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Devon and Cornwall Branch

Click on name to go direct to section on this main page: Our area / Events / Campaigns / New stations / Railway Reopenings / Exeter to Salisbury route / Improved Regional Connectivity / Exeter to Plymouth via Dawlish / Branch AGMs / Newsletter / Rail User Groups / Branch dashboard / Contact

Our area

The counties of Cornwall (a unitary authority) and Devon, including the unitary authorities of Plymouth City and Torbay, as well as the Districts of Exeter, East Devon, Mid-Devon, North Devon, West Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge, and Torridge.

Events

Click here for Railfuture and other regional and national events, also conferences and key campaign dates.

At the 9th Rail User Group Awards presented in London on 15 July 2023, three representatives from different Devon organisations took home five awards between them! The coveted Judges' Special Award for Devon County Council, Gold Award for Best Social Media to Tarka Rail Association / ACE Rail campaign, Gold Award for Best Campaigner to Tarka Rail Association's ACE Rail campaign lead Tim Steer, Bronze Award for Best Campaign to Tarka Rail Association's ACE Rail campaign, and Gold Award for Best Website to Dartmoor Railway Association.
For further details see RUG Awards 2023.
PHO-DNC:2023.07.15 - Devon's Award-winning trio - Sue Baxter, Tim Steer, Andrea Davis
See "Devon honoured to receive Railfuture award" - Councillor Andrea Davis, Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Environment and Transport, who received the award presented by Hon. President Christian Wolmar, said: "This award is an unexpected honour and an incredible achievement for the County Council. It’s extremely pleasing to know that effort has been recognised by Railfuture and we thank them for this award."
See also "Devon honoured to receive Railfuture award" - Exeter Daily, 17 July, and "Devon scooped most awards at national Railfuture ceremony" - Crediton Courier, Okehampton Times, Tavistock Times Gazette, Tamar Valley Times, Totnes Today - 21 July 2023.
And see Great Torrington Town Council's Celebrations, consultations and competitions ... oh my! - 23 July 2023.
PHO-DNC:2023.07.15 - Gold Award for Best Website presented to Sue Baxter of Dartmoor Railway Association PHO-DNC:2023.07.15 - Judges' Special Award presented to Andrea Davis of Devon County Council PHO-DNC:2023.07.15 - Gold Award for Best Social Media presented to Tim Steer for Tarka Rail Association and its ACE Rail campaign
Left > right: Dartmoor Railway Association's Sue Baxter, Devon County Council's Andrea Davis, Tarka Rail Association's Tim Steer.

At the revived Rail User Group Awards presented in Bristol on Saturday 16 July 2022 three groups within the branch area went home with framed certificates. See RUG Awards 2022.
PHO-DNC:2022.07.16 - Judges' Special Award presented to OkeRail / Dartmoor Line PHO-DNC:2022.07.16 - Gold Award for Best New Group presented to Tarka Rail Association's ACE Rail campaign PHO-DNC:2022.07.16 - joint Commendation for Best Newsletter presented to Tarka Rail Association
Left > right: OkeRail, ACE Rail campaign, Tarka Rail Association.

Campaigns

See our illustrated one-page branch campaign strategy summary, May 2021 update, here. Much of our campaigning activity aligns with Devon Metro, launched in April 2011 as part of the County Council's Local Transport Plan 3 for 2011-26.

In 2018 a new sub-national transport body for the South West, Peninsula Transport, was established in shadow form. It seeks to offer the strategic transport policy context for Cornwall, Plymouth, Devon, Torbay, and Somerset Councils and other key stakeholders.
In November 2023 it published its Rail Strategy and in December 2023 it launched a public consultation on its Transport Strategy Strategic Transport Priorities to 2050 - closing on 5th February 2024. Railfuture South West (Devon & Cornwall and Severnside regional branches) had previously responded to Peninsula Transport's 2021 consultation on its Vision.

Information and ideas for Devon and Cornwall Bus-Rail links from Railfuture Devon and Cornwall, and Devon County Council's inter-active bus map.

New stations

The long delayed £16 million Marsh Barton station between Exeter St. Thomas and Starcross on the Riviera line, was officially opened on 3rd July 2023 by the transport minister Mark Harper. Public services started the next day on Tuesday 4th July and consist mainly of an hourly service on the Paignton, Exeter and Exmouth route.

