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Councillors say rail route through Okehampton quickest option

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 14, 2014

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Councillors have called for the reinstatement of the rail route through Okehampton in response to an official review of options to complement the fragile coastal link which remains closed at Dawlish.

The town council has made its case in response to the Government’s request for submissions to its rigorous examination of potential routes through Devon and Cornwall.

The Exeter to Plymouth line, via Okehampton on the northern edge of Dartmoor, is said to have been closed just twice by poor weather but was shut down as part of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s.

The council says it would be more resilient to the increasingly frequent spells of severe weather, which have closed the Dawlish line twice in two years, and would reinvigorate an area which has suffered economically since it lost its railway station.

In a statement, the council said reinstatement of the track would be the cheapest option, bringing increased tourism and employment as well as relieving pressure on the roads through rail freight.

“The towns and villages in the rural hinterland around Okehampton have suffered for almost 50 years from the lack of a rail infrastructure to serve businesses and employment needs,” it said.

“The advantages of re-establishing the line is time, it is the quickest route to build because only 16.5 mile of new track is needed.

“The cost of track at £20million per mile is very attractive when compared with the proposed HS2 line at £152.85million per mile.”

In the aftermath of the storms which devastated Dawlish station and the surrounding tracks, the Prime Minister asked Network Rail to produce a report on rail connectivity which is expected to be finished by June.

David Cameron promised that all options would be considered and the review is now assessing the feasibility of the five alternative options west of Exeter.

Option A is an the reinstatement of the Okehampton line while the second possibility, option B, creating a new line by connecting existing freight lines from Alphington, near Exeter, and Heathfield, near Newton Abbot.

The so-called Dawlish Avoiding Line is divided into three further options to Newton Abbot: via Exminster, Starcross or Dawlish Warren, though these lines would require expensive new tunnels.

Critics say reinstating the Okehampton line will not be as easy as some suggest and could cost anything between £500m to £700m.

There have also been predictions that environmental campaigners could block the plans, which could also provide Tavistock with a rail link to Plymouth.

Okehampton Town Council conducted a poll in 2008 which found that 94% of residents wanted a regular timetabled service connecting into the national rail network.

Further research in 2010 covering communities in West Devon, North Devon and North Cornwall showed that councils acknowledged the strategic importance of the railway, the council said.

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