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Meldon Viaduct, beneath snow-capped Yes Tor, Dartmoor

Reopen the Plymouth to Okehampton railway line

Politics / 17 Comments / February 5, 2014

The horrendous storm that severed the main line between London and Cornwall today in Dawlish has illustrated the folly of closing a line some 50 years ago that could have served as a diversion.

The picturesque stretch of line between Dawlish Warren and Teignmouth is certainly picturesque:

The Great Western main line at Dawlish

This line has now been severed for several weeks by a violent storm.

Even so, it is the single point of failure in the West of England rail network. And today it failed in spectacular fashion. Raging seas demolished the substantial sea wall, washing away all the ballast and leaving both tracks suspended in mid-air.

Although Network Rail has pledged to rebuild the sea wall and reinstate the line, it will take several weeks and cost millions, both directly in repairs and indirectly in disruption to businesses in the region.

Until the late 1960s, an alternative route existed from Plymouth to Exeter via Tavistock and Okehampton. Both ends of this line are still in place.

Branch line today, main line once more tomorrow?

The old Southern line to Exeter curving beneath the outer spans of Brunel’s Tamar Bridge to Cornwall.

But the central section – about 20 miles – is missing. This was closed as part of the infamous Beeching cuts. There are already plans to re-open the southern section, from Bere Alston to Tavistock. It is now time to extend the logic and restore this severed artery all the way back to the buffers at Meldon, west of Okehampton. The masthead photo for this post features Meldon Viaduct beneath a snow-capped Yes Tor. A key part of the route’s infrastructure is still in place, although probably no longer in useable condition.

Okehampton station

A ghost station, for now.

Doing so would mean that bad weather can never again cut rail links from the South West to the rest of the country. It would also make the heart of this beautiful county more accessible to tourists. If the government can find anywhere between £40 bn and £70 bn to fund HS2, why not a less ambitious yet important scheme like this?

Updates:

10 February 2014 – according to the BBC on , this route is now actively being considered by Network Rail in preference to the other alternative to the Dawlish line, via Heathfield.

29 November 2017 – possibility of reopening various rail routes floated once again by the government. This route has once again appeared in maps published online by various newspapers.

Moving on from this proposal, I have also outlined five other rail projects that offer better value than HS2.

Does this make sense to you? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Okehampton station

Yet it’s time this old station – lovingly restored in the last few years – welcomed through trains once more.

17 Comments
  • Bev Osborne / February 7, 2014 / Reply

    I completely agree with you. I have been watching the current developments with interest and, yet again, can’t comprehend the short-sightedness of Dr Beeching’s axe wielding in the 1960s!

  • Dennis / February 8, 2014 / Reply

    This line should be re opened. Only 20 miles needs to be rebuilt although the rest of the line would need upgrading and resignalling for express passenger trains. The cost would be reasonable compared to many schemes.

  • Alex Scott / February 10, 2014 / Reply

    In 2009 the cost of re-opening the section of railway from Meldon to Bere Alston was estimated at £100 million.
    Even allowing for inflation and the usual cost over-runs, it seems reasonable to assume that for £300 million, the rail connection from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock could be re-established.
    That looks like a very modest investment for a new transport link which would bring huge benefits to the Dartmoor region as well as greatly improving speed and reliability of passenger and freight services to Cornwall.

  • ray aguilar / February 12, 2014 / Reply

    I agree dominic,the line from okehampton to Plymouth should reopen,after the problems at Dawlish,also the lewes to uckfield line.much cheaper than hs 2.ray

  • James Hawkins / February 24, 2014 / Reply

    Good call, Dominic. Many of us have been fighting this fight for ages. Am sure you are aware that there is an e-petition to no 10 running at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/60302
    Actually there have been several petitions in the past and there is at least another running concurrently. I’ve shared in FB another places and had some success in boosting numbers.
    Time to invest in a niche bistro near Lydford Junction, methinks….. 🙂

    • Dominic / February 24, 2014 / Reply

      Sounds a very good idea on both counts!

  • harry worth / November 16, 2015 / Reply

    fully support your call for oakhampton tavistock plymouth reopening .But what happened its all gone quiet .or is network rail waiting for another dawlish wash out

    • Dominic / November 17, 2015 / Reply

      You’re right. It has gone quiet again. More disruption this winter would certainly strengthen the case. It’ll be interesting, too, to see how successful the reopening of part of the Waverley Line in Scotland has been.

  • Mary C. Rhind / April 12, 2016 / Reply

    I would hope to achieve the line reopening with the help of the business lobbying groups ie Fsb ( federation of small business). working closely with Devon. It’s in all our interests to have an alternative route for the betterment of Devon and Cornwall. I do not mind my email being known to those who wish to support progress, indeed I wou;d be pleased to add your thoughts to our government lobbyists.

  • Chris Price / April 15, 2017 / Reply

    I agree with all the above. Now is the time for reopening the Plymouth line via Okehampton. So time to support the epetition.

  • pip / November 29, 2017 / Reply

    just look at the places the rail network could serve ie okehampton Tavistock Sanford courtney ,meldon , brentor only approx. 10 miles from Launceston mary Tavy we all know if trains ran to Tavistock they would be full into Plymouth at peak times okehampton to Exeter would have a few to also connections for north cornwall/ devon ie bude

  • jack c / April 22, 2018 / Reply

    Reopen the line fully

  • IAN HARRINGTON / April 25, 2019 / Reply

    This Line must be re-opened before the County Council allow more housing on land adjacent to the line as it enters Tavistock we are in danger of allowing the complete saturation of all land around Tavistock by housing development without leaving any space for a single platform from the Bere Alston Junction in the Tavistock Town as the Old southern Station site has been built on after the silly Town council built their offices on part of the station throat and allowed Housing on the end of the viaduct what silly short term thinking when all the time traffic on the only main road in and aout of the town A386 is completely at a standstill in the mornings and evenings with pollution from cars being breathed in by children as they walk to school
    why or why cant the stupid DCC see this and act upon it by safeguarding the rail route from the Bere Aston section instead of allowing House builders to carry on without a penny being given to allow this 5 mile section to re-opened its time to say no more houses with out a proper consultation on the rail route

  • Steve freeman / April 30, 2019 / Reply

    I just don’t believe this will happen I’ve been watching this for a long time the government and network rail keeps promising that this will happen and then backtracking, now I believe this cost has risen quite substantially I just think it’s a no go same really as it needs to open now

  • Nigel Baldwin / May 1, 2019 / Reply

    Let’s think big for a change! A continuous railway along the south coast of England, from Penzance to Ashford (Kent) which would take in the ports of Exeter and Southampton. Think of the freight that could be taken off the roads.

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