Tamar Valley Line

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Tamar Valley Line
Calstock Viaduct.jpg
OwnerNetwork Rail
LocaleCornwall and Devon
TypeCommunity railway
Operator(s)Great Western Railway
Line length14 miles (23 km)
Number of tracksSingle track throughout
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)
Operating speed55 mph (89 km/h)
Route map
Tamar Valley Line.png
(Click to expand)

The Tamar Valley Line is a railway line from Plymouth, Devon, to Gunnislake, Cornwall, in England, also known as the Gunnislake branch line. The line follows the River Tamar for much of its route. Like all railway lines in Devon and Cornwall, it is unelectrified and all trains are diesel powered. The entire line is single track past St. Budeaux Junction.


The line from St Budeaux to Bere Alston was opened for passenger traffic on 2 June 1890 by the Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway (PDSWJ) as part of their line from Lydford to Devonport, which in effect was an extension of the London and South Western Railway's main line from London Waterloo station to Lydford, enabling the LSWR to reach Plymouth independently of the Great Western Railway.[1][page needed]

The branch to Gunnislake was opened by the PDSWJ on 2 March 1908.[2][page needed]

The line was listed for closure in the Reshaping of British Railways Report but was kept open (apart from the section between Gunnislake and Callington – closed in November 1966) because the roads in the areas served were poor.

Motive power[edit]

The line used former LSWR O2 Class tank engines as the main form of motive power for many years but in the 1950s newer LMS Ivatt Class 2 2-6-2T engines took over. By 1964 steam had been ousted from the line and DMUs had taken over, working as two-car sets.

Today services are operated by Great Western Railway using Class 150 diesel multiple units.


Passing under the Royal Albert and Tamar bridges at St Budeaux

Communities served: Plymouth (including the suburbs of Devonport and St Budeaux) – Bere FerrersBere AlstonCalstockGunnislake

Trains heading towards Gunnislake must collect the branch train staff from a secure cabinet on the platform at St Budeaux Victoria Road before proceeding as the line is operated on the one train working system with only a single unit allowed on the branch at a time. Conversely the staff has to be returned to the cabinet by the driver on the return journey before the unit can leave the branch and return to Plymouth.[3] This operation was shown in an episode of the Channel 5 documentary series "The Railway - First Great Western" in October 2013.

There is a small railway museum adjacent to Bere Ferrers railway station which includes a number of converted rail coaches available for holiday let. The station sign on the signal box uses the older spelling of 'Beer Ferrers'.

The section between Bere Ferrers and Calstock Viaduct is on the Bere peninsula, between river Tavy (crossed by the Tavy Bridge) and the river Tamar. The driver changes ends of the train at the old junction station of Bere Alston.

The most southerly road bridge across the Tamar in the Gunnislake area is the A390 road which makes the railway is the quickest way of getting into the city of Plymouth. The next crossing down river is the Tamar Bridge at Saltash.

Passenger volume[edit]

The overall number of passengers travelling on the Tamar Valley line has grown by over 50% since 2001. Gunnislake is the busiest station on the line.[4]

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
Devonport 18,795 16,202 18,573 19,655 17,450 21,652 21,674 27,006 27,756 29,878 31,866 33,368 39,742 41,404 45,492 39,464 43,046
Dockyard 4,070 5,088 4,895 5,335 4,924 5,280 5,524 5,406 7,716 7,400 6,970 6,300 4,160 4,727 4,432 4,406 10,368
Keyham 8,957 6,374 7,594 7,976 5,050 5,648 5,016 6,330 7,708 6,540 7,100 6,936 7,338 9,122 7,188 7,516 7,808
St Budeaux Victoria Road 5,451 5,818 6,146 5,264 5,193 5,678 7,026 6,942 7,780 7,918 8,606 10,332 10,376 8,034 7,968 9,376 8,928
Bere Ferrers 17,808 12,862 11,459 10,824 10,824 11,580 12,606 14,374 15,020 15,724 17,472 16,858 16,982 16,000 15,704 16,108 15,026
Bere Alston 37,944 29,552 27,263 26,866 28,936 32,454 36,272 41,666 44,792 42,128 38,762 37,082 39,570 40,978 39,710 40,250 39,462
Calstock 25,739 24,024 21,123 23,476 26,825 31,168 33,368 33,198 32,456 30,346 35,190 33,704 33,794 35,346 37,426 37,834 34,758
Gunnislake 39,009 37,190 43,885 43,676 48,747 49,070 51,424 50,218 52,116 52,108 54,864 54,356 53,728 54,510 56,118 60,396 61,790
Total 157,743 137,110 140,938 143,072 147,949 162,530 172,910 185,140 195,344 192,042 195,430 198,936 205,690 210,121 214,038 215,350 221,186
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

Community rail[edit]

The Tamar Valley 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 or visiting country pubs.

The Tamar Valley rail ale trail was launched in 2004 to encourage rail travellers to visit pubs near the line. Seven are in Plymouth city centre and one in the suburb of Devonport. There are single pubs to visit at Bere Ferrers, Bere Alston and Calstock and four in Gunnislake. 10 stamps collected entitle the participant to claim special Tamar Valley Line Rail Trail souvenir merchandise.[5]

Wessex Trains covered Class 150 2-car DMU number 150240 in coloured pictures promoting the line and named The Tamar Kingfisher. It later saw service with Arriva Trains Wales.

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 extending the line from Bere Alston to Tavistock.[6]

On 18 March 2008, Devon County Council backed a proposal by developers Kilbride Community Rail to construct 750 houses in Tavistock that includes reopening the 5.5-mile (9 km) line from Bere Alston to a new Tavistock railway station, at a cost of £18.5million.[7]


  1. ^ Cheesman, AJ (1967). The Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway. Blandford Forum: Oakwood Press.
  2. ^ Crombleholme, Roger; Gibson, Bryan; Stickey, Douglas; Whetmath, CFD (1967). Callington Railways. Bracknell: Forge Books.
  3. ^ Fenton, Mike (5 May 2017). "Branch line Focus: Rails to Gunnislake". The Railway Magazine. Mortons Media Group Ltd. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  4. ^ "Station Usage". Rail Statistics. Office of Rail Regulation. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  5. ^ Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership (2006). Tamar Valley Line Rail Ale Trail.
  6. ^ Department for Transport Rail Group (2005). Route prospectus for the … Looe Valley Line and … Tamar Valley Line.
  7. ^ Harris, Nigel (2008). "Taking trains back to Tavistock". Rail. Bauer (590): 40–45.

External links[edit]