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 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Exeter To Plymouth Via Okehampton

\since the 2014 Sea Wall Breach at |Dawlish station, Network  Rail have looked at various routes that can bypass Dawlish, should a sea wall breach happen again.

One route is the old Exeter to Plymouth railway of the LSWR, which is best described as partly open.

There is a just over twenty mile gap between Okehampton and Bere Alston stations.

The original route between those two stations included several stations, with the most important being Lydford and Tavistock.

It will be interesting to see if the trains ever run again between Okehampton and Bere Alston stations.

Even if the link was reinstated as a 55 mph line like the Tamar Valley Line, it would surely be valuable as a local line for residents and tourists.

 

 

February 10, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Artemis Lives

I was listening to Wake Up To Money on BBC Radio 5 this morning and they interviewed someone from a company called Artemis Optical.

On their home page, their mission statement is.

Improve Vision: to be the Photonics industry’s most advanced manufacturer.

Their about page, says this.

Owned equally by the executive directors, Artemis, a world renowned company

employs 30+ talented staff, with an enviable history of 60 years in the design and

application of high precision, technically differentiated optical thin film coatings.

It sounds so very familiar.

In the interview, their spokesman disclosed that they banked with Lloyds, as did Metier!

And where did our bank manager come from? Plymouth, where Artemis; the company is based.

Very different industries, but same philosophy, same ambition, same bank and same name!

January 3, 2017 Posted by | Business | , , , | Leave a comment

Common Sense Between Exeter And Plymouth

After the failure of the South Devon Sea Wall in 2014 and the cutting of the main line at Dawlish, something had to be done to make sure there was an alternative rail route between Exeter and Plymouth.

In the June 2016 Edition of Modern Railways there is an article entitled Cheaper Okehampton Route Proposed, which puts forward the latest thinking. The article starts like this.

The Peninsular Rail Task Force is advocating the reopening of the former Southern Railway route between Exeter and Plymouth via Okehampton as a secondary route rather than as a bypass for the existing line via Dawlish.

The Task Force has produced a 20-year plan for investment in the south west’s rail network. This link can access a draft summary report.

The old Southern Railway route between Exeter and Plymouth is described in Wikipedia as Partly Closed, but with much of the infrastructure intact, although the track has been lifted in places. It sounds that it has been left in a similar state to the Waverley Route and the Varsity Line, after cuts in the 1960s and 1970s. These two routes have been or will be partly or fully reopened.

Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton is certainly in a better state with regard to trains than either the Waverley Route or Varsity Line were before work started.

  • Trains run on the Tarka Line from Exeter to Crediton, before that line goes off to Barnstaple.
  • The Dartmoor Railway also uses the route to take passengers between Exeter and Okehampton.
  • From Okehampton to Tavistock, the track has been lifted.
  • Tavistock is getting a new station and being connected to the Tamar Valley Line at Bere Alston.
  • The Tamar Valley Line then takes passengers to Plymouth.

It may have the air of being assembled from Beeching’s left-overs, but it looks like it would work. Especially, as there should be no problem in the next few years in acquiring high-quality new or refurbished diesel trains for the line.

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.

I also think that once the decision is made to reinstate the line, that it would be a project to build in a series of smaller related projects.

  1. Build the station at Tavistock and connect it to the Tamar Valley Line Line at Bere Alston, to create an hourly Plymouth to Tavistock service.
  2. Upgrade Okehampton station and the Dartmoor Railway to create an hourly Exeter to Okehampton service.
  3. Acquire some new or refurbished diesel trains for the routes and also for other local services in Devon. The trains would need to be weather-proofed for the Dawlish route.
  4. Build new stations at Okehampton East, North Tawton and Bow on the Okehampton to Exeter section.
  5. Reinstate the Tavistock to Okehampton route with stations at Lydford and Sourton Parkway.

Done in small stages, I think that other than getting a railway delivered at an affordable cost on an earlier date, it would have other advantages.

  • Once the first two phases are complete, all but about sixteen miles of the route would be running trains.
  • Hourly services at both ends of the line would give reliable forecasts as to expected passenger usage of the completed line.
  • The hourly services would surely have a Borders Railway-style effect on tourism.
  • Building in small stages could minimise heritage issues, that probably don’t come into play until the Tavistock to Okehampton section is designed and built.

Like the Borders Railway and the Varsity Line, it strikes me that this route from Exeter to Plymouth was wrongly closed in the 1960s and 1970s. But then Harold Wilson, that well-known friend of trains, flew to his cottage on the Scilly Isles.

I believe that this plan is a good one and I’m looking forward to exploring the complete line in the future.

 

 

 

 

June 12, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

A Job Well Done

Everybody is breathing a sigh of relief after the reopening of the rail line to Plymouth and Cornwall yesterday. It’s all reported here on the BBC.

The only problem this summer is going to be that with all the publicity, many of those, who want to go to Devon and Cornwall, might decide to use the train. So can the wonderful Inter City 125s cope? They have yet to fail to meet a challenge yet!

There has been talk of opening an inland route, which could go round the North of Dartmoor by way of Okehampton and Tavistock. This is the route of the old London and South Western Railway from Exeter to Plymouth.  The article in Wikipedia includes this.

There are proposals to reopen the line from Tavistock to Bere Alston for a through service to Plymouth. In the wake of widespread disruption caused by damage to the mainline track at Dawlish by coastal storms in February 2014, Network Rail are considering reopening the Tavistock to Okehampton and Exeter section of the line as an alternative to the coastal route.

I suspect there’s a team of exhausted engineers in Network Rail, who have the special engineering envelopes ready with a plan to reinstate this route for an encore after Dawlish. According to Wikipedia, the main viaducts seem to be intact, so it might not be the major job some might think.

As an engineer of sorts, I’d put the opening of this line in a box marked Difficult But Possible With Good Engineering.

Of course, Sod’s Law being what it is, if the old LSWR  line was reinstated, there wouldn’t be any more trouble on the Dawlish line. But it would provide an easy route to get to Dartmoor and the surrounding part of Devon by train.

 

April 5, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Plymouth Gives Payday Lenders The Boot

Plymouth has banned the adverts for payday lenders from billboards and bus shelters, as is reported here in the Independent.

Perhaps they could use the space saved on bus shelters to provide user-friendly maps and bus information, to help visitors to the city.

August 12, 2013 Posted by | Finance, News | , , , | Leave a comment

Were The Pilgrim Fathers From Essex?

This story started in the Times yesterday and was repeated here in the Telegraph, which throws Grimsby into the mix.

So you can take your pick from any of a number of places!

The choice is yours!

May 1, 2013 Posted by | World | , , , | Leave a comment

Summing Up Plymouth

As I walked out of Plymouth to the station, I saw this pair of signs.

Confusing Signs in Plymouth

In most places to get to the station, you walk towards the sign shown all over the country. But in Plymouth to do that would take you on a more roundabout route, than following the fingerpost.

They just don’t do details very well.

But they did have a sign saying “Plenty to see and do. Positively Plymouth” at the station. And of course no maps!

August 7, 2011 Posted by | Travel | | 1 Comment

Vehicle Unfriendly Plymouth

You may think I’m anti-car.  But then I’ve never been anywhere with so many speed cameras.

These two were in one of the main shopping streets.

Speed Cameras in Plymouth

I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in such a position before.

August 7, 2011 Posted by | Travel | , | Leave a comment

An Imaginatively Named Restaurant

This picture sums up the centre of Plymouth

The Roundabout, Plymouth

And guess where it is!

August 7, 2011 Posted by | Travel, World | | Leave a comment