Future of Dartmoor Railway still unclear

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A fortnight ago Okehampton-based Dartmoor Railway which is currently operated by Dartmoor Railway Community Interest Company (DRCIC), was packaged for sale by its US owners IOWA Pacific, the troubled holding company of British American Railway Services (BARS).

Campaign group OkeRail, which has fought to reintroduce a regular passenger rail service between Okehampton and Exeter for the last ten years, expressed their concern while news that the joint lease between Devon County Council (DCC) and BARS for Okehampton Station buildings and car park which expired on 31st December 2019, would further delay their long term aspirations putting the future of the service, which was axed as a result of the ‘Beeching’ cuts in 1972, in real doubt.

Along with the heritage Weardale Railway and a rolling stock and freight company, BARS has owned Dartmoor Railway for 11 years, while the line (the track and trackbed) itself between Meldon Quarry and Coleford is owned by Aggregate Industries (AI) and was acquired from British Rail in 1994.

Mr John Penny, estates manager for AI indicated that the firm would be delighted to see the reintroduction of the passenger service and would be happy to work with all stakeholders to that end.

The Dartmoor Railway Supporters’ Association (DRSA), provides rolling stock and staffing for seasonal Heritage services from Okehampton to Meldon Viaduct within Dartmoor National Park. A 200-strong group of enthusiastic volunteers who assist the railway operation in many of its activities and help maintain the current excellent facilities at Okehampton station stated that they had not been contacted about the sale of DRCIC or changes to the leasing arrangements between them and Aggregate Industries and Devon County Council.

In an official statement, they emphasised “The DRSA welcomes any moves that will speed up the reintroduction of daily train services between the growing town of Okehampton, the city of Exeter and beyond. Daily services will improve connectivity for local people, businesses and the tourist industry. It will also serve the wider population of West Devon and North Cornwall, currently England’s largest ‘Rail Desert’. Ideally, DRSA would like the Okehampton line to the boundary with Network Rail’s North Devon line at Coleford (near Yeoford) to again be part of the national rail network. We look forward to working with the new arrangements.Until more is known it is difficult for us to reliably speculate on the possible future options.”

It is The Moorlander’s understanding that talks between all interested parties are ongoing but due to commercial sensitivity full details are not publicly available at the time of going to press.

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Author: Eric Partridge

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