Dartmoor Line is back on track

Eric Partridge

After an absence of nearly 50 years, Saturday, 20th November, will see the return of regular rail passenger services connecting Okehampton to Exeter via Crediton.

The route will provide a launchpad for local commuters, connection to regional links and for visitors to explore Dartmoor. Around half the services, including those at peak times, will also carry on to Exeter Central.

The reopening of the route is expected to boost local businesses, the tourism sector, and provide greater access to education and work for thousands of people who live locally.

Journey time between Exeter and Okehampton will be approximately 40 minutes and GWR operated services will initially run every two hours. This will change to an hourly service from Spring 2022.

Okehampton as a destination station, situated as it is on the northern flank of Dartmoor National Park, makes it an ideal place to start exploring the moor and towns and villages in the surrounding areas. It also marks the start of The Granite Way, an 11-mile multi-use trail connecting Okehampton with Lydford. The bus service to Tavistock is being amended to connect with trains at Okehampton.

The line is the first reopening under the Government’s Restoring Your Railway programme which is exploring ways to return old lines and stations to service across the country. All this has been made possible in only nine months since the original funding was approved to get services running again.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “The project, funded by over £40 million from the Department for Transport, is part of the wider campaign to reverse catastrophic cuts to the rail network primarily led by the Beeching axe. The work has been a successful collaboration between the DfT, Network Rail, GWR, Devon County Council, Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership, and local campaigners and MPs.”

The line between Exeter and Okehampton originally opened 150 years ago on 3rd October, 1871, an event that was recently celebrated in Okehampton. Although not a direct casualty of Dr Beeching’s ‘axe’, as Okehampton was never on the Government’s original list, passenger services were, nevertheless, withdrawn by British Rail in 1972.

After 1972 the line remained in use to serve Meldon Quarry, situated west of Okehampton, a supplier of railway ballast and related materials.

The line between Coleford Junction and Meldon Quarry was sold in the 1990s at the time of privatisation to the quarry owner, now known as Aggregate Industries. It was reacquired by Network Rail earlier this year.

Mark Hopwood, GWR Managing Director, said: “Working with our partners at Network Rail and in the community we have long campaigned for the reopening of this important local line, and we are really looking forward to being able to start running passenger trains again.

‘With the start of services now just over a month away, this announcement is great news for communities surrounding Okehampton, who will once again be connected to the national network.

‘We’ve been working hard with Network Rail and local partners, including Devon County Council, to help prepare the line and the station at Okehampton for reopening on 20th November and this work will continue

after 20th November as we develop the station facilities.”

One of the main supporters of the rail reinstatement over many years, Cllr Andrea Davis of Devon County Council, expressed her delight at the news. “Today is absolutely amazing, a momentous day, it’s lovely for the town of Okehampton and for Devon County Council (DCC) because it was a heck of a leap of faith considering the amount of money the Council has spent, we didn’t know if it was going to happen, we didn’t know if we could pull it off.

‘By running the Sunday service between 1997 and 2019 proved that there was a demand, and that leap of faith has worked, it’s paid off… big time! I’m looking forward to being on the first train.”

Mike Gallop, Network Rail’s Western route and strategic operations director, said: “We can’t wait to welcome passengers back to the Dartmoor Line after an absence of nearly 50 years, linking passengers to Exeter and services to the rest of the country.

‘We’re delighted that we’ve reopened this much needed railway line for passenger services in just nine months and ahead of schedule. Our team has worked incredibly hard alongside our project partners GWR, Devon County Council, Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership and the local community to ensure this railway is ready
to open.”


Manager of one of those partners, the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership, Richard Burningham added:
“Without the vision of Devon County Council (DCC) and the other local partners such as Dartmoor National Park and West Devon, who knows what the railway would be building back from today? They part-restored the station and introduced the Sunday service which DCC chartered for over 20 years. It’s not that long ago that there was a real fear that the line could be completely lost and sold for scrap.

‘But today is a great day for the campaigners such as OkeRail and Dr Michael Ireland in particular who has been campaigning for around 14 years. OkeRail has played a big part in this because it galvanised a single vision for the reinstatement of this line by joining up the dots from all the different plans that were being proposed.”

The speed of the Dartmoor Line restoration has been nothing short of remarkable; Network Rail’s team
of engineers have battled tirelessly to deliver a huge programme of work to physically reopen the line in just nine months, including laying 11 miles of new track and installing 24,000 concrete sleepers and 29,000 tonnes
of ballast in record time. Repairs have also been made to 21 structures along the route including four bridges and a range of works including vegetation clearance, earth and drainage works and fencing and are ongoing in preparation for the return of regular services.

More work will be carried out over the winter including further work on the station buildings to enable the restoration of the café and other facilities. It is hoped that the new rail service will provide access for education, work, shopping as well as other opportunities on offer in the city of Exeter. Customers will also be able to connect at Exeter St Davids for trains to a host of destinations including London, Bristol, the North of England and Scotland.

Mel Stride MP said: “I am thrilled that after a decade of campaigning, a regular passenger service between Okehampton and Exeter has become a reality. I am very proud that our Central Devon constituency is the first in the UK to have a service, restored by the Government. It has been a huge amount of hard work by so many people, and a local issue on which I have spent a great deal of time – but it has absolutely been worth it. It will provide thousands of my constituents with a rail service on their doorstep, will be a huge economic boost as we bounce back from the impact of COVID-19 and will reduce carbon emissions by taking cars off the A30. I can’t wait to book my first ticket!”

Tickets can be purchased from GWR
(www.gwr.com) or other national ticketing retail sites. The timetables are also now live.

Local Life