There is something heroic but at once tragic in the claim that the E. & T.V.R. is unique in campaigning for a real railway: a system that is general purpose, expansive and deserving of much greater importance in the overall life of the country.
Many people show little interest in the world around them and have no idea what forces decide its makeup. The average motorist, for example, can imagine that the infrastructure and service provision that enables his free movement is the result of some great fortunate accident in an entirely natural process.
Those who choose to ignore, or are not aware of, the pressuring and machinations that are instrumental in bringing about so much of the structure of civilization and society, often rather resent being informed. It is perhaps in the nature of folk to feel peeved when introduced to a subject never before given any thought.
If any reason need be given why one form of transport should be championed loudly and boldly, it is because another has been heavily promoted behind the scenes, in the corridors of power, while playing on an easy attractiveness to ingrain itself in the minds of simple, unquestioning men.
The reader may go away and make enquiries but he will not find one railway, or what resembles a railway, that concerns itself with any more than its own restricted realm, be it territory or traffic. Not one of today's big industry players has a vision of an all-embracing national railway, now or in the future. Commentators only fix upon block freight and the hordes of passengers thrown up by a restless, growing population. A vast body of men who profess to support the railways, but who themselves happily subscribe to road transport at every turn, merely indulge in historical re-enactment or some such escapism.
There is certainly no power or influence remotely comparable with that of the Great Western Railway, one of the four big nominally independent companies to be nationalized in 1948. Given the management of the Great Western up until then, it is impossible to believe that such dynamism would have decayed, allowing it to watch its trading position being undermined and to capitulate business and capacity in the meek way that the state-run system went on to do, lacking the means to defend itself.
Had it continued, no devotee of the Great Western could bear to think of it becoming like a contemporary blue chip conglomerate, with cutthroat executives chasing and grasping market share, but if only some of this modern ruthlessness had been adopted, what a difference it would have made to the balance of transport in the succeeding years.
If it is understood that the road transport revolution went along with the decline of the railways, would it not have been harder to make the case for new roads, more and bigger vehicles and disintegrated development if a modern, sophisticated rail system had demonstrated that alternative expansion, with all its town and country despoliation, was not necessary?
Suppose the road protestors' best ally had been the railways, objecting to the unfair advantage being given to their competitors, demanding equal terms and advancing counter plans of their own. Imagine environmentalists having industry at their side in the form of transport operators not afraid to damn the opposition for its huge land-take, wanton energy consumption and degradation of human life and habitat.
It could be said that the whole rationale of the massive changeover to road transport depended on first destroying the railways, or so neutralizing their position that they could not compete or protest.
The railways had very little voice after government control was taken in 1939 and practically none after 1948, when the road lobby and its largesse attained supremacy. A faint, heroic cry was heard from Edward W. Burkhardt at the 1995 denationalization but he was quickly silenced. What hope was there that a fragmented industry, lacking pedigree railwaymen, led by a generation detached from history, would know what to say even if it could find a voice?
The Network Rail Roadshow
"Come and find out the future proposals for defending the line," went the handout.
In November and early December, 2016, Network Rail put on a series of public information events to explain the measures proposed for the defence of the main line between Exeter and Newton Abbot.
The launch was held at the Langstone Cliff Hotel on 17th November and the E. & T.V.R. scout grudgingly went along, knowing that it was all a waste of time. He caught the train from Polsloe Bridge and after riding out to the seafront and stopping to look at the camping coaches, whose future was then uncertain, he climbed the path to the hotel. It appeared that the scout was the only one to have come by train and his was the only bicycle to be seen.
It did not take long to digest what was being proposed and the pie-in-the-sky nature of it; there had already been some release to the press. As the scout entered, a lady from Teignmouth was being interviewed in front of a television camera and she was talking about the fabled avoiding line. And there they were, the vain and the vacuous, lining up to deliver their well rehearsed, but quite meaningless, lines. Even standing as close as he could, the scout found it hard to catch what Tory Clone, Painted Doll and an ex-M.P. who had bought luxury furnishings for his London flat at taxpayers' expense, had to say—as if it mattered.
Eventually, the scout managed to grab the coat tail of the N.R. floorwalker, Uncle Monty from Withnail and I, that Dawlish had transformed from "a P.R. man who worked for the railway" into a "railwayman who has a P.R. job." It was put to him that the amount of work being proposed would never get funding in full and that anyway the timescale would probably see the programme fall apart. He referred to the £10-million just then announced to fund further development of the scheme; exploratory work so far had cost £3-million.
On the subject of bypasses, the scout had heard Mike Gallop (Route Asset Management (Western) Director) tell the Beeb that Network Rail had not ruled out another route but had decided that everything had to be concentrated on strengthening the existing line. The scout put it to Monty that quietly his authority had no intention of pursuing any expansion of the network. He trotted out the untruth that the Southern route would not give such a good service and that one of the factors that stood against it was the need for drivers to have dual route knowledge; he was about to explain what this meant when the scout let on that he was an ex-B.R. man.
"Are there any enthusiastic railwaymen within Network Rail that want to see the system expand into barren country and the railway recapture lost traffic?" the scout asked him. "We're all very enthusiastic," he replied. So the scout drew his attention to the two local stations that were completed well over budget at around £2-million each and the next one, Marsh Barton, whose estimate had now rocketed to over £7-million, most of which, according to D.C.C. reports, was industry loading. The scout put it to Monty that here the industry was the obstacle to railway development. He said that he didn't know much about it, only that Marsh Barton was a "difficult one."
The lady being interviewed earlier collared him about the lack of advertising and the failure to release details of the scheme. Monty seemed surprised and said that an agency did the N.R. advertising (naturally) and found what was by now in her hands on the N.R. web pages. The scout should have jotted down the link because it has eluded him since; this is the nearest that has been discovered:
Two publications were available: a leaflet, Exeter to Newton Abbot railway defences: Long-term protection of the railway and the community, and a pamphlet, Exeter to Newton Abbot Geo-Environment Resilience Study. Under "Additional Routes," the leaflet states: "Please note: This study does not cover the possibility of any additional routes into the South West. This issue was dealt with in a separate report published in June 2014, and there are no plans at the moment to build any of the options listed in that report."
Monty told the scout that the "Northern" route was costed at £600-million; but then he also advised that Portishead had been reopened (he meant Portbury). He also put a spin on the electrification fiasco, saying that it was not the disaster everyone was making it out to be. Bless him, he was only doing his job.
Afterwards, waiting alone on Warren platform for the 1827 to take him and his mount back to St. Thomas, the scout recalled being seated on the verandah of a G.W. brake van on the main line in the small hours of a January morning, having got a ride on the Signal & Telegraph's train dropping cable ducts for the Exeter area resignalling (actually, he was paid "rest-day worked").
Just to test the P.R. officer who looked like he enjoyed an occasional drink, in the following week the scout asked if it would be possible for the proponents of additional lines, the E. & T.V.R. and the Okey camp, to have pitches at the next stop on the roadshow, the Rougemont Hotel in Exeter. This was politely refused, which turned out to be a relief because when the scout looked in to see the venue on 28th, hardly anyone was there.
The Rougemont is opposite Central Station but it is still unlikely that any N.R. staff came by train or would even think of doing so, such is their remoteness from the system whose track they manage.
The visit was not without reward. This time the scout was approached by a keen young coastal engineer on secondment from Mott MacDonald who very capably answered every question put to him, including at last the positions of the mystery buoys that gave the fateful warning of extreme wave height back in 2014.
There is in reality only one and it is anchored at 50° 34' N., 3° 24' W., or roughly two miles east of Dawlish. It is managed by the Plymouth Coastal Observatory in connection with the Channel Coastal Observatory and its readings are relayed to shore currently.
On the Plymouth Coastal Observatory front page can be seen a picture of a WaveRider buoy, which must not be used for mooring:-
The works proposed range from simple flood defences and drainage between Exeter and Dawlish Warren, and between Teignmouth and Newton Abbot, to the quite fantastic ideas for the coastal section between Parson's Tunnel and Teignmouth.
Here, the cliffs are seen to be the greatest threat: a massive slip had to be induced to make them stable just before the line was reopened in 2014. The solution, it is held, is either to reduce the slope of the cliffs, involving substantial land acquisition above them and closure of the line for a year, or the construction of a new alignment commencing in Parson's Tunnel and taking the foreshore all the way to Teignmouth, which would allow the cliffs to be stabilized by toe buttresses of imported material. The latter bright idea would offer the possibility of an additional running line and a path along the undercliff as well as one along a new sea wall.
The track authority has vaguely programmed all the works proposed over a 60-year span and suggested a cost of around £500-million, both of which can be dismissed as worthless estimates.
A lot can happen in 60 years; under the right conditions, a lot can happen in six years. More than once on these pages, reference is made to how long work takes today compared with the time it took to build whole sections of line in the first place: three years to build the 22-mile P.D. & S.W. Junction between Lydford and Devonport compared with the 26 years spent to date talking about reopening the six miles between Tavistock and Bere Alston; over a year to make a single platform at Cranbrook compared with the four years it took the L. & S.W.R. to build the line from Yeovil to Exeter.
Almost the entire railway network in the West Country was completed in 60 years. In fact, the South Devon between Exeter and Newton Abbot, with its original seven tunnels was built in two years.
With the fluxion of weather, unforeseen events and human frailty, looking 60 years into the future is hard enough for a seer; it is impossible for an organization that has not yet itself come of age. Since 1921, for instance, there has been no such period without a major change in railway organization; as the present muddle cries out for normalization, more sweeping change is sure to come.
No one knows what nature has in store that may interrupt or set back such long term plans. And with a precarious supply of energy and an overwhelming environmental imperative, there must soon come a time when the railway, along with other public transport, regains supremacy; then all the dither and delay which afflicts it today will be swept aside so that expansion and development become just a matter of demand management and engineering practicality.
