Network Rail is set to begin 15 days of engineering upgrades on the Dartmoor Line in preparation for the introduction of hourly services.
Next week, from Monday 25 April until the early hours of Tuesday 10 May, Network Rail engineers will be upgrading parts of the 14-mile stretch of Dartmoor Line which currently carries two-hourly Great Western Railway (GWR) passenger services between Okehampton and Exeter.
Along the Dartmoor Line, at Fatherford and Coleford, engineers will be further improving the drainage and track bed to enable faster line speeds ready for the increase to hourly services from mid-May.
These latest upgrades form part of the second stage of the Dartmoor Line reopening, building upon the reintroduction of regular passenger services last year to now delivering an hourly service.
While this engineering work is ongoing, a reduced train service will continue to operate between Exeter and Crediton with a rail replacement bus service in operation between Crediton and Okehampton. Trains services on the Tarka Line between Exeter and Barnstaple will continue to run as usual. Two-hourly train services to Okehampton will resume from Tuesday 10 May, with hourly services starting from Sunday 15 May.
The Dartmoor Line reopened to regular passenger services for the first time in nearly 50 years last November and was the first former line to reopen under the Government’s Restoring Your Railway programme.
Since services resumed last November, the Dartmoor Line has proven extremely popular with an average of 2,000 journeys made every week supporting local businesses, providing a launchpad for visitors to explore Dartmoor and greater access to education and work for thousands of people who live locally.
Following confirmation of over £40m of Government funding last March, Network Rail’s team of engineers worked tirelessly to deliver a huge programme of work to physically reopen this mothballed former freight railway line in less than nine months and more than £10m under the original budget.
These upgrades included laying 11 miles of new track and installing 24,000 concrete sleepers and 29,000 tonnes of ballast in a record-breaking 20-day period.
Christian Irwin, Network Rail’s Industry Programme Director (South West), said: “These latest upgrades are critical in enabling this important railway line to increase to hourly services –something we had always committed to achieving upon receiving Government funding.
“We have been delighted with how popular the Dartmoor Line has proven to be and we now need to make some further enhancements to parts of the track in order to facilitate increased line speeds which are required to enable hourly services.
“There is never a good time to close such a well-used and relied upon railway such as the Dartmoor Line so we would like to thank passengers for their patience and understanding while we make these critical upgrades for the benefit and future of this railway line.”
Matt Barnes, GWR Head of Strategic Service Development, said: “This final upgrade work is important to ensure we can introduce our additional services later in May and we thank customers for their patience in advance.
“Introducing hourly services on the Dartmoor Line has been a key aspiration for the community and the rail industry since the project was launched, and the demand we’ve already seen on the line shows just how important good rail connections are for the community they serve.
“We have been working hard to provide a replacement bus service that ensures people can continue to travel with minimal disruption. However, we strongly recommend our customers check their times carefully before travelling to ensure a smooth journey with us.”
Richard Burningham, Manager of the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership, said: “It is incredible to think that from 15 May, not six months since the Dartmoor Line reopened, Okehampton will have trains every hour through much of the day, seven days a week. This engineering work is essential to make that possible. Obviously, there will be a bit of short-term inconvenience and that’s unfortunate, but for passengers, I’d say it will be worth it once those hourly trains begin, very soon now.”