The Okehampton Line

Restoring the second route from Exeter to Plymouth around the north side of Dartmoor

Reopening the Okehampton route, which runs round the north side of Dartmoor between Exeter and Plymouth, has long been advocated by Railfuture and others. This would be an additional railway route to that via Dawlish, Newton Abbot and Totnes. On 19 March 2021 the governemnt too the first step by announcing that regular services from Exeter to Okehampton will be restored in 2021, as the first reopening to be completed by the Restoring Your Railway initiative.

from Gerard Duddridge
The closed section of railway beyond Okehampton runs hidden in the landscape below the rocky outcrops of Sourton Tors and the Dartmoor granite mass behind. View South-eastwards from near Northlew.

Reopening the railway from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton would:
  1. Provide an alternative route for when the sea disrupts normal Exeter to Plymouth train services via Dawlish and Teignmouth, and/or if land slipping and debris flows have to be dealt with on the section of line between Parsons Tunnel and Teignmouth. In addition the tracks are steep and tightly curved on the railway between Newton Abbot and Plymouth, potentially leading to more track maintenance and temporary line closure. Whilst passengers can be transferred to bus replacement services, these make travelling particularly difficult for those with disability or simply carrying luggage. For short notice emergencies it is not always possible to arrange enough buses and they cannot substitute for rail freight movements or the overnight sleeper service from Penzance to Paddington. The alternative Okehampton route is needed and has been needed for these reasons ever since its closure as a through route in 1968.

  2. Provide more line capacity for developing both passenger and rail freight services west of Exeter to Plymouth, Cornwall and Torbay. On the existing route, between Exeter and Newton Abbot, space on the tracks for long distance trains is competing against the need for local trains to stop at places such as Dawlish and Teignmouth. With more overall line capacity west of Exeter reopened/new stations could be considered for Exminster and perhaps Bishopsteignton.

  3. Provide a railhead at Okehampton for large parts of West Devon and North Cornwall that are many miles from the existing rail network. Places that would benefit include Holsworthy and Launceston and the Cornish coast between Bude, Boscastle and Tintagel. On the reopened route Tavistock would regain rail services and a commuter link into Plymouth avoiding the mostly single carriageway and congested A386 road.
During early 2020 Network Rail have been busy strengthening the sea wall at Dawlish, on the existing railway between Exeter and Plymouth. This should ensure that there is no repeat of the sea wall collapse and loss of the actual track that took place in February 2014. However, this does not provide a guarantee that there will be no disruption to the actual running of train services from time to time by the sea and other factors such as track maintenance. The Network Rail work on the coastal line does not increase line capacity for more trains west of Exeter.

Unlike the work at Dawlish, which is just adding to the existing sea wall, the work at Teignmouth is a major civil engineering project for the sea wall and cliffs that is likely to result in disruption to rail services. If the full route between Exeter, Okehampton Tavistock and Plymouth were reopened before work on the cliffs at Teignmouth is undertaken then services could be maintained between Exeter and Plymouth. Passenger services are due to start running from Exeter to Okehampton from 20th November 2021 and should also be restored as soon as possible to Tavistock, Bere Alston and Plymouth.

from Gerard Duddridge
There are Network Rail plans for rebuilding the sea wall and stabilising the steep cliffs on the existing coastal route here near Teignmouth. If this solution is adopted construction will be disruptive for rail passengers, so ideally the alternative Okehampton route would be reopened first to allow diversion of Exeter to Plymouth and Cornwall trains during the work.

The Okehampton route from Exeter to Plymouth is 57⅞ miles long compared to 52 miles via Dawlish and Newton Abbot. The original route from St. Budeaux Victoria Road into Plymouth via Ford was slightly longer than that which would be used today via Keyham. The distances in the table below are compiled using data from the Network Rail Sectional Appendix August 2020 and from other sources.

Table of Exeter - Okehampton - Plymouth distances
Table to show the status of different sections of the Okehampton line. The mileage at Meldon is approximate. Crediton to Okehampton reopened to regular passenger services since Saturday 20th November 2021.