The danger is that far too much money will be spent on this line and that vastly better resilience than it has now will never be achieved. With worsening conditions, it is possible that no real progress will be made and all the while there will have been no attempt to create route diversity, once a great strength of the British railway system.
Short of tunnelling behind the cliffs, no amount of work will make this route invulnerable: it only needs to fail in one place to stop trains. As this railway said after the Dawlish débâcle in 2014: "The challenge is to ensure that the existing line has the greatest possible resilience, but to have readily available an inland diversionary route between Exeter and Newton Abbot."
Certainly more must be spent in future than was spent in the years of complacency. The sea defences should be strengthened over time, partly in response to nature probing their weaknesses. The sea wall should be rebuilt to a scientific design in stages over many years. The installation of "tell-tale" systems connected to signalling (already underway as in the figure at right) giving warning of the slightest movement of the cliffs or obstruction of running lines, will greatly improve safety. In the winter months, trains laden with rock armour should be held at Exeter and Newton Abbot, along with dedicated on-track plant in a state of readiness when storms are forecast.
But to provide for intermittent closure, whether planned by the engineer or enacted by the gods, at a moment's notice if necessary it must be possible to divert trains onto bypass routes according to emergency timetables based on the degree of disruption. Not, in the case of the Teign Valley, as a substitute for the main line, but rather—and the comparison is detested—as the series of back lanes that a motorist uses to avoid a pile-up on his quick way home. This is not the route he would take every day but one he knows is there if he needs it.
Quite ridiculous claims were made at the time of the débâcle about the damage being done to the West Country economy by the closure of the main line.
Even if the railway is carrying more people than ever before, road traffic has grown to such an extent that it now far surpasses rail on almost every count.
The main line carries around 12,500 passengers a day and there is little other traffic. On the approach to Exeter the railway passes beneath Exminster Viaduct carrying the M5 motorway, and then goes under and over two principal roads into Exeter. The average daily flow of vehicles at these points is:-
|Bridge Road (former Exeter Bypass)||33,300|
To company car man, town planner and other such numbskulls, this level of traffic is seen as a measure of human success.; flows of road vehicles are seen almost as natural forces, like rivers. Few see the reality of finite reserves being frittered away in what will be in the end a very short-lived and irresponsible period of excessive and damaging consumption.
A very great unwinding of road transport, brought about by energy and material shortages, if not some unforeseen event, is inevitable. Far from being feared as the end of modern civilization, such curtailment should be embraced as an opportunity for a rational approach to transport provision. It can only be hoped that there will be enough time to plan and prepare, for there is such lack of vision that most will not have seen change coming.
There cannot simply be a transference of all road traffic onto rail and no one should want this even if it were possible. What should happen is that a highly developed, fully extended railway system, powered in the main by renewable energy, encompasses the greatest share of all necessary movement in every direction that it can.
Under these conditions, akin to a national emergency, the need to maintain the coastal railway line and to have what might be termed today 'redundancy,' in the sense that there is always more than one way, would be clearly understood. This would then hasten the decision to begin work.
The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway's Bid to Continue Reconstruction
"Like the adornment worn by a beautiful woman, this railway will flatter its setting."
In February, 2016, the L. & B.R. applied to North Devon Council and Exmoor National Park Authority for permission to rebuild the line between the existing temporary terminus at Killington Lane and Wistlandpound, to reopen Parracombe Halt and Blackmoor Station and to carry out associated works.
The most long-winded (2,000 words) letter* of support will have come from their friends on the Teign Valley. What else but admiration can there be towards a railway whose spokesman, Tony Nicholson, when asked on the platform at Woody Bay by the presenter of the BBC's Great Railway Journeys about his ambitions, pointed unflinchingly first to Lynton and then to Barnstaple?
* Actually seven, one for each of the applications.
Following the Débâcle...
After the Network Rail helicopter was seen hovering over Christow while tracing the course of the railway, a scouting party came on the ground to look more closely at the abandoned diversionary route.
Quite naturally, the "pathfinders" called in at Christow where it was explained to them what the Teign Valley line could provide, both in emergencies and in the normal course, given the advances in traction and signalling technology.
From the 121 comments on an article in
5th February, 2014
By the cheerful StuckinUK4Now
(The other alternative—the former Teign Valley branch from Exeter to Newton Abbot through the hills—is shorter, but was just a pottering country branch line and in no way suitable for main line traffic. Nor are there any significant population centres along that route to make it viable; the largest place it served, Chudleigh, is such a small town that it doesn't even rate a bank branch any more—the last one, Lloyds TSB, closed in 2006. The Teign Valley route would only be of value as a purely diversionary route when the sea-wall route was out of action and would probably 'rust in peace' for most of the time).
UPDATE: Not everyone agrees with the idea that reinstating the Teign Valley branch line is an unsuitable idea; there's an outfit calling itself the 'Exeter & Teign Valley Railway' with grandiose ideas about reopening it as a privately run community line, and seems a touch eccentric! You can view their website here:
Admittedly they don't seem to be proposing it as a substitute for the sea-wall route through Dawlish, but as to the viability of the line which merely served a few villages and one very small town, I stand by my original evaluation above (although I would be happy if the group succeeded in their aims and proved me wrong!)
Sea-level rise impacts on transport infrastructure: The notorious case of
the coastal railway line at Dawlish, England
This paper, recently published in the Journal of Transport Geography, finds that the incidence of disruption has increased, and will increase further, with the rise in sea level.
... the Newlyn tide gauge recorded its highest ever water level on 3 February 2014.
... the southwest of England, which is sinking at a rate of 1.1 mm/yr due to ongoing glacio-isostatic adjustment, will experience the highest rates of relative sea-level rise during this century.
Track restrictions run from Level 1 to Level 3 and have a range of impacts on rail traffic from 20mph speed restrictions on the down line to full closure of both the up and the down lines until safety inspections (and any necessary remedial works) have been completed. In-sea sensors provide information to NR staff in advance of severe overtopping events in order to allow them to close the line before it becomes dangerous to passing rail traffic. The events of February 2014 amounted to a spectacular example of a Level 3 restriction, when the in-sea sensors returned the most extreme warning possible, a 'black alert'.
In this study, we assume that the underlying driver of change in overtopping frequency and thus transport disruption is sea-level rise, and thus for the first, empirical, stage of the work, we seek to establish from observations a relationship between overtopping and sea-level change.
During the lifetime of the railway, there has been ~0.20 m of sea-level rise in the English Channel, although nearly half of this occurred during the last 40 years.
... 150 years of sea-level rise has significantly reduced the available 'freeboard' ...
If our calculations are correct, and assuming sufficient maintenance to retain sea defences in their current condition, then in headline terms: sea-level rise of 0.05-0.07 m by 2020 means the average number of DLRs [days with line restrictions] will double to 16-19 per year; by 2060, sea-level rise of 0.27-0.39 m will cause an annual average of 46-63 DLRs; and by the end of the century as many as 84-120 DLRs will occur each year as a result of a 0.55-0.81 m increase in sea level.
By 2060, with high-impact events occurring on average twice a year, the extent to which the railway would be able to maintain a credible service has to be brought into question.
... there is more and more evidence to show that travellers can adapt to a major change in network conditions rather more readily than policy makers currently assume; were such a major change the introduction of a regime or road user charging, rail patronage may increase to the point where such major disruption along the South Devon coast becomes a far greater test of public policy than it is today.
The authors are David Dawson, Jon Shaw and W. Roland Gehrels, from Leeds, Plymouth and York universities respectively.
Peninsula Rail Task Force
This talkshop, brought to prominence during the Débâcle, has drafted "The 20 Year Plan — for investment in the South West Peninsula Rail Network."
With not a practical railwayman, an environmentalist or a true forward thinker among its half-hearted proponents, the Teign Valley could scarcely find the words to comment:-
"Really? Two years' work by a host of contributors to form a plan to develop the most sustainable form of transport over the next twenty years and this is the best that can be done?"
"The most glaring omission is the need for a feasibility study of the Teign Valley route, not as an alternative main line but as a branch line with enhanced diversionary capacity, the practical railwayman's preference."
BLOCKADE (telegraphic code for "All lines blocked at...") Exeter St. Thomas, 3rd April, 2014.
Exeter Railway Junction is just ahead and what is left of the Teign Valley goes off where the crane jib is seen.
Even the theoretical 200-year storm, which the wall has not yet had to face, should not harm this mass of concrete.
But the train service remains vulnerable. As the railway said in its case for reopening the inland railway route: -
"Disruption will not just occur when there is damage to the sea wall or the track above; there will be many occasions when white water alone will temporarily curtail the train service. Even where Network Rail has poured 5,000 tons of concrete, the line can still be lashed by waves."
Mad geneticist recreates extinct railway
Rather like in the crackpot film where incomplete dinosaur DNA is made up with strands from a frog, the new Great Western has been genetically engineered out of a bus company.
Of course, the idea that any semblance of the Great Western Railway could be resurrected just by corporate rebranding is as ludicrous as the queen claiming to be the "Empress of India."
What has been done is a brazen-faced example of repositioning. A tarnished name rhyming with worst has been dropped and an historic one adopted, with all its associations in the public mind.
There is no need to say more than has already been said on these pages about the old firm, but the excuse will be taken to mention some aspects of the Great Western which may serve to show how very different the company was.
Two pieces concern Francis Mildmay, the 1st Baron Mildmay of Flete (1861-1947),
a director of the Great Western Railway
At the opening of Newton Abbot's lavishly rebuilt station in 1927, Lord Mildmay, accompanied by the Chairman and Deputy Chairman, the General Manager and most of the chief officers of the Great Western, said that the town had no fewer than 900 employees and that as the largest business the company paid the most rates, adding that unfortunately much of what was contributed had been spent on improving the Newton Abbot to Torquay road.
The improvement that Lord Mildmay referred to and the volume of traffic being sped on its way were minimal when compared with the modern madness. Yet there was keen awareness in railway board rooms that the growth of motorized road transport since the world war was already taking goods and passengers off rail and the worry was that the losses would increase, as the interloper had burst forth with little or no regulation, with costs heavily slanted in its favour.
