Saturday 20th November 2021 marked the return of regular train services on the Dartmoor Line between Exeter and Okehampton, for the first time in almost half a century.
The first regular passenger service to Okehampton since 1972 will arrive at 0710 (leaving Exeter St Davids at 0632), with the first train departing Okehampton at 0730. Two-hourly seven-days-a-week services will be operated by Great Western Railway (GWR) with journey times between Okehampton and Exeter, including stopping at Crediton, taking approximately 40 minutes.
The Dartmoor Line – which received £40.5m of Government funding in March – is the first former line to reopen under the Government’s Restoring Your Railway programme.
Network Rail, GWR and the Department for Transport (DfT) alongside project partners Devon County Council, Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership and Dartmoor Railway Association (DRA) have worked collaboratively together to reopen this line ahead of schedule and under budget.
Benefitting from the application of Rail Project SPEED approaches, this 14-mile stretch of mothballed former freight railway has been transformed in just nine months and completed more than £10m under budget.
To make the restoration possible, Network Rail’s team of engineers worked 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 a record-breaking 20-day period.
Repairs have also been made to 21 structures along the route including four bridges. Other infrastructure work has included level crossing improvements and the installation of railway communications equipment. Vegetation clearance, earth and drainage works and fencing have also been completed and further infrastructure work will continue to take place to increase the line speed to enable an hourly service in 2022.
The route connects Exeter St Davids, Crediton and Okehampton, providing a launchpad for visitors to explore Dartmoor and regional links for local commuters. Around half of services, including at peak times, will also carry on to Exeter Central. Passengers travelling between Crediton and Exeter will also benefit from an increase in service frequency.
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.
Station facilities at Okehampton include new information screens, a Help Point, smartcard validation points, ticket vending machines, and a waiting room. 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.
Michelle Handforth, Network Rail’s Wales & Western regional managing director, said: “I am delighted that today marks the return of much anticipated regular passenger services between Exeter and Okehampton.
“This is something that the local community and our partners have wanted for a very long time and I am thrilled through the close working of the project partners, the Dartmoor Line is opening ahead of schedule and under budget.
“I would like to pay tribute to our project team and engineers whose commitment and hard work has got us here today as we celebrate the return of regular passenger services for the first time in nearly 50 years.”
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
“The support and advocacy of the local campaigners over the years has helped deliver a fantastic new service for customers, which we hope will grow from strength to strength.”
Councillor Andrea Davis, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Environment and Transport, said: “The re-opening of the Dartmoor Line marks a proud day for Devon, and everyone involved in making this happen to should rightly feel proud of what they have helped achieve. It’s marvellous to see the Dartmoor Line reinstated, and to be the first rail line to re-open under the Government’s Restoring Your Railway programme is a magnificent accomplishment in itself.
“Devon County Council maintained the Summer Sunday service on the line since 1997 and in doing so, demonstrated what could be achieved. If nothing else it kept hope alive that we could see a return of regular services between Okehampton and Exeter. A heartfelt thank you and well done goes to everyone in the community and partner organisations who have played a part in helping to revive the Dartmoor Line, and Network Rail and GWR have worked flat out to ensure that it opened this year.”
Mel Stride, MP for Central Devon, said: “I am proud that our Central Devon constituency is the first in the UK to have a service, lost to the rail cutbacks of the 1960s and 1970s, restored by the Government. I have enjoyed working closely with OkeRail over many years to help make it happen – the many years of campaigning has absolutely been worth it.
“The new line will provide thousands of my constituents who are up to an hour away from their nearest station with a valuable service on their doorstep and provide a huge boost to the local economy as we bounce back from Covid-19. Crucially, it will also help to reduce carbon emissions by taking cars off the A30. I can’t wait to book my first ticket!”
Richard Burningham, Manager of the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership, said: “What a day the reopening of this line 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.”