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St Ives Bay Line

Coordinates: 50°11′40″N 5°27′01″W / 50.1945°N 5.4502°W / 50.1945; -5.4502
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St Ives Bay Line
Native nameLinen Baya Porth Ia
OwnerNetwork Rail
TypeCommunity railway
Operator(s)Great Western Railway
Rolling stockClass 150
Line length4.25 miles (6.84 km)
Number of tracksSingle track throughout
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Old gauge7 ft (2,134 mm) until 20 May 1892
Operating speed30 mph (48 km/h)
Route map

(Click to expand)

The St Ives Bay Line is a 4.25 miles (6.84 km) railway line from St Erth to St Ives in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. It was opened in 1877, the last new 7 ft (2,134 mm) broad gauge passenger railway to be constructed in the country. Converted to standard gauge in 1892, it continues to operate as a community railway, carrying tourists as well as local passengers. It has five stations including the junction with the Cornish Main Line at St Erth.


St Ives circa 1890

The St Ives Junction Railway applied for an Act of Parliament in 1845, but as the West Cornwall Railway failed in its application for an Act in that session of Parliament, the St Ives company withdrew its proposal.[1] A new Act was successfully applied for in 1873 to authorise a St Ives branch line as an extension of the West Cornwall Railway, although by that time this was controlled by the Great Western Railway. It was opened on 1 June 1877, the last new 7 ft (2,134 mm) broad gauge passenger railway route to be built in Britain. A third rail was added to the southern section of the line in October 1888 to allow 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge goods trains to reach the wharf at Lelant. The last broad-gauge train ran on Friday 20 May 1892; since the following Monday all trains have been standard gauge.[2]

Although there was heavy traffic in fish in the early years, this declined during the first half of the twentieth century.[3] Goods traffic was withdrawn from the intermediate stations at Lelant and Carbis Bay in May 1956 but continued at St Ives until September 1963.[1]

All the sidings were taken out of use at St Ives by 1966, when trains on the branch were operated by diesel multiple units. The line was proposed for closure in the Reshaping of British railways report which prompted it to be one of the lines featured in Flanders and Swann’s Slow Train,[4] but Minister of Transport Barbara Castle reprieved it. On 23 May 1971, the platform at St Ives was moved to make way for a car park[5] but seven years later, on 27 May 1978, a new station was opened at Lelant Saltings between St Erth and Lelant. This was given a large car park so that it could operate as a Park and Ride facility for St Ives.[1] In June 2019, the Park and Ride facility was moved to St Erth and services at Lelant Saltings were reduced.


St Ives Bay Line
St Erth
Lelant Saltings
Lelant Wharf
Carbis Bay
Carbis Bay Viaduct
St Ives Viaduct
St Ives
The communities served by the route are: St ErthLelantCarbis BaySt Ives
Carbis Bay Viaduct

The branch line is single track for its whole length with no passing places.[6] It runs alongside the Hayle estuary and then the sea coast and is promoted as a good place to see birds from the train. It has also been listed as one of the most picturesque railways in England.

The line diverges from the Cornish Main Line at St Erth. After the line goes through a short cutting and underneath two road bridges which carry the A30 roundabout outside the station, the line follows the western side of the estuary past Lelant Saltings. Beyond Lelant railway station the line enters a cutting and climbs onto the sand dunes above Porth Kidney Sands on St Ives Bay,[7] with the church of St Uny and Lelant golf course on the left; the church's cemetery was disturbed when the railway cut through the hill.[8] The South West Coast Path crosses the line here and then follows close by all the way to St Ives. The railway continues to climb up and onto the steep cliffs at Hawkes Point, about 30 metres (98 ft) above sea level. Soon after the line comes around the headland at Carrick Gladden and into Carbis Bay.[7] Perched on the hillside above the beach, this resort only developed after the railway arrived in 1877.[8] The line now crosses 78 yards (71 m) long Carbis Viaduct then continues on the cliff's edge until it emerges at Porthminster Point, from where it drops down across the 106 yards (97 m) St Ives Viaduct to reach St Ives railway station which is situated above Portminster Beach.[7]


A sign at St Erth station informing passengers about the short turnaround times for the St Ives shuttle services

The line initially saw just five trains a day, but by 1909 this had grown to nine and in 1965 it was 17 with up to 24 on summer Saturdays. Some trains included through carriages from London Paddington station and in the 1950s the Cornish Riviera Express ran from St Ives through to Paddington on summer Saturdays.[1] The number of services continued to increase following the opening of Lelant Saltings and the summer of 2006 saw 26 daily services operated by Wessex Trains. Great Western Railway (train operating company) took over the operation later in the year and the winter timetable was reduced to 16 trains which caused some concern[9] but the summer of 2007 saw a return to the previous service level.[10]

As of August 2016, trains run at approximately 30-minute intervals in each direction for most of the day, including Sundays.[11]

In the summer months when traffic levels are high, most services are now operated by 2 x two-car Class 150 sets, but in the winter a two-car Class 150 set is used. On particularly busy days additional sets are added; St Ives can handle six carriages but the bay platform at St Erth is long enough for just five.[6] Two or three trains are extended to and from Penzance on most days to facilitate crew changes and to get the stock to and from Penzance Traction Maintenance Depot (TMD).[12]

As of May 2019, there continues to be trains running every 30 minutes. All these services call at Carbis Bay with trains serving Lelant mostly every two hours with some hourly gaps between services. Lelant Saltings is now served by just one train per day in each direction due to the relocation of the Park and Ride facility to St Erth.[13]

Since the line has no passing loops and before May 2019, the average journey time along the full length of the line was just under 15 minutes, services on the line used to suffer from very short turnaround times (about 1 minute) at both St Erth and St Ives stations.[11] As of May 2019, the journey time has decreased due to the majority of trains no longer stopping at Lelant Saltings. As a result, the turnaround time has been increased to roughly 4 minutes.