Today it has gone to opposite extremes. Road "improvement" has resulted in a new £110-million dual carriageway between Newton Abbot and Edginswell, at the outskirts of Torbay; while rail “rationalization” has left Newton Abbot as a gaunt remnant of a grand station and the branch to Kingswear sold off beyond Paignton. It must be said that more passengers use Newton Abbot now than when Lord Mildmay made his speech, but the place is devoid of the many complementary functions which made the railway a general purpose transport system.1
Since the cruel abolition of the Great Western Railway at the end of 1947, what protest has there been from the industry at this reversal of supremacy? There was none under government control and the hope that some of the old fervour may have been restored by denationalization was unfounded. In a disintegrated industry, which element should speak up for rail as a system?
When the valiant Kingskerswell Alliance2 was promoting its case against the link road, which included the proposed reopening of Kingskerswell Station and improved train services, did the group have an ally in the railway? Did the rail industry criticize the inequality of transport expenditure and point to the unsustainability of continuing to provide for a fossil fuel-dependent mode? Was any alternative rail transport plan forthcoming? No. There was not so much as a whimper, a muttered aside or even a sigh of despair throughout the whole process from what may be termed a railway voice.
If Lord Mildmay's equivalent in a modern trains company management, say Gaz of Pleb Street, were to take his family to Torbay for a holiday, instead of somewhere like Marbella, would he detrain from a Pacer at Paignton and do without his car for a fortnight, or would he, like almost everyone else, tear down the new South Devon Link Road and never go near a station, except maybe to ride the steam train to Kingswear?
1 It is not to downplay the efforts of modern train operators to attract passengers, pointing out that to some extent increased patronage was inevitable. There is a far greater population than there was in 1927. In the course of work or the pursuit of pleasure, there is much greater mobility. There are many more students; older people travel more; there is “disposable income.” And part of the shift to rail must have come about because of the misery of being on the roads, despite continuing massive expenditure.
General Buller, 1905
A glance around any modern construction site will often reveal the range of lifting and handling equipment which makes light work of what was once only accomplished by plentiful manpower and tackle.
So bringing up the story of how General Buller's statue came to be at the junction of Hele Road and New North Road in Exeter is not to deny the reality of today's methods, but to question why, given these advances, the railway no longer does anything in this field.
It was during one of rail historian Amyas Crump's fascinating "down memory line" slide shows that the writer first heard how Buller's statue was delivered and put on its plinth of Cornish granite in 1905.
The 4½-ton bronze was taken from the founder, A.B. Burton of Thames Ditton, to Brentford Dock, where it was loaded to rail on a Friday afternoon. A gang was sent from Swindon to offload it at Exeter goods yard, carry it up St. David's Hill and erect it on its plinth. This was done, ahead of schedule, by Sunday noon. "All in a day's work," it may be said, for a general purpose transport system.
If this were to be mentioned to managers of the mucky outfits that run the modern railway, they would no doubt scorn the idea that any transport service beyond what is offered today should be their business.
These rootless, soulless types may go so far as to join the highway kings in arguing that had motor transport been developed earlier there would have been no need for railways; that railways were only an intermediate stage between waterways and the pinnacle of human achievement that is modern road communication.
But, to a great extent, the meteoric rise of road transport, aided by youthful vigour and in no small way abetted by a clear run politically, tended to slow development of the older industry, already burdened as it was by an accumulation of onerous legislation. In very many areas, what was introduced in later years on the railway was never sufficient to enable effective competition and the ingenuity of road vehicle designers saw little equivalent on rail.
Had the railway's combination of infrastructure and ability, established over the course of a century, been the foundation for progress which kept pace with, or even outpaced, the road competitors, today there most certainly would be wagons and handling devices making use of new technology and freight trains running at up to 75 m.p.h. over much of a very extensive network, serving myriad sidings and complexes. Manufacturing and commerce would have been attracted to stations and linesides on the promise of good rail communication, often helping the fortunes of less busy locations. The railway would have its own supporting road services extending its reach to the outlying doorstep or gate. Stalking salesmen would not miss new sources of revenue and skilled staff at every level would keep traffic on the move.
Just as importantly, had the railway's political representatives been as strident and demanding as those of the road interests, it is also certain that rail transport's position would never have become so diminished and road transport would never have gained such an advantage; particularly at a time when environmental concerns should have worked very much in rail's favour, keeping traffic off the roads as far as possible and making the best use of energy.
The railway's undignified retreat was not the result of a normal, healthy transfer of power, as happens when an inferior system yields to a new superior. With the inherent advantages of the mode—its private reservation and free-running vehicles—a natural state would have been one in which rail captured the bulk of traffic beyond the very local and road transport did what it does best or can only do.
Maybe the railway would no longer be placing statues of old colonials, but it would surely be doing a great deal more than it does today.
Station Road Bridge, Exwick
In 1974, not long after the E. & T.V.R. scout had cycled over it, the old lattice girder bridge on Exwick's Station Road collapsed into the swollen River Exe. The abutment on the station side had been weakened by the floodwaters.
Station Road was not half as busy in those days and the bridge was narrow, with no pavement.
Just next to the landing was the five-lever Exeter Goods Yard signal box which controlled the goods avoiding lines at Exwick Crossing. There was a crossover partly in the road and points led to the cattle pen and grain sidings. The road crossed the four (there had been five) goods yard sidings and movements were made on these with only the protection of the shunter; the gates of Red Cow Crossing were not shut in conjunction.
When trains were accepted on the avoiding lines, a tall gate, hung from the end of one of the girders, was shut, causing pedestrians and vehicles to queue on the bridge. Fortunately no one was on the bridge when it collapsed.
Under the watchful eye of green-carded, "Special A" signalman, Arthur Finch, the E. & T.V.R cub-scout felt very important when bringing a freight train nearly to a stand, before pulling off the one signal—both home and starter—the indication to the driver that the "permissive" block section ahead was occupied.
For more than a year there was no through traffic over either crossing; a "bailey bridge" was erected downstream for pedestrians, a great relief to the scout who had had to cycle around the blockade to the station from his then home in Exwick.
The new bridge girders were brought on a special train of GIRDERs (POLLENs, in G.W.-speak), wagons that were effectively bogies coupled only by their load. The girders were craned into position from the train; if it is assumed that the manufacturer had a rail connection then this load may never have touched a road.
All right, so this was not undertaken in Great Western days, but the men whose expertise made it possible were worthy successors of earlier railwaymen, which breed is now extinct.
The Versatile Crocodile
While the "Exceptional Loads" booklet was out, it couldn't be resisted mentioning the Great Western's largest wagon, the 120-ton CROCODILE L, with interchangeable "straight" and "well" girders.
It is not stated whether the wagon had "cross traversing" gear, but the two later 135-ton TRANSFORMER trolleys introduced by B.R. certainly had this facility, enabling loads to be shifted a foot on either side so as to pass obstructions. This would more likely have been required on curves where the "centre throw" of the wagon would have put the load "out of gauge."
A 1962 British Transport Films documentary, "Measured for Transport," shows one of these wagons, B901800, carrying a 123-ton transformer from Llandudno Junction to Blaenau Ffestiniog, where it is offloaded by Pickford's and taken to the Ffestiniog Power Station, a pumped storage facility then under construction at Tan-Y-Grisiau. Although the manufacturer, Ferranti of Manchester, went bankrupt in 1993, its transformer is still in service.
The railway workshops which built these specialist wagons were only a part of a great organization that made not just the movement of very exceptional loads possible, but also the despatch of demanding consignments of all descriptions a matter of course.
There were the loads inspectors who advised on the selection of rolling stock and how to support and secure loads, and who travelled around to see that the vast array of goods offered to the railway for carriage was loaded safely, bearing in mind that its transit usually would put it in close proximity to fast passenger trains.
In back offices, train planners would find paths for slow-moving specials and route them according to their restrictions, and controllers would see that all took place as booked, balancing the competing demands of the train service.
The engineer would know the gauge limitations of his district; he could perhaps arrange to move a lineside object and use his judgement to permit an excessive weight to pass over a bridge or culvert at reduced speed.
Staff along the line understood how traffic was shifted; they knew the dangers present and the precautions needed. Guards would have the sense to tug on a chain or rope or to feel an axlebox as they cast their eyes over loads. It was not just signalmen who kept watch from their boxes: it was the rule book duty of all staff to observe the passage of trains.
With operating flexibility and route diversity, the presumption was that if it were physically possible, a load would pass by rail.
Then the state started to undo this colossal organization. First the network was drastically reduced. The expertise and the equipment that had made possible a complete freight transport system inevitably soon followed; the 1970s example above must have been one of the last.
Today, the railway is a transport system that does not even serve itself: heavy construction materials to the smallest consumables are carried by road; managers drive everywhere; a vast fleet of lorries and vans adds to road congestion; and traincrew is routinely taken around in taxis.
On the continent, a huge number of lorries is carried on rail routes termed "rolling highways." Here, locomotives, power cars and carriages are put on lorries, often to depots not even rail connected.
And the graduate halfwits that have charge of the system, the men who imagine themselves descendants of the original Great Western, do not see it as lamentable failure that the railway which once shifted the traffic of a worldwide trading empire and of two world wars, which lifted whole farms and factories and dealt with massive seasonal or emergency rushes, cannot now carry its own toilet paper and post, and treats a surfboard or a cycle as a problem.
The muddle of modern Italy compared with the splendour of Ancient Rome
Last year, a series of billboard and newspaper advertisements was run by First Great Western which vainly attempted to claim that the passenger train operator was somehow a descendant of the Great Western Railway Company. The high―or low—point of this campaign was the full page image of Paddington's Tommy statue on 11th November with the implication that the company men who gave their lives were the same "Great Westerners."