Restoring Exeter to Okehampton

In January 2018 the Secretary of State for Transport instructed Great Western Railway to provide a service between Exeter and Okehampton. In late-September 2020 it was reported that 'restoration of regular passenger services to Okehampton (from Exeter) is in Network Rail's second tranche of seven Project Speed case studies. The National Infrastructure Strategy, launched in the Spending Review 2020, re-affirmed that "The government will also deliver on its manifesto commitment to spend £500 million to restore transport services previously lost in the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, including ... restoring rail links to Okehampton in Devon." (Chapter 2, Levelling up the whole of the UK, Connecting nations and regions.) That statement was confirmed on 3 March 2021 when the Budget included "Investments in local railways and stations – This Budget will also unlock more than £40 million of funding to reinstate passenger services on the Okehampton-Exeter line], subject to final approval of costs and contracts. (Chapter 2, para. 2.132). These investments (including five new West Midlands stations) will provide good quality transport links between communities, and improve employment opportunities across these areas."

On 19 March 2021 the government announced that regular services will be restored between Exeter St Davids and Okehampton in 2021. Prior to the 1972 closure some Okehampton line trains stopped at Newton St. Cyres and almost always at Yeoford, Bow, North Tawton and Sampford Courtenay. With the new service there will be fewer intermediate stations, but services will stop at the existing Crediton station, some will stop at Newton St Cyres, and some will be extended to Exeter Central. In the new timetable from 20th November one train each way will call at Newton St. Cyres and this will help offset the services which have remained lost since 1972.

Services will initially be 2-hourly, increasing to hourly in 2022. The car park at Okehampton station will be improved; there are plans for a parkway station to be constructed in future, east of Okehampton, to act at a railhead for West Devon. The track is being relaid, which will allow the present low line speed to be increased, enabling a 40 minute journey time between Okehampton and Exeter.

Except for Okehampton Parkway there are no plans by Great Western to serve any other intermediate station, however we suggest that North Tawton is kept under review and that Sampford Courtenay is a request stop for a few trains per day, at least on Sundays when there are no alternative buses in the area. Sampford Courtenay has for many years had a summer Sunday service supported by Devon County Council.


PHO:2021.05.02 - NorthTawton

PHO:2021.10.23 - Greenslade Bridge

PHO:2021.10.23 - Greenslade Bridge 2

Top Left - The first signs of work as seen at Penstone footpath crossing the Dartmoor Railway on 27th March 2021. The Network Rail/Dartmoor Railway boundary is clearly marked across the tracks and new rail has been delivered. The view is to Coleford Junction just out of sight around the curve. Top Right - Completed new track except for ballast at the old North Tawton station site on 2nd May 2021.

Bottom Left - The Okehampton line crosses the Crediton to Okehampton road at Greenslade Bridge (viewed to west) and is between North Tawton and Sampford Courtenay. Bottom Right - Work has been done to replace the two longitudinal timbers that support the former up line track. Picture 23rd October 2021.

For more information on upgrading the Okehampton line see The Dartmoor Line.

The 118 bus service from Okehampton to Tavistock is supported by Devon County Council and it has been extended to run to and from Okehampton railway station. It serves places on the western side of Dartmoor and along the route of the closed Southern railway line at Lydford, North Brentor and Mary Tavy (station on former Great Western route).

Map of 118 bus Okehampton station to Tavistock
Route map and geography of the 118 bus from Okehampton station to Tavistock

From Sourton village a path leads up from the main road alongside the church and onto the moor.

From alongside Sourton Church a path leads over the closed Okehampton to Bere Alston railway to Sourton Tors

Lydford Castle is in the village and open during day light hours

Lydford has two pubs with hotel rooms at either end of the village plus a third hotel in between

Top Left - From Sourton village on the A386 Okehampton to Tavistock road a footpath gives access to the moor, here seen alongside the church. Top Right - As the footpath crosses the closed railway/Granite Way cyclepath at Bridge 620 Sourton Tors can be seen ahead to the east. Behind are views across to Bridestowe church 1½ miles away to the south west and still further to Launceston and Bodmin Moor.

Botton Left - In Lydford the castle can be visited for free during daylight hours. For further information. Bottom Right - Lydford has two pubs with accommodation at either end of the village plus a hotel in between.

From Lydford village the 118 bus passes near to both entrances of Lydford Gorge. For further information.

After travelling through North Brentor and Mary Tavy the 118 bus reaches Tavistock.

Tavistock view from Bannawell Street Viaduct

Madge Lane Tavistock 7 May 2016

Tavistock Canal 7 May 2016

Tavistock Canal below Shillamill Viaduct 8 May 2016

Top Left - Tavistock viewed eastward from the Bannawell Street Viaduct (Tavistock Viaduct Bridge 656 of the closed Okehampton route to Plymouth). Top Right - From the viaduct (also seen in the picture) Madge Lane leads down into the town centre.

