Railway Restored: regular trains to run on Dartmoor Line for first time in 50 years

  • First passenger train on the first Restoring Your Railway reopening will run on Wednesday 17 November, ahead of public services resuming on Saturday 20 November  
  • Restored in just 9 months, and delivered £10m under budget, transforming a mothballed former freight railway to regular services.
  • Reopening is the first of the Government’s Restoring Your Railway schemes to return to service, fulfilling a manifesto commitment. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will today dispatch the first passenger train to run on the Dartmoor Line for over 50 years, as the line once again becomes part of the UK rail network for passengers.

This has been made possible thanks to over £40 million of Government investment through the Restoring Your Railway programme.

The line links Okehampton to Exeter and will officially reopen to the public for regular year-round, all-week passenger services on 20 November. 

The first train runs this Wednesday, travelling from Okehampton, and will carry local school children, campaigners, railway staff, and supporters who all helped make the project happen. 

The Department for Transport, Network Rail and Great Western Railway (GWR) have worked together to reopen this line ahead of time and under budget. Benefitting from the application of Rail Project SPEED approaches, the Dartmoor Line has been transformed from a mothballed former freight railway with occasional Summer Sunday services to a full seven days per week passenger operation in a mere 9 months since confirmation of funding, coming in more than £10m under budget.  

A service will run every 2 hours, with plans to expand to an hourly service in 2022. This will benefit students heading to colleges in Exeter as well as tourists travelling towards Dartmoor, easing congestion on local roads and helping boost local economies,

Since 1997, the line has only been open during some Sundays in Summer after regular services were withdrawn in 1972. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: 

“Improving transport links is essential to levelling up and spreading opportunity across the country, which is why we are driving forward our pledge to reverse the Beeching cuts in Devon today.

“As we reopen the Dartmoor line, we are rightly reconnecting communities, giving passengers the chance to choose rail over the road and travel from Exeter to Okehampton on greener, cleaner modes of transport.”  

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

“By restoring the Dartmoor Line we are undoing 50 years of damage, reconnecting a community and creating new opportunities for jobs, tourism, education and recreation.

“We have made it our mission to reverse cuts made in the Beeching era of the 1960s. The passion, nostalgia and enthusiasm for that ambition is clear right across the country.

“People love their railways, and rightly miss them when they’re gone. Today – ahead of time, and under budget – we’ve made a decisive step in fixing that, cutting the ribbon on a line and making a real difference to people’s lives.”

The Restoring Your Railway fund was launched in January 2020 to reinstate axed local services and restore closed stations, many of which were cut following Dr Beeching’s report on ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ in 1963.

The fund is focused on delivering schemes that can level up the country,  reconnect cut-off communities,  improve access to jobs, homes and education and boost opportunity across the country.

The Department and its partners have accelerated the reopening of the railway, delivering passenger services in only 9 months from the original funding being approved to entry into service, and saving money at the same time. As the Government continues its overhaul of the railways following the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, more lines and stations will be re-opened. 

To make the restoration possible, Network Rail’s team of engineers worked tirelessly to deliver a huge programme of work to physically reopen the line in just 9 months, including laying 11 miles of new track and installing 24,000 concrete sleepers and 29,000 tonnes of ballast in a record-breaking 20-day period.

Repairs have also been made to 21 structures along the route including 4 bridges. Other infrastructure work has included level crossing improvements and the installation of railway communications equipment.  Vegetation clearance, earth and drainage works and fencing have also been completed and further infrastructure work will continue to take place to increase the line speed to enable an hourly service in 2022. 

Michelle Handforth, Network Rail’s Wales & Western regional managing director, said: 

“Today marks a significant milestone for the railway and the local community and I am delighted to have been able to welcome the Secretary of State to Okehampton to mark this special occasion.

“I am so proud of our engineers whose hard work and dedication has resulted in this line reopening ahead of schedule and today enable the Secretary of State, campaigners and supporters of the Dartmoor Line to enjoy a first passenger journey.

“I would like to thank the local community, our partners and everyone who has supported us in reopening this railway line and I am excited to think that this Saturday, regular passenger services will resume for the first time in nearly 50 years.”

