Friday, 19 November 2021

Daily Diesels to Dartmoor

It Was Grant Wot Did It?

Never let the truth get in the way of a political soundbite. Grant Shapps, The DaFT and the Rail Delivery Group are all laying claim to the first success of the Governments railway restoration policy. Sadly, the return of a seven-day-a-week service to Okehampton pre-dates any current government policy by some years. It probably pre-dates Grant Shapps!

Nevertheless the new service starts tomorrow with much hype!
For the first day, GWR are running an extra train at 0830 from Okehampton, and providing a free shuttle bus from Okehmapton's car parks ...
... running every 30 minutes.
There is not a great deal of parking at the station and GWR are expecting crowds. Sadly, fbb will not be among them because of family responsibilities.

Oddly, there was nothing about the new service on the main FGW web site as recently as Wednesday  except an enigmatic note on a difficult to find map.
It says "Coming soon" with no mention of date. It directs the weary surfer to table D2 which shows only the Barnstaple service.
Most of the useful detail is on a "Dartmoorline" web site, which is very well done ...
Presumably it is beyond the wit of First Rail to combine the two into a useful source of information. At least the journey planners have been updated.
The Adult fare is £8 return. Within Devon, the county's day ranger at £14 is excellent value and discounts to £9.20 with Senior Railcard etc.

Earlier in the week there was a review trip to Exeter and back aimed at local Okehampton folk ...
... and Grant was there, claiming every ounce of political credit that he could muster!
For a good few years, there has been a limited Sunday service on the line. In its early days it connected with several bus services at Okehampton Station and was overseen there by "the lads" from Devon County Council. This lavish provision has declined over the years, but there has been an opportunity to join the "shuttle" to Meldon Viaduct.
There was/is a dinky little platform at the end of the Dartmoor Pony shuttle!
The future of these shuttle and an experience of a tain ride to the viaduct ...
... is currently unclear as the owning company went into administration in 2020. 

The future of rail services from Okehampton to Meldon is hanging in the balance after the company running a heritage service from the station went into administration.

Owner British American Railway Services, a subsidiary of American company Iowa Pacific Holdings, had been trying to sell the heritage railway as a going concern over the past month.

The station is owned by Devon County Council.

There are aspirations that, one day, the line will re-open to Tavistock and on to Plymouth, restoring the so-called "Withered Arm" of the former Southern Railway.
If you were thinking of approaching from the west next week, Dartlines route 118 ...
... has been adjusted to connect with the daytime train service, Monday to Saturday.
So you can do the WithereD Arm partly by bus, as did fbb with Mrs fbb back in the day when there were good holiday time Sunday connections at Okehampton. The connection from Plymouth was by train to Gunnislake and then bus to Tavistock. What did cause some distress was the lack of open "conveniences" between Gunnislake and Okehampton. Mrs fbb was not happy at all.

Okehampton's station caff was always a delight ...
... and will still be in operation with new contractors. Indeed, the station has gained some modern signage ...
... to join the heritage Southern Railway paint scheme.
But, even if you do not catch a train, the station at Okehampton is the most marvellous experience, like stepping back into the pre-nationalisation days of the gloriously green Southern Railway!.

Dateline 3rd June 1972 ...
... the last train from Exeter arrives at Okehampton.

Dateline 1964 ...
... when steam was in charge. Sigh?

-------------------- AN APOLOGY ----------------------
Yesterday's blog failed to publish at the set time of 0200. No idea why, but it was poked into action at about 0915. fbb's incompetence or a blip in thr internet connection?

 Next Variety blog : Saturday 20th November 


  1. Okehampton is being presented as the first reopening after Beeching, but what about the Waverley line or the Robin Hood line?

  2. The new timetable for the service follows the current GWR habit of un-memorable departure times, differing by a minute or so each hour.

    The Southern Railway (and its successors) were usually very good at keeping to clockface timings. It was a vain hope that this memorable practice might have been adopted for the new venture.

  3. The timetable will change next year anyway to hourly. I don't know if the delay is due to shortage of trains or staff, or whether signalling work still needs to be done. And, yes, lots of lines re--opened since Beeching, especially in Scotland. Okehampton was "easy" as the trackbed was intact - basically a matter of relaying the track, one would have thought. A Plusbus connecting the station to the town centre would be a good idea.

  4. It is interesting to compare the new daily train offering with Okehampton’s existing bus service. The town’s principal service is the Stagecoach 6/6a to Exeter which, ironically, has its origins partly in the rail replacement service that was introduced following withdrawal of services from the “withered arm”. This service was of course operated for many years by WJO Jennings of Bude.

    The current 6/6a offering gives 12 departures per weekday from Okehampton, with a journey time of approximately 45 minutes to Exeter St David’s railway station or about 55 minutes to the city bus station. The return fare is I believe £6.20. There is also a “round the houses” 5a service which adds another 7 departures from Okehampton to Exeter, but with an end-to-end journey time of about 1 hour 45 minutes its not an attractive alternative. The first bus from Okehampton is at 6:38am (ignoring the 5a that leaves 10 minutes earlier), with the last weekday bus back from Exeter at 8:15pm.

    The train currently offers 8 departures a day (roughly every two hours, with a frequency increase to hourly in 2022). Journey times are 40 minutes to St David’s and roughly 45-55 minutes to Exeter Central, depending on if a change of train is required. The advertised fare is £8 return. The first train from Okehampton is at 7.20am and the last weekday train back is at 9:12pm. Okehampton station is of course about a mile (uphill) from the town centre.

    So, journey times are not dissimilar, the train is slightly quicker, but neither Exeter St David’s nor Okehampton Stations are close to the main town centre. Exeter Central (as its name suggests) is more central, but not all trains fun through, with some requiring a change negating rails (slight) time advantage. Turn up and go tickets are slightly cheaper (by £1.20) and there are currently more departures by bus. Rail of course offers other advantages, including connecting Okehampton to the national rail network, an arguably more comfortable journey and isn’t beholden to traffic delays (although the railways are good at finding their own reasons for delay). For basic journeys between Okehampton and Exeter there isn’t much in it, with the bus potentially pipping the train.

    Hopefully there is room for both bus and train services between Okehampton and Exeter and that the introduction of the rail service won’t act as a catalyst for the reduction in the bus service between the two (and onwards to Bude). I wonder what the money spent on delivering the new rail service could have been provided if it was made available to enhance the bus service instead…?