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Tavistock Okehampton Reopening Scheme announced as Devon’s ‘Green Main Line’

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Greengauge 21 welcomes and endorses the Tavistock Okehampton Reopening Scheme (TORs) announced today as Devon’s ‘Green Main Line’. This is a project whose time has come, says Greengauge 21 Director Jim Steer: “it’s essential to any concept of a resilient national rail network”.

“The problem is climate change, and here it’s for real. As sea levels rise, this is the most vulnerable rail connection we have. In Italy along the Mediterranean coast, a new line has already been built inland. We need to do the same for the West Country”.

The whole of Cornwall and South and West Devon – a huge part of England – has a single rail connection that is precarious.

The railway along the coast (Dawlish-Teignmouth) is at risk from a combination ofstorms and high tides. The line was closed was for months in 2014, and the South West’s economy suffered as a consequence.

Climate change is raising sea levels and each year that passes makes disruption of services over this railway more common.

Network Rail’s work to keep the line open is essential – but the plan stretches over the decades ahead. Government must acknowledge that expenditure to keep the national main line rail network intact is essential.

The Green Main Line – a re-opened railway around the north side of Dartmoor – can assure continued rail connectivity. This means that businesses in Cornwall and Devon can plan on rail service continuity – so important for the tourist industry and for freight on rail. The resilience it will bring could allow for some later stages of work on the coast line to be carried out more cost-effectively.

Greengauge 21 first examined the local case for re-opening the northern route in 2015. A second main line not only brings assurance and resilience, we found. It brings a dramatic connectivity boost to Tavistock and Okehampton. “Our work in 2015 carried out for the Campaign for Rural England (CPRE) identified the environmental, social and economic virtues of re-creating this line, which was closed fifty years ago.”

“The work of the TORs group announced today shows how it is possible to create an electrified route and open up access to a huge swathe of parts of Devon and Cornwall that are remote, cut off from jobs and higher education”, says Jim Steer. “These are areas that face further decline unless younger ambitious people can find a way to succeed in life living locally”, he added.

A particularly exciting part of their plans is that the TORs project is looking beyond rail service restoration and forward to designing a new connected public transport system for the area. Jim Steer again: “rail’s strength is getting into cities without getting snarled in traffic congestion. But across such a large, remote area, and with an improved A30 trunk road, restoring railway branches that will be costly to run makes little sense. So instead, this project is looking to over-turn the real tragedy in England’s public transport system: the failure to properly join together rail and bus services with common high standards and a single fares system.”

Cornwall County Council has blazed a trail down this path, but here the plans go one step further: “What is needed is connecting bus services that avoid urban congestion – so connected out of a hub at Okehampton – and operate with limited stops using vehicles that are air-conditioned, with free wi-fi and that allow passengers easily to take their luggage on board, securely and within their line of sight. We can have the Swiss system, integrated across the ‘modes’ of transport and it can start in the South West.”

Implementation will get a head start with the re-opening of rail services by train operator GWR between Exeter and Okehampton next year. “This is great use of the Government’s ‘reversing Beeching’ fund”, says Jim Steer, “but it is important to keep an eye on the bigger picture. The wider economic benefit that will support investment of the next section – to Tavistock, where challenges such as Meldon Viaduct will need to be tackled – only comes from a through route. This can be achieved step by step, with quick wins now building the momentum for the full Devon Green Main Line over the next 5-10 years.”

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