The Dartmoor Railway is a 15 1⁄2-mile (24.9 km) long railway line in Devon, England. From Crediton the line parallels the Tarka Line to the site of the former Coleford Junction. Heading west, it then serves Sampford Courtenay, Okehampton and Meldon Quarry. The route from Coleford to Meldon is owned by Aggregate Industries, whilst the Coleford to Crediton section is owned by Network Rail. In the past freight trains served the ballast quarry at Meldon. The line is leased to and maintained by the Dartmoor Railway CIC, who operate some services and facilitate access to the line by other operators.
Great Western Railway run a public service between Exeter and Okehamptonon summer Sundays. Ballast and stone trains were formerly operated by one of the national freight operating companies. In 2011 the quarry was mothballed, leading to the suspension of ballast and stone trains. The line is also used occasionally by other operators for training purposes,and is visited from time to time by main line charter services via the connection to the national network at Crediton.
The route was originally part of the London and South Western Railway's West of England Main Line (route from Exeter to Plymouth), which opened between 1865 and 1879. In 1968, British Rail closed the line beyond Meldon as part of the Beeching cuts. The Exeter to Okehampton passenger service was withdrawn by British Rail in 1972.
Between 1972 and 1997 the line was used for railway ballast traffic from Meldon Quarry and occasional freight traffic to the remaining goods yard at Okehampton before its closure. Occasional charter and special trains were operated to Okehampton and Meldon Quarry during the passenger closure period. The railway reopened to regular passenger services in 1997 with the formation of Dartmoor Railway. A summer Sunday passenger service was introduced from Exeter to Okehampton as part of the Dartmoor Rover network.
British American Railway Services Ltd, a company created by Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago, became the new owner of the Dartmoor Railway CIC on 4 September 2008. The company announced its intention to develop freight, passenger and tourist services on the railway.
Volunteer support for the railway is provided by the Dartmoor Railway Supporters Association (DRSA). Volunteers assist the railway operation in many of its activities.
A proposal was made in 2009 to restore and reopen the disused down platform at Yeoford and extend Dartmoor Railway services to terminate there. At the time it was not possible to agree arrangements with Network Rail, who own Yeoford Station and the section of line from near the site of the former Coleford Junction towards Yeoford and Crediton. If this proposal were eventually achieved it could allow the extension of Dartmoor Railway passenger services and make interchange with Exeter - Barnstaple "Tarka line" trains possible.
Passenger usage statistics relate only to the limited summer Sunday only National Rail services operated by Great Western Railway. They do not include the Heritage or Polar Express trains operated on the railway.
Heritage services run between Meldon Quarry and Okehampton, extended to Sampford Courtenay, Bow or the DR/Network Rail boundary on special event days. The former stations at North Tawton and Bow remain closed to passengers. Both are in private ownership and have no public access.
The heritage services use a variety of rolling stock, including a Class 205 "Thumper" unit restored to its original livery and number. Services are also operated using restored diesel locomotives in push-pull trains and top and tail mode with a variety of coaching and ex-EMU stock. Steam-hauled services have also operated from time to time.
Devon County Council continues to sponsor the Sunday Rover trains between Exeter and Okehampton. These have run since the 1997 reopening, and operated again in 2016 from mid-May to early September.
The service consists of four return trips between St James Park station in Exeter and Okehampton. These trains connect with bus services and heritage railway services at Okehampton, Tarka line rail services at Crediton and other national rail services at Exeter.
Devon & Cornwall Railways Ltd (a subsidiary of British American Railway Services Ltd) announced its intention to operate through services from Okehampton to Exeter in 2010, having made a track access application to Network Rail on 18 March 2010 to operate four return services each weekday between Okehampton and St James Park and a further two (plus one on Sundays) as far as Exeter St Davids. This service would have run under an "open access" licence. This was not realised, and the project is currently not being pursued.
At Christmas 2012 the railway ran the "Polar Express" based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg and the Warner Brothers film of the same name. Further Polar Express events ran in 2013, 2014 and 2015.