The Dartmoor Line reopened for regular year-round, all-week passenger services on Saturday, November 20, and demand for the trains linking Okehampton and Exeter has continued to remain high with people not only from the Devon town itself but also from across a wide area of West Devon, Torridge and East and North Cornwall.
The reopening of the Dartmoor Line is the first of the Government’s Restoring Your Railway schemes, made possible thanks to over £40 million Government investment and its success is raising hopes of further rail reopenings in the future, with campaign groups active at Bude and Bideford.
GWR Managing Director Mark Hopwood said of the Dartmoor Line’s success: “Delivered £10 million under budget and within nine months, ahead of time, I am delighted to see that in its first two weeks the line is starting to flourish.
“The reopening has been a key aspiration for the community and the rail industry for some time, and the demand for services shows just how important good rail connections are for the community they serve.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps dispatched the first weekday passenger train to run on the Dartmoor Line for over 50 years. The first train ran on Wednesday, November 17 (before regular passenger services started three days later), travelling from Okehampton, and carried local school children, campaigners, railway staff, and supporters who all helped make the project happen.
Reacting to the newly released figures he said: “The Dartmoor Line has been a huge local success story – and these numbers show it.
“This link is already incredibly important to Okehampton, Exeter, Devon and to people from further afield visiting Dartmoor. It was brilliant to open the line last month, delivered two years early and £10 million under budget – now delivering for the local community.”
The Department for Transport, Network Rail and Great Western Railway (GWR) worked together accelerated the reopening of the railway, delivering passenger services in only nine months from the original funding being approved to entry into service, and coming in at £10 million under budget.
In line with the latest Government advice, GWR is encouraging customers to travel safely. People are reminded to:
• Wear a face covering
• Wash your hands more regularly
• Buy tickets online, on a smart card or by using the GWR app.
As from the start of the new timetable on Sunday, December 12, most trains on the Dartmoor Line will now call at both Exeter Central as well as Exeter St David’s seven days a week.
In other positive developments, the 118 Rail Link bus (Tavistock – Mary Tavy - Brentor – Lydford – Okehampton West St – Okehampton station) will now run seven days a week, timed to connect with trains, although there are fewer buses on Sundays. See the timetables at https://dartmoorline.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Timetable-Leaflet-Service-118-from-Dec-2021.pdf
One return bus journey on Sundays only is timed to run through to Gunnislake, providing a link to the village and also the Tamar Valley Line terminus at Drakewalls, though please note at the present time the connection to the Valley train works only when travelling towards Plymouth via Calstock, Bere Alston, Bere Ferrers, St Budeaux and Keyham (bus arrives at Gunnislake at 1.55pm. train to Plymouth departs at 2.11pm) – and not in the other direction (bus departs at 2pm, train up from Plymouth arrives afterwards at 2.06pm)
When the Cornish Times/The Post contacted the Dartline bus company, Devon County Council and OkeRail over the discrepancy, David Ovenden, Senior Transport Co-ordinating Officer Integrated Public Transport at Devon County Council, replied: “The 118 timetable on Sunday is primarily aimed to provide connections with train arrivals and departures at Okehampton. The extension to Gunnislake was added as a bonus and while it was originally intended that a connection would be provided with an inbound and outbound train at Gunnislake.
“Unfortunately this was thwarted as GWR altered the timing of the inbound train from Plymouth due to it being delayed meeting the arrival from Paddington at 1311.
“We are unable to alter the 118 to run 10 minutes later as the connection at Okehampton would become unreliable.
“As you are probably aware, by the time we discovered the above, it was too late to ask GWR to alter the train times from Okehampton and they cannot easily do so as they have to pass Barnstaple services at either Crediton or between Cowley Bridge junction and St Davids. For this reason, they cannot delay the departure of trains from Okehampton should the bus be running late.
“We are working with GWR to see if we can establish a timetable for the summer which provides a connection at Gunnislake for the arrival as well as the departure.”
If such a connection can be established it could be a boon to daytrippers and tourists wishing to use public transport while exploring and admiring a diverse range of West Country landscapes from the Tamar and Tavy estuaries to towns and villages on the edge of the wild expanses of Dartmoor.