Devon and Cornwall Reopenings

Reopening Proposals from Railfuture Devon and Cornwall

Bideford via Barnstaple to Exeter

(to become a part of Devon Metro?)

Register your support for this campaign here.

  • January - ACE Rail presentation to Bideford Town Council, on the 20th. Read the approved Minute 122: Restoring Your Railway - Bideford to Barnstaple main line service.
  • January - local press coverage: 27-01-22 and 31-01-22.
  • January - initial informal discussion between ACE Rail lead Tim Steer and rail industry and local elected representatives, on the 28th.
  • February issue of Modern Railways - joint letter Back the Bideford bid by Tim Steer (BRHC), Roger Blake (Railfuture), and Kevin Ball (OkeRail).
  • February - inaugural meeting of Bideford Town Council's ACE Rail group, on the 3rd.
  • February - Motion to Devon County Council on the 17th, Restoring Railway Resilience. See the webcast of agenda item 12, or listen to just the audio, including the added reference to Bideford-Barnstaple.
  • February - official data for 2019 shows Torridge District (where most of the communities of 'Greater Bideford' are located) with the weakest per capita GDP in all Devon, and among the very lowest nationally with only 13 of the UK's 375 local authorities even weaker - 11 of which are not in The North!
  • February - Devon's Local Transport Plan 2011-26 lists 28 market and coastal towns, of which Bideford is the third largest by population and the largest without a rail station.
  • February - local historian and councillor Peter Christie writes about BRHC and bringing back a working rail line between Bideford and Barnstaple in the North Devon Journal, on the 17th.
  • February - Motion to North Devon District Council on the 23rd, already agreed by Tawstock Parish Council on the 15th, to support the re-instatement of Bideford to Barnstaple rail link for passenger and other services, as proposed by ACE Rail. Letter of support from Tarka Rail Association.
  • February - Destination Bideford - extract from Tarka Rail Association magazine 61 for Spring 2022, published late-February.
  • March - Devon wages among worst in UK says North Devon Gazette, on the 12th. Torridge, home to most of Greater Bideford, has the second lowest pay in Devon and the fourth lowest in the UK.
  • March - official data for 2021 shows Torridge District (where most of the communities of 'Greater Bideford' are located) with the next-weakest gross weekly earnings for full-time employees in all Devon, and among the very lowest nationally with only 7 of Britain's 362 local authorities even weaker - 4 of which are not in The North.
  • March - Tarka team on target for Bideford reports the April issue of Railwatch, house magazine of Railfuture, published mid-March.
  • March - ACE Rail lead Tim Steer addressed North Devon Green Party's virtual Speaker's Corner on the 16th.
  • March - the North Devon Gazette carries a column by North Devon Council Leader David Worden Barnstaple to Bideford train line re-instated - pipedream or reality? on the 23rd, posted online on 1st April.
  • March - the Spring Statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer included the launch of round 2 of the Levelling-Up Fund, on the 23rd. Although Torridge District, home to most of 'Greater Bideford', is again in the top-priority Tier 1 of local authorities there was "huge frustration" locally when last year's round 1 bid to level-up Bideford was turned down.
  • March - People and Place - planning for our future together - Torridge and North Devon District Councils co-launch initial consultations for the new joint Local Plan, on the 24th.
  • March - Dartmoor Line shows how projects can succeed. A joint presentation was given by Network Rail's Christian Irwin and GWR's Matt Barnes at the Modern Railways Fourth Friday Club conference in Cardiff Rail in Wales and the West, on the 25th. Courtesy of Modern Railways / Key Publishing, enjoy viewing their 21-minute presentation here.
  • March - Best Place - see Railfuture's response to Devon County Council's Strategic Plan for 2021-25, on the 31st.
  • April - Proposals to define an initial business case for a Bideford-Barnstaple-Exeter fast rail link were returned, in response to the request from ACE Rail campaign lead Tim Steer, by Jonathan Roberts Consulting, on the 4th.
  • April - North Devon Council's Strategy & Resources Committee considered the Motion referred from the Council meeting on 23rd February Reinstatement of Bideford to Barnstaple Rail Link, on the 4th.
  • April - The railway effect - if it can do this much for a west Devon town of less than 10,000, what couldn't it do for a north Devon town of over 30,000? See the Okehampton Times, on the 9th.
  • April - What life is really like in "forgotten" part of north Devon - East-the-Water, the part of Bideford not in Torridge and home to Bideford Railway Heritage Centre at the former station closed to passengers 60 years ago, now on the Traka Trail - North Devon Live, on the 10th.
  • April - ACE Rail campaign lead Cllr Tim Steer gave his presentation to the Full Council meeting of Torridge District Council, on the 11th, as later recorded in Minute 321.
  • April - ACE Rail campaign lead Tim Steer received a very supportive letter from the MP for Torridge & West Devon Sir Geoffrey Cox, on the 14th, indicating that he has asked the Transport Secretary for advice on how the scheme might be taken forward.
  • April - TV presenter / broadcaster / artist Timmy Mallett pauses at Bideford Railway Heritage Centre while visiting Tarka Trail by bike, on the 14th.
  • April - The areas in the South West of England that could be under water by 2050 said the Swindon Advertiser, with this interactive map, on the 18th. Any new Bideford-Barnstaple rail link, and Tarka Line upgrade south of Barnstaple, will have to reckon with this risk.