Leaving aside the morality of using the war dead as part of a promotional push, it must be said that the people behind it meant well in trying to revive a name and create lineage. Their efforts should not be wholly condemned.
For there is no doubt that First Great Western has amongst its staff many enthusiasts, or people who are merely eager to please or be co-operative. It was such men who made possible the "money shot" of a Class 142 D.M.U. carrying a Christow destination board traversing the junction points at City Basin. It was friendly nutters who enabled the E. & T.V.R. scout to hop on a special train at Cranmore and tick off his last Somerset station in style. A pleasant fellow whom the E. & T.V.R. met recently was the F.G.W. manager responsible for the return of some named trains and a G.W.R. monogram on the Mark III refurbs. It was Rebekah Hartley, a First stewardess, who organized the Santa specials to Heathfield and gave the railway a pitch in the booking hall at Newton. And these must be only a few of the total.
But it should not be offensive to these good people to state the truth: a contemporary train operating company running a mono-function franchise serving 270 stations, having very little control over any more than day to day operations, is not the same thing as the huge, multi-purpose, unitary organization which, in 1947, really could go right back to the men who gathered at Temple Meads in the reign of William IV.
Greens too green to govern?
Their supposedly being strong adherents of the most sustainable form of powered transport, the circulation list for the 2014 summary of the case for reopening the Teign Valley contains five Green Party recipients. Four of them were individuals, who received tailored letters, and three were sent the railway's latest collectible, a computer mouse mat.
There has not been one reply.
A local person with some knowledge working on an environmental transport project who raises a local issue having a strategic bearing, it might have been thought would attract Green Party people, eager to find pegs on which to hang their policies.
Unless, that is, their position is purely theoretical and they do not want to sully it by applying doctrine to the complexities of the real world.
Or is it that they do not do paper, believing that the vast infrastructure of the worldwide web has less impact than the faithful, human postie?
Or maybe they do not like "preferably in private ownership" in the summary. It is Green Party policy to renationalize the railways and so members do not want to heed a railwayman's warning that far more important than ownership is the structure within which railways operate.
Transport is such a colossal subject, like many others, and so intertwined, that even good environmentalists most often shrink from gaining an understanding of it or making any attempt to tackle the global problems, and instead busy themselves with microcosmic stuff that makes not a scrap of difference, other than to make them feel better.
To the green gabblers, the smallest changes are always the most meaningful.
November, 2015: Since this was written, but not as a result of it, David Bailey of Dawlish has been kind enough to reply, agreeing that the Teign Valley route should be reopened.
Ownership of the Railways
A brief comment
A non-dogmatic position is taken with regard to nationalization of the railways. It was said from the start, and the view has been held unshakably, that the method of denationalization was effective sabotage.
But the state has been a poor custodian of the railways. Up until the First War, government, without having contributed a penny towards the development of the system, increasingly regulated the private companies but did not interfere with their management.
Two crippling world wars, the failure to allow the railways to compete on equal terms between the wars, a botched nationalization, the destruction of the universal service given by an expansive, general purpose network — which held the promise of being developed into a modern, versatile, sustainable system — and the eventual enslavement of government and people by the road interests, has led to a fear of state control. However, it is accepted that it may be the only course out of the present shambles.
Ownership of the railways is less important than the framework within which they operate. If government faced up to the future, it could, almost by the stroke of a pen, alter the direction of transport provision, towards the public systems and away from what is really only an aberration thrown up by cheap oil.
In the opening remarks on these pages, it is asked what might the balance of transport be today if the railways had been able to stick up for their system in the same ruthless way that the road transport lobby has done throughout its ascendancy.
A few years after Teignbridge District Council published some policies in its Local Plan supporting and encouraging the retention of the branch line between Newton Abbot and Heathfield, and supporting in principle a proposed road/rail interchange at Heathfield, the newly-denationalized and disintegrated railway industry, in the form of the Property Board, determined to thwart any ideas of station development at Heathfield by disposing of nearly all of the land adjoining the remaining tracks, including the formation of the Teign Valley Branch as far as Bovey Lane Crossing.
On 14th February, 1996, at a non-descript chain hotel on the outskirts of Bristol, the E. & T.V.R. scout, who had walked from Stoke Gifford Station (Bristol Parkway), heard 40 lots go under the hammer, each no doubt with its own story to tell. The land at Heathfield fetched £48,000.
Before and after the event, this railway wrote to authorities, elected representatives and pressure groups, drawing attention to the folly of the sale at Heathfield. Replies regretted the action of the Property Board, but of course nothing could be done to abort the sale or, as it turned out, to have any control over how the land was used afterwards.
Since then, this railway has simply observed the changes, most of which have become established under the ten-year rule.
When the photograph above was taken, there was a big sign between the carriageways of the A38 pointing to Heathfield Station, and it was possible to pass from the westbound direction into Bovey Lane and Station Road, a manoeuvre that would today horrify a traffic engineer. The gap was closed in the early 1980s, but the E. & T.V.R. utilicon did more than once cross the grass to avoid going to Drum Bridges and back; there were no crash barriers then and much less traffic.
A bridleway bridge is now being built at the same place, but this has nothing to do with the station.
Twenty years before this photograph was taken, three passenger trains, waiting to depart from their respective platforms for Newton Abbot, Moretonhampstead and Exeter, would have been a regular sight.
Within twenty years of 1977, despite by then being the subject of vague planning policies supporting the idea of reopening the station in some form, all this land had been sold off as part of a scorched-earth, asset-stripping retreat by the rail industry.
And twenty years on from that sale, what future has the station and the rump of the branch line to Moreton, now further truncated to one engine length beyond the loop at Heathfield?
After a long period of disuse, in 2011 the line was revived for timber traffic ex Teignbridge, and Heathfield's loop is now used for running round. But this movement was only meant to last for three years.
In February and March, 2014, the line was in the news because it was part of the former diversionary route. Heathfield was highlighted on television screens and front pages all over the country, while ridiculous speculation went on over ways of avoiding the storm-lashed coast.
Teignbridge District Council's current local plan policy statements, considerably reduced from the heady heights of 1995 (see Appendix), now hint at what the future may hold.
Devon County Structure Plan, 1995
Twenty years on ...
Reading this old plan today, it could almost be sensed that an environmental activist or railway campaigner—or both—had got into County Hall one night and been devilish on a keyboard, altering all the files just to the extent that no one would notice what had been done.
The plan's tone is quite forthright in places. For example: "The motor vehicle is one of the most environmentally damaging forms of transport."
It is not really anti-car. But celebration of the car's dominance gives way to a sort of resigned acceptance of the need to provide road space to meet the economic growth aims of the plan.
This was the era of growing concern about the environment. World leaders had gathered in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and out of that had sprung Local Agenda 21, an action plan for the 21st century.
Since then there have been many more summits and the far-eastern economies have burst forth, making effective environmental action virtually impossible.
On the local level, if what little that supposedly was sought for railways had been achieved by the end of the plan period, 2011, today there would have been further ambitions. What might they have been?
The new Ivybridge, actually a park-and-ride station for the South Hams, had opened in 1994. It was meant to be part of a wider Plymouth travel-to-work area plan, with a corresponding "parkway" station rumoured to be planned for Trerulefoot in Cornwall.
Ivybridge was understood to be the first of a series of reopenings, as listed in the plan. It is often stated that in fact this new station, which leapt from an estimated £500,000 under British Rail to £1-million under Railtrack, acted as a dampener on further development. Certainly, nothing has happened since.
If the Highway Programme from the plan were reproduced here, the cynic would note that, whereas nothing of the rail improvements has been achieved, a remarkable number of major road schemes were completed or are now under way.
Perhaps all that rail-pie was put in, not by an intruder, but as a sop to any campaigners with thoughts of getting into the building.
Fleabee - the lo-cust airline
Heading for his weekly dose of social reality at the bus station caff on 23rd October, the E.& T.V.R. scout came upon a throng of agency temps in Southernhay, Exeter's old business quarter, promoting the new air service to London that was to start the following week. The pretty things—nineteen of them, boys and girls, dressed in purple shirts—were stopping professional types, tempting them with free coffee. To make the connection between air travel and sustainability, the coffee machine and several advertisements for the thirty-five quid flights were on man-powered tricycles.
Passing the assembly again after lunch, the scout thought he would go to St. David‘s and report the promopush to someone. First Great Western has its own regular lovelies who strut the platform, so it was one of these "Customer Hosts" that he approached. Thinking it would be news to her, he was surprised when she reacted with an angry: "Where are they?"
"Southernhay," he replied.
"Good. They were at the front of the station this morning getting in the way and handing out coffees. We had to get B.T. Police to move them on. The boss of Flybe was here taunting the railway."
Mobbing the station entrance was taken from the same handbook of brash promotional techniques as placing trailer billboards beside the railway line, reading (something like): "If you'd flown, you‘d be home by now."
The Express & Echo reported the incident (below). The Western Morning News was silent about its little darling but did report the following incident.
Less than a week later, a Flybe pilot was confronted as he entered the cockpit of a Newquay to Gatwick flight after a worried crew member had tipped off the Police.
The pilot was led off for a breath test before being arrested for allegedly being unfit to fly the plane.
Devon and Cornwall Police said the man, a 48-year old from Copplestone in Devon, was thought to be above the normal "drink-drive" limit of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The much stricter limit for pilots is 20 milligrams, the same as it is for train drivers.
The flight was cancelled.
It is assumed that the man had driven from Copplestone to Newquay (c. 70 miles), or from a dive in town to St. Mawgan, in the same alleged condition, but drunks on the road is a much less serious matter, it would seem.
A letter to the Editor of the Western Morning News was not published:-
On the Thursday before the launch of Flybe’s new service ...
When I mentioned this later at St. David’s, I was told that ...
As only a week later (allegedly) a drunk pilot was hauled off a Flybe plane at Newquay, it strikes me that the boss should spend some time in the office studying his safety case.
