Bringing the railway back to Bude

This was Oke Rail’s special trip to Oxford and Stratford but we need proper transport infrastructure here, too.

Thanks to Binzy Reynolds for this top-notch report.

 

The London and South Western Railway Company opened Bude station on 11th August 1898. There had been a railhead at Holsworthy since January 1879, but now Bude had its own station. It was a solid and well-constructed affair, lasting until the line eventually closed in October 1966; sadly, a victim of both Dr Beeching and the ongoing competition between Southern Railway and the Great Western, which continued well into BR days. Great Western took control of all ex-Southern lines west of Exeter from 1st January 1963 and the services on these lines rapidly diminished. Through trains to Waterloo were no longer an option and services became diesel ‘locals’ to Okehampton, having to change there and at Exeter St David’s for a train to London. Papers have recently come to light that proves senior ex-GWR managers planned to shut down all ex-Southern facilities in North Devon and Cornwall as soon as they could. As early as April 1964, the Great Western proposed closing several ex-Southern lines, including the one from Okehampton to Wadebridge. Dr Beeching provided the excuse and by the end of 1967, most of the ex-Southern lines in North Devon and Cornwall had been closed to goods and passengers, including Padstow, Wadebridge.

In 1968, the final ex-Southern line from Okehampton to Tavistock and Bere Alston was closed and in 1972 passenger services were stopped between Yeoford and Okehampton, making the nearest passenger stations to Bude either Barnstaple or Exeter. Bude wasn’t completely cut off but it felt like it at times. Within just six years, most of the ex-Southern lines in North Cornwall had disappeared.

The closure of its station hit Bude hard, with the nearest station at Okehampton being over thirty miles away. Luckily, as part of the deal involving the closure of the station, it was agreed that a bus service would run between Bude and Okehampton to replace the trains. Unfortunately, when Okehampton also fell victim to the closures, people travelling from Bude to Exeter and further afield had to rely on buses, normally having to change twice, once at Holsworthy then at Okehampton. The situation doesn’t seem to have improved any, as it now takes well over two hours to get from The Strand in Bude to Exeter St David’s station.

An action group has recently been started in Bude called ‘Connect Bude.’ Connect Bude meets monthly, usually in the Falcon Hotel and is chaired by Richard Wolfenden-Brown. The four aims of Connect Bude are listed below.

Aims of Connect Bude

  1. To campaign to reconnect Bude and Holsworthy to the National Rail network, initially via Okehampton.
  2. To promote an improved rail service between Okehampton and Exeter and beyond.
  3. To ensure the track-bed of the former railway is protected against further development.
  4. To garner the widespread community support of individuals, elected representatives and businesses in order to achieve the first three objectives.

 

Scott Mann at 2016 meeting about Bude’s much-wanted Railway.

Connect Bude have been working towards their aims since October 2016, when their first meeting attracted over 150 people to the Parkhouse Centre. Our local MP, Scott Mann, attended this meeting and spoke briefly in favour of the aims of the group. Support and membership are steadily increasing. A committee has since been formed and a constitution was drawn up, to enable the group to help achieve its aims. Support from Bude and Stratton Town Council has been welcome and the group hopes to expand on all fronts in the future. We may not be able to get the railway right back into Bude or Holsworthy in the short term, but a Parkway at Okehampton with a bespoke bus service is a reasonable target.

Towards the end of January 2018, the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling wrote to MPs informing them he has instructed Great Western Railway (GWR) to draw up plans to reintroduce regular rail services between Exeter and Okehampton. Members of OkeRail Forum have been campaigning hard and tirelessly for ten years, carrying out constant research on the demand for this service, so a big ‘well done’ to them for achieving this milestone.

A chartered train, ‘The Royal Oke,’ left Okehampton via Exeter at 07.10 on 21st April, travelling to Oxford and Stratford upon Avon allowing between 5-7 hours in the respective destinations, eventually returning to Okehampton at 20.45. This train proved that rail travel is not only possible from Okehampton but there is a requirement for it too, as the majority of the seats were filled.

The next step is to campaign for the reinstatement of the North Dartmoor main line to Plymouth via Tavistock as a complementary route. In the case of bad weather disrupting the only current line into Cornwall at Dawlish, as has happened many times previously, services would be able to access Plymouth and therefore Cornwall via this route instead. The North Dartmoor route would be far cheaper to reinstate than attempting to upgrade the current Dawlish line. The sub-standard narrow tunnel, not to mention all the steep gradients and tight curves need seriously addressing in order to provide a fast, efficient and safe service. The North Dartmoor main line could also be constructed with a view to future electrification, something that may never happen on the Dawlish line due to the tight nature of clearances and unpredictable British weather. Electric trains do not pollute our air like diesel.

Perhaps in the future, the main line from Exeter to Salisbury could be doubled again, in order to carry freight to and from the Southwest via Southampton docks. This would undoubtedly lead to many large trucks being removed from our roads, therefore easing traffic congestion in the Southwest. The economic values of being close to an efficient rail network are tremendous. Businesses will prosper and goods could be carried efficiently to all parts of the country and to principal ports for export.

Not just for business and holiday traffic but think of our children having to access universities in Exeter, Plymouth, Truro and possibly further afield. How difficult is it for young people from Bude to access these places using only public transport? Our children face an uncomfortable, time-consuming journey to Exeter or Plymouth, time that could otherwise be spent studying. An efficient train service would make this journey bearable and if uninterrupted, possibly allow for study time during the journey.

If you wish to support the campaign for better transport links between North Cornwall and the rest of the country, please join Connect Bude and please lobby your MPs and councillors. The more people that join the campaign, the more chance we have of success.

Help us Connect Bude with the rest of the country…

You can join Connect Bude online and pay your membership fee by using PayPal and/or card or with cash at one of the meetings.

Website: http://www.connectbude.uk/

Next scheduled meeting: Tuesday 22nd May 2018 at 19.30 prompt in the Falcon Hotel, Bude. We look forward to seeing you there.

If you require any further information, the chairman of the group, Richard Wolfenden-Brown, can be reached on 01288 356537.

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