by Alan Quick
A REGULAR passenger rail service between Okehampton and Exeter via Crediton has moved a step forward.
Central Devon MP Mel Stride met with Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling MP, in Westminster on Thursday, February 2, to discuss Government investment in such a regular passenger rail service.
Mr Stride has supported local campaigners by keeping the issue firmly on the Government’s radar, arguing the service would be a huge boost to the local economies of both Okehampton and Crediton.
He said it would also provide a valuable service to thousands of residents in West Devon who are up to 20 miles away from their nearest railway station, adding that such a service would also reduce traffic pollution.
Mr Stride said: “Clearly there is a lot of work to be undertaken to introduce a regular service but I was heartened that the Secretary of State was open to the possibility of establishing a regular service between Okehampton and Exeter and that his department will look seriously at an early trial service, before the current franchise is due for renewal in 2020.
“A successful trial would then strengthen the case for a full service as part of the new Franchise agreement.”
Devon County Councillor Kevin Ball was one of the main organisers of a one-off “Spring Special” train in March from Okehampton to Paddington, only stopping at Crediton and Exeter St David’s, to promote the return of a permanent service.
He said: “With minimal investment a trial could be undertaken, which I have no doubt would be a big success. Combined with the strong demand for the train to London on March 18 and the success of our busy Sunday Rover service, hopefully the case for a regular service will be very strong.”
Cllr. Mike Davies, chairman of OkeRail, the organisation which has brought together campaign groups, local councils and businesses to push for the service added: “This is a hugely significant step forward and we are very grateful to Mel for securing the meeting and pressing the case so vigorously right at the very top of government.”
Representing Crediton on OkeRail, local rail campaigner and County councillor, Nick Way, said: “Trains used on the successful Sunday Rover summer service were extremely well used last year with many passengers joining the trains at Crediton.
“The ambition is possibly four services per day, seven days a week between Exeter and Okehamton stopping at Crediton and the other stations.
“When including the existing Tarka line service this would mean for us here, during parts of the day, two return journeys an hour to Exeter, and in addition providing residents and visitors the great opportunity to visit Okehampton and Dartmoor by train.
“An early trial service would of course be good, although the proposals from the successful franchise bidder for the new franchise, yet to be decided will be key for the introduction of a new regular service.
“The ground swell of support from the community to successfully secure this project is both very encouraging and very important.”
The Transport Department is currently considering the Peninsula Rail Task Force (PRTF) 20-year plan “Closing the Gap”, which argues that population growth in the Okehampton area and 100 per cent passenger growth on the Tarka Line running from Exeter to Mid and North Devon – the nearest comparable service – demonstrates the need for and benefits of Government investment.
Crediton Town Council has supported the re-instatement of a regular service between Exeter and Okehampton, which would stop at Crediton and Crediton Chamber of Commerce says such a service would be an opportunity to bring more visitors into Crediton so that they can experience the “wonderful independent traders we have”.