The station serves Exeter's large Marsh Barton industrial estate and also provides good access for walks alongside the River Exe and canal. Parking is limited to only 3 disabled spaces, so this might discourage the station's use by local Alphington residents. See the following links for further background information on the development of Marsh Barton , and works that progressed throughout 2022.

New Marsh Barton station ready for opening.
Exeter's new Marsh Barton station the day before opening to the public and one of the Paignton bound services which now stop here.

Other new stations opened in 2015 at Newcourt (June) on the Avocet line to Exmouth and at Cranbrook (December) on the line to Axminster, Yeovil and Salisbury. These are key elements of the Devon Metro concept, part of Devon County Council's public transport strategy, part-funded by the New Stations Fund.

Railfuture has supported the campaigns for further new stations at Edginswell / Torquay Gateway on the Riviera line between Newton Abbott and Paignton (backed by the New Stations Fund), at Cullompton, Devon between Exeter and Tiverton Parkway, and at Wellington, Somerset between Tiverton Parkway and Taunton (both now backed by the Ideas Fund of the Restoring Your Railway programme with £5million development funding announced in October 2021 and confirmed in March 2022). In July 2023 it was reported that Torquay Gateway station faced a significant funding shortfall. In October 2023, the DfT's Network North said, in para 71.: "We will deliver rail improvements in the South West. We will reopen stations and reintroduce rail passenger services to Wellington and Cullompton, reinstate five miles of track and a new station at Tavistock to connect it with Plymouth." In late-October it was reported that Wellington station might open by September 2025.
Tavistock is overdue a new station at the end of a reinstated link with Plymouth, via Bere Alston, its prospects recently revived and in November 2022 given a further boost with submission by Devon CC of the latest Strategic Outline Business Case, part-funded by the DfT from its Restoring Your Railway fund.
Okehampton Parkway is seen as part of Devon Metro. In May 2022 Devon County Council announced that Okehampton Parkway station is part of a £92million bid to the Levelling-Up Fund second round, with results expected in early-2023. On 18 January the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing & Communities announced the winners which include "£13.5 million for a new railway station on the eastern edge of Okehampton - the West Devon Transport Hub - complete with high quality cycle facilities and EV charging points on site to better connect communities and promote active travel." See also "Network Rail welcomes new funding in rail for the south west" and "Millions awarded to transform transport links in the South West."

Other station reopenings on existing lines and suggested by Railfuture Devon and Cornwall include Pool between Camborne and Redruth, Plympton between Plymouth and Ivybridge, and Kingskerswell between Torre and Newton Abbot.

Railway Reopenings

Our most active, and award-winning, current campaign - across Mid-Devon, North Devon and into Torridge - is for an upgraded and extended Tarka Line, the Atlantic Coast - Exeter Railway (aka ACE Rail): see Bideford - Exeter via Barnstaple (for twice-hourly and faster services to Exeter Central).
GPH:ACE Rail banner, outdoor - Tarka Rail Association and principal backers PHO:Bideford rail poster GPH:ACE Rail banner, indoor - Tarka Rail Association and Railfuture - network diagram
See also the Railfuture-affiliated Tarka Rail Association (also on Facebook) which includes support for the ACE Rail campaign (Facebook). The Association is part of the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership.
For recent (early-2020) views of the existing Tarka Line watch Driver's Eye View of the journey from Barnstaple to Exeter St Davids Barnstaple - Eggesford. Part 1 of 2 (23 minutes) and Eggesford - Exeter St Davids. Part 2 of 2 (33 minutes).
For more recent - post-Dartmoor Line re-opening - cab rides watch from Exeter St Davids (platform 3) to Okehampton, and from Okehampton to Exeter St Davids (bay platform 2).

Restoring the rail link in West Devon between Tavistock and Bere Alston (for through journeys to and from Plymouth) is under active development since a bid to the DfT's Restoring Your Railway Ideas Fund was successful in attracting funding support for an updated Strategic Outline Business Case. See Tavistock to Plymouth Railway and April 2022 and November 2022 news. Devon Metro continues to develop!
See TavyRail - A group including rail professionals, academics & stakeholders focused on providing objective information for the Northern and Southern Dartmoor Rail Route debate.
PHO:2023.07.29 - TavyRail & Peninsula Rail Group stall at EcoFest, Tavistock
The TavyRail / Peninsula Rail Group stall (R: Chair Richard Searight) at Tavistock EcoFest on 29th July 2023.
On 4th October 2023 Rail Minister Merriman wrote to Torridge & West Devon MP Sir Geoffrey Cox KC confirming progress with the County Council's Restoring Your Railway project - see letter.