Botton Left - One of many things to do and see in Tavistock is the walk alongside the narrow canal, that was built in the early 19th Century to link to the River Tamar at Morwellham Quay. Bottom Right - The Tavistock Canal about to pass under Shillamill Viaduct (Tavistock Viaduct Bridge 665 of the closed Okehampton route to Plymouth). The canal does a ¾ mile loop to reach the canal tunnel mouth (Only a third of mile away to the WNW) that takes it through the hillside to Morwellham Quay.

Bus/Rail Links from Okehampton main station – proposals and discussion

Railfuture suggests that a dedicated Rail Link bus, co-ordinated with most trains and operated as if part of the railway network, should be run between Okehampton main station and Launceston. Some bus services to be non-stop and others via the former A30 to serve Bridestowe, Lewdown and Lifton. Current frequency is just 4 per day eachway on Stagecoach service 6A from Exeter to Launceston via Okehampton. For Okehampton to Launceston this is far less than in the past. Just over two decades ago there were 9 services to Launceston and 10 back and made up of DevonBus 186, Western National X10, Tilleys 227 and National Express 505.

Station Road links Okehampton town centre with the station, but is also residential. To reduce pressure from too many buses on this road, it might be possible to have direct access from Okehampton station to the nearby A30 trunk road via a bus 'Gateway'. From Okehampton station the bus route would use a new road created alongside the railway to Tors Road, turn left and cross the railway on Bridge 610, then cross the A30 Okehampton bypass. Buses would then turn right from Tors Road on to the westbound A30 using an upgraded emergency access road, which was indirectly created when the new A30 road cut through a former lane and a deviation had to be made.

The following Okehampton station links map shows a possible route for an Okehampton to Launceston service inbound via Okehampton town centre and then outbound direct onto the westbound A30.

Okehampton Station Links Sketch Map showing simplified 2020 bus services and suggested additions where the coloured line has a centre dash.
The map shows existing and suggested bus routes around Okehampton that might be developed as links to the Okehampton railway services.

Bus/Rail Connections from Okehampton East Parkway (Exeter Road) – developed from existing services

Those buses timetabled for 2020, which pass the railway at bridge 606 on Mondays to Saturdays, are summarised in the table below. In addition there are some once weekly services that would also pass Okehampton East Parkway station –

670 Thursdays only return service starts at Cheriton Bishop and runs to Okehampton via Spreyton, Whiddon Down, Throwleigh, Sticklepath and Belstone.

671 Wednesdays only return service starts at Newton Abbot and runs to Okehampton via Bovey Tracey, North Bovey, Moretonhampstead, Chagford, Whiddon Down and Sticklepath.

GPH:Okehampton East bus services
The table shows the number of buses timetabled in 2020 to pass bridge 606 near the suggested pedestrian entrance to Okehampton East Parkway station (column 2 and 5). Bus service numbers in column 4 and 6

A further possibility would be to modify service 75A/B which runs from Bideford/Barnstaple to Okehampton via Hatherleigh. After serving Moyses Meadow as at present, it would run east to Okehampton East Parkway. If service 5A (Exeter to Okehampton via Hatherleigh) was similarly extended, there would then be 13 bus/rail connections between Okehampton East Parkway station and Hatherleigh (based on existing 2020 timetables). Combined with the other buses already running this would give 24 buses per day from the parkway station to Okehampton town centre.

PHO:2020.09.10 - Okehampton
Service 75B from Barnstaple is seen in Market Street, Okehampton (September 2020). This service is one that could be extended east to connect with trains at the proposed Okehampton East Parkway station. Connecting at the Parkway station, rather than the main station, would avoid too many buses running via the residential Station Road in Okehampton. It would also better connect the new growth areas around the Parkway station with Okehampton town centre.

A More Detailed Look at the Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton Railway.

This section contains information about the Okehampton route, things that need to be considered and some suggestions. It is intended to inform discussion and act as a briefing document. Discussion is based around a single track option, but with adequate passing capacity for at least 2 trains per hour each way. One train path per hour to call at up to 8 stations between Exeter, Okehampton and Plymouth and take no more than 1 hour 16 minutes. A second slightly faster train path with fewer stops taking just under 1 hour 10 minutes. This would be similar to timings on the route via Dawlish for trains that serve all stations.