Friends of Ashburton Station Aiming to save a model Great Western terminus
After three years' work, including much consultation, by the Dartmoor National Park Authority on a masterplan—to which future planning applications would have to conform—for the Chuley Road area, some members of the South Devon Railway at last became aware of the threat to Ashburton Station.
Having been pressing for a long time, and the urgency of the matter since April, this railway was happy to submit some words of support to the Park Authority, delivered by hand along with a copy of Peter Kay's history of the Ashburton Branch to stimulate the planners' imaginative juices, twelve days after the public meeting held in Ashburton Town Hall at which a railway mob thrust its views before officials and townsfolk.
Time will tell whether, as Yamamoto is supposed to have remarked after Pearl Harbor, "a sleeping giant" has been awoken; or whether a tired old dog has been disturbed from its stupor.
>> Appendix: Letter to the Dartmoor National Park Authority >>
(This and the history book were never acknowledged)
"There are railways up Snowdon and Snaefell. Would it be so bad to have ours to Princetown rebuilt?"
From the early euphoria of being amongst a gang of railwaymen fired for action, afterwards retiring to the Silent Whistle (formerly the Railway Hotel) for a beer and going on to the exotic Mogul's Palace for a late supper, it was always likely to end in disappointment.
The railway group had arrived very late to the fray, was ill-prepared and faced one of the most morale-sapping authorities in the land. Nevertheless, a process followed which, to the uninitiated, gave some hope that, in true British tradition, victory could be snatched from the jaws of defeat.
The Friends of Ashburton Station was formalized under the chairmanship of Alasdair Page, with David Sheppard, of B.B.C. Radio Devon fame, as secretary. A plan was hastily drawn up and over the coming months was presented to the planning team, Buckfastleigh and Ashburton town councils and a meeting of the Dartmoor National Park Authority.
Not having any experience of this authority, the group sensed that they were being received with some enthusiasm and that the senior forward planner seemed quite friendly and supportive.
Aiming to come up with the answer they wanted, the National Park's planners pretended to conduct a serious study of whether railway reconstruction was possible, who wanted it and what benefits it would bring, and issued their report in April, 2015, clearing the way for the masterplan to be presented to the authority on the first Friday of June. The Ashburton Railway - Appraisal of Options Report was the bundle of denials and distortions expected of an authority that excels at finding the spark of an imaginative idea and pissing on it.
The matter was deferred on 5th June because Ashburton Town Council had yet to make its decision. No one was at Parke to represent the station friends' group, which ably demonstrates the belief at large that endless outpourings on internet chat pages substitutes for human presence and action on the ground.
At its meeting on the 9th, Ashburton councillors voted to support the adoption of the masterplan. Teignbridge District Council, which until 1997 was the planning authority for this part of the National Park, had already given its approval, which was no surprise, it being another anti-rail council. All opinion having been gathered, the matter was again put to the Dartmoor authority.
The showing for the railway was better on this occasion and three men were booked to speak on its behalf. Charlie Dennis, Ashburton Town Councillor and S.D.R. volunteer driver, referred to his canvassing of Ashburton traders and their almost universal desire to see trains return. Vernon Coon (who had been prepared to speak at the earlier meeting), an independent railway supporter, was cut short after saying: "rarely in the history of town planning has an authority got something so spectacularly wrong, spurning a golden opportunity for some very short term limited gain."
Dick Wood, former General Manager of the S.D.R., had brought 25 copies of Heritage Railway to the meeting; he was ordered not to hand them out but to leave them on the table. The magazine contained a damning editorial by Robin Jones, who drew attention to local authority support for schemes in Cornwall, Dorset and elsewhere, and asked: "So what on earth is going wrong in Ashburton?" He also stated: "For reasons I and others are struggling desperately to comprehend, Ashburton's big chance has been transformed into the dampest of squibs." (Yes, that's what this authority does so well. - Ed.).
Mr. Wood informed the members that 18 local authorities around the country were working with private railways on development plans. He spoke of the economic benefit that steam railways bring and cited figures for the South Devon. His speech was also cut short.
It was obvious from the first question about car parking that members were minded to approve the masterplan. After a brief "debate," during which several members faked sadness that the railway could not be accommodated—and one saying that it would be better to have a new station outside town—they voted unanimously to follow the officer's recommendation.
On 29th June, this railway sent each of the 18 authority members (17 to their home addresses) an individual letter, a copy of the original letter above, the leaflet There were once 31 stations ... and a promotional mouse mat.
Wrong Name and Failure to Consult
In short, the need for a masterplan at Ashburton Station arose because three sizeable businesses wished to sell up or relocate, and thus to redevelop their sites. The Dartmoor planners were afraid that pocket schemes might not work together and so they viewed the site as a whole and tried to produce an area redevelopment that would benefit the town. Planning applications would have broadly to conform to a framework masterplan, necessary, it was said, to ensure that chaotic, piecemeal development was avoided.
Actually, what makes British townscapes so delightful is their very randomness—the differing rooflines, the changes in level, the add-ons and adaptations, the varying styles and materials and all the years of history encapsulated in architecture. But it was never done all at once, which is what happens now under area redevelopment, which somehow never blends at the edges. But that was then; we will accept that Dartmoor had to face the challenge using modern methods.
The initial failing was fundamental. Upon entering this area of the town, the officer had first to establish a name for it which properly defined its character. Immediately in front of anyone coming from the town centre along St. Lawrence Lane is the train shed, to this day "Station Garage." Attached to the right of it is the station building. Behind it is the goods shed; beyond is the locomotive shed. All but the train shed is solid masonry. This is Ashburton Station—or just "the station," since, when the rail transport system was the prime mover, "station" in general use meant "railway station." Other stations—bus, police, fire—had to be explicitly qualified. Station Roads across the country testify to this; they never led anywhere but the railway station. Ashburton does not have a Station Road, but its railway remnants are substantial and unmistakeable. Had this been the site of a castle, a mill, a factory or an ecclesiastical building, then surely this would have decided the historical name.
But, no, the modern town and country planner who lives his life in his car, who goes everywhere by road and is detached from history, chose to call the complex "Chuley Road," a name that would be meaningless to anyone outside Ashburton who did not have dealings with firms there.
The big questions that have to be asked then are: four years ago, when the first discussions began about what would amount to major upheavals on the site, if it had been called Ashburton Station, would not the railway interests immediately have been made aware of what was going to unfold? And, given that start, how advanced might have been the railway's plans today?
It could be argued that the first fundamental failure led to the second one. If it had been decided to refer to the complex by its rightful name, it may have woken up the officers to the need to consult railway authorities and to research its history. Not, in this case, its operational history, but only the 43 years since abandonment.
Ashburton Station was the terminus of the Ashburton Branch. The planners might have asked themselves: isn't seven miles of this branch still in use? And isn't the present terminus, Buckfastleigh, only 2½ miles away? And isn't the operator of that railway a statutory body?
Had the planners done any research, they would have discovered the traumatic amputation of the lower limb that occurred in 1972, the work done in 1997 on possible reconstruction and the never quite extinguished desire among many to reconnect to the historic terminus.
And so, whereas normally not just immediate neighbours are consulted about proposed developments, but government departments and anyone else likely to be interested or affected, in this case the planners did not think to consult the railway authority just down the line or indeed anyone with specialist knowledge.
Parke, the National Trust-owned pile on the edge of Bovey Tracey, has been the headquarters of the Dartmoor authority since 1979. The estate borders the former Moretonhampstead Branch. Most of the staff coming to work in their cars will pass the roundabout which marks the position of Bovey level crossing; no longer of road and rail, but of Station Road/Haytor Road and Monks Way, the bypass built on the course of the line. The Bovey station building still stands, as does the goods shed which is owned by the National Park.
There were once 31 stations on and around Dartmoor. There will not be a planning officer in post who remembers when the last one, Okehampton, closed in 1972. Modern men, passing over that "level crossing," will either see railways as yesterday's transport or, as likely, have no thoughts whatsoever.
It was for this very reason that a copy of the Railway Development Society's (now Railfuture) 300-page South West Rail Strategy was sent to the former National Park Officer in 2004. There is no guidance from government, there are no internal policies; an individual should be able to deposit information to fill this void and although it was not done with Ashburton in mind, it was for just such an eventuality.
But National Park officers, it is said, do not read material in their reference library any more. After the meeting in June, I went to reception with my own copy of the document and asked the young lady if she could say whether it was in the building. She said she would look after lunch and took my name and telephone number. She informed me that there was no library catalogue. She never telephoned and it can be seen from the letter from Dr. Bishop, the current National Park Officer, that he would not say whether it could be found.
So, either the document is not in the building, meaning that the only source of information on railways was thrown out; or it is in the building and nobody thought to see what it had to say about the Ashburton Branch and its terminus.
A Granite Rock and a Hard Place
From the day the station friends' group made themselves known in early November, 2014, there could only be one outcome, and all that happened between the meeting in Ashburton Town Hall and the one at Parke on 3rd July was a convoluted exercise in the National Park being seen to follow procedure and save face. No organization, including a department of the state, could have produced any meaningful plan in the short time available. Devon County Council, for example, has been working on reinstating the six miles of track between Bere Alston and Tavistock for nearly 25 years.
Why was this? Because as a result of the original failures, the narrow ideas of the masterplan had been discussed for too long for it to go on any longer. Plans for a convenience store, some houses, a bit of public space and more car parking—a scheme straight out of a town planner's uni course work—had been promoted, amended and consulted upon until it had become stagnant.
Meanwhile, one of the businesses that intended to relocate on the edge of town had submitted a planning application and rightly, for itself, having only its own interests to consider, demanded determination of the application without further delay, the new homes it included being outlined in the draft masterplan, a promise it would now be hard to revoke.