Restoring passenger services to the mothballed line in Teignbridge between Newton Abbott and Heathfield, and as close to Bovey Tracey as practicable, is the aim of Heath Rail Link. See also Heathfield Rail Link Association (HRLA) Facebook (private group).

In addition to eventually reopening the inland Exeter to Plymouth line via Okehampton and Tavistock, Railfuture Devon and Cornwall advocates track-bed protection of some other closed lines where there may be potential for future reopening. These include:
  • Tiverton to Tiverton Junction (Willand) (for service to Exeter),
  • Sidmouth to Feniton (for service to Exeter).
While we are generally supportive in principle of the long-term aspirations of local groups wishing to restore rail services to Bude-Stratton, Holsworthy, Launceston, Ashburton, Ilfracombe, and Wadebridge, and between Okehampton and Tavistock, in the meantime we are witnessing and support improved bus/rail connections. From the opening of the Dartmoor Line on 20th November 2021 the 118 bus between Tavistock and Okehampton via Brentor and Lydford calls at Okehampton station every other hour, timed with trains (Mon-Sat, some Sunday buses too). From 29th May 2022 Lynmouth and Lynton gained through bus links with Barnstaple rail station to link with Tarka Line train services when the 309/310 services were extended from the town centre bus station. From 30th October 2022 new dedicated bus services commenced linking Launceston (route 306) and Bude via Holsworthy (route 6) with Okehampton. From 12th December 2022 Ilfracombe and Combe Martin also gained direct bus links with Barnstaple rail station, via the North Devon District Hospital, when a new service on route 301 was introduced; it had a major frequency uplift from 24th July 2023.

Also see information on and ideas for Devon and Cornwall Bus-Rail links from Railfuture Devon and Cornwall, and Devon County Council's inter-active bus map.

Dartmoor Line services

On 19 March 2021 the government announced that regular services from Exeter to Okehampton would be restored in 2021, as the first reopening to be completed by the Restoring Your Railway initiative - more about the Dartmoor Line

Regular public passenger services returned to the Okehampton to Exeter railway from Saturday 20th November 2021, following the official opening on Wednesday 17th November. This was a month earlier than planned. Mark Hopwood CBE, GWR Managing Director, said:
"Working with our partners at Network Rail and in the community we have long campaigned for the re-opening of this important local line, and we are really looking forward to being able to start running passenger trains again. With the start of services now just over a month away, this announcement is great news for communities surrounding Okehampton who will once again be connected to the national network. We've been working hard with Network Rail and local partners, including Devon County Council, to help prepare the line and the station at Okehampton for reopening on 20 November and this work will continue after 20 November as we develop the station facilities. The project to re-open the line is already helping to bring social and economic benefits to the local area, reinforces the positive impact the railway can have on the communities we serve."

Network Rail laid 11 miles of new track and, repaired 21 structures along the route including 4 bridges and undertaken vegetation and drainage works. Further work was then carried out over the 2021/22 winter including work on the Okehampton station buildings to enable the restoration of the café and other facilities, and also on the line itself - at Yeoford bridge in Penstone - in February. Journey time between Okehampton and Exeter St. Davids is approximately 40 minutes. Initially only some trains ran to and from Exeter Central, a few calling at Newton St. Cyres by request; from December 2021 most trains serve Exeter Central.

The bus service (118) to and from Tavistock (2021 census population 12,675) via Okehampton town centre was amended to connect with trains at Okehampton station. Then from 30 October 2022 additional dedicated bus links to and from Okehampton station started, connecting the new railhead with Launceston, Holsworthy and Bude (with Stratton) (2021 census populations of 8746, 3475 and 10,589 respectively).

In 2022 a line closure for major track-works between 25th April and 9th May paved the way for the alternate-hourly service since opening in November 2021 to become hourly from the national timetable change on 15th May.