Great Western Railway identified suitable rolling stock and developed a robust timetable with franchise funding ahead of funding being agreed for the infrastructure elements of the project. The project has also hugely benefitted from strong local support spearheaded by Devon County Council, without which it would have taken far longer to reach the point where regular year-round services can be restored after almost 50 years. 

Great Western Railway, Dartline Coaches and Devon County Council have also made sure that local transport is all coordinated, ensuring easy bus and train connections to the rest of Britain are easily accessible from the Dartmoor Line. 

More work will be carried out over the winter including on the station buildings to enable the restoration of the café and other facilities. 

Mark Hopwood, GWR Managing Director, said: 

“This has been a key aspiration for the community and the rail industry for some time and today is a significant day for everyone who has been involved. I am delighted to have been able to invite the Secretary of State, and leading community campaigners, to enjoy a first passenger journey on this restored line.

“The support and advocacy of the local campaigners over the years has helped deliver a fantastic new service for customers, which we hope will grow from strength to strength.”

Salisbury railway to reopen fully from Tuesday, 16 November

Network Rail, South Western Railway and Great Western Railway joint statement:

Following last week’s accident, Network Rail, South Western Railway and Great Western Railway today announce that trains through Salisbury will begin running again on Tuesday, 16 November.

The rail industry has been working together to clear the line and make it safe to run trains again, with repair works set to be complete by Monday. Following two weeks of the line being closed, Network Rail will spend a full day using its leaf-busting Rail Head Treatment Trains to jet wash the tracks free of any debris or leaf mulch. A series of test trains will also run on the new infrastructure to check it is operating correctly before passenger services begin on Tuesday morning.

Network Rail’s route director for Wessex, Mark Killick, said: “I really appreciate how patient everyone has been with us over the past week and a half, from customers who have had their journeys disrupted, to our neighbours who have had cranes outside their houses, London Road closed for a period, and people working 24 hours a day to repair the railway right in the middle of their neighbourhood.

“That work is going to continue until Monday, as we finish replacing damaged equipment and making sure the railway is fit for action again.

“Our railway is one of the safest in the world and when a rare incident like this happens, we have to find out exactly what went wrong. That’s why we’re working closely with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, British Transport Police and Office of Rail and Road on their investigations and we will be transparent and open with everyone when we know more about exactly what caused this.”

Claire Mann, Managing Director of South Western Railway, said: “This has been a difficult time for all those affected by last Sunday’s incident and I’d like to thank the Salisbury community, our customers and colleagues for all their help both on the night and over the last ten days.

“Many people rely on our services every day and I am sorry for the disruption this incident has caused and am grateful for their ongoing patience. We have worked tirelessly with Network Rail and our industry partners to reopen the railway and I look forward to welcoming customers back to our services on Tuesday”.

Mark Hopwood, Managing Director of Great Western Railway, said: “Our staff have been overwhelmed by the support shown by customers and the community over the past ten days. The incident last Sunday was challenging for everyone involved, and we are grateful for everyone’s support and patience in the days and weeks since.

“The rail industry has put every effort into reopening the railway as soon as possible, and we’re looking forward to customers returning from 16 November.”

The accident involving an SWR train and a GWR train, occurred on Sunday 31 October, blocking the line just outside the Fisherton Tunnel, where routes from London and Southampton merge on their way into Salisbury.

Since then, the line between Salisbury and Andover has been blocked, with SWR and GWR providing alternative travel arrangements through diversions or rail replacement services.  

Network Rail has been working with partners from across the industry to reopen the railway. So far, five damaged train carriages have been craned out from the accident site, which is in a cutting below the level of the surrounding area near London Road, in the Fisherton area of Salisbury. Almost 1,500 sleepers – the cross-ties that support the track – are being replaced, along with three sets of points, that allow trains to move from one track to another. In addition, 1,000 yards of new track is being laid in the tunnel to provide a smoother ride for passengers.

Signalling equipment including track circuits – which tell us where trains are –  are also being repaired, replaced and thoroughly-tested before the line reopens.

To support passengers’ journeys, buses are running from Salisbury to Andover for South Western Railway customers, and from Salisbury to Romsey for Great Western Railway, with tickets accepted on diversionary routes via Reading.

While London Road was closed over the bridge, a minibus provided transport for neighbours who needed to get round the block, and two local meetings were held to keep the community updated on the work.