Passenger train runs on Dartmoor Line ahead of first regular services since 1972

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A passenger train has run on a line in Devon ahead of regular public services returning after being axed nearly 50 years ago.

Grant Shapps said travelling on the special service on the Dartmoor Line on Wednesday was his proudest moment as Transport Secretary.

Great Western Railway (GWR) trains will operate on the route between Okehampton and Exeter every two hours, seven days a week, from Saturday.

Regular services were withdrawn in 1972, and since 1997 the line has only been open during the summer.

The reinstatement of a year-round timetable will see the first services to operate as part of Government plans to reverse the decimation of the rail network following a report published by British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching in 1963.

He recommended the closure of more than 6,000 miles of railway and 2,300 stations due to low demand and high costs.

The Dartmoor Line was awarded £40.5 million of investment through the Department for Transport’s Restoring Your Railway scheme.

Its reopening is expected to help students travelling to colleges in Exeter, ease journeys to Dartmoor National Park, cut road congestion and boost local economies.

Grant Shapps alights at Oakhampton
Grant Shapps alights at Oakhampton (Ben Birchall/PA)

Mr Shapps rode in the cab of a train from Crediton to Okehampton on Wednesday, where he was greeted with a cream tea and music from a 1940s-style jazz band.

In a speech, the Cabinet minister revealed he had recently been knocked off his bike close to his Hertfordshire constituency and had to undergo a small operation.

He said his greatest concern as he waited for the ambulance had been missing the opening of the Dartmoor Line.

“There has never been a more proud moment in my job than pulling into this station just now to see this line reopen,” he said.

Mr Shapps then put on a GWR hat, waved a green flag and blew a whistle to dispatch a train carrying rail enthusiasts, campaigners, staff and local schoolchildren.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wears a hat, waves a flag and whistles off a GWR Dartmoor Line train from Oakhampton station
Grant Shapps whistles off a GWR Dartmoor Line train from Oakhampton (Ben Birchall/PA)

In an earlier statement, he said: “By restoring the Dartmoor Line we are undoing 50 years of damage, reconnecting a community and creating new opportunities for jobs, tourism, education and recreation.

“We have made it our mission to reverse cuts made in the Beeching era of the 1960s. The passion, nostalgia and enthusiasm for that ambition is clear right across the country.

“People love their railways, and rightly miss them when they’re gone. Today – ahead of time, and under budget – we’ve made a decisive step in fixing that, cutting the ribbon on a line and making a real difference to people’s lives.”

The Dartmoor Line project involved Network Rail installing 11 miles of new track, fitting 24,000 concrete sleepers and laying 29,000 tonnes of ballast, and was delivered two years early and £10 million under budget.

Asked about the cost to passengers on newly restored routes, Mr Shapps said he wanted rail travel to be “accessible”.

“I like to see rail accessible but unfortunately I do have to reflect the fact the taxpayer has to pay for all the infrastructure, and during (the pandemic) it stumped up £15 billion to keep our railways going,” he said.

“As always, you have to have the balance between the taxpayer more broadly and the passenger, but we have to do whatever we can to keep things affordable.”

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