The Anonymous Widower

Exploring The Tamar Valley Line

The Tamar Valley Line runs up the Tamar Valley between  Plymouth to Gunnislake stations, the latter of which is over the border in Cornwall.

These pictures show the journey.

The following sections are my thoughts on the journey.

The Scenery

Rarely, have I travelled on a railway with such spectacular views.

Calstock

This Google Map shows Calstock.

Note the Grade II* Listed Calstock Viaduct as the railway crosses the Tamar and the station on the Northern side of the river.

I suspect that if the railway ceased to run to Calstock and over the viaduct, there would be a revolution.

But having lived at the end of the then-erratic Felixstowe Branch line in the 1960s, I can see how if the service would be improved to hourly with a decent train, customers mysteriously appear. I suspect too, that road connections between Felixstowe and Ipswich are a lot better than between Calstock and Plymouth.

Bere Alston

This Google Map shows Bere Alston station.

Note the two lines leading from the station, with one going South to Plymouth and the other going North to Gunnislake.

The line that used to go to Tavistock can also be seen going East.

I have followed this in my helicopter and you can see much of track bed.

The Train Service

I just went up and came back on the same train, as a fellow passenger said there was nothing at Gunnislake. He was actually walking down from Bere Alston station.

So as I had other things to do rather than wait two hours on a Cornish hill for the next train, I may have taken the right decision. Or not as the case may be!

If you look at the way the train service is organised, currently one Class 150 train is dedicated to the route.

As it takes 45 minutes to go up from Plymouth to Gunnislake and then after a wait of typically six minutes, it comes down in a further 45 minutes, the train service is not the easiest to run efficiently.

Looking at the timings of the individual sections of the line we get the following going up.

  • Plymouth to St. Budeaux Victoria Road – 10 minutes
  • St. Budeaux Victoria Road to Bere Alston – 14 minutes
  • Bere Alston to Gunnislake – 20 minutes

Coming down we get the following times.

  • Gunnislake to Bere Alston – 18 minutes
  • Bere Alston to St. Budeaux Victoria Road – 13 minutes
  • St. Budeaux Victoria Road to Plymouth – 11 minutes

The following also complicate the train scheduler’s problem.

  • The line is single-track with no passing loops.
  • The driver has to change ends for the reverse at Bere Alston station.

On the other hand, a more powerful train could probably save time on the climb and if it had good brakes, it could save time of the descent.

At least St. Budeaux Victoria Road station is where the driver organises the signalling. Wikipedia says this.

Trains heading towards Bere Alston must collect the branch train staff from a secure cabinet on the platform 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.

If trains could climb up from St. Budeaux Victoria Road to Gunnislake and return within the hour and they could pass somewhere South of Bere Ferrers station, then an hourly service would be possible, with modern signalling!

But it would need two trains!  And trains are something, that GWR doesn’t have in abundance.

The Two Stations At St. Budeaux

This Google Map shows the two stations at St. Budeaux.

According to this except from Wikipedia, the two stations; St. Budeaux Victoria Road and St. Budeaux Ferry Road were once connected.

A connection to the Great Western Railway was installed east of the station on 21 March 1941 to offer the two companies alternative routes between Plymouth and St Budeaux should either line be closed due to bombing during World War II. On 7 September 1964 the original line into Devonport was closed, and all trains use the former Great Western route and the wartime connection to reach St Budeaux, renamed St Budeaux Victoria Road to differentiate it from St Budeaux Ferry Road, opened by the Great Western Railway on 1 June 1904.

The line from St Budeaux to Bere Alston was singled on 7 September 1970, services having ceased beyond there (towards Tavistock North and Okehampton) in May 1968.

I would suspect that as there appears to be a fair amount of space in the area and with some innovative trackwork Network Rail could design something, that allowed an hourly service to Gunnislake from Plymouth and/or St. Budeaux Victoria Road.

Sort the two stations at St. Budeaux and it would surely allow extra stopping services from Plymouth along the Cornish Main Line. An hourly stopping train would give stations between Plymouth and Bt. Budeaux, a much friendlier two trains per hour (tph).

