Government prepares plans to introduce regular train services to Okehampton

Tuesday 30th January 2018 5:42 pm

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PLANS to bring rail services back to Okehampton are gathering momentum — with the Secretary of State for Transport issuing a huge statement of intent relating to bringing rail services back to the town.

In a letter circulated to South West MPs, the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, confirmed that the government has instructed Great Western Railway (GWR) ‘to prepare plans to introduce regular train services to Okehampton, with the objective of securing a credible and costed plan for delivering an all-week, all-year train service between Exeter and Okehampton as soon as reasonably practicable’.

The comment is hugely significant, as it provides concrete evidence that the higher reaches of government have objectives to bring rail services back to Okehampton.

Mike Davies, chair of the OkeRail forum campaigning for the return of rail services, was delighted with the news. He said: ‘It is wonderful news not just for the community of Okehampton but for the people of West Devon and North Cornwall.

‘A lot of work still needs to be done but things are looking good. It has been a long journey with a lot of work behind the scenes but I am delighted that it has all paid off.’

As part of the proposals being developed, a number of options for a new railway station in Okehampton are being considered by Devon County Council as it develops proposals for the reintroduction of regular weekday trial services in partnership with the Department for Transport (DfT) and Great Western Railway (GWR).

A feasibility study, commissioned by the county council, is looking at a variety of platform layouts for a parkway station and required infrastructure improvements as part of the scheme.

These have been presented to the OkeRail Forum as part of consultation with key stakeholders, which also includes GWR, Aggregate Industries and Dartmoor Railway.

Key considerations include safe running of regular passenger trains, access for freight trains and current or future lease holder services.

Elements required for a modern station, such as local ramped access and CCTV, are being considered as part of the proposals for a parkway station.

Cost estimates are yet to be determined but various local and other funding sources will be needed.

Track improvements would also need to be made to cope with the running of regular services.

A site inspection of the track has shown that around a third of the track, while suitable for light use, would fall short of the standards required for more intensive use of several daily services.

Two potential designs are being considered for a car park, providing around 210 parking spaces with a drop-off point for buses and taxis, and facilities for cycle parking.

Councillor Andrea Davis, Devon County Council cabinet member for infrastructure, development and waste, said: ‘Re-establishing daily train services between Okehampton and Exeter would provide a huge lift to the West Devon economy and support long term growth in the area – and it is a point I made to Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport, at a recent meeting.

‘We’ve made progress in developing alternative layouts for the station, as well as considering other essential elements needed to run a daily service. We’ll be looking to work together with the community and stakeholders to develop the scheme but we have to be realistic and accept that we will be reliant on external funding to get this up and running.’

Mike Davies said: ‘We want to maximise usage for the benefit of the community. Progress is being made and we are now working through the details presented to us.

‘It would be great to have a start date but a few things need to put in place first.’

Councillor Kevin Ball, County Councillor for Okehampton Rural, said: ‘I echo Cllr Davies’ point — the economic uplift for West Devon is essential and it’s been shown that the reintroduction of railways can provide that.

‘The majority of the development in Okehampton is in the east of the town and a parkway station in that area would provide easy access for residents that side of town.

‘Good progress has been made but there are many challenges ahead, including finding the funding for infrastructure. Everyone is working hard to make this happen, including our local MP Mel Stride.’

A number of additional surveys will need to be carried out to enable the project to progress. This includes assessments of level crossings, detailed track conditions, earthworks, and the communications system for drivers.

A report will now be finalised in the coming weeks setting out the options under consideration for further discussion with GWR, the DfT and the OkeRail Forum.

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