Reopening of former railway line would cut public transport journey times across North and West Devon

A full reopening of the railway between Exeter and Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock could cut public transport journey times across large parts of West and North Devon and North Cornwall, according to a bid to reopen the railway to the Department for Transport’s Restoring Your Railway Fund.

The Tavistock Okehampton Reopening Scheme (TORS) want to reinstate a railway with connecting express bus links radiating from Okehampton as the third part of a phased reintroduction of services over the route. The research shows that journey times from Devon and North Cornwall will be ‘transformed’, with Okehampton to Plymouth taking 42 minutes (28 minutes to Exeter Central) and Tavistock to Exeter 49 minutes (23 to Plymouth).

Connecting buses to and from Okehampton will cut public transport journey times from Padstow to Okehampton by 129 minutes, and almost 2.5 hours to Exeter, with journey time savings to towns such as Bideford and Great Torrington, Holsworthy and Bude, Camelford and Wadebridge, as well as by rail to Torbay, with a 62-minute saving between Tavistock and Paignton.

The bid is seeking funding to evaluate the social and economic benefits the scheme could generate for Devon and Cornwall, the impact on housing, health facilities, schools and higher education, roads congestion, financial risks and a review of previous studies into the route. TORS has worked closely with Devon County Council to ensure its proposals complement the imminent return of passenger trains between Exeter and Okehampton and work to return trains to Tavistock, which is the subject of a separate Restoring Your Railway bid by Devon County Council, reports In Your Area.

TORS director Jim Collins, formerly manager of Plymouth and Cornwall Railways and Thameslink managing director, said: “The potential journey times the TORS project offers compared with the best public transport are truly staggering, and will transform access to work, education and leisure for a huge area of the South West, in addition to enabling freight to move to rail and ensuring the availability of a railway serving Plymouth and Cornwall when the main line is closed for planned maintenance or unexpectedly.

Fellow TORS director and Cornwall based railway journalist Andrew Roden added: “With such immense possibilities from a phased reopening of the full ‘Northern Route’, it is important that those benefits and opportunities are fully understood and weighed against the potential costs. If funding is granted, this will give the region a definitive answer on how much of the region’s potential could be unlocked by this important scheme.

He added: “It is important to emphasise that this work will establish in principle whether reopening a railway between Exeter, Okehampton, Tavistock and Plymouth is a viable option. What it will not – and can’t – do is to establish exactly where that railway should run. If there is a case, that detailed work on route options to reduce the impact on properties and the environment will be undertaken by the relevant statutory bodies, and an extensive statutory public consultation undertaken. That is for the future. What is vital for the South West to level up is for the benefits of the railway reopening to be properly understood.

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