Newton St. Cyres – some additional services to be provided by Okehampton service
Newton St. Cyres near Exeter is situated astride the A377 road and is where over half the parish population live out of a total of 876 (2017 ONS estimate, Office for National Statistics). There is a frequent bus service on the main road and consequently an infrequent train service, as the railway station is over half a mile away.

However, around 75 residents live at Sweetham which which forms a small community around the station together with the famous Beer Engine public house and village recreation ground. There is no pavement from the main village, but there is lighting.

Prior to closure of the Okehampton line Newton St. Cyres was served by a combination of Barnstaple and Okehampton line services. From 1968 to 1972 there were 3 to 4 trains to Exeter and 6 to 7 from Exeter. The 1972/73 timetable carried the note about the closure stating, 'This may result in adjustments to the Exeter - Barnstaple service". In fact this did not happen and ever since Newton St. Cyres has had a poor rail service. In todays 2021 timetable Newton St. Cyres is well served by Barnstaple line trains in the evening, but only once during the day with a morning commuter timed train into Exeter.

The initial Exeter to Okehampton service operating from 20th November 2021 gives the village one additional train each way during the day. It is suggested that 2 or 3 Okehampton line trains stop during the middle of the day at Newton St. Cyres when the Okehampton service becomes hourly in 2022. At other times people can still use the regular bus service to Crediton and Exeter from the centre of the village.

Crediton – and on to Yeoford
Crediton has a population of around 8000 and is the most important intermediate station for both the Okehampton and Barnstaple routes. The station is 7 miles from Exeter St. Davids (mile post 179 miles 76 chains) and with 2 platforms is the passing point on the single track line. When the new Okehampton service becomes hourly in 2022 Crediton will have 2 trains per hour to Exeter.

From Crediton the former double track line is operated as 2 separate single lines with one to Okehampton and the other to Barnstaple. The 2 lines pass through Yeoford and separate at Coleford Junction (milepost 183 miles 76 chains). It is recommended that this 4 mile section of two parallel single track lines is restored to true double track working when it becomes possible to restore the railway on from Okehampton to Tavistock and Bere Alston.

~/tc~PHO:2017.05.06 - Crediton SB
On 6th May 2017 a Barnstaple bound train halts to pick up the token for the section of line to Eggesford and will then crossover to the Barnstaple track using points seen in the far distance. A similar arrangement would be satisfactory for the Okehampton service in the short term. When operating as the full route to Plymouth this system should be upgraded to shorten travel times.

PHO:2017.05.06 - Salmon pool LC
Salmonpool level crossing between Crediton and Yeoford, as shown here in May 2017, has for many years slowed trains to 25 mph on both the Barnstaple and Okehampton line tracks. It has recently been upgraded to half barrier operation allowing 70 mph for Barnstaple bound trains. The Okehampton line track should now be upgraded as well from its current maximum 40 mph.

Yeoford – to continue to be just served by Barnstaple line trains
Yeoford is about 10½ miles from Exeter St Davids (mile post 182 miles 79 chains) and formerly operated as the junction and interchange point between the Okehampton and Barnstaple lines. Now, for Okehampton to Barnstaple trains journeys it is suggested that Crediton is used as the connecting station.

Yeoford is a small hamlet within the large parish of Crediton Hamlets. The number of houses suggests that around 350 people live within ½ mile of the station. The railway through Yeoford operates as 2 separate single line tracks and the former down line platform is disused and adjacent to the Okehampton line track.

Given that Yeoford is well served by the hourly Exeter to Barnstaple service there would seem to be no urgency to spend money on platform restoration for the Okehampton line. However, the down platform will need to be restored for the Barnstaple line service when this section is restored to true double track working between Crediton and Colebrooke Junction .

PHO:2020.08.14 - Yeoford
A Barnstaple to Exeter service slows to check for passengers on 14th August 2020. The track on the right is for Okehampton and runs alongside the disused island platform. This is the platform which would need to be restored if this section is restored to normal double track operation.

Bow - to remain closed
Bow is about 15¼ miles from Exeter St Davids station (mile post 187 miles 62 chains), but there are only a few houses nearby and the village is 1¼ miles to the north on the A3072 Copplestone to Hatherleigh road. Of the 1,287 (ONS 2017) inhabitants of the parish around two thirds live within the actual village. Walking to the station would be along an unlit lane and without a pavement. In contrast, the bus service (Stagecoach 5A/B) is accessible within the village on the main road. It provides an hourly service of 12 buses per day taking about 45 minutes to Exeter St. Davids station and 16 back taking 41 minutes.

