Looe Valley Line

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Looe Valley Line
East Looe River - FGW 150248.jpg
TypeHeavy rail
SystemNational Rail
50°26′49″N 4°28′03″W / 50.4469°N 4.4675°W / 50.4469; -4.4675 (Liskeard station)
50°21′34″N 4°27′22″W / 50.3594°N 4.4562°W / 50.3594; -4.4562 (Looe station)
OwnerNetwork Rail
Operator(s)Great Western Railway (passenger)
Colas Rail (freight)[1]
CharacterCommunity railway
Rolling stockClass 150
Line length8 34 miles (14 km)
Number of tracks1
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Loading gaugeRA4 / W6A
Operating speed25 mph (40 km/h)

The Looe Valley Line is an 8 34 miles (14 km) community railway from Liskeard to Looe in Cornwall, United Kingdom, that follows the valley of the East Looe River for much of its course. It is operated by Great Western Railway.


The Looe Valley Line was opened as the Liskeard and Looe Railway on 27 December 1860 from a station at Moorswater, a little west of Liskeard, to the quayside at Looe, replacing the earlier Liskeard and Looe Union Canal. At Moorswater it connected with the Liskeard and Caradon Railway which conveyed granite from quarries on Bodmin Moor.

Passenger services commenced on 11 September 1879, but the Moorswater terminus was inconvenient as it was remote from Liskeard and a long way from the Cornwall Railway station on the south side of the town. On 15 May 1901 the railway opened a curving link line from Coombe Junction, a little south of Moorswater, to the now Great Western Railway station at Liskeard. The section from Coombe Junction to Moorswater was closed to passenger traffic on the same day but passenger numbers tripled. The new connecting line had to climb a considerable vertical interval to reach the Cornish Main Line which passed above Moorswater on a 147 feet (45m) high viaduct. The Liskeard and Looe Railway was taken over by the Great Western Railway in 1909 and the attractive seaside resort of Looe became heavily promoted as a holiday destination in railway's publicity.

The section beyond Looe station to the quay was closed in 1916 and the Caradon line north of Moorswater fell out of use at around the same time.

In 1966 the line was due to be closed under Richard Beeching's Reshaping of Britain's Railways plan, but was reprieved just two weeks before its scheduled closure by Minister of Transport Barbara Castle.

Community rail[edit]

Looe Valley Line road sign at Sandplace

Since 1992 the Looe Valley Line has been one of the railway lines promoted by the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership. The Looe Valley Railway Company Limited, a non-profit trading arm of the Partnership, has operated a summer ticket and information office at Looe since 2004, and the Friends of the Looe Valley Line group undertake voluntary activities. Passenger numbers have risen from around 58,000 in 2001 to 95,000 in 2010.

The line is promoted by many means such as regular timetable and scenic line guides, as well as leaflets highlighting leisure opportunities such as walking, birdwatching, and visiting country pubs.

The Looe Valley Line Rail Ale Trail was launched early in 2004 and encourages rail travellers to visit eleven pubs near the line. Seven of these are in Looe, two in Liskeard, one at Sandplace, and one in Duloe, a 30-minute walk from Causeland station. Nine or eleven stamps collected in the Rail Ale Trail leaflet entitle the participant to claim special Looe Valley Line Rail Trail souvenir merchandise.

The line was designated as a community rail line in September 2005, being one of seven pilots for the Department for Transport's Community Rail Development Strategy. This aims to establish the true costs and revenues for the line with an aim of improving them. It is also looking at simplifying the reversal of trains, considering the costs and benefits should the line be "microfranchised" separately from the Great Western Franchise, and the potential for opening a Park and Ride station at Moorswater where the goods sidings are close to the A38 Liskeard Bypass.

In 2007 the signs on the Looe Valley platform at Liskeard were replaced with brown and cream signs in the style used by the Western Region of British Railways in the 1950s and 1960s.

Passenger volume[edit]

The majority of Looe Valley passengers travel the whole length of the line. Around 4,000 people now join or leave trains at Causeland each year, the busiest intermediate station, however many weeks find no one using Coombe Junction. Comparing the year from April 2008 to that which started in April 2002, passenger numbers at Looe have increased by 14%, but at Causeland they have increased by 92%.[2]

The statistics cover twelve-month periods that start in April.