The line is controlled from the signal box at St Erth; only one train is allowed to operate on the line at any time. Trains travelling towards St Ives are described as 'down trains' and those towards St Erth as 'up trains'. There are three public crossings on the line. 'Western Growers Crossing' is a crossing at St Erth which the signaller can see from the signal box. 'Towan Crossing' is a user-worked crossing north of Lelant, and there is a foot crossing at Hawke's Point as the line approaches Carbis Bay.[6]

Community rail[edit]

The St Ives Bay Line is one of the railway lines supported by the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership, an organisation formed in 1991 to promote railway services in the area. 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 special livery once carried by DMU 153329

A St Ives Bay Line rail ale trail was launched in 2005 to encourage rail travellers to use the railway and visit 14 participating pubs near the line.[citation needed]

During the period that Wessex Trains operated the service (2001-05), one of their Class 153 trains carried the name St Ives Bay Line and a blue livery with large coloured pictures promoting the line.[citation needed]

The branch was designated as a community railway line in July 2005, being one of seven pilots for the Department for Transport's Community Rail Development Strategy. This aims to increase the number of passengers and reduce costs to make lightly used railways more economically sustainable. Among its aims are a higher-frequency of service, to introduce local tickets and ticket vending machines, and public art on the stations promoting the line as the artistic gateway to St Ives.[14]

Passenger volume[edit]

Despite figures showing just 251 passengers in the previous year, 150233 finds more than 60 people waiting at Lelant Saltings in 2009.

From 2001 to 2011 journeys on the St Ives Bay Line increased by 68%.[15]

Station usage
Station name 2002–03 2004–05 2005–06 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20 2020–21 2021–22 2022–23
Lelant Saltings 17,001 18,281 23,774 653 251 554 622 17,224 101,284 107,780 114,932 116,798 125,064 121,258 145,110 138,012 84,522 392 568 652
Lelant 6,913 8,697 1,653 250 240 592 324 1,842 2,910 2,322 2,494 2,874 8,104 8,322 9,618 10,632 21,608 16,600 29,788 25,160
Carbis Bay 60,620 66,298 23,737 6,347 8,208 9,476 7,980 55,334 206,736 198,734 203,782 231,800 191,408 195,124 234,668 227,854 212,354 111,158 230,256 226,768
St Ives 213,397 220,300 171,281 117,131 139,455 173,722 154,502 258,530 578,214 585,308 595,326 638,754 657,750 659,066 752,654 750,478 706,826 293,880 733,970 720,062
The annual passenger usage is based on sales of tickets in stated financial years from Office of Rail and Road estimates of station usage. The statistics are for passengers arriving and departing from each station and cover twelve-month periods that start in April. Methodology may vary year on year. Usage from the periods 2019-20 and especially 2020-21 onwards have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic

The statistics cover twelve month periods that start in April.


  1. ^ a b c d Jenkins, Stanley C (1992). "the St Ives Branch". Great Western Railway Journal (Cornish Special Issue). Wild Swan Publications Ltd: 2–34.
  2. ^ MacDermot, E T (1931). History of the Great Western Railway. Vol. 2 (1863–1921) (1 ed.). London: Great Western Railway. ISBN 0-7110-0411-0.
  3. ^ Bennett, Alan (1990) [1988]. The Great Western Railway in West Cornwall (2 ed.). Cheltenham: Runpast Publishing. ISBN 1-870754-12-3.
  4. ^ "Flanders & Swann Online". Slow Train. Archived from the original on 13 April 2013. Retrieved 14 May 2009.
  5. ^ Cooke, R A (1977). Track Layout Diagrams of the GWR and BR WR: Section 10, West Cornwall. Harwell: R A Cooke.
  6. ^ a b c Jacobs, Gerald (2005). Railway Track Diagrams Book 3: Western. Bradford-on-Avon: Trackmaps. ISBN 0-9549866-1-X.
  7. ^ a b c Ordnance Survey (1996), Land’s End, Explorer map (1:25,000 scale) 102, Ordnance Survey, Southampton
  8. ^ a b Bray, Lena; Bray, Donald (1992) [1981]. St Ives Heritage (Second ed.). Devoran: Landfall Publications. ISBN 1-873443-06-4.
  9. ^ BBC news report 9 March 2006
  10. ^ "National Rail Timetable 144 (Summer 2007)" (PDF). Network Rail.
  11. ^ a b Train times and train timetables - Great Western Railway (Timetable W9, pdf)
  12. ^ "National Rail Timetable 144 (Summer 2009)" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 11 May 2009.
  13. ^ "St Erth - St Ives" (PDF). Great Western Railway.
  14. ^ Department for Transport, Rail Group (2005), Route prospectus for the … St Ives Bay Line
  15. ^ "Station Usage". Rail Statistics. Office of Rail Regulation. Archived from the original on 2 May 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2012.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

50°11′40″N 5°27′01″W / 50.1945°N 5.4502°W / 50.1945; -5.4502