Following the successful reinstatement of the Dartmoor Line (linking Exeter to Okehampton) in November last year, focus is now centred on eventually linking the line right through to Plymouth.
This ambitious project, which would create an alternative ‘northern route’ between the South West’s two major cities, was further boosted last month when the Government agreed to Devon County Council’s (DCC) application to the ‘Beeching Reversal Fund’, the Government’s ‘Restoring Your Railway Programme’ aimed at reopening of lines and stations in accordance with Westminster’s ‘levelling up agenda’.
The £50,000 feasibility grant has served to accelerate the project up the Government’s list of restoring rail links in rural areas, commencing with the Bere Alston to Tavistock line.
Preparatory work has already been carried out by Network Rail on signalling at Bere Alston, where the line currently terminates, in advance of the possible return of trains to Tavistock which last
ran in 1968.
The track bed south of Tavistock is almost complete through to Bere Alston, where it joins the present-day Tamar Valley Line. While an engineering assessment in 2009 indicated that the track bed itself, bridges and tunnels between Bere Alston and Tavistock were still in sound condition, thirteen years on, it will be necessary to ascertain if this is still the case and a further report is expected to be undertaken in due course.
A spokesman for DCC said that following the success of the Dartmoor Line to Okehampton, which was completed ahead of schedule and under budget, Government officials had now woken up to the fact that bringing the railway back to Tavistock would connect the West Devon market town with Plymouth. He said that the County Council would be adding £20,000 towards the cost of the business case and believed it was tactically a better idea to ‘sell’ the project as linking Tavistock to Plymouth, rather than as Bere Alston, as not many people in Government would know where Bere Alston is.
Cllr Andrea Davies, DCC’s Cabinet Member for Transport, told The Moorlander: “Now we have been awarded the feasibility grant, we know that we’re definitely in the pipeline and the fact that DCC own most of the land upon which the planned rail line is to be reinstated, the Government is taking our application very seriously.”
Even though there are hundreds of projects throughout the UK on the rail reinstatement shortlist, quite a lot of work has already been done and this latest enhancement to Devon’s rail infrastructure has got the potential to leapfrog other schemes.
The plan is to run an increased service into Plymouth via St Budeaux and Devonport Dockyard, which would require signalling ‘solutions’ so that Bere Alston would be able to cope with the increased rail traffic without interfering with the branch line services to Gunnislake. That preparatory work, the spokesman said, would help prevent any potential problems in the future.
In his report at a recent DCC cabinet meeting, Dave Black, head of planning, transportation and environment said:
“The Restoring Your Railway Ideas Fund monies secured by the County Council for Tavistock to Plymouth rail line is an important milestone as it means it is now formally recognised by Government as a pipeline rail industry scheme. We have seen with Cullompton Railway Station that the Ideas Fund led to it gaining Strategic Outline Business Case approval and unlocking future development funding.
‘We are prioritising this work as the next phase of the northern route railway and hope to build on the momentum gained from the successful Dartmoor Line reopening. This was a hugely successful project showcasing what can be achieved when local authorities, the rail industry and the local community work closely together.”
It is clear that an alternative northern route to the ‘Dawlish line’ can only bring economic benefit and investment to the South West, of which the Government is mindful.
The Tavistock to Plymouth rail business case work involving the respective partners has already begun, but with much investigative work still to be undertaken before the full report can be submitted, it is unlikely that any decision will be forthcoming from Westminster before the end of this year.
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