A PROJECT to develop the case for an extension and upgrade of the Tarka Line has received a £6,500 grant from Great Western Railway.

The Tarka Rail Association successfully applied for a grant from the train operator’s Community Fund, which was launched in May to support local communities and address areas of social need.

As part of GWR’s National Rail Contract with the Department for Transport, the train operator is committed to supporting schools, colleges, councils, community and other not-for-profit organisations by aiding a number of initiatives.

The Atlantic Coast-Exeter Railway project, ACE Rail, aims to give Bideford a boost by extending the Tarka Line to the growing town’s 30,000 people, deliberately avoiding the Tarka Trail, and also by improving the existing line to add a second, limited-stop, hourly service to link Bideford with Exeter Central in 60 minutes.

First step is an Initial Business Case to establish a strong answer to the “Why do this, rather than something else?” question.

Answers to next questions such as “Where will the line go, where will the stations be, how to fund it?” would then follow from further work.

Tarka Rail Association Chairman Mike Day said: “We’re extremely grateful for this funding from Great Western Railway, which has helped us to engage an independent specialist advisor to produce an Initial Business Case for the Atlantic Coast-Exeter Railway, the association’s ACE Rail campaign, reporting by next March. 

“We’re grateful, too, for the guidance and support with strategic advice over the past 18 months from independent national rail development campaign Railfuture, which has also contributed financially. 

“We have developed a strong base of stakeholder and public support to drive forward a shared ambition to transform the prospects for Devon’s largest community without its own rail service since 1965.”

GWR Business Development Director Tom Pierpoint said: “The Community Fund is a fantastic opportunity for us to invest in our communities in projects that really make a difference at a local level.

“We’ve seen with the reopening of the Dartmoor Line to Okehampton how a local community can benefit from having rail services restored. We’re pleased to provide this funding, which can help towards further exploring the idea of extending the Tarka Line to Bideford.”