Onward To Tavistock And Okehampton

There is a Future Options section in the Wikipedia entry for Okehampton station. This is said.

Both Railfuture and the former MP for Totnes, Anthony Steen, have in the past proposed the reinstatement of the line between Okehampton and Bere Alston, thereby reconnecting the station with Plymouth. The reopening of the link would restore the continuous circuit of railway linking the towns around Dartmoor. On 18 March 2008 Devon County Council backed a separate proposal by developers Kilbride Community Rail to construct 750 houses in Tavistock that includes reopening part of this route from Bere Alston to a new railway station in Tavistock.

Whether this happens at any time in the future, will depend on various factors.

  • The need for housing developments in the area.
  • Tourism.
  • Quarrying and the transport of stone.
  • Commuting from Okehampton and Tavistock.

With the link to the Tarka Line, it would deliver an alternative route from Plymouth to Exeter and London, if the weather attacks Dawlish again.

A Dawlish Diversion

It sounds all well and good for a diversion for between London and Cornwall, should Dawlish be closed by the weather or for engineering work.

But after looking at what has been created at Dawlish and writing about it in Walking Between Dawlish And Dawlish Warren Stations, I teel that something has been created, that should be able to stand up to what happened in 2014.

But even if the line is never broken, as it was in 2014, there will always be a need to have a diversion for important engineering works, that might mean the line is closed for a couple of days.

So I think that Network Rail’s plan, which was reported about in the June 2016 Edition of Modern Railways, that I wrote about in Common Sense Between Exeter And Plymouth, could happen.

In the post I said this.

The Modern Railways article also says.

  • The line’s function would be to provide a modest service serving local stations and to offer diversionary capability.
  • Eight new stations would be provided.
  • The line would be unlikely to be electrified.
  • To help funding new housing would be built along the line.

A double-track railway with diesel trains would do the following.

  • Improve the economy of Devon around the fringes of Dartmoor.
  • Help in the development of much-needed housing in the area.
  • Provide a much-needed freight route to and from the peninsular.
  • Provide sufficient capacity in the event of problems at Dawlish.

But knowing Murphy’s Law, if the line were to reinstated, the sea at Dawlish would behave itself.

Could the line even be built as a single track, but big enough, so that it would allow five-car or perhaps even longer Class 800 trains to run between Plymouth and Exeter in an emergency or when the main line is closed for other reasons?

The timings for Class 150 trains on the line are as follows.

  • Plymouth to Bere Alston – 24 minutes
  • Okehampton to Exeter St. Davids – 44 minutes

I would estimate that  Bere Alston to Okehampton could take about forty minutes, via Tavistock.

I think we can safely say that a modern train like a Class 172 train could do Exeter to Plymouth in under two hours.

As Exeter to Plymouth takes around an hour, I think it should be possible for something like a 100 mph Class 165 train to go round the complete circle in under three hours.

This would mean that to run a Devon Circular service with one tph in both directions would need.

  • A rail link between Bere Alston and Okehampton via a new Tavistock station.
  • Three trains in both directions or six trains in total.
  • 100 mph diesel trains.
  • One or more passing loops or lengths of double-track
  • A solution that allows two different services at Bere Alston.

Additional services would also be provided in both directions..

  • Between Exeter and Yeoford, there would be two tph instead of one tph.
  • Between Plymouth and Bere Alston, there would be two tph instead of one tph.
  • One extra tph between Exeter and Plymouth.

A lot of stakeholders should like it.

Conclusion

I’ve just posted what I have seen and what I have read from trusted sources.

It would appear there is a lot of potential to improve the railways in Devon.

It also strikes me that a lot of what Network Rail are proposing doing is only undoing what was done by British Rail engineers in the 1960s.

At least, BR engineers didn’t follow Beeching’s recommendation of closing the Tamar Valley Line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 6, 2017 - Posted by | Travel | , , , ,

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