Rail minister Wendy Morton will today board the train to Okehampton as the town’s bright future as part of the national rail network is secured with the doubling of the current service from Sunday.
The minister is to board the 10.30am Dartmoor Line service from Exeter St David’s to travel to Okehampton, to meet passengers and local supporters and see engineering work that has paved the way. An hourly service arrives on the Dartmoor Line from Sunday. Passenger numbers have doubled expectations, with 50,000 journeys being made since the line reopened in November. Dr Michael Ireland, chairman of campaign group OkeRail, said the arrival of the hourly service, six months after the reopening of the Dartmoor Line, would ‘transform the town yet again’ allowing easy connections to the rest of the country.
Over the past 15 days engineering work has been carried out on the 14-mile stretch of line from Okehampton towards Crediton to prepare it for the arrival of the hourly service. Along the line, at Fatherford and Coleford, engineers have completed further improvements to the drainage and track bed to enable faster line speeds ready for the increase to hourly services. The minister will today view this work and also meet many of those involved in bringing the service back to the town.
Dr Ireland, who is an Okehampton town councillor as well as being chairman of OkeRail, said the introduction of the hourly service was hugely significant for Okehampton and the surrounding area.
He said: ‘From the point of view of people in the town, the problem with the initial service was there weren’t the ongoing connections. You would have to wait two hours between trains. Now people will be able to plan their journeys from Okehampton, not just to the greater South West but to London and other places.
‘It is important, because it puts Okehampton on the map nationally. It becomes a national destination in real terms which is very important.’
He added: ‘This is about the long-term future of the town, not just this summer. We have had summer trains before but this is about our connection to the national railway network in the longer term. That is the important thing and that is what we have not had before.
‘We can’t over emphasise the difference this will make to tourism in Okehampton and the demand for housing in the town has increased.
‘It will also have a knock-on effect on the service economy of the town. When I go into the town and speak to shop and cafe owners, they have all seen an uptake in business since the railway has come to the town.’
He said the next, very important stage, was to get a second station, the Parkway station, secured for the town. Funding is being sought by West Devon Borough Council from the Government’s ‘levelling up fund’ for infrastructure projects, with a bid due to be submitted in June.
‘We have got to have our Parkway Station,’ he said. ‘It is important because we have virtually another town on that side of Okehampton, we have housing right the way out along the Crediton road. It is also important to places like Hatherleigh.’
Okehampton borough councillor and town councillor Julie Yelland agreed that the Parkway station was vitally important, as she also applauded the ‘almost unbelievable’ return of the railway to the town.
‘Six months ago we didn’t have a service at all and to see the amount of work and passion from all parties that has gone into getting this up and running is amazing.
‘The support has been absolutely incredible, the number of users has exceeded projections and to see this going to an hourly service is brilliant. This is our new normal. It is almost unbelievable, but in fact it is not, it is here and it is happening.
It is fantastic for Okehampton and for the wider community and in terms of tourism and the wider economy this is opening things up for Okehampton.’
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