THE first daily trains to carry the public between Exeter and Okehampton for almost 50 years started running on Saturday. Invited guests had been given rides on a shuttle service between Okehampton and the former station at Bow on the previous Wednesday. Special summer Sunday services had been operated since 1997, but £40.5 million was invested this year in upgrading 18km of track, strengthening structures and improving drainage. Trains will now run every two hours throughout the week, including Sundays.
The Exeter-Okehampton line was not included in the 1963 Beeching report, although the rest of the route from Okehampton onwards to Plymouth was recommended for closure. Even so, Okehampton services only continued until British Rail withdrew them in 1972.
The new service is set to be increased to an hourly frequency in May, and the reopening has boosted the campaign to restore the rest of the route from Okehampton to Tavistock and Bere Alston in the Tamar Valley near Plymouth.
GWR managing director Mark Hopwood paid tribute to the people who had supported reopening for many years. He said: 'This has been a key aspiration for the community and the rail industry for some time and today is a significant day for everyone who has been involved. The support and advocacy of the local campaigners over the years has helped deliver a fantastic new service, which we hope will grow from strength to strength.'