Government prepares plans to introduce regular train services to Okehampton
In a letter circulated to South West MPs, the secretary of state for transport, the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, confirmed that the government has instructed Great Western Railway (GWR) ‘to prepare plans to introduce regular train services to Okehampton, with the objective of securing a credible and costed plan for delivering an all-week, all-year train service between Exeter and Okehampton as soon as reasonably practicable’.
Mike Davies, chair of the OkeRail forum campaigning for the return of rail services, was delighted with the news. He said: ‘It is wonderful news not just for the community of Okehampton but for the people of West Devon and North Cornwall.
‘A lot of work still needs to be done but things are looking good. It has been a long journey with a lot of work behind the scenes but I am delighted that it has all paid off.’
As part of the proposals being developed, a number of options for a new railway station in Okehampton are being considered by Devon County Council as it develops proposals for the reintroduction of regular weekday trial services in partnership with the Department for Transport (DfT) and Great Western Railway (GWR).
A feasibility study, commissioned by the county council, is looking at a variety of platform layouts for a parkway station and required infrastructure improvements as part of the scheme.
These have been presented to the OkeRail Forum as part of consultation with key stakeholders, which also includes GWR, Aggregate Industries and Dartmoor Railway.
Key considerations include safe running of regular passenger trains, access for freight trains and current or future lease holder services.
Elements required for a modern station, such as local ramped access and CCTV, are being considered as part of the proposals for a parkway station.
Cost estimates are yet to be determined but various local and other funding sources will be needed.
Track improvements would also need to be made to cope with the running of regular services.
A site inspection of the track has shown that around a third of the track, while suitable for light use, would fall short of the standards required for more intensive use of several daily services.
Two potential designs are being considered for a car park, providing around 210 parking spaces with a drop-off point for buses and taxis, and facilities for cycle parking.
A report will now be finalised in the coming weeks setting out the options under consideration for further discussion with GWR, the DfT and the OkeRail Forum.
The Dartmoor Railway is a stretch of line which extends 15.5 miles from Coleford Junction in the east through to Meldon Viaduct (just beyond the mothballed ballast quarry) in the west. The line is owned by Aggregate Industries and leased to Dartmoor Railway CIC. Okehampton Station is owned by Devon County Council, and the building is leased to Dartmoor Railway CIC. The intermediate stations at Bow and North Tawton are disused and are now privately owned residences. Sampford Courtenay survives as a station, albeit with no buildings.
These days the name Coleford Junction is a misnomer since it is no longer a junction. The Okehampton line runs alongside the previous down line from Crediton to Barnstaple whereas the up line now hosts the Tarka line. The junction at Coleford was removed some years ago and the lines do not physically join until just short of Crediton. The intermediate station at Yeoford has two platforms, one for the existing Tarka line, the other (a disused island platform) for the Okehampton branch. The track from Coleford through Yeoford to Crediton is still owned by Network Rail. Recent attempts to acquire rights for the Coleford-Yeoford portion did not come to fruition.
The line is single-track from Coleford right through to Okehampton, with operation controlled by a staff normally kept at Crediton signal box. The section from Okehampton through to Meldon Viaduct is controlled separately, but the long stretch of single-track line significantly restricts the services that can be run. However, unlike some preserved railways which are restricted to 25mph, the Dartmoor line is certified for running at up to 55mph.