RAIL campaigners in Okehampton are rejoicing after the Secretary of State for Transport revealed there are plans to trial a commuter rail service from Okehampton to Exeter.
Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport, said: ‘We are working with Great Western Railway to put in place a trial service.
‘Exeter is a pretty congested place. It’s an example of the kind of medium-sized city that is very congested at peak times. I hope we can move ahead with a trial relatively soon.’
Campaigners in Okehampton welcomed the news that a daily commuter train was looking more likely with the prospect of a trial service.
Mike Davies, chairman of OkeRail Forum, said: ‘The announcement by the Secretary of State for Transport took us a little by surprise. We have been pushing very hard for this result and we were delighted when Chris Grayling made his recent announcement while visiting Cornwall.
‘We have yet to see the fine detail but it is hoped that the service will be operating soon. We will need people to actually use the train service to prove the point. This is suggested as a “trial” and therefore we need to make it work. A lot of work needs to be carried out and we are currently looking at a Parkway Station to the east side of Okehampton to help alleviate traffic from within Okehampton.
‘I am delighted with the news and this is a great step forward. It makes all the meetings we have had locally and in London worthwhile. Our next focus is pressing for a start date.’
Michael Ireland, chairman of OkeRail Community Interest Company (CIC), added: ‘The big advantage of a daily service is that it would massively cut congestion, alleviate traffic and cut down the journey time for commuters. The implementation of a commuter service is a sustainable transport solution for Okehampton, which will also make the town more accessible for tourists.’
Mr Ireland said that a typical trial service ran for three years and said he hoped the trial service in Okehampton would begin in 2018, although no start date has yet been confirmed by First Great Western.
Both OkeRail groups have fiercely campaigned for regular rail services for many years and, following the news of a trial service, they announced that due to the success of the Royal Oke — a special train service which ran from Okehampton to London in March — a second journey is set to run in the autumn.
‘Due to the great success in March, a provisional date of October 7 has been set for the next Royal Oke train,’ said Mr Ireland.
Linda Harper, chair of the Chamber of Trade said: ‘The chamber were thrilled to hear that the trial service is being offered. It should help ease traffic congestion in Exeter and make commuting down from London for buisness-to-business meetings significantly more cost effective for local business. It will, of course, improve the accessibility of Okehampton for both locals and tourists and so we would expect to see an increase in the number of visitors to the town.’
Mayor of Okehampton Jan Goffey said: ‘We are absolutely thrilled that Chris Grayling has made this announcement and it is thanks to the efforts, over many years, of Mike Ireland and Okehampton Town Council’s Destination Okehampton working party.
‘Our Devon County Councillor Kevin Ball and MP Mel Stride must also be given credit for their work behind the scenes.
‘Now we, and all the other towns and villages who have lobbied so long and hard for a daily service, need to turn our attention to Devon County Council (DCC). We need the new Parkway Station to be built on the Exeter Road site, which has been designated for it.
‘DCC has the money set aside for this. Our original Victorian station is superbly placed for bringing visitors to the Youth Hostel, the Granite Way, Dartmoor and walking down to town through Simmons Park. But, the Parkway station would make commuting to Exeter considerably easier.
‘Plans for the new station have been drawn up and knowing how quickly the new station at Cranbrook was built, something similar up near the A30 would be ideal for commuters travelling in from Hatherleigh as well as people from the town and Hamlets.
‘When you think of the number of cars that set off for Exeter every day, plus traffic from all around converging at Alphington, paying for parking and battling home again... Well let the train take the strain!’