Thursday 3 Jun 2021
Okehampton photograph stirs memories of a day tinged with sadness for GWR employee
1972: It was the year the Watergate Scandal broke, Emmerdale Farm first appeared on our TV screens, Mary Peters won pentathlon gold at the Munich Olympics – and the last regular passenger train left Okehampton.
On this day 49 years ago, guests and enthusiasts gathered at the Devon station to wave off its final train service – a moment caught on camera by long-serving rail employee Bernard Mills.
Now, thanks to funding from the Government’s ‘Restoring your Railway’ initiative, the 14-mile stretch of railway between Okehampton and Exeter – known as the Dartmoor Line – is set to reopen by the end of the year.
That will be a dream come true for GWR Customer Advisor Bernard, 74, who retired from his full-time role in the Plymouth ticket office in 2008 but has since worked part-time at stations including Newton Abbot and Totnes.
His image on the Dartmoor Line website features Okehampton Mayor, Walter John Passmore, with wife Daisy waving the flag.
Two to her left in the claret jacket is Bernard’s friend the late Ivor Hocking, next to him the late Lloyd Goodman – a stalwart of Launceston Railways – and next to him in the blue coat the late Tom Reardon.
Bernard can also pick out the late Brian Tunbridge, in glasses behind Tom Reardon, but the Dartmoor Line project team is keen to trace others who can share their memories of the final train service.
GWR Dartmoor Route Project Manager, Ian Mundy, said: “We’d love people to share their stories with us and be able to invite them along to one of our Dartmoor Line open days at the end of the year.
“We’re excited to be pressing ahead with this project, which will greatly improve connectivity for people living between Okehampton, Exeter and the surrounding areas.”
Bernard, who has worked on the railways for 56 years but will finally retire on 27 July, was pleased his image had helped to generate so much interest.
He said: “I’m certain that in these days of health and safety we wouldn’t be able to recreate it with the mayor, his wife and bystanders positioned on the track!
“Looking back on that day, it’s tinged with some sadness really. Okehampton wasn’t one of those stations mentioned for closure in the Beeching Report, but once they started taking away all the other stations it was inevitable. It was very much the climate of the day.
“Now I can’t wait for the line to reopen and I’m pleased this photograph has stirred so much interest. I think I’ll be one of the few who rode on that last train 49 years ago to have the privilege of being on the train when the line reopens.”
Work to reopen the Dartmoor Line is progressing well, with Network Rail recently reaching a key milestone of successfully relaying the new track and sleepers. In what is believed to be one the quickest track renewals in Network Rail history, over 11 miles of new track has been laid, and 24,000 concrete sleepers and 29,000 tonnes of ballast (the stones that support the track) installed.
Now that the main elements of the track relay work have been completed, Network Rail will be turning its focus to other aspects of the project including tamping the railway to compact the ballast that supports the track, installing new GSM-R masts (the railway’s mobile communications system), undertaking bridge repairs as well as running engineering test trains to check the quality of the newly laid track.
Network Rail Route Programme Director, Dan Parkes, said: “We’re pleased our work to reopen the Dartmoor Line is progressing so well and it is fitting to be recognising the 49th anniversary of the last regular passenger service as our engineers continue to work hard to reinstate this important railway line by the end of the year.
“Despite recently reaching the key milestone of successfully relaying all the track and sleepers, there’s still a significant amount of work to do and our focus now turns to undertaking a range of work either side of the track to support the safe and efficient return of a regular train service on the Dartmoor Line.”
If you were in this photograph, or were there on the day, the Dartmoor Line project team would love to hear your story. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
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