The Anonymous Widower

Common Sense Between Exeter And Plymouth

After the failure of the South Devon Sea Wall in 2014 and the cutting of the main line at Dawlish, something had to be done to make sure there was an alternative rail route between Exeter and Plymouth.

In the June 2016 Edition of Modern Railways there is an article entitled Cheaper Okehampton Route Proposed, which puts forward the latest thinking. The article starts like this.

The Peninsular Rail Task Force is advocating the reopening of the former Southern Railway route between Exeter and Plymouth via Okehampton as a secondary route rather than as a bypass for the existing line via Dawlish.

The Task Force has produced a 20-year plan for investment in the south west’s rail network. This link can access a draft summary report.

The old Southern Railway route between Exeter and Plymouth is described in Wikipedia as Partly Closed, but with much of the infrastructure intact, although the track has been lifted in places. It sounds that it has been left in a similar state to the Waverley Route and the Varsity Line, after cuts in the 1960s and 1970s. These two routes have been or will be partly or fully reopened.

Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton is certainly in a better state with regard to trains than either the Waverley Route or Varsity Line were before work started.

  • Trains run on the Tarka Line from Exeter to Crediton, before that line goes off to Barnstaple.
  • The Dartmoor Railway also uses the route to take passengers between Exeter and Okehampton.
  • From Okehampton to Tavistock, the track has been lifted.
  • Tavistock is getting a new station and being connected to the Tamar Valley Line at Bere Alston.
  • The Tamar Valley Line then takes passengers to Plymouth.

It may have the air of being assembled from Beeching’s left-overs, but it looks like it would work. Especially, as there should be no problem in the next few years in acquiring high-quality new or refurbished diesel trains for the line.

The Modern Railways article also says.

  • The line’s function would be to provide a modest service serving local stations and to offer diversionary capability.
  • Eight new stations would be provided.
  • The line would be unlikely to be electrified.
  • To help funding new housing would be built along the line.

A double-track railway with diesel trains would do the following.

  • Improve the economy of Devon around the fringes of Dartmoor.
  • Help in the development of much-needed housing in the area.
  • Provide a much-needed freight route to and from the peninsular.
  • Provide sufficient capacity in the event of problems at Dawlish.

But knowing Murphy’s Law, if the line were to reinstated, the sea at Dawlish would behave itself.

I also think that once the decision is made to reinstate the line, that it would be a project to build in a series of smaller related projects.

  1. Build the station at Tavistock and connect it to the Tamar Valley Line Line at Bere Alston, to create an hourly Plymouth to Tavistock service.
  2. Upgrade Okehampton station and the Dartmoor Railway to create an hourly Exeter to Okehampton service.
  3. Acquire some new or refurbished diesel trains for the routes and also for other local services in Devon. The trains would need to be weather-proofed for the Dawlish route.
  4. Build new stations at Okehampton East, North Tawton and Bow on the Okehampton to Exeter section.
  5. Reinstate the Tavistock to Okehampton route with stations at Lydford and Sourton Parkway.

Done in small stages, I think that other than getting a railway delivered at an affordable cost on an earlier date, it would have other advantages.

  • Once the first two phases are complete, all but about sixteen miles of the route would be running trains.
  • Hourly services at both ends of the line would give reliable forecasts as to expected passenger usage of the completed line.
  • The hourly services would surely have a Borders Railway-style effect on tourism.
  • Building in small stages could minimise heritage issues, that probably don’t come into play until the Tavistock to Okehampton section is designed and built.

Like the Borders Railway and the Varsity Line, it strikes me that this route from Exeter to Plymouth was wrongly closed in the 1960s and 1970s. But then Harold Wilson, that well-known friend of trains, flew to his cottage on the Scilly Isles.

I believe that this plan is a good one and I’m looking forward to exploring the complete line in the future.





June 12, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

A Job Well Done

Everybody is breathing a sigh of relief after the reopening of the rail line to Plymouth and Cornwall yesterday. It’s all reported here on the BBC.