  • April - at Bideford Town Council's Annual Parish Meeting the report from the Decarbonisation & Environment Committee Chairman Cllr James Craigie included a paragraph on "the work by ACE Rail to reconnect Bideford to the mainline rail network", on the 19th.
  • April - VIPs visit Bideford to see the Railway Heritage Centre and share thoughts on progress with the ACE Rail campaign to reconnect the town's >30k people with the county's economic capital, via a new rail link to Barnstaple and an upgraded Tarka Line for competitive journey times, on the 20th. More (including photos) at ACE Rail.
  • April - North Devon District Council published the Minutes and Decision of the 4th April Strategy & Resources Committee, on the 26th. Council agreed (a) "That the inclusion of this policy aim (to support the re-instatement of Bideford to Barnstaple rail link for passenger and other services, as proposed by ACE Rail) within the revised joint local plan be referred to the Joint Planning Policy Committee for consideration; (b) To work with partners and organisations to explore this idea and where necessary to lobby those who may contribute to making this happen..."
  • April - Devon Live features Reopening of Bideford to Barnstaple railway 'transformational for North Devon', on the 27th.
  • April - South West suffers from 'profound' social inequality, study finds - BBC News, on the 28th. Two key findings of relevance to Torridge: Low earnings and poor pay are common in many parts of the region with four of Devon's eight districts among the UK's top 25 low wage "hotspots" and The area has long travel times to pursue further education or work which has been linked to higher drop out rates. Read the full report from the University of Exeter Social Mobility in the South West - levelling-up through education here.
  • April - People and Place - planning for our future together - Torridge and North Devon District Councils' survey and initial consultations for the new joint Local Plan closed on Friday the 29th; see Railfuture's response.
  • May issue of The Planner, house magazine of the Royal Town Planning Institute, includes an article delivering sustainable transport to new homes by Railfuture's Director for Infrastructure & Networks, Roger Blake.
  • May - tune in to BBC Radio Devon to hear ACE Rail campaign lead Tim Steer talking to David FitzGerald, 11.00 on Tuesday 3rd.
  • May - Tim Steer receives a copy of the reply to Sir Geoffrey Cox QC MP from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, on the 6th, pointing to some ways forward for the ACE Rail campaign.
  • May - Tim Steer receives a letter from the MP for North Devon Selaine Saxby, on the 16th, appreciating his work on the proposals to extend the Barnstaple to Exeter line to Bideford; she is aware of the environmental concerns when looking at it going along the estuary. She sees it as an extension of the main line to Exeter which while welcome is also potentially controversial and expensive, and has offered her help. Tim Steer reacted: Having the local MP’s interest expressed in this way is a vote of confidence in ACE Rail continuing, with Railfuture’s backing, to develop the proposals to restore Bideford to the rail network, taking due note of the challenges ahead which she has identified.
  • May - Tarka Rail Association's Annual General Meeting. Venue: Umberleigh Village Hall, The Station, Umberleigh, Devon, EX37 9AB, on the 19th. See TRA-Facebook. During his presentation Tim Steer announced that Railfuture's national Board of Directors had agreed to commit some of its Fighting Fund to support 40% of the cost of producing the Initial Business Case for the ACE Rail project.
  • May - Great Western Railway announced the opening of applications to their new Community Fund, on the 19th. Tarka Rail Association likely to apply for support for its ACE Rail campaign by the 27th June closing date.
  • May - ACE Rail lead Tim Steer gave a 10-minute interview to The Voice local radio, on Monday 23rd; listen with Laura here, from 0:09-10.51.
  • May - Tim Steer attended a meeting of North Devon Public Transport Users to give them a brief presentation "about proposals for the reinstatement of the rail link between Bideford and Barnstaple", on the 25th.
  • May - Devon Metro and Restoring Your Railway Projects by Andrea Davis, Devon County Council's Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Environment and Transport, and Trains by Tim Steer, Bideford Atlantic Coast to Exeter Railway Lead, are featured in Devon Voice, the newsletter of Devon CPRE, in its Spring 2022 issue, on the 31st.
  • Summer issue of Atlantic Coast Express - the magazine of Bideford Railway Heritage Centre CIC includes an update on the ACE Rail campaign with this opening by Tim Steer: It is 150 years since the railway reached Bideford at the station which is now our Heritage Centre, so what better way to celebrate than to inform you that, 40 years after the very last trains left, a restored railway service to the town is being taking seriously by local authorities! (You read that correctly). See ACE 101.
  • June - Torridge District Council's Full Council meeting agreed this Motion from Vice-Chair Cllr Peter Christie That TDC, following on from the presentation made at the last Full council meeting, do support the extension of the railway line from Barnstaple to Bideford and that this aspiration is embedded in the new Joint Local Plan on the 13th. Deputy Mayor Cllr McKenzie proposed an agreed amendment that the aspiration be added to the economic development plan.