MAP:Okehampton Line Stations
Sketch map to show the location of Bow, North Tawton and Sampford Courtenay in relation to the Okehampton line stations.

The station building at Bow like North Tawton is in private ownership, but additionally at Bow the old railway land around forms part of this and other property so making access and car parking provision a particular problem. The platform height is significantly low and a lot of work would be required to bring it up to the correct height. Given the poor location of Bow station, the access problems and the impact on overall train speeds and timing of Okehampton line trains the station is not recommended for reopening.

PHO:2020.08.18 - Bow Station
View of Bow station from the road. Unlike North Tawton there is no access to the former platform and both the station frontage and station house/building is in private occupation". With the former goods yard area occupied as well, there is no former railway land that could be used for parking.

PHO:2020.08.27 - Bow
Bow is situated some distance from its former railway, but does have a regular bus service from the stop seen in the picture. The entrance to station road is just visible on the right.

As an alternative Copplestone station is only 3 miles away and offers an hourly rail service into Exeter, but the station needs expanded parking for rail passengers who drive there. Bow and nearby villages have no late evening Monday to Saturday bus services and none on Sundays. Copplestone could be used as a bus/rail interchange point for new services to fill these gaps in the timetable.

If in the future Bow increases its population, or the bus service is reduced, provision of a new station could be reconsidered. In this case the former up platform on the north side of the line would best be restored and provided with a slightly more direct route to the village.

North Tawton – trains every other hour suggested, but may need to use Sampford Courtenay instead for now.
North Tawton station is 18½ miles from Exeter St Davids (milepost 190 miles 72 chains) and should have a rail service. North Tawton is the largest of the settlements between Crediton and Okehampton and had an estimated parish population of 2,019 in 2017 (ONS). It ranks as a small town and is about 1 mile from the former railway station. The road to the station has a pavement, but no lighting. At the station the Railway Inn remains open for business. There is space for parking around the former station building and approach road, but some areas may be used by the Railway Inn and residents of the former station building. It might be necessary to use some areas of the former goods yard for parking.

For visitors to North Tawton there is a town trail, the long distance Tarka Trail is close by at Newland Bridge and the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes lived in the town. Not far from North Tawton station is the original Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research at North Wyke (Rothamsted Research). Whiddon Down is just 5¼ miles away along the direct A3124 from North Tawton station making it easily accessible to parts of north Dartmoor. North Tawton would be Chagford’s nearest station at 10 miles compared to 22 miles to Exeter.

PHO:2020.10.11 - North Tawton
Left: North Tawton town centre. Right: St Peter’s Church, dating from the 13th Century, is the oldest existing building in North Tawton.

North Tawton was included as a reopening proposal in the A-Z of Rail Reopenings 1998 by the Railway Development Society.ISBN: 0 901283 13 4.

The North Tawton Neighbourhood Plan supports the reinstatement of the railway between Okehampton and Exeter. Paragraph 43.3 states, ‘88% of respondents to the Neighbourhood Plan Questionnaire expressed support for the Okehampton to Exeter railway to reopen on a regular basis. 80% said they would use the railway for social reasons, 67% to connect to mainline train services, and 24% would use the train to travel to work.’

However, reopening the station is not straightforward due to 1980s road improvements. On the east side of the closed North Tawton station the railway crossed what was originally a minor class 3 road. It links the A30 trunk road at Whiddon Down with the A3072 Copplestone to Hatherleigh road at de Bathe Cross near North Tawton station. This was first upgraded for light traffic in 1978 and later at a cost of £1.17 million as a lorry road in 1985 involving reconstruction of the railway bridge (Number 591) for increased height. This became the B3219 and is now the A3124.

PHO:2020.08.27 - Bridge 591 North Tawton
The original bridge (number 591) was of iron deck type and too low for lorry traffic. It was raised (probably in 1985) as the final part of upgrading this road which links North Tawton at de Bathe Cross with the A30 trunk road at Whiddon Down. This view south towards Whiddon Down shows the new bridge and is single track. The original lower bridge carried double track and the two platforms extended across it to the east (left on photo).

