Riviera Line

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Riviera Line
Langstone Rock - GWR 143621+143620 down train.jpg
The Riviera Line near Dawlish
TypeHeavy rail
SystemNational Rail
LocaleDevon, England
TerminiExeter St Davids
OwnerNetwork Rail
Operator(s)Great Western Railway
CharacterMain line
Depot(s)Exeter Traction Maintenance Depot
Rolling stockClasses 143, 150, 153, 158
also 43, 220, 221
Line length28.25 miles (45 km)
Number of tracks2
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Loading gaugeRA8 / W7 East of Newton Abbot
RA 6 / W6A West of Newton Abbot
Operating speed60 mph (97 km/h)[1]

The Riviera Line is a local railway line that links the city of Exeter with the "English Riviera" resorts of Torbay in Devon, England. It is linked with the Exeter to Plymouth Line with which it shares the route along the South Devon sea wall. It is part of the Network Rail Route 12 (Reading to Penzance).[1]


The line from Exeter to Teignmouth was opened by the South Devon Railway Company on 30 May 1846 and was extended to Newton Abbot on 30 December 1846. After the company had completed its main line to Plymouth it opened a branch from Newton Abbot to Torquay (the present Torre railway station) on 18 December 1848. Nine years later this was extended as the independent Dartmouth and Torbay Railway to Paignton on 2 August 1859.[2]

These lines were built as single-track, 7 ft (2,134 mm) broad gauge railways by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. They were designed for atmospheric power and although this was only used from 13 September 1847 until 9 September 1848;[3] the remains of several of the South Devon Railway engine houses used for the stationary engines can still be seen by the side of the line. The track was converted to standard gauge on 21 May 1892. Double track was laid in sections over a period of several years, requiring the widening or removal of several tunnels near Teignmouth.

The Dartmouth and Torquay Railway was operated from the outset by the South Devon Railway and amalgamated with it in 1872. This company in turn amalgamated with the Great Western Railway on 1 February 1876. The GWR was nationalised on 1 January 1948 as part of British Railways.

In 1977 the Parliamentary Select Committee on Nationalised Industries recommended considering electrification of more of Britain's rail network, and by 1979 BR presented a range of options to do so by 2000.[4] Some included electrifying the Bristol to Exeter line, Exeter to Plymouth Line, Riviera Line and Cornish Main Line.[5] Under the 1979–90 Conservative governments that succeeded the 1976–79 Labour government the proposal was not implemented. At present, there are no proposals to electrify the line or any other railway lines in Devon or Cornwall.

South West Trains operated several services between London Waterloo and Paignton via Salisbury for several years, as well as some to Plymouth or Penzance. Since December 2009 their services only operate east of Exeter St Davids.[6]


Local passenger services on the line are currently operated by Great Western Railway. Most days see an approximately hourly service calling at all stations, which runs beyond Exeter to and from Exmouth along the Avocet Line – more frequent at peak times. On Sundays a more restricted service operates, most of which terminate at Exeter.[7]

Other services on the line include Great Western Railway express services from London Paddington[8] and CrossCountry services from the Midlands and the North.[9] These mostly call only at Exeter St Davids, Dawlish, Teignmouth, Newton Abbot, Torquay, and Paignton. Other long-distance services of the same operators call at Exeter, Dawlish, Teignmouth and Newton Abbot before continuing to Plymouth or even Penzance.[7]


Riviera Line
0 Exeter St Davids
¾ Exeter St Thomas
City Basin (goods) branch
Cockwood harbour
Site of Exe Bight Pier
10½ Dawlish Warren
12 Dawlish
Kennaway Tunnel
205 yd
187 m
Coryton Tunnel
227 yd
208 m
Phillot Tunnel
49 yd
45 m
Clerk's Tunnel
58 yd
53 m
Parson's Tunnel
521 yd
476 m
Sea wall
15 Teignmouth
River Teign
Heathfield Branch
(closed to passengers)
20 Newton Abbot
Newton Abbot West Junction
Aller Tunnel
295 yd
270 m
25¼ Torre
26 Torquay
Preston Platform
Torbay Road crossing
28¼ Paignton
Sands Crossing

Trains going towards Paignton are described as travelling in the "down" direction; those towards Exeter in the "up". The line is double track throughout except for a long single-lead junction at Newton Abbot where trains are turned off the main line onto the Paignton branch. Loops at Dawlish Warren allow slower trains to be overtaken, as does the flexible layout at Newton Abbot where all three platforms can access the Paignton branch. At Exeter St Davids, Riviera Line trains generally use platforms 1 and 3 as these allow access to and from Exeter Central and the Avocet line; starting or terminating trains may also use platforms 4, 5 and 6. At Paignton down trains may arrive in the up platform; if they arrive in the down platform they must shunt across to the up before departure, generally via the sidings at Goodrington Sands.

