Consultancy Greengauge 21 says the imminent reopening of the Dartmoor Line from Exeter to Okehampton for daily services on 20 November is an important step towards full reinstatement of the Exeter-Okehampton-Tavistock-Plymouth ‘Northern Route’.
It points out in a blog published on 15 November that while reopening to Okehampton and potential reopening from Bere Alston to Tavistock would be welcome, operating two branch lines ‘compounds the financial weakness of branch line operation’. Through service operation, Greengauge 21 says, would multiply the revenue earning potential of the route and turn what it believes would be a cash-negative railway cash-positive. Stations in the South West, it argues, double revenues if they have a London as well as a local service, which could potentially be achieved by extending the current London Waterloo-Exeter trains to run to Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock.
Freight is viewed as having particular potential: enquiries for rail freight services in Devon and Cornwall are said to be growing rapidly in response to HGV driver shortages, rising fuel prices and environmental concerns. Gradients on the ‘Northern Route’ are easier than on the coastal main line, potentially avoiding the need for heavy freight trains to run in multiple parts between Newton Abbot and Plymouth. ‘Consignors need an assurance of service continuity. In other parts of England, if there is engineering work, there will be an alternative rail route available. The South West Peninsula needs the same facility,’ it says.
On the topic of engineering works, Greengauge 21 says the availability of a second route between Exeter and Plymouth would provide Network Rail with extended access periods on the existing main line to accelerate its coastal works programme and make it affordable.
It points out that it was closed in 1968 as a through route because it was a duplicate main line between Exeter and Plymouth and that Network Rail has reinstated the section between Coleford Junction and Okehampton to main line standards with a maximum speed of 75mph.
Two approaches to reinstatement are posited: extending the existing railway from Plymouth to Bere Alston the extra five miles to Tavistock (the location of the proposed station around 20 minutes from the town centre is criticised) and then completing the missing 17-mile-long central section to Meldon as per Devon County Council policy, or extending west and south from Meldon (west of Okehampton and the current limit of the eastern arm) to Tavistock and then on to Bere Alston.
‘As we rightly celebrate the re-opening of Okehampton, it is important to keep the long-term objective in sight,’ concludes Greengauge 21.