From west to east the railway was built on a gradient climbing at 1 in 80, but with a safer 1 in 264 through the actual station. The platforms crossed Bridge 591 for a short distance, but were on the restart of the 1 in 80 gradient eastward to Halse Moor. The subsequent height increase for Bridge 591 was achieved by the railway continuing to climb steeply through the station, but with the disadvantage that the platform surfaces are now unusable and are about 2 or more feet below rail level as they near the modern bridge 591.

PHO:2020.08.27 - North Tawton
North Tawton up platform viewed back towards Okehampton. The track here is seen above platform level as it climbs eastward to pass over the new Bridge 591. Note that the old bull head track shown here has now been replaced with new continuously welded rail on concrete sleepers.

As the railway gradient has now have been lessened on the east side of Bridge 591, any new station platform might best be considered here instead. A length of level line sufficient for a 5 coach train may well be possible. For safe and level access to the new platform, there would need to be a footbridge that linked back across the A3124 to the old station approach road and adjacent to the Railway Inn. This unfortunately would be an additional railway cost imposed by the 1980s road improvements.

When the line was singled in 1971 it was the up line (north side track) which was retained through North Tawton and Sampford Courtenay, However, at North Tawton the 1980s track regrading appears to have slightly displaced the track towards the centre of the formation. This is a further complication for building a new platform, as the track may need to be repositioned if redoubling becomes necessary in the future.

The recommendation is that the North Tawton station reopening needs a more detailed study to assess cost and practicality against its usage. In the meantime stopping some trains instead at Sampford Courtenay would help to establish the level of demand for rail services in the area, at least for those able to access the station by car..

PHO:2020.08.27 - North Tawton goods yard
View into the former goods yard area at North Tawton station.

Sampford Courtenay – some trains should stop by request
Sampford Courtenay station is 21¼ miles from Exeter St Davids (milepost 193 miles 58 chains). The station was upgraded in 2002 for a 3 coach length and has been served by the summer Sunday trains running for the last time in 2019. As there are no buses in the area on Sundays, it is suggested that at least 2 morning trains to Exeter stop by request at the station on Sundays and 2 return from Exeter throughout the whole year. Otherwise the area will have less Sunday public transport in the summer than previously. Sampford Courtenay station would need to be given lighting and a platform shelter. In the future if track work is taking place in the Okehampton area, then Sampford Courtenay station is also conveniently close to the B3215 road for connecting to rail replacement bus services. This on its own should make investment in the station worthwhile.

Sampford Courtenay village is served Mondays to Saturdays every 2 hours by Stagecoach 5A between Okehampton, Hatherleigh, Crediton and Exeter, The whole parish of Sampford Courtenay, including Honeychurch in the north, only had an estimated population of 629 in 2017 (ONS). The actual village recorded around 200 of the parish residents and they would be 1½ to 2 miles from Sampford Courtenay station along an isolated country road with no pavement or lighting beyond the first and last houses. Around the station, which is located at Belstone Corner, there are around 100 residents living within ¼ mile. The ‘Sampford Courtenay Parish Survey Report 2019’ (32% return from 250 dwellings) showed that only 1% of respondents would use the train daily, but 14% weekly and 77% infrequently.

Given this data usage of the station might be too low to justify a full weekday service, but Sampford Courtenay parish council are supporting reopening of the station. See the parish council note https://www.sampfordcourtenay-pc.gov.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/2021-09/scpc-autumn-clean-notes-961575220.pdf and the results of the more recent surveyhttps://www.sampfordcourtenay-pc.gov.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/2021-10/final-survey-summary-report-v3-1-450517380.pdf. Therefore it is suggested that on weekdays an experimental service is run to help establish the level of demand for a service in the Sampford Courtenay & North Tawton areas. To run at least until the opening of the proposed Okehampton East Parkway station. This would help to answer the question of whether a station is needed in the area and if Sampford Courtenay can also serve North Tawton, given the problems created for reopening North Tawton's own station following the A3124 road upgrade in the 1980s.

To balance the needs of the Sampford Courtenay-North Tawton area against those wanting a fast service from Exeter to Okehampton, only some trains should stop and then only by request. At minimum 3 to 5 trains each way timed for commuting, shopping and evening visits to both Exeter and Okehampton on Mondays to Saturdays. In additional a further 3 to 5 trains could be designated as set down by request only at Sampford Courtenay, so that full speed is maintained when no one needs to get off the train. Train times to avoid direct duplication of the Stagecoach 5A service from Exeter to Sampford Courtenay. In addition a limited number of County supported bus services have a scheduled timing at Sampford Courtenay station and also link with the village and beyond. Where possible these should be coordinated with the trains.

