South Devon Railway Company
|South Devon Railway|
|Dates of operation||1846–1876|
|Successor||Great Western Railway|
|Track gauge||7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm)|
|Length||52.85 mi (85.05 km)
The South Devon Railway Company built and operated the railway from Exeter to Plymouth and Torquay in Devon, England. It was a 7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm) broad gauge railway built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel
- 1844 South Devon Railway Act passed by parliament
- 1846 opened to Newton Abbot
- 1847 opened to Totnes, atmospheric trains start running
- 1848 atmospheric trains withdrawn, Torquay branch opened
- 1849 line completed to Plymouth
- 1876 amalgamated with the Great Western Railway
The first section of the line to be opened was from Exeter to Teignmouth on 30 May 1846. The line was extended to Newton Abbot on 30 December 1846 and reached Totnes on 20 June 1847. It reached a temporary station at Laira on the outskirts of Plymouth on 5 May 1848 and finally reached the permanent terminus at Plymouth on 2 April 1849. The company built its offices outside this station.
The line was extended the short distance into the new Plymouth Great Western Docks in 1850 and in 1853 opened a branch to the older Plymouth harbour at Sutton Pool by converting a part of the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway to broad gauge.
The railway was designed to be worked by atmospheric power which enabled a cheaper route to be taken, making use of steeper gradients and smaller curves than was considered practical with steam locomotives at that time.
Atmospheric trains started carrying passengers on 13 September 1847 but the service was withdrawn on 9 September 1848. The failure of the system resulted in financial difficulties for the company for many years, although arrangements with local businessmen such as George Hennet allowed the provision of additional stations and rolling stock.
The remains of several engine houses can still be seen alongside the line.
Branches and extensions
A branch was opened from Newton Abbot to Torquay on 18 December 1848. This line was extended as the independent Dartmouth and Torbay Railway on 2 August 1859, finally reaching Kingswear on 16 August 1864.
In the meantime, Plymouth had become a joint station with the opening of the Cornwall Railway on 4 May 1859, and the South Devon and Tavistock Railway on 22 June 1859. This latter line was extended by the Launceston and South Devon Railway on 1 July 1865.
Other independent branches were the Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway from Newton Abbot on 4 July 1866 and the Buckfastleigh, Totnes and South Devon Railway which opened to Ashburton on 1 May 1872 and added a branch to Totnes Quay on 10 November 1872. The South Devon Railway had also added a quayside branch, to the Exeter Canal at City Basin on 17 July 1867.
The company was amalgamated with the Great Western Railway on 1 February 1876, shortly after which the London and South Western Railway arrived in Plymouth and a joint station was opened at North Road.
The gauge was converted to 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge on 21 May 1892. Previous to this, the line from Tavistock Junction to North Road in Plymouth had been mixed gauge to allow the London and South Western trains to travel over the broad gauge tracks. Similarly, one of the two tracks from Exeter as far as City Basin had been mixed. It is interesting to note that the conversion to standard gauge for the entire Exeter to Plymouth section was carried out after the last broad gauge train that ran to Plymouth on Friday 20 May had returned empty to Swindon depot (where it was immediately scrapped). The work was complete ready for the first standard gauge train to run on Monday 23 May.
The Great Western Railway completed the doubling of the line and introduced a more intensive suburban service in Plymouth in 1904, along with several small new stations.
The Great Western Railway was nationalised on 1 January 1948. From that date, the former South Devon Railway became the responsibility of British Railways, Western Region.
After leaving the Bristol and Exeter Railway station at Exeter, the line crosses the River Exe and then passes through the suburbs of Exeter along a stone viaduct. Once out in the countryside it follows the river down to Dawlish Warren where it turns along the sea wall to Teignmouth and then follows the River Teign to Newton Abbot, where the company's workshops were located.
Beyond Newton the line climbs up a steep gradient to Dainton Tunnel, then drops down to cross the River Dart at Totnes. It then climbs steeply up to Rattery and then skirts the southern edge of Dartmoor before dropping down a steep gradient at Hemerdon to terminate nearly back at sea level in Plymouth.
- Exeter to Plymouth (including those opened by the Great Western Railway after 1876)
- Exeter St Davids (joint with the Bristol and Exeter Railway)
- Exeter St Thomas
- Exminster (1852–1967)
- Dawlish Warren (opened 1905)
- Newton (later renamed Newton Abbot)
- Wrangaton (named Kingsbridge Road 1849 – 1893)
- Bittaford Platform (1907 – ????)
- Ivybridge (closed, later reopened on a new site)
- Cornwood (1852 – ????)
- Plympton (closed 1959)
- Laira Halt (1904–1930)
- Laira (1848–1849)
- Lipson Vale Halt (1904 – 1942, joint with the Southern Railway)
- Mutley (1871 – 1939, joint with the London and South Western Railway)
- Plymouth railway station (opened 1877, joint with the London and South Western Railway)
- Plymouth (Millbay) (closed 1966, joint with Cornwall Railway)
- Torquay branch
The company hired locomotives from the Great Western Railway to haul their trains until the atmospheric system was ready for operation. In the event, locomotives were needed on a more permanent basis and so a series of contracts were entered into with contractors to provide the power for the trains. From 1867 the company bought the locomotives and operated them.
The South Devon Railway also operated all the connecting branches in Devon and so their locomotives operated on these. The Cornwall Railway also contracted their motive power from the same company as the South Devon Railway. From 1867 the South Devon Railway also bought the Cornwall Railway locomotives and operated them as a single fleet with their own, and also the ones now purchased for the West Cornwall Railway.
Most of the locomotives were 4-4-0 tank engines for passenger trains and 0-6-0 tank engines for goods trains. Later some smaller locomotives were purchased for branch lines and the dock branches.
- Gregory, R H (1982). The South Devon Railway. Salisbury: Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-286-2.
- Kay, Peter (1991). Exeter – Newton Abbot: A Railway History. Sheffield: Platform 5 Publishing. ISBN 1-872524-42-7.
- Potts, C R (1998). The Newton Abbot to Kingswear Railway (1844–1988). Oxford: Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-387-7.
- MacDermot, E T (1931). History of the Great Western Railway, volume II 1863–1921. London: Great Western Railway.
- Anthony, GH; Jenkins, SC (1997). The Launceston Branch. Headington: Oakwood Press. ISBN 978-0-85361-491-3.
- The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway, Part 2: Broad Gauge. The Railway Correspondence and Travel Society. 1953. ISBN 0-906867-90-8.
- Waters, Laurence (1999). The Great Western Broad Gauge. Hersham: Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 0-7110-2634-3.
- Beck, Keith; Copsey, John (1990). The Great Western in South Devon. Didcot: Wild Swan Publication. ISBN 0-906867-90-8.
- Mosley, Brian. "South Devon Railway". Encyclopedia of Plymouth History. Plymouth Data. Archived from the original on 25 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-22.
- Records of the South Devon Railway and its successors can be consulted at The National Archives