In May 2023 recent and possible progress was considered in this video (Which lines could return on the former West Devon railway network?) Note especially Devon County Council's Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Environment and Transport, Cllr. Andrea Davis, at 00:47-01:14 and 01:42-02:41. (The bid mentioned at 02:00-02:25 was successful, with a Strategic Outline Business Case submitted to the DfT in autumn 2022 and its approval given by Rail Minister Huw Merriman on 4th October 2023.)

Dartmoor Line Opening Day
Regular passenger trains returned to the Exeter to Okehampton route on Saturday 20th November 2021, a gap of 49½ years since the June 1972 closure and 150 years since the original opening of the railway. The new service runs approximately every 2 hours; it became hourly from May 2022, and a bit faster after the track was improved between Coleford Junction, Yeoford and Crediton.

During the day the 118 bus service provides a link with the town centre, Lydford, North Brentor, Mary Tavy and Tavistock. There is an opening day guide and timetable for Saturday 20th November only from the Dartmoor line website.

On opening day an enhanced timetable was run to cope with the large number of passengers. The Dartmoor Railway Association had their museum open on platform 2 and served refreshments. A free shuttle bus ran to the town centre every half hour. At around midday the local Crediton ringers marked the occasion by ringing the bells for 20 minutes at the Crediton Parish Church of the Holy Cross. Click here to listen to the first few minutes and use the back arrow to return to this page.

Okehampton Platform 2 and building used by the Dartmoor Railway Association

Okehampton platform 3 on reopening day.

Bells were rung to mark the Okehampton line reopening

Okehampton station platform 3 on reopening day with mid afternoon departure to Exeter.

Left - Platform 2 the old down line remains in the ownership of Devon County Council and the building is being used by the Dartmoor Railway Association. On reopening day the museum was open and refreshments served.. Top and Bottom Right - Platform 3 is now in Network Rail ownership. The train is a mid afternoon service about to return to Exeter on reopening day. Bottom Left - Crediton Parish Church from where the bells were rung.

Exeter to Salisbury route

Railfuture is campaigning for a programme of incremental improvements to the route between Salisbury and Exeter to increase service frequency and its capacity as a diversionary alternative to the Great Western route. See details of our proposal at Salisbury to Exeter Route Capacity Enhancements. Within Devon we advocate a new passing loop at Whimple. For further information on this see our November 2017 Newsletter.

The Honiton diversionary route was needed when the Exeter to Taunton railway was closed for 3 days at Cowley Bridge Junction, from Tuesday 12th June 2018, for the installation of 24 hollow concrete rectangular culvert structures.

The Honiton line will be needed again from 18 February to 8 March 2019 when the railway is closed between Taunton and Tiverton Parkway for maintenance work at Whiteball Tunnel. Only a 2 hourly diversionary service can currently be added to the normal hourly Exeter to London Waterloo service.

See also the Salisbury-Exeter Rail Users Group. Details of their 25 October 2023 AGM here, 2022 here.

Improved Regional Connectivity


Exeter to Plymouth via Dawlish

During the late evening of Tuesday 4th February 2014 a storm surge breached the sea wall carrying the railway at Dawlish. Eighty metres of track were left hanging, the adjacent road cut and several houses undermined.

Photo by Network Rail

On 8th February 2014 both lines to Taunton from the east were closed by flooding whilst Whiteball Tunnel was already closed for maintenance, and the South-Western line to Exeter was closed by a landslip at Crewkerne, leaving Exeter and Taunton totally isolated. This had the effect of cutting off Cornwall and half of Devon from the rest of the UK railway network. The lines to Exeter reopened, and the line at Dawlish was repaired and re-opened on 4th April 2014.

However the economy of the South-West cannot afford to be cut off for long periods of time again in future. In November 2012 Railfuture published this report: Railway Flooding in Devon: Observations & Recommendations. These recommendations have yet to be actioned. At our Taunton conference in June 2013, the speaker John Dora of John Dora Consulting, a former Network Rail engineer, warned about environmental problems and referred particularly to the sea wall.

See also Cowley Bridge Junction Floods.