  • June - Tarka Rail Association noted on the 15th that GWR's owners First Group had just signed a new National Rail Contract for GWR, to operate from Sunday 26 June initially for three years and extendable for up to a further three until June 2028. First Group has stated that in their plans under the new contract "GWR will deliver improvements for customers and communities across their network, including building on the successful delivery of the first Restoring Your Railway project on the Dartmoor Line, working with the DfT and local communities on developing proposals for further station and line improvements." This is encouraging news for the Tarka Rail Association and its ACE Rail campaign, as plans to extend Tarka line services to Bideford and upgrade the existing line from Exeter for an additional fast limited-stop hourly service will continue to be developed with the strong and unified local support which has already been generated.
  • June - Campaign to re-instate Bideford to Barnstaple train line gathers steam reported the North Devon Gazette, on the 16th, and online on the 22nd.
  • June - Progress towards Bideford? - extract from Tarka Rail Association magazine 62 for Summer 2022, published mid-June.
  • June - see Tarka line journeys from 2014 for clear evidence of an increasingly popular railway service!
  • June - What a difference a year makes reports the July issue of Railwatch, house magazine of Railfuture, also published mid-June.
  • June - official data for March 2021 shows 8 of Devon's 10 local authority areas have worse housing affordability than the England average, when comparing house prices with annual earnings; Torridge and North Devon are among those eight. Homes England, an executive non-departmental public body under the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing & Communities, has a Strategic Plan 2018/19-2022/23 whose impact is measured using key performance indicators, including its "Share of funding to the 50% least affordable local authorities by the price to earnings ratio." Eight of Devon's 10 local authority areas so qualify for Homes England investment. A bigger better Tarka line will at least help make its investment in new homes more sustainable for some of their travel needs.
  • June - Torridge District Council's Motion supporting the new rail link to Bideford is reported in the North Devon Journal, on the 23rd.
  • June - Tarka Rail Association's committee member and its ACE Rail campaign lead, Tim Steer, submits the Association's application to GWR's Community Fund for support for an Initial Business Case for ACE Rail - the new Atlantic Coast-Exeter Railway - on the 24th.
  • June - Plans for trying to re-establish the Barnstaple / Bideford link are far from a pipe dream. Tim Jones, Chairman of North Devon Biosphere Foundation, writing in the North Devon Gazette on the 29th. See it also in page 14 of the online edition.
  • July - Tarka Rail Association's ACE Rail campaign lead Tim Steer updates his own Fremington Parish Council in their Full Council meeting with this presentation, on the 4th. Note unapproved Minute 2207/06 here.
  • July - ACE Rail: Getting back on track... was the subject of a free event in Instow addressed by OkeRail Executive member Kevin Ball and Tarka Rail Association's ACE Rail campaign lead Tim Steer, on the 9th. Click to view Tim's presentation.
  • July - the North Devon District Council / Torridge District Council Joint Planning Policy Committee met for the first time since both Councils agreed Motions of support for a new Bideford-Barnstaple rail link to be embedded in the joint Local Plan review, known as the People and Place Project, on the 15th. Reinstatement of Bideford to Barnstaple Rail Link was Agenda item 11 but was taken first.
  • July - ACE Rail's Tim Steer and Tarka Rail Association's Andy Hedges attended Railfuture's national AGM at Bristol for the presentation of the Rail User Group Awards, on the 16th. The TRA's ACE Rail campaign won the Oliver Lovell Gold Award for Best New Group. After he received his framed certificate, see Tim's short presentation here. Andy also received a framed certificate for the TRA, a Commendation in the Paul Abell Best Newsletter category. See the full presentations, including the Judges' Special Award to OkeRail and the Dartmoor Line, here.
  • July - On the 96th anniversary of the first Atlantic Coast Express service, ACE Rail campaign lead Tim Steer addressed a meeting of the Full Council of Crediton Town Council, on the 19th. View the presentation here, and the recorded discussion in the first 25 minutes of the meeting here (warning: very poor sound quality in original). See the report in the Crediton Courier, on the 26th.
  • July - the Summer issue of Combe Rail's newsletter The Devon Belle includes a brief report Bideford Re-opening Campaign and picture of the gathering at Bideford Railway Heritage Centre on 20th April when Devon CC Cabinet member and North Devon District Councillor Andrea Davis visited to enjoy the Centre and to talk about the ACE Rail campaign to restore a rail link to Exeter via Barnstaple.
  • July - North Devon MP Selaine Saxby visited Barnstaple station to meet a variety of key stakeholders and supporters of the campaign for the Atlantic Coast-Exeter Railway, ACE Rail, on the 29th. See the presentation which she received here.
  • August - Tarka Rail Association's ACE Rail campaign lead Tim Steer hosted Torridge & West Devon MP Sir Geoffrey Cox QC at Bideford Railway Heritage Centre, on the 5th. See the presentation which he received here. Also present were TRA Chair Mike Day, County Councillor for Bideford East Linda Hellyer, Deputy Mayor of Bideford Jamie McKenzie, former Bideford Mayor David Ratcliff, and GWR's Regional Growth Manager (West) David Whiteway, as illustrated here.
  • August - BBC evening news Spotlight came from Bideford, on the 10th.
Click to register your support for this and other railway re-openings.

