Network Rail working hard to upgrade Dartmoor Line before hourly service begins

By Sue Read   |   Senior Reporter   |
Saturday 7th May 2022 6:00 am
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One of the heavyweight autohopper wagons.  SR 5051
One of the heavyweight autohopper wagons. SR 5051 (Crediton Courier )

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SOME fascinating specialist machinery is being used on the Dartmoor Line between Okehampton and Coleford prior to the train service beginning again on May 10 and going hourly on May 15.

Parts of the 14-miles of Dartmoor Line which carries the Great Western Railway (GWR) passenger services between Okehampton and Exeter have extra improvement work being done.  The train goes through Sampford Courtenay, North Tawton, Bow and Yeoford with Crediton being the only stop along its way.

At Fatherford on the edge of Okehampton and at Coleford, engineers are working to improve drainage work for faster line speeds.  The maximum speed here is 60mph with the top speed being 70mph.

Until May 10, there is a replacement bus service between Okehampton and Crediton and a reduced rail service between Crediton and Exeter.  Tarka Line trains will continue to run as usual.

To get the work done some quite incredible machines are being used from the Network Rail depot on an Okehampton trading estate.

There are the autohopper wagons, each holding 60 tons of ballast.  In all 20 of these are linked.

Almost 1,000 yards of ballast is being laid to further stabilise the track so that when it rains, the track is not undermined.  They work at 5mph and are rather noisy when trundling along.

These are used mainly to deliver stone to Coleford and to Fatherford which is really close to where the new Parkway station will be built.  This is waiting for confirmation of funding.

Then there is the road rail vehicle which can be driven onto the track from the road and when in position, down go the track wheels so that it can drive along the rails.

It takes 900 hours of experience to be able to drive one of these, most likely starting with a forklift truck.

Network Rail is trying to be as “green” as possible with five silent generators running the lights along the track, the orange high vis outfits worn by everyone are made from a special “green” material, even the welfare on site is as green as it can be.

Where the footpath crosses the railway line above Penstone, the path has been closed since last March for warning lights to be put in which need power and then to be commissioned.  It could be June or July before the crossing is open again.

Being an SSSI site (Site of Special Scientific Interest), great care is taken for the dormice for example and Network Rail is leading the world with quite a lot of innovation.

Since it opened last November, the Dartmoor Line has exceeded expectations with an average of 2,000 journeys made each week giving greater access for education, work and a setting off point for exploring Dartmoor.  There is also the two-hourly bus service from Okehampton Station for Tavistock.

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