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Government's £40 million to reopen First Line under Restore Your Railway Scheme

The Okehampton to Exeter line is the first railway line to be reopened and "will quite literally lay the tracks to more jobs, tourism and opportunities across the region" the PM said .The Okehampton railway line will reopen this year for the first time in 50 years Prime Minister Boris Johnson is "unbelievably excited" about the reopening of the old Okehampton to Exeter railway line - which turns the clock back 50 years. Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris speaking to DevonLive said today's announcement of £40.5million was a huge first in the Government's 'Restoring Your Railways' project. "It's a very big step for the Government - this is the first project to be delivered under Restoring Your Railways and the Prime Minister is watching with an eagle eye because he is unbelievable excited about the reopening of the line," the Minister said. "This is the first time we have reopened a regular service with passengers and we want to progress it as quickly as we can. Network Rail are already doing work clearing up vegetation and checking the track along the line. I am very hopeful it will open by the end of the year and I am looking forward to being a passenger on it. You don't get the opportunity to reopen a railway and this is very exciting to a new generation of engineers who are working on the project. There is some interesting engineering and this has really got everybody who is involved very excited."

Okehampton Railway Station (Image: John Spivey)

He paid tribute to the campaign group and the MP for Central Devon, Mel Stride, who have been fighting to reopen the line for many years: "The level of correspondence has been extraordinary - they really have done an extraordinary job." The line will improve connectivity for people living between Okehampton and Exeter and the surrounding areas, with journey times on the train estimated to be around 30 per cent quicker than by car or bus - while also reducing traffic congestion and pollution on the busy A30. The Okehampton line is only the third railway to open for regular passenger services in Devon and Cornwall in 100 years. Later this year, the plan is for a service every two hours, increasing to an hourly service towards the end of 2022.

Okehampton railway station(Image: Daniel Clark)

Students and workers heading to Exeter will benefit, and it is hoped tourists travelling in the other direction towards Okehampton for Dartmoor will take the train to ease traffic congestion. This is the first project to see services restored under the Government’s Restoring Your Railway fund, launched in January 2020 to reinstate axed local services and restore closed stations.

Exeter College Principal and Chief Executive John Laramy CBE said: "The return of the Okehampton to Exeter rail line full-time is great news for the region as we look to build connectivity across the South West. As we all know, enhanced connectivity is a key driver for productivity and this development will open up new opportunities to support the growth of our economy within this area. We have students study with us from across the South West region and another rail route into the heart of Exeter can only be a good thing, not only for learners themselves, but also for the city of Exeter.”

Pamela Woods, Chair of Dartmoor National Park Authority said: “Opening up the line to Dartmoor with a regular train service is very much welcome as we celebrate our 70th year as a National Park. Providing a sustainable route to access Dartmoor via regular rail links supports our green travel strategy, reduces congestion and provides a more accessible way for all to enjoy the National Park. We are looking forward to working with GWR to provide visitor information at Okehampton Station, to make the most of the opportunities this presents to support our tourism businesses and the local economy.”

This news comes on top of £341million of rail enhancements already announced in the South West including:

  • The development of a new £53m depot in Exeter providing enhanced servicing facilities for trains and improving the availability of trains in the region, including for the Dartmoor Line.

  • Contribution of £7.8m for Edginswell station in Torbay from the third round of the New Stations Fund. The Station is planned to be opened in 2024.

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