The only problem this summer is going to be that with all the publicity, many of those, who want to go to Devon and Cornwall, might decide to use the train. So can the wonderful Inter City 125s cope? They have yet to fail to meet a challenge yet!

There has been talk of opening an inland route, which could go round the North of Dartmoor by way of Okehampton and Tavistock. This is the route of the old London and South Western Railway from Exeter to Plymouth.  The article in Wikipedia includes this.

There are proposals to reopen the line from Tavistock to Bere Alston for a through service to Plymouth. In the wake of widespread disruption caused by damage to the mainline track at Dawlish by coastal storms in February 2014, Network Rail are considering reopening the Tavistock to Okehampton and Exeter section of the line as an alternative to the coastal route.

I suspect there’s a team of exhausted engineers in Network Rail, who have the special engineering envelopes ready with a plan to reinstate this route for an encore after Dawlish. According to Wikipedia, the main viaducts seem to be intact, so it might not be the major job some might think.

As an engineer of sorts, I’d put the opening of this line in a box marked Difficult But Possible With Good Engineering.

Of course, Sod’s Law being what it is, if the old LSWR  line was reinstated, there wouldn’t be any more trouble on the Dawlish line. But it would provide an easy route to get to Dartmoor and the surrounding part of Devon by train.


April 5, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Plymouth Gives Payday Lenders The Boot

Plymouth has banned the adverts for payday lenders from billboards and bus shelters, as is reported here in the Independent.

Perhaps they could use the space saved on bus shelters to provide user-friendly maps and bus information, to help visitors to the city.

August 12, 2013 Posted by | Finance, News | , , , | Leave a comment

Were The Pilgrim Fathers From Essex?

This story started in the Times yesterday and was repeated here in the Telegraph, which throws Grimsby into the mix.

So you can take your pick from any of a number of places!

The choice is yours!

May 1, 2013 Posted by | World | , , , | Leave a comment

Summing Up Plymouth

As I walked out of Plymouth to the station, I saw this pair of signs.

Confusing Signs in Plymouth

In most places to get to the station, you walk towards the sign shown all over the country. But in Plymouth to do that would take you on a more roundabout route, than following the fingerpost.

They just don’t do details very well.

But they did have a sign saying “Plenty to see and do. Positively Plymouth” at the station. And of course no maps!

August 7, 2011 Posted by | Travel | | 1 Comment

Vehicle Unfriendly Plymouth

You may think I’m anti-car.  But then I’ve never been anywhere with so many speed cameras.

These two were in one of the main shopping streets.

Speed Cameras in Plymouth

I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in such a position before.

August 7, 2011 Posted by | Travel | , | Leave a comment

An Imaginatively Named Restaurant

This picture sums up the centre of Plymouth

The Roundabout, Plymouth

And guess where it is!

August 7, 2011 Posted by | Travel, World | | Leave a comment

The Clock Isn’t Ticking

This clock on the Royal Bank of UK Taxpayers could be said to sum up the city.

The Clock Isn't Ticking

If it’s working it is about half-an-hour slow.  Or it was when I took the picture and you might be able to see the actual time on the church behind.

In my view the picture sums up the city.  no-one believes in attention to detail.

August 7, 2011 Posted by | Travel | | Leave a comment

Pedestrian Unfriendly Plymouth

If you like walking and you have to go to Plymouth for some reason, then don’t think that walking in the city will be easy. Good walking cities have three things in common; fairly flat terrain, lots of signs, well-thought out maps and if those fail a well signposted and logical public transport system. Obviously, I would say London has these, but then I know the place like the back of my hand and I know many of the short-cut bus routes.  But then except for the terrain, Liverpool scores well, as does Leeds, Sheffield, Milan, Valencia, Berlin and even Naples.

