Lostwithiel and Fowey Railway

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Lostwithiel and Fowey Railway
Locale United Kingdom
Dates of operation 1869–1880
Successor Cornwall Minerals Railway
Track gauge 7 ft (2,134 mm)
Length 4.75 miles (7.64 km)
Headquarters Par, Cornwall

The Lostwithiel and Fowey Railway opened in 1869 as a broad gauge railway linking the port of Fowey in Cornwall with the Cornish Main Line at Lostwithiel. Its main traffic was china clay. The Company ran into financial difficulties and closed in 1880, but the line was purchased by the Cornwall Minerals Railway and re-opened in 1895.

A passenger service operated, but it was withdrawn in 1965, and the line reverted to the conveyance of china clay; it remains open for that traffic at the present day.


Cornish Main Line to London Paddington
Lostwithiel Viaduct (River Fowey)
Cornish Main Line to Penzance
Golant Harbour
Carne Point
Cornwall Minerals Railway to St Blazey
  • 1862 Lostwithiel and Fowey Railway Act
  • 1869 Line opened
  • 1874 Cornwall Minerals Railway opens from Par to Fowey
  • 1880 Service suspended
  • 1892 Lostwithiel and Fowey Railway Company dissolved
  • 1895 Reopened by Cornwall Minerals Railway
  • 1968 Par to Fowey line closed


Map of Lostwithiel and Fowey Railway at opening

Promoters of an independent company conducted negotiations with the Cornwall Railway in 1861, regarding the construction of a branch line from that railway at Lostwithiel to a location at Caffamill Pill, Fowey, where deep water berthing was available for shipping. The route would run alongside the River Fowey and so would have gentle gradients and few engineering problems, apart from some bridges across small tributary rivers; new jetties were to be built at Carne Point, a short distance north of Fowey.[1]

An Act of Parliament was obtained on 30 June 1862, and the Lostwithiel and Fowey Railway was incorporated, with capital of £30,000. The railway was to be 5 miles and 15 chains (8.4 km) in length. Money proved difficult to come by, and there was some delay in construction, and the line eventually opened on 1 June 1869, on the broad gauge. It did not carry passengers, and it was worked by the Cornwall Railway Joint Committee.[2] There were close links with the Newquay and Cornwall Junction Railway; some directors and officers served both companies, and offices were in a shared building at Par.[3]

The principal traffic was expected to be china clay and other minerals from the area around St Austell, but the financial performance of the Company was dependent on the buoyancy of the mining activity. Difficult trading conditions were followed by the opening of a more direct route to Fowey by the Cornwall Minerals Railway on 1 June 1874, and the two companies engaged in a bitter price war.

The company's finances became increasingly strained and the necessity to reconstruct a number of timber bridges proved impossible to fund, leading to suspension of the line's activity from 1 January 1880. The line was leased to the Cornwall Railway for use as storage sidings but traffic never resumed, despite several attempts to attract new business.[1]

The Cornwall Minerals Railway (CMR) itself had experienced financial difficulties and from 1 October 1877 had leased its lines to the Great Western Railway (also lessee of and operator of the Cornwall Railway), but as trade improved its income from the lease and a financial arrangement with creditors resulted in the CMR having cash available, and it made arrangements to purchase the Lostwithiel and Fowey line. The purchase was confirmed by Act of Parliament of 27 June 1892. The L&FR Company was dissolved and the line and jetty accommodation were transferred to the Cornwall Minerals Railway. The CMR reconstructed the line and converted it to the 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge, rebuilding and extending the jetties at Carne Point also. The CMR had a Fowey station a short distance south of the L&FR terminal, and the CMR constructed a connection to link the two railways. The line reopened on 16 September 1895, for both goods and passenger traffic, and passenger trains ran to the CMR passenger station at Fowey.[4][2] An intermediate station was opened at Golant.

The Cornwall Minerals Railway sold its line to the Great Western Railway, and this took effect on 1 July 1896, from which date the Lostwithiel and Fowey line was simply the Fowey branch of the GWR.[4]

Loaded mineral trains from Fowey were usually routed on the line in preference to the Pinnock Tunnel route due to the challenging gradients on the latter.[5]

The passenger service on the line was interrupted in both World Wars: it closed from 2 April 1917 "for security purposes", reopening on 1 November 1917. In the Second World War it closed on 1 January 1940 and reopened on 9 February 1942; it closed again on 24 August 1942 and reopened on 3 October 1942; it closed again on 2 May 1944 and reopened on 2 October 1944. During the World War II period the closures also enabled construction of sidings at Woodgate Pill near Fowey.[6]

Never heavily used, the passenger service from Lostwithiel to Fowey was withdrawn on 4 January 1965, and the line now carries only mineral traffic to Carne Point. The CMR line from Par to Fowey closed on 1 July 1968, and the Lostwithiel and Fowey route is now the only rail route to Fowey.


An agreement was signed with the Cornwall Railway for that company to work the line once it was complete. As the line when opened in 1869 only went as far as Carne Point, and that only for goods traffic, the Cornwall Railway would not fulfil the agreement and so hired a locomotive to the railway instead. The Lostwithiel and Fowey considered this arrangement as too expensive.[3]

In February 1870 the directors reported that "the temporary arrangement made with the Cornwall for carrying on the traffic did not leave the company sufficient profit to pay the cost of maintaining the permanent way. The directors had hired an engine - the only one they could obtain at so short a notice - it is not, however, of sufficient power, and it has become necessary to obtain a more efficient one. With this view, the directors were negotiating for the purchase or hire of an engine of greater power."

Present day trains are usually powered by DB Schenker's Class 66 locomotives.


  1. ^ a b Alan Bennett, The Great Western Railway in Mid Cornwall, Kingfisher Railway Publications, Southampton, 1988, ISBN 0-946184-53-4
  2. ^ a b R J Woodfin, The Cornwall Railway to its Centenary in 1859, Bradford Barton, Truro, 1972
  3. ^ a b Bradshaw's Railway Manual, Shareholders' Guide and Directory. (1871).
  4. ^ a b E T MacDermot, History of the Great Western Railway, vol II, published by the Great Western Railway, London, 1931, page 410
  5. ^ Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith, Wenford Bridge to Fowey, Middleton Press, Midhurst, 1998, ISBN 1 901706 09 5
  6. ^ Maurice Dart, East Cornwall Mineral Railways, Middleton Press, Midhurst, 2004, ISBN 1 904474 22 5

Further reading[edit]

Papers relating to the Lostwithiel and Fowey Railway can be consulted at The National Archives at Kew. The minute books are believed to have been destroyed.