THE Southern Railway main line between Exeter and Plymouth may be reopened as part of radical Government plans to expand Britain’s rail network, reversing Beeching cuts to increase network capacity and to boost housing opportunities.
On November 29, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced a new and far-reaching rail strategy to boost the economy, and which, among several other measures including a new way of operating train and track and changes to the franchising system, would look at reopening lost lines.
Part of the Exeter-Plymouth line, the Coleford Junction to Okehampton and Meldon Quarry section, is in private ownership as the Dartmoor Railway.
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The section between Bere Alston and Tavistock has been lined up for reopening as part of major new housing developments, while the stretch between Tavistock and Meldon runs across low-quality farmland with very few obstructions.
Speaking at Exeter St David station on November 29, after the publication of Mr Grayling’s Department of Transport report, Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail, Transport Minister Jesse Norman said that reopening the line that runs between Exeter and Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock is a “very important potential idea.”
He said: “It is something that the Secretary of State has taken a personal interest in.” He also gave assurances that Brunel’s Dawlish sea wall route would remain open and a ‘new’ Okehampton route would complement rather than threaten it.
“It would obviously have the strategic advantage of removing the reliance on the Dawlish line and therefore the natural elements that we have at the moment,” he said. Devon and Cornwall were cut off from the rest of the country’s rail network in February 2014 when storm damage caused a section of the sea wall to collapse, leaving the tracks suspended in mid-air.
A 300-strong Network Rail team rebuilt the track in two months at a cost of £35 million. However, it was estimated that the local economy lost as much as £1.2 billion.
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