The authority was stuck between a bog and a shit place. Because it had pursued only the one unimaginative use for the site, completely ignoring its former purpose, it was now being pressured to deal with a planning application which would enable a firm, which no doubt bought the railway formation for a few thousand pounds from the B.R. Property Board in the mid 1970s, to fund its move to the out-of-town location. The authority knew very well that if the firm appealed a refusal, the inspector would likely find in the applicant's favour, there having been no work done on a railway scheme sufficient to give reason to protect the alignment. The authority has too small a budget to expose itself to an enquiry and can thus be browbeaten, not by the likes of Tessie Cohen, but by an ordinary town trader.
From the start, the authority knew that the railway friends' efforts would be futile. The authority knew the reasons it would use to demolish whatever work was done. Members filing into the meeting room at Parke on 3rd July had worked out, or more likely bluntly been told, that they could give only one answer. The debate was a sham; the result was predetermined. No weight of submissions, no speaker or professional consultant could have made a difference.
After the Dawlish débâcle in February, 2014, the spotlight was cast upon two Dartmoor railways: the Teign Valley Branch and the former Southern main line. By November, a third was picked out. Yet, is any indication given in the letter from National Park Officer, Dr. Bishop, that his authority is now cognizant of these transport routes and is aiming to form some policy for these and any other railway issues that may arise? Has the authority given any sign that it would know what to do in future? Is there the remotest possibility that Dr. Bishop's non-communicative, distant, complacent, tired, incompetent authority will admit that it has fouled up Ashburton Station?
There being no objections forthcoming from the army of S.D.R. supporters to the proposal (D.N.P.A. Ref.: 0045/15) to build five homes on the course of the branch railway, the E. & T.V.R. submitted a brief letter.
On 23rd August, a request was made under the Freedom of Information Act, 2000, for the D.N.P.A. to advise the amount of money paid to the Building Design Partnership (BDP) and other outside consultants in connection with work on the Chuley Road Masterplan.
If the figure is revealed, it may show why the authority is so determined to ensure that the masterplan is not undone. It should be understood that, had the railway interests been consulted in the first instance, and plans for reconstruction instituted - or, at the very least, the railway land protected for the future - a masterplan would not have been necessary because the other sites would then have been only peripheral.
January's application for outline planning permission to build 30 homes, with five on the line of railway, was withdrawn and another (D.N.P.A. Ref.: 0441/15) was submitted, this one seeking permission for 32 homes with four on the track. This railway immediately sent another letter of objection.
At the same time it was revealed that the Dartmoor National Park Authority, in response to an approach from a law firm acting for the South Devon Railway Trust, had, after being advised by its own hired counsel, decided to return the masterplan to the final draft stage and conduct more procedural covering. Six weeks have been allowed.
Mr. Walledge, Head of Legal and Democratic Services, was kind enough to reply promptly in September, providing an analysis of the payments made to outside agencies so far. It is entered here without comment, except to say that Dartmoor clearly is under pressure from a higher power.
18th November, 2015
There being no greasy spoon in Ashburton, the E. & T.V.R. scout repaired to the Royal Oak for lunch. After a pint of ale and some pork pies, he asked the landlord how he felt about the railway reopening. The reply was detailed and articulate and his support was gratifying to hear. He even offered the use of his back room to campaigners free of charge.
Round the corner in North Street is one of those gems that only survive in places like Ashburton. The scout wanted a jar of Stone's furniture cream (made in Crediton to a 1760 formula) and Church's Ironmongers, trading for over 100 years, did not disappoint. It was known that the owners had written in support of the railway and they were thanked for doing so. They said that they were by no means alone in wanting to see a rail revival.
Later, at the National Park headquarters, Dan Janota, the Senior Forward Planner, whom the scout had met twelve months before in Ashburton Town Hall, was good enough to come to reception for an amicable discussion of the case in hand and wider railway issues.
He seemed genuinely to want the Friends to work with the authority and provide the concrete evidence he had requested. "Give us something to work with," he said, adding, "don't keep telling us what others are doing: tell us how it can be done here." The scout remarked that a year ago his advice to the Friends had been to put a strong emphasis on public transport: "you can get your steam wank from a working railway." And also to get the engineering study out of the drawer, get it updated and costed and into the public arena.
Mentioning that there had been no canvassing of opinion in Ashburton regarding railway reconstruction, Mr. Janota said he felt that the townsfolk were weary of consultation. But he said that any scientific market research done by the Friends would be accepted as evidence.
Perhaps the most heartening intelligence was that the authority, mindful of the talk about reopening the Southern route to Plymouth, had commissioned a scoping report: "Devon Main Line Route Options." 1 Let no one dare criticize this. Stick it to the fridge like a child's first drawing which a doting parent thinks is a work of art.
Mr. Janota kindly returned Peter Kay's Ashburton Branch history and he was thanked for his courtesy and for being so candid.
Great Western Main Line West of Exeter Route Resilience Study
At the time of the Dawlish Débâcle, Network Rail was charged with reporting to Government on its proposals for ensuring future dependability of West Country rail services. This was supposed to include ways of strengthening the existing coastal section as well as examination of five other possible routes: the former Southern main line between Exeter and Plymouth; the Teign Valley and Moretonhampstead branches between Exeter and Newton Abbot; and three variations of the 1930s Dawlish Avoiding Line scheme. It was said that there would be extensive consultation in the areas concerned.*
From all accounts it was understood that Network Rail would report in the first instance by the end of June, with a more detailed study to be delivered in autumn.
The interim report is more likely to be a package of half measures than what is really needed, but the truth is that rail‘s share of traffic is so small that Treasury would baulk at funding anything grand, even if the wretched track authority were to make a bid. However, it would be a tragedy if all that resulted from February‘s débâcle were subsidy for Newquay Airport and a start on upgrading the A303.
Every year, the railway finds some pretext to draw attention to the Teign Valley. Early on, it was obvious that no effort would be needed in 2014, as the route appeared nationally on television screens and newsprint.
Naturally, there was much chatter throughout the hiatus and some ridiculous assertions were made by the usual panel of self-appointed experts. The railway sent some letters to the paper to give factual information an airing, but it was decided that the time for action would be between the main line being reopened and Network Rail submitting its ideas.
Using a mere 3,000 words and language for the most part intelligible to the establishment, "A Summary of the Case for Reopening the Inland Railway Route between Exeter and Newton Abbot" was sent out towards the end of June, with a copy aimed to land on the desk of the Secretary of State for Transport on 27th.
* A Network Rail gang was seen in the Teign Valley but the men spent all day sitting in their van.
The Network Rail Report
Playing to the cameras while visiting Dawlish shortly after the line was washed away, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he had ordered Network Rail to prepare a report detailing what might be done to strengthen the route or build an alternative, as if money were no object.
Off record, in a hushed aside to the senior Network Rail officer, it is imagined that he added: "But don't go to a lot of trouble."
And, bless it, the firm did not. Its study, submitted at the last minute like a grubby schoolboy handing in his prep, could not have been awaited with less eagerness.
Broadly, it looks at three options:-
(i). Do no more than usual;
(ii). Strengthen the sea defences and stabilize the cliffs;
(iii). Talk about the impossibility of an alternative route.
Item three involved rebuilding the Southern route to Plymouth via Okehampton, building a new double line railway along the Teign Valley route and building a new inland cut-off with junctions somewhere between Marsh Barton and Hackney. This was narrowed down to five specimen routes out of a possible twenty.
Costs ranged between £470-million and £3-billion. The Teign Valley was the least expensive, though still extremely poor value for money, rating a Benefit-Cost Ratio of 0.29.
What Network Rail did not do was price for a branch line with enhanced diversionary capacity, the value of which the track authority probably failed to understand.
The estimated cost of reinstating the Teign Valley would be £180-million, or ten times the loss1 sustained in February and March. Delivering a B.C.R. of about 0.7, it would better the "Borders" project in Scotland.
Since the report was not meant to be taken seriously, there is no more that need be said, but some extracts are reproduced here to prove that someone has read the thing.
The map used on page four and throughout is taken from a road atlas and has the railways picked out, including parts of the Moretonhampstead and Cattewater branches that were taken up more than three years ago.
1 The compensation paid by Network Rail to train operators, not the overall damage
to the West Country economy.
It is only when the news media covers a subject known to the reader or viewer that the standard and accuracy of reporting can be tested. Then he is often left wondering how much he can trust the coverage of subjects about which he knows little.
Rashness spurred by instinct could have led this railway to see an opportunity for publicity, there being so much attention suddenly focussed on the destruction of the railway at Dawlish. For a moment, it was thought that some beautiful people could be hired to parade outside St. David's and Newton stations with placards to prick the politicians.
But would it have been picked up by the newshounds? Would the British Transport Police have moved the placard carriers on? Would it have done any good; made any lasting impression? Would it not just have been playing to the cameras?
This railway campaigns all year round, as can be seen by the issues detailed on these pages. None of this would interest the 24-hour pulp news industry, whose outpourings are hysterical at worst and hastily-researched at best. The meja feeds off mumbling ministers and prattling politicos, off the “human interest” of people suffering or about to lose everything. It does not want solidity or depth or continuance in its material.
In a few days or weeks, the story will go off the boil and be dropped, just as Cowley Bridge was last year. And for campaigners it will be back to the long march.
In an effort to provide a lead for a story, included with the letter above were a copy of the 1930 newspaper clipping reproduced below and a page from the notice issued the same day by the Superintendent's office in Exeter detailing the emergency working, including trains diverted via Christow.
On several occasions this railway has sent interesting material to the Western Morning News, only for it to be ignored while shortly afterwards a piece on a fellolw collecting bottle tops or some other banal pastime would be published.
In the current case, the paper thought a better story was to be had by sending a reporter to Brentor (a former station between Okehampton and Tavistock, where the platforms remain and the building is now a private residence) to ask the surprised occupant how he felt about his home being requisitioned in readiness for the line to be reopened.
And the editor of this regional tabloid would claim to be taking the subject seriously.
* A front page headline soon after the Dawlish débâcle.
The writing was on the wall but the wall's gone
In almost every piece that this railway has published over many years, making the case for the reinstatement of the Teign Valley and Moretonhampstead branches, their usefulness in providing a diversionary route away from the coast has been mentioned.
