A report came out this week which could push the argument for an Exeter to Plymouth rail link via Okehampton much higher up the agenda.
The report by the Taxpayers Alliance has said that scrapping the HS2 Rail project which would connect London and Birmingham, then on to northern cities, would fund 28 vital transport links with the £500 million link between Exeter and Plymouth top of the list.
The rail service between Okehampton and Exeter is due to start next spring; the plan is for the rail link to go all the way to Plymouth via Tavistock, which would make sense as much of the structure is in place, or it could be revived. With the West Country effectively cut off from the rest of the UK when the rail line at Dawlish was swept into the sea in 2014, a second rail link to Devon and Cornwall has gained much support.
The report also comes amid a mounting Cabinet revolt over HS2 with speculation that those jostling to succeed Theresa May will pledge to scrap the £50 billion HS2 project.
Last year a panel of surveyors, engineers, accountants and politicians drew up a list of 28 other important major rail projects that would have a combined cost of £45 billion leaving £4 billion change if HS2 was abandoned.
Dr Michael Ireland the Vice Chairman of OkeRail said that if HS2 was scrapped, the money may well become available.
Dr Ireland went on to say that other rail groups in the South West such as ‘Connect Bude’ were putting forward a plan to have a branch line from Okehampton up to Holsworthy via Halwill Junction and then possibly on to the North Devon coast at Bude.
Work is to start on a new sea wall at Dawlish to protect the rail line ‘for 100 years’. The contract for the £30 million project has been given to BAM Nuttal Group and will begin at the end of May. The sea wall will be raised from 5 metres to 7.5 metres. Network Rail senior programme manager David Lovell said: “We are delighted to have awarded the contract to BAM Nuttal and we look forward to working with them on delivering this vital upgrade that will protect the rail artery for the next 100 years.”
In 2014 the line was closed for six weeks after extreme weather washed the line away. Campaigners have called for an inland rail route like Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock to prevent a repeat of the crisis that happened in 2014.