For a start, the hotel porter couldn’t find me a map and when I started my morning constitutional to get a newspaper on Saturday, I only had a vague idea of the city’s layout in my memory. There were signs however, so I thought I might find my way to the Hoe.  But try as I might, I could not find any maps.  Not even on the bus shelters.  I know that is rather a hobby-horse of mine, but every bus shelter should have a local map.  Preferably, there should also be a spider bus map like London and some other cities.  I can’t remember a time, when I went to a tube station and there wasn’t a local map of the area, so they must have been there well over fifty years.  Now most London bus shelters have them and it makes travel around the city so easily. Especially if like London each stop is announced on the bus or train!  All I tell my visitors is to take an xxx bus to a particular named stop and text me, when the bus passes another, so I can meet them when they arrive.

I did get to the Hoe and what a disappointment!

Plymouth Hoe

Information was bad and it was just vast expanse of asphalt, which gave the impression it was used as a car-park in busy times.

Wikipedia says this of the Hoe.

For forty years, there has been controversy about development on the edges of the Hoe green space. The erection of two discount hotel chain box buildings, at the southern end of Armada Way and the other at the Sound end of Leigham Street, contrast with their Victorian surroundings. The former Grand Hotel is being converted into luxury flats, and the long derelict yacht club site has now been filled by a modern block of flats. The Plymouth Dome, a turret and domed building, built into a small old quarry site above Tinside as an historical theme tourist attraction, failed to attract enough tourists or locals and closed in 2006. As of 2008, it may be demolished.

I just walked along it for a bit to admire the view and then walked back into the city.

I know it was only six in the morning, but I’m a bad sleeper away from my own bed, so very often I’ve found myself walking around deserted city centres. Usually, I’ll buy a paper and then perhaps find somewhere to sit and read it. But Plymouth was as dead as the proverbial dodo. Most city and town centres have a paper shop or a Tesco Express or a Sainsbury Local, where I can do the first and a cafe to do the second.  I couldn’t find anywhere open to buy a paper, so I just walked in a wide circle, back to the hotel. I suppose if you live in the centre of Plymouth and need something urgently like nappies or a ready meal early in the morning, you have to get the car out and drive to the larger food stores on the outskirts. But then Plymouth is a city designed totally around the car and pedestrians are sad losers, who aren’t welcome. Look at this barrier for a start.

Anti-Pedestrian Barrier, Plymouth

Any sensible city would protect pedestrians, by building crossings along a main shopping street and imposing a low speed limit.  But Plymouth just make you walk a few hundred metres in a direction you don’t want to. And then look at this light controlled crossing.

Unphased Pedestrian Lights, Plymouth

You have to wait for one set of green lights and then cross to the middle, then wait again. Locally in London, lights are often timed so that if you’re walk naturally, you can do the double crossing with ease.  I checked too in Bristol and there they phased the lights more for pedestrians.

Cities need to attract visitors to bring money in.  People may arrive in cars, but then they will become pedestrians.  So it is very easy to hack your visitors off.  Plymouth does this in spades.

One point they also miss, is that say you arrived in a Plymouth car park and walked to the Hoe, would the signage get you back to where you parked your car.  I doubt it!

These visitors will never come back and will tell their friends why.

August 7, 2011 Posted by | Travel | , | 2 Comments

Two Bombed Out Churches

In the UK, we have several bombed-out churches from the Second World War. I have post about St. Luke in Liverpool before, which is generally known in the city as the bombed-out church. 

On my weekend trip to Plymouth and Bristol, I came across two more.  First was the Charles Church in Plymouth

Charles Church, Plymouth

If ever there a badly situated ruin, that is a monument to the excesses of town-planning it is this. Surely, they could at least given pedestrians access, but it seems to be unfortunately left in the wrong place by the bombing of the Second World War. 

In some ways, this church sums up Plymouth.  Very disappointing!

And then there was St. Peter’s in Bristol.

St. Peter's Church, Bristol

The surroundings have been left to show it off properly as a monument to those who died. It also had an information board.

Information on St. Peter's Church, Bristol

Plymouth could learn a lot from Bristol.

August 7, 2011 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 2 Comments