Not by a long way would this be their only or primary purpose. What has always been said is that the branches' value when trains were diverted during an emergency, or in weather conditions that allowed only the Up main line to be used, or to enable planned engineering work, or when trains were routed in the normal course to ease pathing pressure along the coast, would have to be recognized in the accounting as a monetary benefit.
There are enormous costs, not just in repairing the breach at Dawlish and other storm damage, but also in conveying the traffic past the blockade by road and the consequent disruption.
There are fewer passengers; the train operating company has reduced fares; revenue is down; the road vehicles hired in are a huge additional expense; some traffic will be lost permanently; the few freight trains there are left in the timetable have been cancelled furno.
How many businessmen have been clubbing together to run a seven-seat taxi to Newquay Airport (R.A.F. St. Mawgan), Tiverton Parkway (Sampford Peverell), Bristol Parkway (Stoke Gifford) or even Town (London)? How many commuters will get used to the bus or coach? Horror of horrors, how many will have bought cars and will keep on using them?
Had the rail bypass route been available, it would have earned enough credits during this blockade to justify its existence for many years to come.
B.B.C. Spotlight Feature
Everyone knows that the Teign Valley is delectable.
Now its railway has been described as "curvaceous."
Neil Gallacher, Spotlight‘s Business Correspondent, telephoned on 4th March to say that he was putting together material for a piece on railways that may one day avoid the sea wall at Dawlish.
He seemed a pleasant young fellow but caused some consternation when he confessed that he had been reading these web pages but could not make out where the E.& T.V.R. stood. ―Would the railway (being reinstated) be a good thing or a bad thing?‖ he asked. Some spluttering followed from this end.1
When he asked whether the Teign Valley would like to state its case to camera, it was suggested that since most of the coverage hitherto had been pretty superficial, he might contact Gerard Duddridge, the chairman of the local branch of Railfuture for some serious and informed comment.
Mr. Gallacher telephoned the next day and advised that he would be speaking to Mr. Duddridge. He was given the railway‘s permission to film at Christow on the 6th, but the railway declined to take part, suspecting that no matter what was said, the angle being sought was along the lines of "Japanese found in jungle ..."
The feature was broadcast over three nights from 11th March, covering the former London & South Western's main line to Plymouth, via Okehampton and Tavistock, the Teign Valley and Moretonhampstead branches, and the now legendary Dawlish Avoiding Line. Each was given around four minutes and the longest speech from a "Rail Expert" was 17 seconds.
As remarked upon in an article above, the Western Morning News' idea of constructive journalism was to send someone to Brentor Station to ask the owner how he felt about the sound of rail spikes being driven in the distance and the sight of the surveying gang approaching.
Mr. Gallacher said that he was going to do better but his style was just the same. He went to the owner of the station building at the former Tavistock North, recently marketed as three residential units, who was worried that there may be a train at seven in the morning and another at nine at night — "We just don‘t know." Mr. Gallacher went to the former Exminster Station, now occupied by a firm of architectural salvors, where the owner expressed sadness that his house may have to be demolished because he had only just done it up.2
And the reporter came to Christow. In the seven seconds used from what his cameraman shot, he could have fixed on props with punch, but chose instead to film the collection of rolling ruins which await repair, in the absence of the sentimental crank.
Mr. Gallacher opened the Tuesday evening piece (4‘ 15") about the London & South Western route with: ―Let‘s assume as railway planners do that Tavistock will, within a - decade or so, have a railway line coming up from Bere Alston."3 Five spokesmen appeared:-
|An unidentified local on Tavistock Viaduct||...||.||...||5||seconds|
|Councillor Kevin Ball, West Devon Borough Council||...||15||"|
|Owner of the former Tavistock North Station||...||.||...||11||"|
|Tony Berkeley, "Rail Expert"||...||.||...||.||...||11||"|
|Jonathan Roberts, "Rail Expert"||...||.||...||.||...||17||"|
On Wednesday evening‘s piece about the Teign Valley route (3‘ 36"), only two appeared:-
In his 15 seconds, "Rail Expert" Jonathan Roberts (Managing Director of Jonathan Roberts Consulting)4 said: "The Teign Valley route via Chudleigh is of limited benefit other than just as a diversionary route when the Dawlish sea wall is not available. It could have some commuter benefits but its journey time capabilities are very restricted."
Tony Berkeley (Anthony Fitzhardinge Gueterbock, O.B.E., 18th Baron Berkeley)("Tone" to his mates), in his 13 seconds, said: "The problem is that it‘s got severe gradients, I‘m told, and it‘s quite curvaceous5 – windy – so the speeds on it would be low. I would call it a second or third rate solution."
Three appeared on Thursday evening's piece (four minutes) on the Dawlish Avoiding Line:-
|Neill Mitchell, "Rail Expert"||...||...||.||...||.||...||17||seconds|
|Tony Berkeley, "Rail Expert"||...||.||...||.||...||13||"|
|Jonathan Roberts, "Rail Expert"||...||.||...||.||...||13||"|
Gerard Duddridge, the only man with any real knowledge of the subject, in the event did not appear and the whole effort can be disregarded as of no consequence.
1 Several followers were asked about this and the reassurance was obtained that the railway's position is unequivocal. Which just shows what comes from reading snippets on a smartphone.
2 Attentive viewers will have spotted in the yard the Devon County Council cast iron and timber road sign which until the late 1970s stood at the crossroads at Spara Bridge (Ashton Station).
3 Another decade would make it 33 years since the first feasibility study was completed.
4 See this consultant's report, "Investment in resilience and economic development: the West Country rail network." www.jonathanrobertsconsulting.co.uk
5 Curvaceous (an obscure engineering term), having an attractive body with rounded hips and breasts.
It has to be wondered whether the features editor of the Western Morning News telephones one of his regular little coterie of safe writers to request some copy, thus: "Can you send us fifteen-hundred words on blah-blah? Usual stuff will do. You‘ll get your hundred quid."
Neill Mitchell, "independent regional connectivity analyst," was wheeled out again in the Friday, 4th April edition, the day the line at Dawlish was to reopen. He had written an amusing letter the day before, saying that a junior civil engineer of his acquaintance, named Oliver (aged 4½) from Chudleigh, had planned a new line tunnelling beneath Haldon that would be eight miles shorter than the existing one and 15 minutes quicker.
Without checking, Mr. Mitchell quoted these figures in his article commissioned to appear on the morning that services resumed through Dawlish.
It is assumed that the analyst lives in or near Bere Alston, since it is on the platform of this station that he often faces the television cameras. Yet he pours cold water on the idea of reviving the main "Green Line" from Waterloo, despite having been a regular traveller on it (this writer also remembers journeys between Exeter and Plymouth).
In a rational world, young Oliver would campaign for his local station (on the Teign Valley Branch) to reopen, Neill Mitchell would press for through trains from his home station to Waterloo and everyone else would forget about building unnecessary high speed cut-offs.
To the strains of "Bridge over the River Kwai," the South Devon Railway‘s main line reopened to traffic on 4th April.
Repairs were estimated to have cost £35-million. £16-million compensation is to be paid to train operators. The total cost of the disruption may only be guessed.
As part of the promotional effort designed to make the line attractive to local passengers, it is to be dubbed "The Atmospheric." It is not often that this railway applauds anything that the present shower does, but it has to be said that this is a splendid idea.Sorry to spoil the mood, but ...
The praise that has been heaped upon Network Rail and its "superhuman" workforce should be tempered by a sprinkling of reality.
There is no doubt that the track authority devised a plan and mobilized men, plant and materials very smartly. Given the constraints of the modern construction site, the work could not have been done any faster.
The staff and contractors that kept the local fast-food joints busy were just doing their jobs; none wore orange capes and tights. Some put their backs into it; others, as always, were seen just marking time. But for the emergency, many of the men would have been on ―bare strokes‖ (basic pay); now, it is a cert that every one of them will be taking an expensive foreign holiday this year, buying a new car or making a hefty payment on his mortgage.
The task proved once again that the railway has ceased to serve itself. Very nearly all of the equipment and materials were brought by road to Dawlish Warren and Dawlish stations. Only in the final weeks did a ballast train tread the rusty metals from Exeter. The staff are no longer railwaymen at all. They spend their working lives racing vast distances on the road system and scarcely use the trains for duty or pleasure. Not one of them has the faintest vision of an expansive, general purpose railway muscling its way into new territory and areas of transport business.
Network Rail may have acquitted itself satisfactorily with the repair, but it should not be forgotten that before the débâcle the outfit had continued to state that it was sure such a failure could not happen and had rubbished the calls for work to start on reopening the other routes west.
Network Rail is part of the Frankenstein railway; less grotesque than Railtrack, perhaps, but still a monstrous, artificial creation that must be put out of its pointless misery.
The disused South Devon main line passing beneath Clapperbrook Lane Bridge. Behind the camera is the site of the planned £4-million Marsh Barton Station. Would it have gone 59 days without seeing a passenger train?
There seems to be a strange residual belief at large that the railway still somehow fulfils the essential functions it once did, when many or most aspects of life, industry and commerce were in one way or another touched by rail transport. But that age is now so long in the past it is hard to see how anyone remains ignorant of what has happened: that the greatly predominant system is now road transport.
The wildly inflated sums that it was claimed were being daily lost as a result of the Dawlish débâcle do not stand scrutiny. For them to have been taken as reasonably accurate, there would have to have been obvious evidence such as factories on short time; business deals not being struck; holiday accommodation emptier than it would normally be in February and March; raw materials and components, consumables and luxuries not being delivered; and a host of other debilitating effects—in short, a severe economic slow-down.
The painful truth is that life in the two ―cut off‖ counties went on and if people's travel habits were disrupted, it was more likely to have been because of damage to their local roads. Everyone got his paper and post, his food and fuel; these and everything else have been on road for many years. Certainly in the West Country, the railway is a side show whose traffic can be absorbed onto the roads without it even being noticed.
