THE Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP is to ‘look seriously’ at running a trial passenger rail service between Okehampton and Exeter before 2020.
Mr Grayling met with Central Devon MP Mel Stride to discuss government investment in a regular passenger rail service between Okehampton and Exeter via Crediton.
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.’
The news a permanent Okehampton to Exeter rail link would be considered will be a boost to campaigners hoping to bring rail services back to the town after Mr Grayling indicated last that his intention was to continue protecting the South Devon route rather than to reopen an alternative route through Okehampton and Tavistock.
Devon County Councillor for Okehampton Kevin Ball is one of the main organisers of the one-off ‘Royal Oke Special Train’ on March 18, travelling from Okehampton to Paddington.
The train, which will stop at Crediton and Exeter St David’s before heading straight to London, has been laid on to promote the return of a permanent service and illustrate demand.
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.’
The train has been organised in conjunction with OkeRail, a group that brings together local authorities and community groups with an effort to promote and fight for the return of a regular passenger rail service.
OkeRail chairman Mike Davies said: ‘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.’
The Transport Department is currently considering the Peninsula Rail Task Force 20-year plan ‘Closing the Gap’, which argues that population growth in the Okehampton area and 100% 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.