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Devon's rail lines get government boost

Friday, 6 October 2023 08:54

By Alison Stephenson, local democracy reporter

Local lines benefit from culling HS2's northern route (image courtesy: Mid Devon District Council)

HS2 cash diverted to local lines

MPs, council leaders and rail campaigners across Devon have welcomed government investment in the county’s rail services.

The £6.5 billion for transport and road improvements across the south west will see the Tavistock to Bere Alston line reopened, new stations at Cullompton and Wellington, plus a raft of other measures.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak cancelled the planned construction of the northern section of the high speed railway from Birmingham to Manchester. The govermnent says funds will be redirected to focus on “greater frequency and quality of transport infrastructure across the whole country”.

This is a significant boon for West Devon after a long-running campaign to get a line reinstated from Tavistock to Plymouth, via Bere Alson, for the first time in nearly 60 years.

It follows millions of pounds of investment in the borough to reinstate services from Okehampton to Exeter two years ago and a proposed second station on the edge of Okehampton to cater for commuters from across West Devon and North Cornwall.

At a cost of £40 million, this ‘Dartmoor Line’ saw a quarter of a million passenger journeys in the first 12 months since its reopening at the end of 2021.  Rail supporters have a further piece of the infrastructure jigsaw to campaign for – a rail link from Tavistock to Okehampton. This would create the full northern route from Plymouth to Exeter and an alternative to the Southern coast line through Dawlish which is volatile in heavy storms.

West Devon and Torridge Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Cox said: “I am delighted that the prime minister has announced the government has approved the reopening of the Tavistock to Plymouth railway line with a new station to be built in Tavistock.”

He continued: “The results of this wonderful news together with the reopening of the Dartmoor Line and the construction of a new railway station and transport hub at Okehampton as a result of our winning levelling up bid, will be to revolutionise transport communications in and for West Devon and the benefits to our communities will be huge.

“My father used to recall travelling to school by train to Tavistock during the war. Trains will now run again to our town for the first time since 1968!”

Devon new rail lines and stations (image courtesy: Department for Transport)

Richard Westlake, a Devon County councillor of 32 years and vice chair of the OkeRail campaign group that was instrumental in getting trains running again from Okehampton, said:  “This will make a huge difference to Tavistock and hopefully will reduce traffic to Plymouth on the A366. The Dartmoor Line has been so popular and I think the Tavistock line will be too.”

Councillor Philip Sanders, Devon County councillor for Yelverton Rural, said: “The reopening of this line has been a much-cherished project locally for many years and yesterday’s announcement has been greeted with enthusiasm by residents of Tavistock Town and its environs, as well as those of the Bere Peninsula.

“Devon County Council has strongly supported this venture and has been working away in the background so that although the scheme is not quite ‘shovel ready’ it is none the less able to take advantage of the funding now proposed.”

Leader of West Devon Borough Council  Cllr Mandy Ewings, said: “It’s absolutely fantastic news that the Tavistock to Plymouth railway line has taken a huge step closer to becoming a reality, as a result of the government’s decision to fund this line recognising the importance of regional rail networks.

“It will increase opportunities for those living in the borough to commute, study in Plymouth, and further afield and be connected to the rest of the country. It’ll also take traffic off the A386, which can only be a good thing for the environment. This work goes hand in hand with the creation of a new cycle route parallel to the A386, which should help ease traffic on the road to Plymouth even more.”

Campaigners in Cullompton and Wellington have also welcomed the news that the towns will be linked to the mainline and get an hourly service.

Mid Devon District Council said both are large towns currently unserved by a rail station between Exeter and Taunton.

Some of the £6.5 billion for the south west will be spent on making the rail route between Exeter and Plymouth via Dawlish more resilient, new road schemes and road surfacing to combat potholes. A £2 bus fare will also be extended to December 2024.

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