By Daniel Clark, Local Democracy reporter
Work is progressing on plans for the Okehampton Parkway railway station that will eventually serve the east of the town when the Dartmoor Line reopens later this year.
Following confirmation of government funding, services are expected to restart later this year on the 14-mile stretch of railway – known as the Dartmoor Line – for the first time in almost 50 years, providing a regular, daily passenger rail service between Okehampton and Exeter.
This investment coincides with the 150th anniversary of the railway first arriving in Okehampton in 1871 and it is expected that services will resume before the end of 2021 – with December currently pencilled in for the start of a two-hourly service – with that becoming hourly during 2022.
Work on laying the track has resumed, but as part of the Devon Metro proposals, as well as the reintroduction of the services between Okehampton and Exeter, a new railway station at Okehampton Parkway is also planned to be provided.
In 2020, Devon County Council commissioned Network Rail to build upon the initial feasibility report for Okehampton Parkway and develop a recommended platform option for the new station that has long been a priority as part of the Devon Metro scheme.
And Cllr Andrea Davis, cabinet member for rail on Devon County Council, told Thursday’s full council meeting, in answering questions about what was being done to bring forward the much needed Okehampton Parkway station, said that she had commissioned work to produce a Strategic Outline Business Case for the Parkway Station.
She added: “As the Okehampton to Exeter line reopening involves relaying almost 18km of track and replacing 24,000 concrete sleepers, we wanted to ensure that the track was laid in the optimum position to facilitate the most cost effective delivery of the Parkway Station. This work will continue in 2021/22 as the next stage is to develop the station outline design through to the Single Option Selection, and this will be funded out of the remaining Invest in Devon monies.”
£250,000 was initially allocated from the Invest in Devon (IiD) to help progress the introduction of the Okehampton to Exeter train service, and originally it was intended that this money would be used to reinstate the second platform at Yeoford station to allow passengers to use the new service.
However, Cllr Nick Way questioned how the council was looking to extend the service to Yeoford given the money instead is being used to progress the work to open a new Okehampton Parkway.
He added: “Yeoford is a rural community with a very limited bus service. The village’s station is well used by local passengers using the Exeter/Barnstaple service. While the recent news the Okehampton service, including more trains for Crediton will go ahead is very welcome, it is a great disappointment the current plans do not include trains stopping at Yeoford. Passengers from Okehampton will also be unable to use their nearest Tarka Line station to join the Exeter to Barnstaple service.”
Cllr Davis in response said: “The £40-million investment from government in reopening the Exeter to Okehampton rail line is a significant boost for communities in the west of the county. This is the first part of a strategy for the Dartmoor Line, which will see a two hourly service running between Okehampton, Crediton and Exeter by the end of 2021. The second stage of the strategy will see an hourly service introduced during 2022.
“Working with the rail industry and local stakeholders, the county council has prioritised using Invest in Devon monies to progress the Okehampton Parkway station. All Invest in Devon funds for this project have either been spent or committed in developing the case for the Okehampton Parkway station in order to cement the success of the reopened line.
“Looking forward, the Dartmoor Line can provide other benefits including a higher frequency service to Crediton and potential for improved services to other areas of Central Devon and we can work with the emerging Local Plan to look at issues such as improvements to Yeoford.
“We will need to look at the demand and passenger numbers and I hope that there is more enthusiasm in the future and that if we have to travel, we can do it in a more sustainable way.”