The journey time by train to Exeter St. Davids would be 35 minutes or less compared to around 1 hour on the bus. With further upgraded track the journey from Sampford Courtenay station to Exeter St. Davids’s station could drop well below 30 minutes if only calling at Crediton. Of those responding to the 2019 Sampford Courtney survey, 86% would want to go by vehicle to the station and the remainder walking.

There is enough land outside the station for around 20 to 25 cars to park and for a short bus lay-by. For safe access to and from the car park the main road may need a speed restriction and or warning sign of the station entrance. The former goods yard that might have been used for additional car parking is occupied by industrial units and since January 2021 used by a specialist bed manufacturer. Access to the old goods yard cuts across some of the potential parking area in front of the station, so a new entrance would best be made.

PHO:2020.08.27 - Sampford Courtenay platform - 1
View of restored, but now neglected Sampford Courtenay station platform.

PHO:2020.08.27 - Sampford Courtenay car park
''This small area might park up to 20 to 25 cars. The former goods yard behind is in private industrial use and since January 2021 by a specialist bed manufacturer.

Okehampton East Parkway (Exeter Road) – all or many trains to stop

Before reaching the main Okehampton station, trains from the Exeter direction pass under the Exeter Road at bridge number 606 (the old A30 now B3260). In the 1950s the eastern edge of Okehampton was still ¾ mile away and only a little closer at the time of the 1972 closure of the line. Since then Okehampton has grown eastward, so that the nearest houses are now only ⅛ of a mile from the railway. The Exeter Road Industrial estate has grown up alongside the railway and has now started to surround it. A new station at this location has been suggested by many, including Railfuture as long ago as 2000.

Now, even more houses are planned nearby. These would be built on farmland just to the north of the Exeter Road Industrial Estate and extending across the Crediton Road. The joint Plymouth, South Hams and West Devon Local Plan, adopted in 2019, has allocated land for 775 new homes (planning references 01089/2013 and 2731/15/OPA). Also to the east of the railway 42,700 square meters of land for employment floor space.

PHO:2018.06.12 - Okehampton expansion
These fields as seen in June 2012 are destined to be filled with new housing. The view is looking towards Abbeyford Woods and the photograph is taken from one of the new roads only a few minutes walk from the proposed Okehampton East Parkway station. The mast which can be seen in the distance, and also in the next picture, provides Freeview television for Okehampton and radio over a wider area.

Reasons for locating a new station on Exeter Road include the close proximity of the new residential areas, those planned, plus easy access off the A30 trunk road from both west and east. There is land that could be used for car parking and a possible plan was drawn up by local campaigners and appeared in the Okehampton Times: Wednesday, 20 September 2017. The plan showed a car park with around 250 spaces, but the platform appeared to be on the 1 in 88 gradient leading down to Sampford Courtenay.

Instead the new station platform should be located a little further south, as the gradient is thought to level off at a point just north of the accommodation bridge number 605. If correct then there should be an 11 coach length on the level with the new platform extending through to the Exeter Road overbridge (number 606). This would also enable there to be a pedestrian link up to the Exeter road and for passengers to connect with any buses passing this point.

PHO:2018.11.19 - Okehampton East
Viewed from the Belstone direction on Dartmoor, the eastward growth of Okehampton along the Exeter Road can be clearly seen. From left to right the railway is running out of sight in cutting between Okehampton station and the potential Okehampton Parkway on Exeter Road, but marked but by the long line of trees. The top of bridge 606 is just visible on the right where the B3260 (old A30) crosses the line. On the north side of the road bridge there is a parallel pedestrian bridge, just visible in the picture, as it is painted bright blue. To the left (west towards the town centre) can be seen the buildings of the Exeter Road industrial estate, followed by the first houses. Railfuture is suggesting that there should be pedestrian access to the new station platform and bus stops in the vicinity of Bridge 606.

The new station platform would be on a curve of about 600 m radius (30 chains), but this is unavoidable. The curvature increases the stepping distance between platform and train and would need special permission to be built. However, there are numerous examples of existing stations with this curvature or even tighter including Bere Alston (further on to Plymouth), Saltash and St. Germans in Cornwall.

