NEWS  ⁄  TRANSPORT & MOBILITY

Okehampton to Exeter "Dartmoor Line" passenger rail service reinstatement confirmed

£40 million Department for Transport "Restoring your Railway" funding to enable trains every two hours by end of this year, with plans to increase to hourly service during 2022. Stakeholders combine to get South West infrastructure needs onto Whitehall agenda.

Devon county council  Exeter st david's  Peninsula transport  Public transport 

The Department for Transport has confirmed that regular passenger rail services will be reinstated on the Okehampton to Exeter line at the end of this year.

The new service will initially run every two hours, and is expected to increase to hourly towards the end of 2022, subject to further upgrades. Eight 130-seat trains will run each day in either direction between 7am and 10pm. Journey time from Okehampton to Exeter will be 40 minutes.

Regular passenger services on the newly-branded Dartmoor Line were withdrawn in June 1972. From 1972 the line was used to transport railway ballast from Meldon Quarry and for occasional freight traffic and charter trains. There has been a Sunday service on the line during the summer since 1997.

Funding for the £40 million reinstatement was announced in the budget on 3 March. The money will be used to purchase the line from its current owner and for upgrade and maintenance works.

Train at Okehampton Station in 2015 Train at Okehampton Station in 2015. Photo: Richard Curnow under Creative Commons license.

It will be the first project delivered under the Department for Transport Restoring Your Railway scheme which aims to reinstate some of the services and stations that were axed following the 1963 Reshaping of British Railways report. Its author, British Railways chairman Richard Beeching, called for the closure of most of the network in Devon and north east Cornwall.

Reinstatement works will involve drainage, fencing and bridge repairs, the replacement of 24,000 concrete sleepers and the installation of 29,000 tonnes of ballast. A total of eleven miles of track will be replaced.

Improvements will also be made to Okehampton station, which will not be staffed. These include the installation of a ticket vending machine, help point, public address system, information screens and CCTV. The station car park will have dedicated disabled bays and the station building and platform will be fully accessible.

All services will run to Exeter St David’s with around half the weekday services extending to Exeter Central. Weekend services will be extended to Exeter Central where possible at a later date. All trains will also stop at Crediton and some services will stop at Newton St Cyres.

The new service will mark the 150th anniversary of the railway arriving in Okehampton in 1871. Trains will not run on the Dartmoor Line during reinstatement works.

Southern Region timetable map 1962

Southern Region timetable map 1962.
Image © Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership and Dartmoor Line project partners.

In 1994, as part of the privatisation of British Rail, the line from Okehampton to Coleford Junction (where it meets the Exeter to Barnstaple Tarka Line), Meldon Quarry and Okehampton station were all sold to an aggregates company.

The station, which had fallen into disrepair since the 1972 passenger services withdrawal, was sold on to Devon County Council and restoration began.

Dartmoor Railway, a Community Interest Company, was founded in 1997 to operate the line as a heritage service which included summer excursions and Christmas special railway rides.

Great Western Railway also ran a passenger service on summer Sundays with financial support from Devon County Council via the Sunday Rover ticket.

The ticket was withdrawn in 2015 but a similar combined bus and train offer was reintroduced in 2019. However services on the line were withdrawn in December 2019 and Dartmoor Railway CIC entered administration in February last year.

Okehampton station in 1997 Okehampton station in 1997. Photo © Devon County Council.

Meanwhile the OkeRail Forum and Community Interest Company was formed in 2014 to campaign for the restoration of passenger services on the line, and Central Devon MP Mel Stride facilitated numerous meetings with government ministers, local councillors, campaigners and representatives from Great Western Railways and Network Rail.

The combined efforts of stakeholders led to Chris Grayling, then Secretary of State for Transport, asking Great Western Railways to draw up a reopening plan in January 2018.

Preliminary work started on the ground in 2020, when Network Rail and Great Western Railway began assessing the infrastructure and control system improvements necessary to bring the line up to the required safety standards.

The plan to reopen the line finally appeared in the National Infrastructure Strategy alongside the Chancellor’s Autumn Spending Review in November last year.

