Monday, 6 January 2020

Re-opening of Heathfield Line?

The Heath Rail Link group hope that though one day soon trains will be taking to the tracks between the two stations of Heathfield and Newton Abbot

Scheduled passenger trains have not rolled out of Newton Abbot and towards Heathfield since 1959, but 60 years on, plans to reopen the disused rail line are gathering steam.

The group wants to see the line reopened as a way of easing transport pressures in the region as a commuter line, as well as giving the tourist industry a boost.

They had initially hoped that the line could reopen by the end of 2020 – a plan that looks unlikely to happen – but Michael Cooke, chairman of Heath Rail Link, thinks that things could happen in the next three years.

Mr Cooke said that they are still in discussions with Network Rail about their proposals, but they have been given permission already to start doing some work around platform 9 at Newton Abbot station.

He said: “Network Rail are still undecided about what they want to do with the line and if they want to keep it open or lease or sell it to us.”

He said that a meeting is planned to take place soon with the rail companies to see if any of them want to take over the running of the line, but if not, then it will be up to the ORR to decide how to proceed.

Mr Cooke said: “I personally feel that they will eventually lease or pass the line over to us. We would need to fix the line but that can be done. I think this is what may happen as not many of the train companies want to run the trains on the line. The only possibility of trains running seems to be for the construction materials towards the new housing estates being built.”

The group has previous been invited to walk the old railway line to see from themselves its condition, and Mr Cooke said there is nothing about the line that would not be repairable.

Mr Cooke added that they are also looking to open up a park and ride system on a field in Heathfield that would mean that commuters could park there and then get the train into Newton Abbot and beyond.

Back in 2018, he said that there was a hope to reopen by 2020, but speaking this week, he said he cannot see it happening that soon. However, he added: “If things go well then maybe it can in two or three years’ time. We have got to get the funding but we are on the case with that at the moment.”

Supporting for the reopening of the line has long been given by Teignbridge District Council. As part their ten-year strategy, one of the council’s goals is to work closely with and to contribute to the design of key transport infrastructure in the district – and it includes improved use of the Heathfield railway station.

 A train visiting Heathfield Station

Cllr Gordon Hook, leader of the council, has long been a supporter of the campaign to reopen the line, and speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he said it would be wonderful prospect and a fantastic aspiration.

He said: “With climate change and the climate emergency, the need is even greater to get people out of their cars and onto sustainable transport and public transport.

“If we even got only 150-200 cars a day that travel from Newton Abbot to Bovey Tracey or Heathfield off the roads, then it would be a great saving in terms of carbon emissions and congestion.