Looe Valley Line
former Liskeard & Caradon Rly
to Caradon
0 Liskeard
2 Coombe Junction Halt
Coombe Junction
St Keyne Wishing Well Halt
5 Causeland
Buller Quay

Descending to Coombe[edit]

The line is single track for the whole of its length and is worked by just a single train set each day. Trains leave Liskeard railway station from a platform at right angles to the main line platforms, initially running northeast away from Looe. Beyond the platform the line takes a long right-hand curve, passing the connection through the goods yard to the main line, and diving underneath the A38 road twice. It then descends steeply, now heading generally southwest, and passes under the Liskeard viaduct carrying the Cornish Main Line 150 feet (46m) above.

Curving right once more, the train joins the main branch line from Looe at Coombe Junction, and comes to a stand on a small level crossing. Most trains change direction here, the train's guard operating the points (see Signalling below), but two or three in each direction continue a few yards further to call at Coombe Junction Halt at Lamellion. Beyond the platform the line still continues to Moorswater, passing under the main line again beneath the Moorswater viaduct, but this section only sees infrequent Colas Rail trains carrying cement.[1]

Along the valley[edit]

With the driver and guard having now swapped ends, the train recommences its southerly journey, now running alongside the old Liskeard and Looe Union Canal and East Looe River. Another level crossing is passed at Lodge, and then a short journey brings the train to St Keyne Wishing Well Halt, adjacent to the "Magnificent Music Machines" museum of fairground organs and similar instruments. The holy well of St Keyne is near the village which is a ten-minute walk from the station.

South of St Keyne the canal swaps to the west side of the line for a while, but as the valley closes in it disappears altogether for a distance where the railway was built on top of the redundant canal. One of the old canal's locks can be seen at Causeland railway station. This is the oldest station on the line as it was opened in 1879 when passenger trains first started operating. In common with most of the stations it has been rebuilt in recent years, a smart brick shelter having replaced the original wooden hut.

Beside the estuary[edit]

Causeway approach to Terras Crossing

After passing Sandplace railway station the railway follows the east side of the river, which is now a tidal estuary that the line follows to its terminus. The line passes over one more level crossing, the unusual Terras Crossing, where the road approaches the crossing over a causeway that is liable to flooding at high tide, so the footpath is raised on boards alongside. As the crossing is ungated trains must come to a stand and sound their horn before crossing. The ruin of the final lock of the canal is on the east of the line here.

After running further alongside the tidal estuary the line finally arrives at Looe railway station, opposite the point at which the West Looe River flows into the East Looe River to form the tidal Looe harbour. The town centre is a five-minute walk further alongside the river and buses to Polperro stop on the road near the station.

All distances along the line are measured from the point near the seven-span road bridge across the river where the Liskeard and Looe Railway connected with the private sidings on Buller Quay. The original station, now the site of the Police Station, was 14 chains (308 yards or 282m) north of this point, but the simple station of 1968 construction is forty yards north of this: thus the mile post marking ¼ mile from the original end of the line is in fact opposite the current platform, just 20 yards from the present southern end of the line.


A Class 153 at St Keyne Wishing Well Halt

The service operated by Great Western Railway since 10 December 2006 consisted of nine trains each way daily. During the peak summer period from 20 May to 9 September 2007 three additional services were operated, including a late evening train. Sunday services only operate during this peak period, eight trains running on these days during 2007. As of May 2016, there are 12 return trips over the line each way per day Mon-Fri plus one extra evening train on summer Saturdays. Sunday trains run from mid-May until late October.[3]

Coombe Junction Halt railway station is served by only two or three trains each way. The remaining intermediate stations are request stops – this means that passengers alighting must tell the guard that they wish to do so, and those waiting to join must signal clearly to the driver as the train approaches.

The trains are formed of two-car Class 150. 150233 was once named Lady Margret of Looe Valley (the original Lady Margret was a steam locomotive belonging to the Liskeard and Looe Railway), and 153369 was named The Looe Valley Explorer. Both these trains carried large pictures on the outside showing local scenes, but interworked with other similar trains throughout the Great Western Railway network so did not work the line every day. Both these trains have since lost their special liveries and have been repainted in a standard fleet livery.


The guard rejoins the train at Coombe Junction after operating the point controls

The line is supervised from the signal box at Liskeard, which also controls the entry and exit from the branch onto the main line. A complication arises because of the existence of the Coombe to Moorswater freight line, thus the entire branch line is divided into three distinct single track sections.

