The Northern Route is the former London & South Western railway (LSWR) / Southern Railway line from Exeter to Plymouth via Crediton, Okehampton, Tavistock and Bere Alston.

Campaign for Better Transport has identified the Okehampton – Tavistock – Bere Alston route as a No.1 priority for reopening.

Northern Route Working Group (NRWG), a coalition of industry experts, submitted a proposal, Tavistock Okehampton Reopening Scheme, to the Department for Transport Restoring Your Railway Fund. An award from this fund enables a scheme promoter to make progress towards developing a business case. The scheme was not among those selected to receive funding, most likely because the maturity of the scheme rendered it ineligible.

Northern Route Working Group website

Exeter – Plymouth, Northern Route

© OpenStreetMap contributors | OpenStreetMap copyright notice | View context map
Only principal stations shown.

Why reinstate the Northern Route?

There are several reasons:

  1. To connect a huge area of Devon and Cornwall to the rail network;
  2. To offer the potential for through journeys from the area beyond Plymouth and Exeter.
  3. To relieve road congestion in the area and in town centres and enable sustainable access to Dartmoor National Park.
  4. To provide an all-weather and more easily graded route for freight trains to access Plymouth, West Devon and Cornwall.
  5. To provide an alternative route when the coastal main line is closed due to bad weather or maintenance.

The Northern Route in five parts

1. Exeter – Crediton

This is the southern section of the fully operational Exeter – Barnstaple line (Tarka line).

2. Crediton – Okehampton

Northbound from Crediton, a dedicated track parallels the Tarka line track as far as Coleford Junction, where it heads westwards to Sampford Courtenay and Okehampton. Stations at Bow, North Tawton, Sampford Courtenay and Okehampton lost their passenger services in 1972.

3. Okehampton – Tavistock

Okehampton station has been fully restored and until September 2019 there was an Exeter – Okehampton summer Sunday service operated by Great Western Railway.

The proposed Okehampton Parkway railway station – Wikipedia is not included in NRWG’s reopening scheme.

The track remains intact from Crediton to Meldon Viaduct station, opened in 2000 by the heritage Dartmoor Railway and located three miles beyond Okehampton.

Beyond Meldon Viaduct station (currently excluded from the Northern Route Working Group scheme) is the viaduct across West Okement River, which will need to be replaced should the line ever be reinstated.

Extending across Meldon Viaduct and through to Lydford, the alignment is occupied by the Granite Way, a walking route and cycleway built by Devon County Council (DCC) and forming part of the National Cycle Network Route 27. It is maintained jointly by DCC and Sustrans. The NRWG scheme retains this usage of the alignment.

From Lydford (formerly Lidford) to Tavistock there are two parallel alignments that are best explained by this diagram:

GWR and LSWR lines between Lydford and Tavistock, 1890

Railway lines between Lydford and Tavistock, 1890 | Source of original map: Wikipedia

4. Tavistock – Bere Alston

The track was lifted following closure of Tavistock North station in 1968. Most of the trackbed is intact.

The location of a new Tavistock station is yet to be determined.

View map full size

Proposed Tavistock to Bere Alston railway re-instatement and associated multi-use trails. Source: Devon County Council  – URL concealed but graphic is included here: Tavistock to Bere Alston railway: re-instatement and associated trail routes – Environmental Impact Assessment, Screening and Scoping Report by Devon County Council (pdf; 117pp—October 2014) | Enlarge map

5. Bere Alston – Plymouth

This is part of the operational Gunnislake – Plymouth line (Tamar Valley line).

Tamar Valley Line – Wikipedia

Further reading

By necessity, this is an extensive collection of links.

Bere Alston railway station – Wikipedia

Closing the gap: The South West Peninsular strategic rail blueprint, by Peninsular Rail Task Force (pdf; 17pp—November 2016) | Appendix to the 20 year plan (pdf; 99pp)

Devon County Council—Cabinet Committee Minutes, 9 July 2014 (essential reading)

Exeter to Plymouth railway of the LSWR – Wikipedia

Northern Route Working Group website

Okehampton railway station – Wikipedia

Okehampton Parkway railway station – Wikipedia (this proposed station is not included in the Northern Route Working Group’s scheme)

Old Devon train station [part of former Tavistock North station] for sale for price of semi-detached house, by Chloe Parkman, on DevonLive website (July 2020—includes stunning photos)

Peninsula Rail Task Force report targets resilience, faster journeys and connectivity, by Greengauge 21 (pdf; 7pp—c.2015)

Rail infrastructure upgrades for the Great South West: A discussion paper by Lord Berkeley and Michael Byng, 20 July 2020 (pdf; 9pp)

Re-opening Tavistock – Okehampton: why, when and how, by Greengauge 21 (March 2019 )

Rural Reconnections: the social benefits of rail reopening | Exeter – Okehampton – Tavistock – Plymouth: a case study | A report by Greengauge 21 for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (pdf; 57pp-June 2015)

Tavistock to Bere Alston railway: re-instatement and associated trail routes – Environmental Impact Assessment, Screening and Scoping Report by Devon County Council (pdf; 117pp—October 2014 )

Tavistock railway station – Wikipedia

Value of the Railway to Communities on the Tamar Valley Line: Evaluation conducted by The TAS Partnership (pdf; 200pp—May 2018 | Go to pages 95 & 96 to read about “Tavistock Changes”)

West of Exeter Route Resilience Study, Network Rail (pdf; 44pp—2014)

South West rail plan: viable prospects or flights of fancy? in Rail magazine, 23 September – 6 October 2020, in which Andrew Roden (@AndyRoden1) examines the proposals made by Lord Berkeley (Tony Berkeley) and Michael Byng in their discussion paper.

Lines discussed

Bodmin Parkway – Padstow line

Bodmin General – Fowey line

Newquay – Truro line

Northern Route (Exeter – Okehampton – Plymouth, as described above)

Northern Route Working Group

West Somerset line (Taunton – Minehead)