Concept and aims:

The reopening of the Dartmoor Line between Exeter and Okehampton, the first under the Department for Transport’s ‘Restoring Your Railway’ initiative, was the result of a major infrastructure project long in the planning. Prior to the initial public announcement in March 2021, decisions had to be made about how to unveil the news, how to promote the re-opening, and how to bring people on the journey as the story developed. As a result, the Dartmoor Line Communications Group was born.

What happened:

The group, a collaboration between Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership (DCRP), Great Western Railway, Network Rail (GWR), and others, worked together to coordinate and deliver joint communications and media activity.

DCRP created dartmoorline.com, which has had more than 25,000 visitors since its launch, to look ahead to the new train service, revisit the history of the line, and acknowledge the vital community efforts of OkeRail, the Dartmoor Railway Association, and others. The group had also teamed up with award-winning Devon artist Becky Bettesworth, and DCRP used her motif and colour palette for the website and subsequent print materials, creating a unique partnership brand.

When the government put out it’s official press release about the re-opening, it included a link to the website, which helped to drive further traffic to it. The group also secured significant media coverage for the launch event, with BBC Breakfast broadcasting live from Okehampton Station on the day and print articles appearing in national, regional, and local press.

As the story developed, Network Rail produced regular behind-the-scenes pictures and videos to give people a unique insight into the work involved in restoring the line and to provide updates on progress. There were also a host of activities to encourage the local community to get involved, including a request for people’s memories of the line’s 1972 closure, and a project that saw more than 90 people submit designs for the line’s ‘roundel’ logo, including local school children.

Results:

The group’s efforts have been praised both by the rail industry and the communities the new line will serve. Councillors and local rail campaigners praised the Dartmoor Line website as “one to be proud of”. The group also received recognition from Network Rail, winning its ‘Achieving Communications Excellence’ award in May 2021.

Next steps in the project will involve engaging the local community at events including the Okehampton Show, working with local schools, and expanding the website with travel planning resources and day trip ideas, including walks and video guides.