The Dartmoor Line is the first rail line to be reopened after 50 years under the Restoring your Railway initiative.

The 22.53km-long Dartmoor Line, operating between Okehampton and Exeter in Devon, UK, was upgraded to improve rail connectivity in the region. The upgrade project reopened the line in November 2021 for daily passengers, for the first time in 50 years.

The line encourages local people to use sustainable rail services to access the leisure destinations in Okehampton, and nearby areas. The connection to Exeter improves links to the rest of the UK, as it is a major hub in the region.

Great Western Railway (GWR), a UK-based train operating company owned by multi-national transport group FirstGroup, is operating train services between Exeter and Okehampton at a frequency of every two hours. Additional upgrade works are currently underway to introduce an hourly service from summer 2022.

Dartmoor rail line details

Okehampton station was opened in October 1871 by the Devon & Cornwall Railway Company, which merged into the London & South Western Railway, enabling through services from London Waterloo and Exeter, to Okehampton. The Dartmoor line was closed for passenger services in 1972, following the publication of the Reshaping of British Railways report in March 1963 that called for the closure of several railway lines and stations to curb losses.

The Dartmoor line is the third rail line, and the longest, to be opened for regular passenger services in Devon and Cornwall in the last 100 years.

Trains on the Dartmoor line run between Okehampton, Crediton, and Exeter St Davids. Stoppage at Crediton ensures a regular service to Okehampton, while also increasing train services between Crediton and Exeter. Selected train services stop at Exeter Central and Newton St Cyres. The reopening allows passengers to reach Exeter St Davids in approximately 40 minutes.

Dartmoor Rail Line upgrade details

The upgrade project involved improvements to the track and other infrastructure, to enable the reopening of the Dartmoor line for passenger services. The Okehampton station was also upgraded through the installation of a ticket vending machine, help point, public address system, CCTV, information display systems, and free Wi-Fi.

As part of the rail line upgrade, a ‘pay and display’ car park was also developed, with dedicated parking bays for persons with disabilities. Trains on the Dartmoor line use Okehampton station’s platform three, which has step-free access from the entrance.

Furthermore, the project involved the replacement of old track, clearing lineside vegetation, assessing structures along the route, and the installation of new mobile masts that allow effective communication between train drivers and signal operators. Several level crossings were also upgraded to improve safety.

Plans for the Okehampton station building and platform also include a new cafe, community shops, visitor centre, heritage waiting room, and toilet facilities, which are set to open in 2022. Furthermore, a parkway station at the east end of Okehampton is planned to be developed in the future.

Construction

Detailed investigations for the rail line upgrade project were carried out in early 2020. Construction work involved drainage, fencing, and earthworks, the laying of more than 17.7km of new track, the replacement of 24,000 concrete sleepers, and the installation of approximately 29,000t of ballast. Test runs were performed before the line was opened for commercial operations.

The first 430m of track was laid between Coleford Junction and Okehampton in March 2021. A 45m-long new track with 65 new concrete sleepers, new rails, and 200mm of fresh ballast was installed on North Tawton Bridge in April 2021.

Funding

The UK Government committed more than £40m ($55.67m) to the Dartmoor line upgrade project, under the Department for Transport’s £500m ($665.34m) ‘Restoring Your Railway’ initiative that aims to reinstate abandoned lines and reopen closed stations across the country.

Rolling stock

GWR-operated Class 150, 158, and Turbo trains run on the Dartmoor line. The trains operate in two-car formations, include approximately 130 seats per service, and comply with the latest accessibility standards.

Benefits of the Dartmoor line upgrade

The project enhances the connectivity in the region, and reduces travel times by approximately  30%, when compared to a car or bus. In addition, it reduces traffic congestion and pollution on the A30 road. The line improves access to and from the mid and west Devon and north Cornwall areas.

Upgrades to the rail line and Okehampton station support tourism growth by improving connectivity to the surrounding Dartmoor National Park and the Granite Way cycle route, between Okehampton and Lydford. The reopening of the Dartmoor line also provides access to education, shopping, and work areas.

The Dartmoor Line connects a huge region closer to the rail network, including Hatherleigh, Holsworthy, Launceston and Bude. It also gives a new alternative for passengers travelling from Tavistock to Exeter, and beyond.

Key players involved

The project is implemented by Network Rail, in partnership with Great Western Railway, and the Devon County Council.

The project partners also include Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership, and the Department for Transport.

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