Ahead of schedule on Saturday 20th November, a regular passenger service begins again and will see trains run from Okehampton to Exeter on the Dartmoor Line – the first time in nearly 50 years.
After years of local supporters campaigning, members of the public will see a year-round service starting next month, after a summer-only service since 1997.
The line from Okehampton to Exeter was first opened in October 1871, with the last regular train running in 1972 when British Rail withdrew the service. After this date, the line was used by Meldon Quarry.
The line between the Quarry and Coleford Junction was sold during privatisation in the 1990s but was reacquired by Network Rail earlier this year.
This opening of this former line is the first under the Government’s Restoring Your Railway manifesto commitment which investigates ways to bring back old lines and stations to run services across the country, and it is hoped more lines and stations will re-open as the Government continues it’s of the railways following the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail.
The journey time between Exeter and Okehampton is around 40 minutes and trains will run every two hours, which will increase in May 2022 to hourly trains. There will also be an increase in service between Crediton and Exeter. Around half of the new train services will continue onto Exeter Central. Bus services to Tavistock are also being revised to allow connection with the new train service at Okehampton.
Tickets are available to purchase from 12th October from GWR or other national ticketing retail sites. This is also the live date for the timetables for the new service.
Visitors along with local residents & businesses can take advantage of the new route which connects Exeter St Davids, Crediton and Okehampton. Local residents will benefit from quicker commutes and better access to education and work; businesses will benefit; and the tourism sector will benefit from increased visitors’ numbers exploring Dartmoor with the easy access. Okehampton is in the northern part of Dartmoor National Park and is the start of The Granite Way, an 11-mile cycle path.
The Department and its partners worked hard to reinstate the passenger service, the project has been completed in only 9 months from the original funding approval to services running, ahead of schedule and saving money too.
Engineers from Network Rail have worked non-stop laying eleven miles of new track, thousand of sleepers, thousands of tonnes of ballast, along with repairs to structures including bridges. They are currently spending time on drainage and earth works, fencing and clearing vegetation to allow the return of the regular passenger service on the line. Further work will continue over the winter on the station buildings to allow the restoration of the cafe and other station facilities including – a waiting room, new information screens, a Help Point and ticket vending machines.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “The project, funded by over £40million 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.”
Mike Gallop, Network Rail’s Western route and strategic operations director, said: “We’re delighted that we’ve reopened this much needed railway line for passenger services in just 9 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.
“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.”
Mark Hopwood, GWR Managing Director, said: “This has been a key aspiration for the community and the rail industry for some time and today is a significant day for everyone who has been involved.
“Their support and advocacy over the years has helped deliver a fantastic new service for customers, which we hope will grow from strength to strength.”
Richard Burningham, Manager of the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership, said: ”What a day Saturday 20 November will be – the day Okehampton fully re-joins the national rail network. All of a sudden, a large area of west Devon and north and east Cornwall will be 30 miles nearer the railway than it is today. It’s going to make a big, very positive difference to many people’s lives.”
Mel Stride, MP for Central Devon, 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, lost to the Beeching Cuts, 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!”
Councillor Andrea Davis, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Environment and Transport, said: “The reinstatement of the Dartmoor Line has been a long held ambition of all of the partners involved, and it’s incredible to think that we’re now almost there. Devon County Council has led the charge over many years to have regular services up and running on this line again and its fantastic that the opening day has now been announced and tickets are on sale. Everyone is working extremely hard to ensure the line opens on schedule and they should be congratulated for their efforts.”
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