Between Exeter and Newton Abbot the predominant speed limit is 60 miles per hour (97 km/h), the route availability is RA8, and freight loading gauge is W7. On the Paignton branch the predominant speed limit is 40 miles per hour (64 km/h), the route availability RA6, and the freight loading gauge W6A. Multiple aspect signals are controlled from the panel signal box at Exeter and allow a headway between trains of four minutes from there to Newton Abbot and seven minutes onwards to Paignton.[1] The sea wall section is signalled for trains to run either way on the up (landward) line to allow for restricted working in the event of sea damage to the down line.[10]

The Paignton branch has been identified as a "fragile route" where the addition of any further loco hauled traffic would have a significant impact on the residual life of track and/or structures. The three stations on the branch are currently under consideration for the provision of improved facilities but this is dependent on third-party funding being made available.[1]

Route description[edit]

The route is described from Exeter to Paignton for a passenger facing the direction of travel, which will put the sea on their left.

Exeter to Newton Abbot[edit]

Communities served: ExeterStarcross (and Exmouth via a seasonal ferry service) – Dawlish WarrenDawlishTeignmouthNewton Abbot

Dawlish station stands right on the beach

On leaving Exeter St Davids, the line crosses the River Exe and a parallel flood relief channel, then passes above the suburbs of Exeter along a stone viaduct on which is situated Exeter St Thomas railway station. The church of St David with its spire, and the older Exeter Cathedral, can be seen on the hill above the river. Beyond this is an industrial area where two lines used to branch out. On the left a short line went down to the Exeter Canal at City Basin; on the right a longer branch ran to Heathfield on the Newton Abbot to Moretonhampstead branch.[11]

Once out in the countryside our line crosses marshes as it runs alongside the canal and river. What looks like a level crossing in the fields near Countess Wear is actually a lifting bridge across the canal. After passing the site of Exminster railway station[3] the canal comes more clearly into view on the left and joins the River Exe, as does the railway, at Turf. The square pond next to the line is the site of Turf engine house. This stretch of the line used to have long water troughs between the rails from which steam locomotives could refill their water tanks without stopping.[3]

A Voyager train near Starcross

From Powderham Castle the railway is right alongside the river; on the right of the line is the castle's deer park, while on the left, across the river, trains on the Avocet Line may be seen near Lympstone Commando railway station. Our train now enters the village of Starcross; beyond Starcross railway station is the pier for the Exmouth to Starcross Ferry and the old Starcross engine house.

A little further along the river the railway crosses the mouth of Cockwood harbour. Near the shipwreck here was the 1,285 feet (392 m) long Exe Bight Pier, in use from 1869 for about ten years.[3] Dawlish Warren now comes into sight; the sand dunes are home to a nature reserve where many wading and sea birds can be seen. The railway line opens out into four lines at Dawlish Warren railway station, where the platforms are alongside loop lines that allow fast trains to overtake stopping services.

On the left is the beach and seaside amusements; on the right are some camping coaches in the old goods yard. The railway now comes onto the Sea Wall which it shares with a footpath, although it quickly enters the short and deep cutting at Langstone Rock. Emerging above the beach, views can be had across the sea towards Torbay.

Approaching Dawlish railway station, Coastguard's Cottage is on the right. Although now a café, this building was used by the railway during its construction[3] and then sold to the coastguard. Their boat house is below the footbridge. The town can be seen off to the right from Colonnade Viaduct at the other end of the station.

Parson's Tunnel

The line now enters its first tunnel, the 265 yards (242 m) Kennaway Tunnel[12] beneath Lea Mount, beyond which is Coryton beach where the footpath along the Sea Wall ends, and then 227 yards (208 m) Coryton tunnel. The next beach is the private Shell Cove and then the railway passes through 49 yards (45 m) Phillot Tunnel and 58 yards (53 m) Clerk's Tunnel, emerging onto a section of sea wall at Breeches Rock before diving into 513 yards (469 m) Parson's Tunnel beneath Hole Head. The last two tunnels are named after the Parson and Clerk Rocks, two stacks in the sea off Hole Head. When the tunnel was dug the workers cut into a smugglers tunnel which ran from a hidden entrance above the cliff down to a secluded cove.