PHO:2018.06.12 - Okehampton East from BR606 PHO:2018.06.12 - Okehampton East from BR605n
Suggested site for Okehampton Parkway station platform. The left hand picture is a view north from the pedestrian bridge alongside the old A30 bridge 606. Here there could be a path down to the platform. The platform would then continue under the accommodation bridge number 605 from which the right hand picture is taken. At this point the line is still thought to be level where it is alongside the stagnant water (right/east side of track). From here the line drops at 1 in 88 towards Sampford Courtenay and so the station platform should not be located any further north than here. Bridge 605 might itself be used for access between the station platform and parking on the east side of the railway.

Okehampton – all trains to stop

Okehampton station is 25 miles from Exeter St Davids station (mile post 197 miles 33 chains) and is situated high up on the south side of the town on the edge of Dartmoor. The town centre was located directly on the A30 London to Penzance road until the town’s bypass opened in 1989.

PHO:2020.09.10 - Okehampton town old A30
Okehampton centre on the main A30 London to Penzance road until bypassed in 1989.

Okehampton is small town, but with a growing population that reached an estimated 7,057 in 2017 (ONS). This is about the same size as Totnes (7,903 in 2017) and there are other similarities, and not just that they both have castles. Okehampton like Totnes is midway on an Exeter to Plymouth railway line. Exeter to Totnes is 28¾ miles and only a few miles futher than the 25 miles from Exeter to Okehampton. Totnes is 23¼ from Plymouth and Okehampton 32⅞ miles.

The catchment area for Okehampton includes Hatherleigh, Holsworthy and North Cornwall places such as Bude, Launceston and Camelford. In comparison Totnes covers much of the South Hams including Kingsbridge, Salcombe, Dartmouth, parts of south Torbay and Buckfastleigh. Totnes recorded 696,226 rail passengers at its station in 2018-2019 (Entry and Exit figure from the Office of the Rail Regulator) and this could be used to indicate a possible upper annual figure for Okehampton. However, only if Okehampton achieved a similar service level of around 2 trains per hour. Axminster has a similar population to Okehampton at 7,452 (2017 ONS estimate), it is 27¾ miles from Exeter and also serves a wider catchment area (Seaton, Lyme Regis, Bridport and Chard). One difference is that Axminster only has around one train per hour and this could explain the lower entry and exit figure which was 384,220 for the period 2018-2019. Okehampton could be expected to achieve a usage figure in between that of Totnes and Axminster.

The station at Okehampton survived the rail closures and helped by the summer Sunday rail service and heritage support, it is now a refurbished complete and ready to use station. It has a canopy over the main platform (number 3), buffet and toilets. There is a second platform (number 2) so making this a convenient place to pass trains, should the railway remain as mainly single track. A second footbridge suitable for disabled access is needed for access to platform 2. Both these platforms are of 6 coach length, but could be extended at the east/Exeter end of the station.

PHO:2020.09.10 - Okehampton station
View of the main station platform at Okehampton - number 3 up side of line viewed in Tavistock and Plymouth direction.

Platform 1 is behind the station and was formerly often used for connecting services running on the now closed lines to North Cornwall. Reinstatement of this 3rd line could become important for holding trains, if the route remains single track and is being used for services diverted from the Dawlish route. For this track reinstatement to be possible, the huts of an adjacent cycle hire business would need to be moved slightly to provide adequate clearance.

PHO:2020.09.10 - Okehampton platform 1 & Goods
View behind the station showing the goods shed now in use as the Youth Hostel. Reinstatement of the platform 1 loop would need to run alongside, as it always did, on the left hand side.

On former railway land at Okehampton station there is space to provide car parking, with 30 spaces on the station approach, 20 short stay approximately opposite the main station building and around 100 on the site of the former locomotive depot and engine shed. This would give a total of 150 spaces, which is almost as many as Totnes with 20 short stay and 145 ordinary. Work needed is resurfacing and clear marking out of the car parking areas.

PHO:2020.09.10 - Okehampton station down side car park
The land shown here was the site of the locomotive depot, but today would provide space to park 100 cars.

PHO:2020.09.10 - Okehampton station freight shed
On the right of the station building there would be space for 20 short stay parking spaces and 30 ordinary spaces on the approach road. This would still leave room for bus waiting and a number of taxi spaces.

(This page to be continued.)

See also:
The case for Okehampton, 2014

Rural reconnections: the social benefits of rail reopening - Greengauge 21 study for Campaign to Protect Rural England, 2015.

Re-opening Tavistock-Okehampton: why, when and how March 2019

The case for Okehampton reopening November 2019.