Last time we reached just west of Taunton with the former Minehead branch and the West Somerset Railway. The countryside form here on starts to get more hilly and attractive and together with the coastline explains why this area is such a popular one for holidaymakers. The climate in the west is generally more affable and warmer if a little wetter than elsewhere in the country.
Exeter is an ancient centre for administration for the county of Devon as well as a spiritual hub and trading centre. Exeter is also a considerable railway junction where the GWR met up with a rival in the shape of the London and South Western Railway, later to become part of the Southern Railway. At nationalisation in 1948 there were two routes from Exeter to Plymouth. The Great Western via the coast and the Southern over Dartmoor by way of Okehampton. The GWR won out and the Southern route was mostly closed so that there is no direct route to Plymouth over Dartmoor. Recent storms and flooding of the Great Western coastal route have led to a rethink and passenger services once again can get as far as Okehampton.
After Exeter the GWR main line splits up at Newton Abbot for the seaside at Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, known as Torbay. The GWR dubbed the location the ‘English Riviera’ in a bid to convince travellers that the journey would rival that in the South of France. The last lap of the Torbay Express would travel over the single line from Paignton to Kingswear, for Dartmouth, having started out from Paddington. This last lap is now the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway preserved line. Then as now Dartmouth was achieved by crossing the River Dart to Dartmouth by boat and so Dartmouth station never saw a train. The building is now a café.
Meanwhile the main line ploughed on skirting the southern edge of Dartmoor and the coast before reaching Plymouth. The route is hilly and there are three steep gradients that have proved a challenge to operate over. These are Dainton, Rattery and Hemerdon banks.
A significant feature of express train travel from Paddington to the West Country in steam days was the ‘slip coach’. The train would set off from Paddington with perhaps 15 coaches in tow and rather than stop at a station to set down passengers, coaches would be uncoupled at speed and be brought into the station by a specially trained guard in charge of the slip coach or coaches. This would mean that by the time the train got to the steepest gradients in South Devon the train had slipped coaches and might weigh half what it did when it set out. The slipping of coaches ended in 1960.
Plymouth is an historic home of the Royal Navy whose history pre-dates the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. It is also the gateway into Cornwall a land still ruled by the semaphore signal, at least in part. Figure 1. Exeter St Davids is the main GWR station in Exeter and the former Southern station is Exeter Central, St. Thomas is a suburban two platform unit. The line follows the west bank of the River Exe and it is here the traveller can see the delightful combination of sea estuary and verdant green growth. The line follows the coast around Dawlish and Dawlish Warren. Teignmouth is a charming seaside resort combined with yet another river estuary. Newton Abbot was a large junction with two extra-large mechanical wooden signal boxes as well as a large engine shed and works. Totnes is one of those places that up-market newspapers declare is one of the best places to live in Britain and they may be right. Totnes was an inland port of the River Dart. The line clings to the southern edge of Dartmoor before reaching the considerable port and city of Plymouth. Figure 2. Exeter St Davids has just a class 150 and a First Great Western HST class 43 in the platforms. At the other end of the station is the junction with the connecting track up to Exeter Central station which with a gradient of 1 in 37 is very steep for a main line. In steam days nearly all trains would be assisted up the gradient and even now a train leaving Exeter Central, to come down the gradient, is signalled right through to St Davids to save the embarrassment or possible hazard of being unable to stop on the descending gradient. July 2016. Figure 3. Cross Country Trains Voyager five car diesel multiple unit powers through Starcross station on the estuary of the River Exe and at this point the train is one minute early on its marathon journey from Penzance to Edinburgh. The tower type building by the furthest car is a remnant of Brunel’s atmospheric pumping system that used a vacuum in a pipe to propel trains and the concept of which was introduced earlier in the series. July 2016. Figure 4. Dawlish Warren is one of the few places on the network that still has goods loops and here is a goods train. Colas Rail class 70 with its train of permanent way track panels accelerates past the green signal which has immediately gone to a red aspect once the loco has past the post. The main line on the right is also signalled at red as the road is set for the class 70 and train to re-join the main line at this point. Dawlish Warren was experiencing the last summer of hosting BR Mark 1 coaches which were used as holiday homes by the line. Originally this service had been provided by British Railways and the coaches were painted in what had been BR Western Region chocolate and cream livery. There had been a similar kind of arrangement for BR staff at Marazion in Cornwall. Dawlish Warren station is host to an unusual dwelling. A replica GWR type 7 signal box has been constructed near to where the original had been but is a private venture that acts as a house. July 2016. Figure 5. Dawlish station itself is a venerable survivor at this popular holiday resort. Some idea of the closeness of the sea to the railway can be seen in this picture. Over the years storms and flooding have caused new sea defences to the built to protect the railway.The Red Arrows RAF aerobatic team performs here for the public and the display takes place over sea, beach and station. A two car class 150 DMU heads towards Dawlish Warren and Exeter. July 2016. Figure 6. Teignmouth station is in local stone but with Victorian cast ironwork for the canopies. In the 1950s and 1960s the platforms here would be jammed packed with holidaymakers and crack expresses would stop to load and unload passengers. In later years the class 153, 153 382 one car set suffices for most off-peak services. The platform seat on the opposite platform is of the original GWR wooden type whilst that on the near is a British Railways copy of a later GWR design. July 2016. Figure 7. Newton Abbot station had been rebuilt in 1927 to feature four platforms and the currently displayed wooden canopies and station platform buildings. The main building, whose dormer windows can just be seen, was built in brick and designed by Percy Emerson Culverhouse, the GWR’s architect at the time. The reduction from four to three platforms does not inhibit the station from dealing with about 1.5 million passengers a year. Newton Abbot was also the site of large engine sheds and the works for the South Devon Railway, another of the GWR’s constituents. Newton Abbot was also the junction for the Moretonhampstead branch which has been terminated at Heathfield for freight only for many years. July 2016. Figure 8. The station building at Torre on the Paignton branch is a rare survivor from the Brunel era and in wood! The unusual nature of the structure extends to the part nearest the camera which is a parcels office and store. The elevated signal box/tower at Torre is longer in use but can be seen above the roof of the station building. The signal box was sold recently for about £67,000 or roughly $90,000 at auction. July 2016. Figure 9. Torquay station was only ever two platforms but handled many thousands of passengers on summer Saturdays. The signal box at the end of the near platform is in use as a tourist information office. The roof opposite is in the French style and resembles a similar style employed at Wrexham General and Kidderminster station on the Severn Valley Railway which is a 1984 new build. The train is class 143 617 of the Pacer type that is mostly withdrawn from main line service now. July 2016. Figure 10. Churston station is a passing place on the single track Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway. It was also the junction for the lightly laid Brixham branch. The train has just arrived from Greenway Halt that was invented by the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway to stimulate visitors to the Greenway estate, the ancestral home of crime-writer author Agatha Christie. GWR Manor class 7827 Lydham Manor heads the Paignton bound train. March 2019.
Great Western Railway Stations, by Allen Jackson, is available courtesy of Amberley Books: https://www.amberley-books.com/great-western-railway-stations.html
With the assistance of some up-close photographs and info from an Australian railfan, we give an overview of Aurizon's 5000 Class locomotive.
Moving from Stations to Locomotives, Allen Jackson describes the GWR's 4-6-0 'Manors'.