Railfuture are campaigning for a resilient rail network in the south west which will also support economic growth. We therefore welcome the flood resilience works being undertaken at Hele by the River Culm, on the Exeter-Bristol route about 4 miles south of the new station for Cullompton.
Click Dawlish to find out more about our campaign for an additional route and faster journey times, and register your support.

Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock

All is quiet on Sunday 6th May 2018 at Brentor, 53 years since closure of Devon’s second main line railway between Exeter and Plymouth.

Brentor Station, now a private residence, was on Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway's line from Lydford to Plymouth
Photo shows the closed Brentor station between Okehampton and Tavistock, View south towards Bere Alston and Plymouth on 6th May 2018. The reopened railway could be restored without running through the original station here, by using the former trackbed of the parallel Great Western line (Launceston to Plymouth) closed 31st December 1962.

The last passenger trains ran on Sunday 5th May 1968. Then just 9 months later the Dawlish route was blocked by snow and the closed Okehampton route, still with track in place, was more easily cleared for a freight service to run.

Since then the need for the Okehampton route has been demonstrated time and time again and most spectacularly during the 2 month 2014 closure of the Dawlish route. This was the result of the sea wall collapse there. Almost without fail the Okehampton route is needed several times a year for diverting trains. Most often this is when the Dawlish route is closed by high tides or by weekend work on the track. Passengers can be directed to bus replacement services, but the Penzance to London Paddington sleeper service cannot run and too few or too many trains can be trapped west of the blocked route.

Every weekday the line is needed for commuters to travel into both Exeter and Plymouth from Okehampton and Tavistock. Also to connect for other train services. Reopening the full Okehampton route would allow more long distance trains to be run from Plymouth to London and the North, but without using up all the track capacity needed to improve local train services on the Dawlish route.

Tavistock viaduct
Photo shows the south end of the Bannawell Street Viaduct in Tavistock. View south towards Bere Alston and Plymouth on 7th May 2016.

What it needs is 21 miles of restored track between Meldon near Okehampton and Bere Alston. The rest of the route remains in use as part of the Gunnislake and Barnstaple branches. The railway from Exeter to Okehampton remained in-situ and was used for occasional special services and on summer Sundays until the pandemic in 2020.

The Okehampton route would have been particularly useful for example in early 2019. Sunday 20, 27 January and 17 February saw the railway between Newton Abbot and Plymouth closed for track renewal work. Also during single line working for work on Marley Tunnel (between Newton Abbot and Plymouth) from February to early March 2019.

An article on 50 years of the closure by Bernard Mills appeared in the Plymouth Herald in April 2019.

More on reopening the Okehampton line - Restoring the second route from Exeter to Plymouth around the north side of Dartmoor.

In May 2023 recent and possible progress was considered in this video: "Which lines could return on the former West Devon railway network?" Note especially Devon County Council's Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Environment and Transport, Cllr. Andrea Davis, at 00:47-01:14 and 01:42-02:41. (The bid mentioned at 02:00-02:25 was successful, with a Strategic Outline Business Case submitted to the DfT in autumn 2022 and its approval given by Rail Minister Huw Merriman on 4th October 2023.)

Branch AGMs

Saturday 30th September 2023 - afternoon online meeting, including representatives from six local campaign groups: Connect Bude, Heathfield Rail Link Association, OkeRail, Tarka Rail Association's ACE Rail campaign, TavyRail, Torbay Rail User Group. (To watch and listen to the videos in slides 5 and 6 of the TRA presentation, see the entries in Bideford to Exeter via Barnstaple for 9th December 2022 and 25th January 2023, respectively).
Saturday 4th April 2020 - postponed.
Saturday 16th March 2019.
Saturday 28th April 2018.
Both were held at the Unitarian Church, Plymouth. No change of branch officers or committee at either.

Other branch meetings were held in November 2017 and November 2015, both in Crediton.

Newsletter

View our most recent and previous Railfuture Devon and Cornwall branch newsletters here.

Rail User Groups

Rail user groups and re-opening campaign groups in Devon and Cornwall are shown in the following table
and in Railfuture's Regional Lists of Rail User Groups, and Reopening Campaigns. The Regional List of RUGs, and the list of all RoCs, can be viewed, or downloaded in PDF format here.

Branch dashboard

See all Devon and Cornwall branch documents etc in the full dashboard.

Contact

Email: devon-cornwall at railfuture.org.uk

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