Beyond Parson's Tunnel is a short viaduct across Smugglers Lane and then the footpath resumes alongside the line for the final stretch of the Sea Wall past Sprey Point to the cutting at Teignmouth Eastcliff. On the right side of the railway near Sprey Point can be seen the remains of a lime kiln used during the construction of the line.[3]

The River Teign near Shaldon Bridge

The railway passes through to Teignmouth railway station then continues through a cutting to emerge behind the busy Teignmouth Harbour, after which the railway resumes its course alongside the water, the River Teign. The cuttings on both sides of the station were originally tunnels and were opened out between 1879 and 1884.[3] The railway passes under the Shaldon Bridge and then follows the river past the small promontories at Flow Point, Red Rock, and Summer House, opposite which can be seen the waterside inn at Coombe Cellars.

After leaving the riverside the line crosses Hackney Marshes and passes between the railway sidings at Hackney Yard (left), and the race course and former Moretonhampstead branch (right). The industrial area to the left of Newton Abbot railway station is the site of the South Devon Railway Company locomotive workshops – the older stone buildings are the only surviving railway buildings.

Newton Abbot to Paignton[edit]

Communities served: Newton AbbotTorreTorquayPaignton

Crossing Torbay Road at Paignton

Leaving Newton Abbot the railway widens out to four tracks; the two for Penzance diverge to the right at Aller Junction while the two for Paignton pass through the concrete beam 270m long Aller Tunnel, constructed in 2015 to carry the new South Devon Highway.[13] From here the Riviera Line trains climb and then slowly descend towards the sea at Torquay. First though, they pass through the remains of the former Kingskerswell railway station.[14]

Just before Torre railway station the line curves through a cutting; the Torquay engine house still stands on the top of the cutting on the right. The stone building on the left is the old goods shed, while sidings for coal traffic were situated on the opposite side of the line. The disused signal box on the eastbound platform was unusually tall to allow the signalman to look over the footbridge to see trains approaching up the steep gradient.[14]

The train now descends this to reach Torquay railway station opened in 1859, although today's large stone buildings and old signal box date from 1878.[14] Unlike the original Torquay station (now Torre), this one is right by the beach at Abbey Sands and a level promenade links it with the harbour and town centre.

On leaving the station the line passes beneath an ornamental cast iron bridge, through a small cutting, and then climbs alongside Livermead Beach to the site of Torquay Gas Works,[14] now a park on the right of the line. It then passes a headland at Preston before dropping down again into Paignton, with more views of the beaches and sea. Immediately outside Paignton railway station is a busy level crossing right in the town centre. The ticket office is now situated in the 1859 goods shed;[14] the bus station is right outside the front door while the Dartmouth Steam Railway is situated alongside on the other side of the station.

The railway line continues beyond the station to reach carriage sidings at Goodrington Sands[14] and to provide a connection that allows special trains to run through to Kingswear over the heritage railway.

Passenger volume[edit]

Traffic growth in recent years has been largely on the main line section between Exeter and Newton Abbot, although reduced in 2014 due to the Dawlish seawall breach.[15]

The statistics are for passengers arriving and departing from each station and cover twelve-month periods that start in April.


In 2009 the Association of Train Operating Companies identified Brixham as one of fourteen towns for which the provision of a new railway service would have a positive benefit-cost ratio. This would be an extension of the Great Western Railway service beyond Paignton to Churston station on the Dartmouth Steam Railway, which would then act as a railhead for Brixham. It would also serve other housing developments in the area since the opening of the steam railway, and may require the doubling of that line between Paignton and Goodrington Sands.[16]

South West Coast Path[edit]

The South West Coast Path is the longest national trail in the United Kingdom[17] and the Riviera Line runs alongside it for much of its length. The Path crosses the River Exe on the ferry to Starcross station and then follows the road to Dawlish Warren where it joins the Sea Wall to Dawlish. It then climbs up onto the cliffs above Kennaway Tunnel before rejoining the Sea Wall at Parsons Tunnel to follow the line to Eastcliffe at Teignmouth.

