Rural Reconnections: the social benefits of rail reopening Exeter – Okehampton – Tavistock – Plymouth: a case study

16 June, 2015

A new study carried out by Greengauge 21 for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has examined the social consequences of re-opening the railway between Plymouth and Exeter via Tavistock and Okehampton, and found there is a good case for a local service: Rural reconnections: the social benefits of rail reopening

The route would also serve to keep Plymouth and Cornwall connected at times when the route via Dawlish is disrupted by sea/weather conditions.

A critical factor is the link between rail service provision and additional housing. The research shows that new housing planned for both Tavistock and Okehampton raise concerns locally about pressure on resources and on traffic congestion that a new railway service can help address.

In effect there is 15 miles of “missing railway” between Tavistock and Meldon which could create a 58-mile long alternative route between Plymouth and Exeter.  The report points out ways by which a service calling at stations at the key intermediate towns, properly linked into bus services and with good access by foot and cycle as well as car and taxi can be made economically viable.

Greengauge 21 Director Jim Steer says that he hopes the research will add support to the Peninsula Rail Task Force’s efforts to improve rail services in the West Country, adding network resilience and connectivity. He also points out that by creating a second route, the prospects for railfreight are enhanced.

“The Okehampton – Tavistock route is a case study that shows the appraisal of the investment needed to recreate a direct rail link in this region, which is remote from existing railheads, should reflect the changes in land use and economic activity that will likely follow. A rail service will help foster patterns of sustainable development in West Devon. With lengthy travel commuting distances, rail is particularly needed, and the prospects of increased non-car based tourism are another potential benefit” Jim Steer added.

Greengauge 21 is keen to extend this work into further case studies to help build the evidence base for developing lines in rural areas and places that are remote from the national rail system. “In this case, the creation of a through route, rather than a branch line, will be crucial to attract the capital funding needed. This may well prove to be the case elsewhere, since avoiding stub end branches improves service economics and allows Network Rail to offer rail service diversion rather than ‘bus replacement’ at times of major engineering works.”