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Appraisal of West of Exeter Resilience Report
This report appears very well written with much positivity in it but there are a few notes that must be made with relevance to the Okehampton Route:-
This must surely be a ‘no-brainer’. The route via Okehampton and Tavistock provides the cheapest and most usable resilient option.
This is the letter sent to the Western Morning News, Okehampton Times and several rail magazines.
I am a member of the Destination Okehampton Working Group. We produced a report to Devon County Council about the benefits of the former LSWR line. Option 3 in the Network Rail report. There is much that is positive here but also a few 'errors'. Whilst the report is generally very good it must be pointed out that the Okehampton/Tavistock line would regenerate a significant area of Devon and Cornwall. These economic measures are necessarily not included in the Network Rail Report as theirs is an engineering and cost appraisal only. This is another big plus for this route.
In the Network Rail report all routes were described as poor value for money. However, the Okehampton Route is the only one that provides additional traffic. It is probable, particularly with Sourton Park and Ride picking up some of the 100,000 people in the area not connected to a rail line, that although the revenue gained would not cover the capital expenditure, it would cover the running costs of the line. It would also generate extra business in Plymouth and Exeter as well. A Benefit Cost Ratio model used in Scotland and Wales where the initial cost is seen as an investment and the line just needs to cover running costs resulted in the re building of the Borders Railway and Bathgate-Airdrie.
Optimisation is NOT mentioned but the report talks of Double track throughout or at least large sections of passing loops so as line speed retained giving a non stop time with Voyager type trains of 53minutes. With Optimisation this time could be reduced by 3 or 4 minutes at relatively little additional cost. Not far off the 49 minutes quoted non stop via Dawlish. Deviation costs were included in the Bathgate-Aidrie and Borders Railways in Scotland of similar length to the deviations needed to do this and as our report to Devon County Council showed this was achievable. The Resilience Report quotes these Railways. Reversals would only lose 5-7 minutes for 1 reversal and 10-14 for two. Not the 14-20 minutes quoted in the report. With optimisation times from Plymouth to Exeter could be as little as 57 minutes with HST trains and even less with Voyager types. Comparable to times now on the current line. From Cornwall with two reversals it can be a maximum of 65 minutes.
A stopping service of 75 minutes is pretty good and accurate I feel if trains called at all the stations mentioned. Calling at the local stations in Plymouth would give an extra benefit to our line as some Cornish Services would not have to stop there. It would also increase the frequency that these stations are currently served. This would decrease the Cornish travel times on some services. A double track with raised speeds would give and an extra benefit to the Tarka Line. Decreassing travel times and increasing capacity of the line as well as helping with ever growing passenger numbers. If Services don't stop at all stations then the time would be under 75 minutes. The time of 29 minutes from Okehampton to Exeter is in the correct ball park for a stopping service calling at Yeoford, Crediton and Newton St Cyres. In the future potential exists for the South West Trains franchise to be varied and some services to/from London Waterloo to go on to Plymouth. This would give some real competition for traffic. Not as quick as the time to Paddington but probably cheaper. Not everyone wants to get to London in 3 hours. Some want to get there for much less cost! Maybe even some Crosscountry services could be diverted as well. Logically when the Crosscountry Paignton services run so as to only miss Totnes. An upgraded Devon Metro to fill these 'gaps' is also achievable.
The Report agrees that higher line speeds are capable on the Okehampton/Tavistock route as opposed to the current line. We believe up to 110mph on one part of the line and much of the railway at higher speeds than the current route.
Apart from the Teign Valley line our line is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than other options. Less than £1billion. The Teign Valley line itself generates its own concerns about resilience. When it was a goods line only part was closed permanently due to flooding. It is likely that this line is susceptible to that now. I believe this rules out this route.
Though extra costs were quoted for Electrification our line is not unique in this. Many lines around the country have limited clearance as do many structures on the current route.
Mention must be made of Meldon Viaduct. Destination Okehampton were advised that the cost of getting the Viaduct up to the ability to carry trains was £15-20million with a cost of survey at £40,000 to £50,000. This by a member of the Meldon Viaduct Company. How much is the new viaduct going to cost and is that the only way around this issue? What about a single track over the Viaduct as at Largin in Cornwall?
Mention is made of our line solving all resilience problems between Exeter and Newton Abbot. None is made of it adding resilience between Newton Abbot and Plymouth. Whenever the line is closed here the Okehampton route can help and keep trains moving. Yes there are gradients of 1 in 78. But that is nothing compared to 1 in 37 or 1 in 42 on the South Devon Banks. When the rail head is slippery trains can become stuck on these.
In Summary. The Okehampton/Tavistock line is the cheapest (by some£500million) , solves resilience problems over far greater area, is capable of handling all traffic, and will generate new custom much more effectively than other options.
It is quite clear that Network Rail would prefer just to strengthen the current line as the cheapest alternative. We knew this was going to be their angle. Even at a meeting on Rail Resilience in Exeter County Hall in April Network Rail were pushing for this. However for extra resilience the North Dartmoor Route is we believe, the most cost effective.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to regenerate large areas, creating new business oportunities and wealth, improve rail services on lines that already have them and open up new passengers to the Railway. To travel from Okehampton to Exeter by bus can take an hour. from Bude over 2 hours. By Sunday Rover on a train is 40 minutes and if this line built and optimised that will be less than 30 minutes.
A more detailed survey still will show just how good this route can be. If Network Rail, or indeed any MP, would like to see the information we have produced then we would be more than happy. They are already in the public domain.
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