Maybe Selaine Saxby MP should speak to Simon Jupp MP, PPS to Secretary of State for Transport?
Too much to ask? – Owl
Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com
North Devon would ‘benefit considerably’ from the restoration of rail links to the region, the MP has said. The region currently only has the rail line that trundles down to Exeter, with no trains running at all in Torridge.
The area used to have far more rail links but the area was decimated by the Beeching Axe. Routes from Okehampton to Bude, Halwill Junction to Torrington, Barnstaple to Torrington, the Ilfracombe branch line, and the Exe Valley railway all disappeared.
But speaking in a Restoring Your Railway Fund debate last month, Selaine Saxby MP for North Devon, spoke passionately about the need for better rail links. She said that with thousands of new homes being built in the region, improved and revitalised railway links would be absolutely vital for the area.
She also added that the dream is also to see the service frequency from Exeter to North Devon doubled from hourly to half-hourly, as well as an additional express service connecting Exeter Central with Barnstaple in 50 minutes rather than the present 75 minutes.
She said: “In 1964, northern Devon lost the train line between Bideford and Barnstaple. The area now boasts the fantastic Tarka trail for walkers and cyclists. While the trail is a great resource for local communities and visitors alike, the distances across rural areas and the changeable weather mean that it is not a practical commute for all but the most hardy and fit commuters.
“Over the past few years, hundreds of homes have been built between Bideford and Barnstaple, with hundreds more planned. We absolutely need that housing, but it puts pressure on our infrastructure. In rural North Devon, our transport infrastructure is limited; for the ten-mile route between Bideford and Barnstaple, it essentially consists of the B3233 through Fremington or the single-carriageway A39.
“Without traffic, the journey should take 15 to 20 minutes by car or 29 minutes on the bus, but commuter traffic often pushes those times up to well over an hour, causing much frustration and clogging the roads on a daily basis. Bringing back a train connection between Bideford and Barnstaple would do much to prevent that congestion, and it would give communities affordable and environmentally friendly ways to reach Barnstaple and further afield by connecting the route all the way to Exeter.”
The nine mile railway from Barnstaple to Bideford closed to regular scheduled passenger services in October 1965. While the tracks remained until 1985 attempts were made to reopen the line, but campaigners say that with some relatively modest Tarka Line upgrading, a 70-minute journey time between Exeter Central and Bideford could be possible.
Barnstaple Town Council has previously unanimously backed calls to reinstate the town’s rail link with Bideford. The council voted to support the Tarka Rail Association and ACE Rail project.
Furthermore, campaigners are seeking a transformational rail service linking northern Devon with the county capital. They wish to see the service frequency doubled from hourly to half-hourly and increasing the speed of journeys to compete with cars. They also wish to see an additional limited-stop express service connecting Exeter Central with Barnstaple in 50 minutes rather than the present 75 minutes.
The MP added: “The difference that the development of the line would bring cannot be understated. While it would obviously lessen congestion, it would go further by connecting the area with opportunities that are currently out of reach. We already know that limited transport options limit rural productivity. If we support rural productivity and improve connections to these areas, we could add an estimated £43 billion to our economy.
“Due to the narrow nature of a few pinch points on the route, it would not be possible to maintain the Tarka trail as it is and to develop a new rail line. I am keen that, instead of sticking to the historical, mainly coastal route, we look at a different line that more directly links Barnstaple to Bideford.
“Having previously submitted a bid for Combe Rail, which would have connected Barnstaple to Braunton—sadly, that bid did not move forward—I know that there is huge support in North Devon for expanding our rail network. That previous bid lacked a viable connection to the main Barnstaple station, but the Bideford connection would directly join the two largest towns in northern Devon and go on to Exeter. We need to find ways to ensure that rural Britain’s connectivity does not lag even further behind our more urban constituencies.
“I hope that the Department considers reopening the restoring your railway fund to new bids. My North Devon constituency would benefit considerably from the route I mentioned. I hope that the Minister takes that ask seriously—he is also very welcome in North Devon, and I would always bring wellies—so that my community can reduce its reliance on cars and take advantage of the many benefits that the train line could bring.”
Journey numbers on the Dartmoor Line have passed 250,000 a year after re-opening to regular passenger trains. The line reopened on November 20, 2021, restoring a regular, year-round service for the first time in almost 50 years following more than £40m of Government investment.
The previously mothballed rail line, which runs between Okehampton and Exeter, was restored in just nine months and was the first former line to reopen under the Government’s £500m Restoring Your Railway programme.