  1. The section from Liskeard to Coombe is operated under the authority of a Tyers No. 9 Electric Token System. This consists of a pair of electrically interlocked machines, one in the Liskeard signal box and the other located in a hut at the No. 1 ground frame. The pair of machines only allow one token to be removed from either machine at any one time. However, the system has been modified to allow the token to be removed from and returned to the machine at Liskeard without the co-operation of a signalman at the Coombe machine as that machine is normally unstaffed.[4] Single track token machines normally require the co-operation of both signalmen to ensure that the train is properly offered and accepted.[5]
  2. The section from Looe to Coombe is operated under the authority of a wooden staff, which has a key attached that unlocks the No. 1 ground frame, allowing the points to be changed to give access to the Looe branch.
  3. The section from Moorswater to Coombe is now worked under the authority of the shunter, without a staff. No. 2 ground frame, controlling the trap points at the north end of Coombe station, is now released by the token for the section from Liskeard, which is left in the intermediate token instrument to permit a passenger to train to run if required once the trap points have been restored to normal, preventing movements from the Moorswater line.

The train driver is only permitted to enter a section when in possession of the correct staff or token. There is a gap between the three sections at Coombe, but as the No. 1 ground frame (at Coombe Junction) and the station are visible from each other this section is regarded as being within the "station limits" of the ground frame (the "signalbox"). That is, all movements around the No. 1 ground frame through to Coombe station must be under the authority of the guard's hand signals (the guard acting as signalman as far as the line's operation is concerned).

The Moorswater section has a fixed "stop board" protecting the station. Similarly, the Looe section has a stop board before the points at Coombe Junction. There is no stop board on the Liskeard section because the points must be locked in position to allow access to the ground frame's station limits, otherwise the Looe branch staff cannot be removed from the ground frame. The stop boards are fixed signals and a train may not be driven past without authority from the guard operating the ground frame.

No 2 Ground Frame

The Liskeard-Coombe Token is rarely surrendered at Liskeard until the end of the day, unless a goods train is scheduled to run through while the train is there. At Coombe Junction it used to be surrendered to the train's guard, who would place it in the token machine at the No. 1 ground frame and then use the Coombe-Looe staff to unlock the points, allowing the train to proceed back through the junction onto that section. However, in practice, the guard usually retains the token for the journey to Looe (in his capacity as signalman) as other trains rarely use the line today. The points are then returned to normal, allowing a goods train to traverse the branch if required, and the staff is given to the driver as authority to proceed to Looe and return. The token machine at Coombe is rarely used these days and indeed the hut that contains it is usually kept locked.

A goods train will similarly use a Liskeard-Coombe Token, surrendering it to the shunter who, will use it to release Coombe No. 2 ground frame at the north end of the station, to open and then close the trap points once the train has passed over, before inserting it in the intermediate token instrument to allow another train to occupy the Liskeard Coombe Junction section.


  1. ^ a b Mitchell, David (February 2017), "National Network Operations - Western", The Railway Observer, p. 81, Colas is now operating a service delivering cement to the Tarmac distribution depot at Moorswater, Cornwall from Aberthaw cement works. When operated by Lafarge, the depot was supplied by rail until 2013, firstly by EWS and then Freightliner.
  2. ^ "Station Usage". Rail Statistics. Office of Rail Regulation. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
  3. ^ Table 140 National Rail timetable, May 2016
  4. ^ http://www.signalbox.org/gallery/w/coombejcn.htm - last para clearly implies unstaffed junction operation. Archived 21 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ British Railway Signalling (ISBN 0 7110 0898 1) with ref to normal operation of electric token systems.


  • Beale, Gerry (2000). The Liskeard and Looe Branch. Didcot: Wild Swan Publications Ltd. ISBN 1-874103-47-X.
  • Bennett, Alan (1990). The Great Western Railway in East Cornwall. Cheltenham: Runpast Publishing. ISBN 1-870754-11-5.
  • Department for Transport Rail Group (2005), Route prospectus for the … Looe Valley Line and … Tamar Valley Line'
  • Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership (2002), Looe Valley Line Trails from the Track
  • Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership (2005), Working in Partnership in Devon and Cornwall
  • Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership (2005), Explore the Beauty of the Tamar Valley and The Looe Valley by Rail
  • Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership (2007), Spotting Wild Birds by Train
  • Messenger, Michael (2001). Caradon & Looe : the canal, railways and mines. Truro: Twelveheads Press. ISBN 0-906294-46-0.
  • Tolson, JM; Roose, G; Whetmath, CFD (1974). Railways of Looe and Caradon. Bracknell: Forge Books.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hunt, John (22 April – 5 May 1998). "Cornwall's scenic branch survivor". RAIL. No. 329. EMAP Apex Publications. pp. 28–33. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.

External links[edit]

Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap 
Download coordinates as: KML · GPX

Coordinates: 50°24′16″N 4°27′58″W / 50.4044°N 4.4662°W / 50.4044; -4.4662