See also Tarka Line - one of several in the Devon and Cornwall Community Rail Partnership.

PHO:Bideford and River Torridge PHO:Bideford rail poster PHO:Bideford Railway Heritage Centre

The 9-mile railway from Barnstaple to Bideford closed to regular passenger services on 4th October 1965 - when the population of Bideford was greater than the population of Barnstaple! Freight continued to run, principally clay traffic from Meeth until this was withdrawn in September 1982. While the tracks remained until 1985 attempts were made to reopen the line, as detailed in Bring Back the Trains - The Case for Railway Re-openings, first published by the Railway Development Society (changing its public name in 2000 to Railfuture) in February 1983, and in the April 1984 2nd edition. See Chapter VI pages 31-32 here.

The track was finally lifted in 1985 and the land purchased by Devon County Council for use as a footpath and cycleway. The potential of this line was reiterated in the March 1988, May 1989 and March 1998 publication of the A - Z of Rail Re-openings also published by the Railway Development Society - see RDS books. Bideford-Barnstaple featured too as one of the 26 proposals in the 6-page pamphlet Bring Back our Tracks. Published by the Railway Development Society in June 1996, it can be viewed here. Despite the potential of this route for rail passengers, 22nd April 1987 marked the opening as part of the South West Coastal Path by the Rt. Honourable William Waldegrave, Environment Minister.