It again follows closely from Abbey Sands (by Torquay station) to Preston Sands at Paignton. It also follows alongside the Dartmouth Steam Railway from Goodrington to Broadsands, the beach near Churston railway station.

The Path thus gives opportunities to observe trains at close hand, and also provides links for linear walks between stations, including Kingswear.

Winter 2014 blockage[edit]

Repairing the main breach of the sea wall between Dawlish warren and Dawlish

The UK storms of January–February 2014 cut a 50 m (165 ft) section of track at Dawlish cutting the Exeter and Newton Abbot on the main railway line through the county on 3 February.[18] A section of the town's sea wall was washed away along with the track. Network spokesman, Julian Burnell, estimated "hundreds of tonnes" of ballast had been dislodged from under tracks after they had "taken a real pounding from the sea".[19]

It was initially hoped that the line would only be closed for a short time but further storms prevented work to repair the railway. On the morning of 5 February the hole exposed railway track were reassessed.[20] Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a Cobra meeting and announced an extra £100m for flood works over the year while insisting that everything possible was being done to get "stricken" communities moving again.[20][21] The Department for Transport said the "most pressing issue" was to get the line up and running as soon as possible, "but equally it is clear it is important we look at the long term as well".[18] Powerful waves caused further damage to the track, sea wall and Dawlish station on 6 February.[18] Adrian Sanders, the MP for Torbay, said the loss of the main line was "a disaster" and called on the Transport Secretary to intervene.[18] John Clatworthy, Devon county councillor for Dawlish, speaking on 10 February said that "The storm last night was unbelievable. It is not just Dawlish that is affected, this railway line is to Plymouth, the naval bases, Cornwall – it is a lifeline".[citation needed]

Repairs were finally completed at the beginning of April 2014, with the first train (the 05:34 Exeter St Davids to Paignton) running on schedule on the morning of Friday 4 April.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d "Network Rail Business Plan 2007: Route 12" (PDF). Retrieved 23 June 2009.
  2. ^ Gregory, R.H. (1982). The South Devon Railway. Salisbury: Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-286-2.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Kay, Peter (1991). Exeter – Newton Abbot: A Railway History. Sheffield: Platform 5 Publishing. pp. not cited. ISBN 1-872524-42-7.
  4. ^ Central Publicity Unit 1979, pp. 0–2.
  5. ^ Central Publicity Unit 1979, p. 8.
  6. ^ "Route Plans 2009 Route 12 Reading to Penzance" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
  7. ^ a b "National Rail Timetable 135" (PDF). Winter 2007.
  8. ^ "National Rail Timetable 160" (PDF). Winter 2007.
  9. ^ "National Rail Timetable 51" (PDF). Winter 2007.
  10. ^ Oakley, Mike (2007). Devon Railway Stations. Wimbourne: The Dovecote Press. p. not cited. ISBN 978-1-904349-55-6.
  11. ^ MacDermot, E.T. (1931). History of the Great Western Railway. II, 1863–1921. London: Great Western Railway. p. not cited.
  12. ^ Cooke, R.A. (1984). Section 14: South Devon. Track Layout Diagrams of the GWR and BR WR. Harwell: R.A. Cooke. p. not cited.
  13. ^ "New highway delivering boost to South Devon economy". Department for Transport. 22 February 2016. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Potts, C.R. (1998). The Newton Abbot to Kingswear Railway (1844–1988). Oxford: Oakwood Press. pp. not cited. ISBN 0-85361-387-7.
  15. ^ "Estimates of station usage". Office of Rail and Road. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  16. ^ Connecting Communities: Expanding Access to the Rail Network (PDF). London: Association of Train Operating Companies. June 2009. pp. 16, 17. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 16 September 2009.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  17. ^ "South West Coast Path website". Southwestcoastpath.com. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  18. ^ a b c d "Dawlish railway line damage may leave Devon and Cornwall rail links out of action for months". Western Morning News. 6 February 2014. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  19. ^ "Dawlish railway repairs halted over safety fears". BBC News. 4 February 2014. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  20. ^ a b "Huge waves destroy railway line in Dawlish". ITV News. 5 February 2014. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  21. ^ "UK storms destroy railway line and leave thousands without power". BBC. 5 February 2014. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  22. ^ "Dawlish's storm-damaged railway line reopens". BBC News. 4 April 2014. Retrieved 4 April 2014.

Sources and further reading[edit]