Launceston residents could soon be taking the train once more as a town councillor proposes re-joining the rail network.
Recently, the Dartmoor Line celebrated its second anniversary. The line, which runs between Okehampton and Exeter, was restored in just nine months and delivered £10-million under budget.
Since its opening on November 20, 2021, more than 550,000 passenger journeys have been made on the line, a statistic which far exceeded expectations.
However, the reopening of the stretch wouldn’t have been possible without campaigning from local groups. One of these groups was OkeRail which was set up in 2015 and hoped to unite local voices, and bring together stakeholders and interested parties to work towards the common interest of reopening the line.
After years of campaigning, preaching the positives of connectivity and the potential economic benefit, the decision was finally made to go ahead with the project.
Following such a successful campaign, residents of Cornwall are hopeful that this neighbouring rail hub could encourage greater connectivity in the Duchy.
One group who have made their thoughts known is ConnectBude. The group are campaigning to reconnect both Bude and Holsworthy to the National Rail Network, initially via Okehampton.
The group now has nearly 500 members and has been encouraged by the positive response to Okehampton’s reopening.
However, now a Launceston councillor is hoping that the town can also benefit from being reconnected to the rail network.
Cllr Dave Gordon has been interested in this prospect for the last few years. Back in January 2022, he made the proposal that the council consider the possibility.
Cllr Gordon told the Post : “I had been giving this matter a lot of thought for a number of months before presenting my proposal to the council, so I was delighted that they backed my proposal. Launceston is in the ideal location for the re-introduction of the railway to serve the North Cornwall area and beyond.”
Since the meeting, the council set up a small working party to look into the feasibility of starting the conversation. Following this, the council have had great feedback from like-minded groups in the South West such as OkeRail and ConnectBude.
At a recent meeting, the working group, currently responsible for the project, were given a presentation updating them as to where the other groups are with their projects, along with advice on how Launceston can join in.
Speaking to the Post, a spokesperson from ConnectBude said: “Launceston Town Council are working closely with ConnectBude to accelerate their understanding of the requirements to support an outline business case to return the railway to Launceston.
“Working in partnership with ConnectBude, any future proposal will strongly support the argument to return railway connectivity to North Cornwall, still considered a railway desert. This initiative has the potential to improve connectivity for young people in education, enhance access to health provisions, create business growth opportunities and improve public transport in a challenging climate change environment.
“Establishing the viability of any proposed scheme to re-join Launceston to the national rail network is the first step in this long-term vision. The success of the Dartmoor line provides a strong evidence base to support future such schemes.”
Cllr Gordon added: “We were advised to start with an engineering study, which we have done, and advised that the most likely connection would be from Launceston to Halwill Junction.
“OkeRail are currently working on an engineering study from Okehampton to Bude, and Launceston’s interest in being part of this plan is to join the study from Launceston to Halwill. This study has already started.”
Although this is a very exciting prospect, plans are still at a very early stage.
Cllr Gordon continued: “This is obviously very early days in our desire to get Launceston back on the rail map, and there will be a huge amount of work to do over several years, but we are determined to see it through and work closely with both OkeRail and ConnectBude.
“We will obviously need to gauge what support there is locally and we will be undertaking public consultations when we have made more progress.”
At a meeting of the full council on November 21, Cllr Gordon updated the meeting as to the progress made to date, with a view to update the council quarterly in the future.
Launceston’s mayor, Cllr Helen Bailey added: “The process is in the very early stages of investigation. Cllr Dave Gordon is the lead on this as he made the proposal to council a couple of years ago. A chance meeting between Dr Michael Ireland and I at the 60th anniversary of the Railway Circle on the Launceston Steam Railway led to a meeting being arranged, and it was full steam ahead - excuse the pun.
“We have met with Dr Ireland of OkeRail and members of ConnectBude.
“This process and the investigations along with all the other areas involved will take some time, it took 13 years for Okehampton to open again, but we are very fortunate to have those who have already achieved a link, supporting us.
“It is a very exciting prospect and a link would be a huge asset to the town and the county, for both residents and visitors.”