By 2020 the population of 'Greater Bideford' (Appledore, Bideford, Northam, and Westward Ho!) was estimated to be over 31,000 (sources: Bideford and Northam) having continued to grow by about 3,000 per decade since the trackbed was converted to become the Tarka Trail. The 9-mile extension of the Exeter - Barnstaple railway to Bideford would add substantially to its effective catchment area. The journey time could be 10 minutes from Barnstaple to Bideford. With some relatively modest line upgrading a 70-minute journey time between Exeter Central and Bideford could be possible. Compared to the Barnstaple to Bideford bus link the rail service would then save around 45 to 55 minutes, although still be only marginally better than the journey-time by car.

Accordingly the case for restoring a rail service to Bideford appears strong. In 1992 Railway Development Society volunteers conducted a site survey of the route to determine whether the former line could be reopened, as one of the options for re-establishing a mainline rail link between Barnstaple and Bideford for through services to and from Exeter.

Additional work has been done since that date, 30 years ago now, to check for changes. The main problem has been the installation of a sewer pipeline beneath the trackbed between Instow and Bideford. Other challenges, which are fortunately few, relate to the overlay of the Tarka Trail tourist initiative on to this closed section of the North Devon main line. Although the route was never built for double track it was originally broad gauge to the outskirts of Bideford, so potentially aiding the rebuilding of the Tarka Trail footpath and cyclepath alongside.

The station at Bideford remains as two distinct halves to either side of the Railway Terrace underbridge. The northern half has two remaining platforms opposite the Royal Hotel and the down line one on the east side could be restored and extended northwards for railway use but would cut the public footpath "Emberys Drang" in half. A new platform on the west side of the formation between Emberys Drang and Old Barnstaple Road would have step-free access at either end, with the road at the northern access wide enough to facilitate taxi and kiss-and-ride pull-in. South of the underbridge the Bideford Railway Heritage Centre CIC are restoring the remainder of the station as a museum, but the station building itself is owned by the Royal Hotel and there would be no parking available. As Bideford now covers an expanding area many potential rail users would use their own vehicles to get to the railway; a new parkway station could be built below the new Torridge Bridge. This would serve the outer west side of Bideford along with Northam, Appledore and Westward Ho!

Beyond the station two overbridges appear to have sufficient width to keep a narrow path alongside the railway, but beyond this point there would be no apparent difficulty in building a full width path alongside as seen from the High Level Bridge. As the railway trackbed approaches Tapely Park 1¾ miles from Bideford there is some narrowing of available land and a building relating to a jetty may need to be modified. This had appeared by 1996 subsequent to the 1992 survey.

From 2½ to 3¼ miles north of Bideford the only major difficulties are encountered on the line, these being the cutting immediately south of Instow station and the tunnel north of the station. While there appears to be space for both the path and railway to be alongside at Instow station and it may be considered worth modifying the cutting south of the station to avoid diverting the path onto the main road, that would not be straightforward. There is no space for the path through Instow Tunnel and accordingly the Tarka Trail could face the unwelcome prospect of the need to be diverted at this point, as widening the tunnel or decking this section of the railway would be expensive. As Instow provides local services it has been suggested by some that the road along the river front is made safe for the cyclepath. This could then mean restricting traffic, except buses and making more use of the 'Back Road' or B3233. The Back Road appears to have sufficient width for an additional cyclepath to be built so that users of the Tarka Trail would have two alternatives to compensate for the loss of the Instow Tunnel section. A new station for Instow, were a sufficient business case for one to justify it, might be built on the north side of the village as it would be easier to provide car parking and there would be less disruption to the Tarka Trail.

Beyond Instow over the last 5¾ miles to Barnstaple the trackbed is wide so that the path could be rebuilt alongside the railway. Overbridges at Fremington appear to be of sufficient width as are the gently-sloped railway cuttings. The railway bridge over the Fremington Pill remains, but as it is of single track width a new bridge for the path would be required. A parallel bridge for the long-standing footpath was originally built onto the railway structure, but was removed at sometime between the 1992 and 1996 survey of the route. On the final miles into Barnstaple some culverts beneath the low railway embankment extend beyond the width of the railway formation, so widening would likely be easier here.

It was concluded that track reinstatement from Barnstaple to Bideford could be achieved, and that the advantages of a passenger service over the line would be high. The re-opening would increase use of the North Devon main line from Exeter to Barnstaple, and in turn the services on this line. No major threat to the integrity of the trackbed has been identified since the Barnstaple Western Bypass was built above the trackbed, fortunately at a height which could incorporate a bridge.
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