Tarka Line to close for £9m rail revamp
A scenic Westcountry railway is to see its biggest overhaul in more than a century with more than £9 million spent replacing tracks that date back to the Second World War.
The Tarka Line, which links Barnstaple and Exeter, is to have nine miles of track renewed in a bid to speed up journey times and give passengers a smoother ride.
Network Rail said the line will be closed from Saturday November 17 to the morning of Monday, December 3, with works next March expected to take an additional week.
Patrick Hallgate, the company's western route managing director, said: "This is the biggest spend on the Tarka Line in more than 100 years and is certainly the largest single investment in the line since approximately £4.6m, in today's prices, was spent on re-modelling the junction and replacing the bridges at Cowley Bridge, Exeter in 1965."
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The Tarka Line, named after the animal hero in Henry Williamson's book Tarka the Otter, is one of many branch lines across the region enjoying a resurgence in popularity.
The attractive route follows the River Creedy, River Yeo and River Taw as it links the county capital with the north coast.
Journeys made on the line topped 500,000 in a single year for the first time last year and have increased by more than two-thirds between 2006 and 2011, from 306,169 journeys to 512,091 in 2011.
First Great Western (FGW) , which operates services, said the line is "thriving" and the latest programme of improvements brings the total spend on the line to £9.3m to date in the current financial year.
Julian Crow, FGW regional manager in the west of England, said nine services a week had been added since 2006.
Engineers will next month begin replacing old jointed rail with modern continuously-welded rail, vastly improving the ride. Nearly nine miles of track, just under a quarter of the line's 39 miles, will be renewed, replacing track which had an average age of 55 years, with some of the earliest components dating back to 1942.
The line will remain open for trains as far as Crediton, with replacement road transport provided between Crediton and all stations to Barnstaple.
Tracks at Lapford and between between Eggesford and Portsmouth Arms will be first, with further work between Crediton and Yeoford and in Umberleigh and Chapelton next March.
John Burch, chairman of the Tarka Rail Association, said: "We have been involved in discussions about these plans for a very long time.
"We have worked hard to raise the profile of the Tarka Line and attract investment.
"We realise that suspension of the service over parts of the line is a huge inconvenience, but this is the best and quickest way to do the work.
"We are also working to ensure that suitable replacement road services are operated and believe that short-term pain will bring significant long-term gain.
"This investment demonstrates a confidence in secondary routes as part of the essential future public transport network and we know it is the only way to get people out of their cars in the medium to long term."