeter for preventing those travellers not in possession of valid tickets, described the day as ‘very exciting’. “There were loads of people this morning… lots of children… everybody is very happy!” © mike rego / Tracey Morgan, Customer Ambassador for GWR at Exeter St Davids, thinks that ‘the service will be very popular, especially for the commuters and especially for people who want to go shopping and college students as well’. © mike rego / Councillor Bob Deed, leader of Mid Devon County Council, and his wife Pat moved to Okehampton 15 years ago, and used to belong to the ‘ACE Club’, travelling to Waterloo on a daily basis from Exeter. He said: “It’s a brilliant day, it’s the first step. We’ve taken nearly ten years to get to this stage, hopefully in due course there’ll be further stations opened on the line between here and Crediton. There is talk of putting in an Okehampton Parkway station which will hopefully take traffic off the A30 from North Devon and North Cornwall and that will of course alleviate the traffic going in to Exeter, so that’s a huge benefit for the local economy here.” © mike rego / Georgiana Lingard, Manager of Green Hill Arts in Moretonhampstead, was travelling aboard the first train with her son Kit and mother and father Terence and Mary Bray: “The atmosphere is so exciting, it’s amazing. It’s a fabulous atmosphere with the band playing you almost feel slightly as if you have gone back in time. Opening up Okehampton with access for Exeter is only going to be good for everyone.” Georgiana’s father Terence regularly commuted from Okehampton to Bude and Exeter in the 1950s and beyond, ‘the service was perfect – and more-or-less on time!’ © mike rego / (L-R) John Luxton, Julie James, Malcolm James and Colin Styles, who arrived just before 6:000am, seated and waiting to be at the head of the queue to be certain of boarding the first train out of Okehampton. John Luxton previously rode the line on a rail tour in 1979 to Meldon Quarry, and had come down from Liverpool especially to ride the opening service. © mike rego / Dartmoor Line trains crossover at Crediton Station – Credit whitewayd_Instagram / Adding the finishing touches to signage on the day before the official VIP opening of The Dartmoor Line at Okehampton Station © Eric Partridge / Two young passengers reading the historic edition of The Moorlander on the VIP train at the official reopening of the Dartmoor Line © Image courtesy of Frankie Mills Devon Live / The Network Rail team who restored the railway ahead of time and under budget. The team of specialist engineers worked tirelessly to deliver a huge programme of work to physically reopen the line in just 9 months, including laying 11 miles of new track and installing 24,000 concrete sleepers and 29,000 tonnes of ballast in a record-breaking 20-day period. © Jack Boskett / The re-opening of Okehampton station on the GWR route, Devon took place today with the RT Honorable Grant Shapps, Transport Minister as the guest to officially open the line. Photographs by Jack Boskett / The Hummingbirds filming their ‘Chatanooga Choo Choo’ YouTube video at Okehampton Station © Eric Partridge

Thanks to the work of what was the Dartmoor Railway Supporters’ Association (now the Dartmoor Railway Association) and Devon County Council, the station buildings are still intact in much of their original Southern Railway colours, and although Devon County Council have now sold the northern part of the station to Network Rail, Network Rail are now maintaining the buildings in the same original style and currently renovating them with a new café, Dartmoor National Park Visitors Centre, community shop, heritage waiting room and toilet facilities. Although the station will be unstaffed, there is a card-only ticket machine, CCTV, customer help points and electronic information screens.

Initially there is a two-hourly daily service with trains terminating at Exeter St Davids, but it is planned that they will run through to Exeter Central from 12th December, with regular hourly services in the New Year and through services to Exmouth as well. Dartline Coaches run the connecting service 118 between Tavistock and Okehampton railway station via North Brentor, Lydford and Sourton, planned to co-ordinate with trains at Okehampton. The buses are wheelchair accessible, and the platform used by the GWR train services at Okehampton will also be accessible with step free access.

Pete Goodchild and Arthur Fielder, both rail enthusiasts from Callington, who were travelling on the first train out, like many believe and hope that the railway line will provide a boost to the local economy, ‘because the people who fought long and hard for this deserve it’.

Now that the line has finally re-opened to Okehampton, it opens up the possibility for further re-openings into what has been labelled as the railway desert of North Devon and Cornwall, as well as restoring the line to Plymouth as an alternative to the Dawlish sea wall route.

The following web links can provide more information on train services and the connecting bus services and related topics:

GWR website for timetables & buying tickets online:
www.gwr.com
OkeRAIL website:
https://okerail.org.uk
OkeRAIL Facebook page:
www.facebook.com/okerail
Website for Dartline Coaches (Tavistock to Okehampton via Lydford):
https://moovitapp.com/index/en-gb/public_transportation-line-118-South_West-2106-1833612-28795861-0
Dartmoor Railway Association website:
www.dartmoor-railway-association.org/aboutDRA
Hatherleigh Silver Band:
www.hatherleighsilverband.co.uk
The Hummingbirds:
www.thehummingbirdstrio.co.uk

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