Okehamption station platform in 2006 Okehamption station platform in 2006. Photo: Graham Tait under Creative Commons license.

The aspiration to reopen the line further westwards remains. The vision is to connect Exeter to Plymouth by rail without travelling via Dawlish, where parts of the sea wall were breached in 2014 during a storm, undermining the track and forcing its closure for two months.

Peninsula Rail Task Force, which was formed in 2013 following a series of severe weather events, published a South West Peninsula strategic rail blueprint to address this and other regional rail infrastructure issues in 2016.

It proposed long term investment in south west transport resilience to address the region’s vulnerability to increasing numbers of climate change-related severe weather incidents.


 is editor of Exeter Observer and a director of its publisher Exeter Observer Limited.

 is membership co-ordinator and community & culture editor of Exeter Observer and a director of its publisher Exeter Observer Limited.

Exeter in brief
Exeter in brief

The police inspectorate says DEVON AND CORNWALL POLICE must make urgent improvements after it was found to be inadequate in three of nine areas including responding to emergency and non-emergency calls and managing registered sexual and violent offenders.
Its assessment found two other areas required improvement while two more were graded “good”. A new chief constable was appointed in December after the force was placed under enhanced inspectorate monitoring last year.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is consulting on its draft Exeter Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which is already nearly six years late, until the end of March.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER staff have resumed strike action over pay, pensions and working conditions alongside Exeter school teaching staff with dozens more strike days planned during February and March.

EXETER CITY FUTURES published the agenda for its last board meeting on 30 January, two months after the meeting was held. It says it is “committed to being completely transparent and open about the things that are discussed at board meetings”. No minutes were included.

New figures show that 2.2 million people used EXETER CENTRAL RAILWAY STATION in the year to March 2022, making it the 155th busiest of 2,569 UK railway stations and (slightly) busier than Exeter St David’s.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is not making sufficient progress with its children’s services since they were judged inadequate in January 2020 according to the latest Ofsted monitoring report which found that key areas still require significant change and serious issues remain.

The opening of MARSH BARTON RAILWAY STATION has been delayed yet again, to “this spring”, putting project completion more than six years behind schedule.

EXETER CHIEFS rugby club has reintroduced its offensive “tomahawk chop” chant during games at Sandy Park despite seeking to rehabilitate its reputation over misappropriation of Native American imagery.

The UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has submitted detailed plans for its 1,700 bed West Park redevelopment of 50,000m2 of student accommodation.

The police inspectorate says DEVON AND CORNWALL POLICE must make urgent improvements after it was found to be inadequate in three of nine areas including responding to emergency and non-emergency calls and managing registered sexual and violent offenders.
Its assessment found two other areas required improvement while two more were graded “good”. A new chief constable was appointed in December after the force was placed under enhanced inspectorate monitoring last year.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is consulting on its draft Exeter Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which is already nearly six years late, until the end of March.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER staff have resumed strike action over pay, pensions and working conditions alongside Exeter school teaching staff with dozens more strike days planned during February and March.

EXETER CITY FUTURES published the agenda for its last board meeting on 30 January, two months after the meeting was held. It says it is “committed to being completely transparent and open about the things that are discussed at board meetings”. No minutes were included.

New figures show that 2.2 million people used EXETER CENTRAL RAILWAY STATION in the year to March 2022, making it the 155th busiest of 2,569 UK railway stations and (slightly) busier than Exeter St David’s.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is not making sufficient progress with its children’s services since they were judged inadequate in January 2020 according to the latest Ofsted monitoring report which found that key areas still require significant change and serious issues remain.

The opening of MARSH BARTON RAILWAY STATION has been delayed yet again, to “this spring”, putting project completion more than six years behind schedule.

EXETER CHIEFS rugby club has reintroduced its offensive “tomahawk chop” chant during games at Sandy Park despite seeking to rehabilitate its reputation over misappropriation of Native American imagery.

The UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has submitted detailed plans for its 1,700 bed West Park redevelopment of 50,000m2 of student accommodation.

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