Train operators were running coaches direct from Plymouth to Tiverton and Bristol car park stations quicker than the trains. No-one bothered running trains to Dawlish Warren and Teignmouth. Diesel units were moved on lorries, albeit the 139 loads were far more than usual. Gas oil fuel was put on road last year.
Of course, a great number of rail passengers were put out by the blockade and these general observations are not meant to diminish the delay and inconvenience caused to individuals. But these difficulties must be seen in scale: fewer than 1% of people in Devon, for example, travel to work by train.1
As is the way of things, it is very unlikely that the railway will benefit from any but the most half-hearted action. Strong weather resilience will not be achieved. Indeed, expenditure may go to other modes. Government has already agreed to subsidize Newquay Airport and the campaign to improve the A303 road has become louder.
1 2001 Census
This saga is continued under:-
This is not what the leader of Teignbridge District Council actually said, but in the week before the Dawlish Débâcle, the Mid-Devon Advertiser reported:-
"Teignbridge Council leader Cllr Jeremy Christophers said he was also trying to persuade Network Rail to release the little used Newton Abbot to Heathfield line for a cycle-pedestrian route, but so far they were refusing."
On 7th February, the railway wrote to Teignbridge District Council requesting a reiteration of policy on the subject, as before the Local Development Framework was prepared the authority had confirmed, after hostility from the Stover Canal Society in 2010, that the railway was safeguarded.
Graham Smith, a Teignbridge District Council officer, kindly telephoned on 6th March to say that the letter had landed on his desk. He apologized for the delay in responding and said that he would be writing a reply when he could ascertain what the current policy was in respect of the branch railway.
He telephoned again on 2nd May but could give no more information.
>> See also:— Broken Bridge—Bunkers Hill “B” >>
The fag end of nationalization has finally been snuffed out.
Further to the brief item on BRB (Residuary) Ltd. included in the Perridge Tunnel pages, it can now be written that the organization was disbanded in September, 2013, and its functions transferred to a number of existing bodies.
Most of the Historical Railways Estate (formerly known as the Burdensome Estate) was passed to the Highways Agency (of all people). Other responsibilities and liabilities were taken on by London & Continental Railways Ltd., Network Rail, the Rail Safety and Standards Board and the Department for Transport. Included in the transfer were the quaint “Rights to Wreck,” a residue of the railways' complete transport system.
Thus the people's railway that began life in 1948 vested with 20,000 locomotives, 55,000 carriages, 1¼-million wagons, 12,000 lorries, 123 ships, 35 hotels, 650,000 staff, over 8,000 stations and enough track to stretch more than twice around the equator, very nearly all financed by private investment with very little help from government (arguably, the railways had actually subsidised the state), ended up in 2013 with its remaining baggage being thrown out or given away like the few tatty possessions of a poor, forgotten soul after a funeral.
Greenwall Lane Bridge (EXR 7-04)
A case of state-sponsored vandalism
This bridge lies on the Exeter Railway between Dunsford Halt (Farrants) and Christow, seven miles and four chains from the main line junction. After the bridge over Marsh Barton Road in Exeter, Greenwall Lane is the most prominent of the remaining structures on the line. In poor condition, as may be expected after 60 years' neglect, the shadowy BRB (Residuary) Ltd.* applied to Teignbridge District Council in February, 2013, for planning permission to destroy the whole structure and slope back the embankments.
The railway made no attempt on this occasion to interest any local representative or parish council. Let their silence show how much they are interested in future public transport provision.
* BRB (Residuary) Ltd. was dissolved in September, 2013, and its functions passed to other departments. See >> B.R. ceases to be >> above. For an outline of its origins, see under Perridge Tunnel below.
The application was passed under delegated powers in April, subject to certain conditions being met. Carly Perkins, the case officer, advised the railway on the 30th that the authority had looked into what it could do to preserve the structure but that there were no avenues open; their Building Control Engineer had examined the bridge and concluded that the BRB assessment was correct.
Richard Bland, the Teignbridge Conservation Officer, as a consultee strongly objected to the proposal in his response (making the number of objectors, two):—
“Demolition would remove a structure that makes a positive contribution to local character and distinctiveness.
“While significant defects may have been identified in the arch I don't think that a case has been made to justify its demolition, without the applicants providing the cost of the necessary repairs to the existing structure, when compared with alternative costs of demolition, disposal of the stone and other material off site and the re-grading of the remaining embankments.
“I would suggest that outright demolition of this historic feature without the above first being provided and the proposals verified by our Engineer should be resisted.”
Other interesting responses from consultees:—
Nigel Passmore, Devon Building Control Partnership:
“BRB appear to be a government owned organisation, and it also appears they do have an interest in saving and preserving structures and assets where it sees this would be in the national interest.”
Barbara Morgan, Town Planning Technician (Western), Network Rail:
“In relation to the above application I can confirm that Network Rail have no observation to make.”
Conveniently, around this time, Adrian Sanders, Liberal Democrat M.P. for Torbay, wrote a “Dispatch” column for the Western Morning News under the heading, “Investing in transport links is route out of recession.”
In it he stated:—
“One of the biggest challenges is deciding what the future holds for the main rail line west of Exeter. The line between Dawlish and Teignmouth is at high risk of disruption from rock falls and wave action; keeping this section of track maintained costs around £500,000 per year. It is likely that the situation will become worse, and therefore more expensive to deal with, in the coming decades, but to date neither the Government nor Network Rail seem to have done any long-term planning.
“As in the past, there are potential alternative lines that could be considered. In the early 20th century, services ran from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton and the Tamar Valley, while there was also a line between Exeter and Newton Abbot away from the coast through the Teign Valley. With passenger numbers and demand for more rail services rising steeply, people have started to look at reopening old lines and stations. In this case, however, we are faced with some serious obstacles.
“In the Teign Valley much of the old line is now covered by housing development, while the main drawback of the North Dartmoor line is its remoteness from the main centres of population and the increased journey time between Exeter and Plymouth.
The railway dutifully responded:—
Your dispatch to the Western Morning News last week was heartening stuff for those concerned about railway expansion.
Only a few months after a government minister, wading through floodwater, made the customary empty promise that something would be done about the resilience of the West Country’s rail links, the first effective action of the state was to apply to demolish a bridge on a former diversionary route, continuing the “scorched earth” policy practised for sixty years.
As a consultee, Network Rail was asked to comment by Teignbridge and the reply came back: “Not interested.” Would it have hurt this visionless outfit to have been daring enough at least to say: “We are not sure where the future might take us”?
Much of the former Teign Valley Branch is not covered by housing development, as you stated; in fact, there are only two houses built actually on the line. The obstacles in the way of reconstruction are great but not insurmountable.
Railfuture has computer-modelled modern traction over closed routes. In the event of disruption to the coastal main line, if the Teign Valley were open, with its four long passing loops installed as a wartime insurance measure, your train home might be delayed by as little as twenty minutes.
In engineering terms, the inland route is still 80% complete. Did not your 2010 manifesto pledge to look at lines that were still 90% complete?
Incidentally, the “Southern” line from Exeter to Plymouth, via Okehampton and Tavistock, did not close until 1968. Devon County Council refuses to back, even in principle, reinstatement of the abandoned section between Meldon and Bere Alston.
Of course, key to justifying expenditure on rail infrastructure is not just density of traffic carried, but its diversity also. It has to be asked why the railways have offloaded freight and parcels traffic. And why, for instance, no passenger train operator wants more than a small share of Torbay holidaymakers.
Thank you for showing some enthusiasm for rail transport.
Mr. Sanders kindly replied:—
Thank you for your letter of the 4th May.
The Liberal Democrats are indeed very much in favour of re-opening as many viable rail lines as possible. This is sadly not a view shared by the two major parties or indeed Network Rail.
There are plenty of backbench MPs who share my enthusiasm for this and hopefully we are slowly convincing bodies such as Devon County Council that far more investment in rail infrastructure needs to be made.
Thank you again for your letter and please do keep me updated with any developments the Teign Valley line makes.
In September, the railway wrote to Ian Leigh, the B.R.B. engineer, requesting that some of the facing stone be donated for incorporation into new work at Christow (A letter had been sent in April to Richard Bland, Teignbridge Conservation Officer, thanking him for his support and suggesting that he might put pressure on the Board to save material. It was learnt later that he had left to take up a position in Australia).
No reply was received but John Martin of Hammonds, the framework contractor, telephoned on 5th November to advise that all material was going to neighbouring landowners.
He showed a little interest in the project and said that he would call in when he was on site, which he did on 11th. He seemed a pleasant young fellow, but when a message was left for him the following week asking if the railway may at least have the iron railings, it was ignored.
The 1,500 tons of stone and earth was taken away during November and December to a nearby farm, which had conveniently become a licensed tip.
In March, 2014, the railway submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Highways Agency, the successor to BRB (Residuary). The reply disclosed that the sum spent on the bridge from 2000 to date was £137,493.90 and that the cost of the demolition contract was £95,111.22, making a total of £232,605.12. This does not include the unavoidable costs of officer time and expenses attributable to this structure.
Rationalization of Risk
To support the claim that demolition of Greenwall Lane Bridge was unnecessary, bridges in poor shape being not uncommon, the railway in its objection to the local authority drew attention to a weak bridge which crosses the Paddington to Penzance main line near Exeter.
If indeed it was the only responsible course, the brick arch of Greenwall Lane being in real danger of sudden collapse, the railway used the example of Cotley Lane Bridge, where the abutments remain, as they do in a great many other cases.
The only reason that Greenwall Lane could not have been left in this condition is that the state has imposed an imperative to extinguish its liabilities, and the only way this can be done here is by reducing the structure to practically nothing. The state has 3,500 other redundant structures.
Set against the chance of the arch collapsing on someone—probably 10,000 times less than being struck by lightning—the risks attached to a demolition site are statistically much higher. A huge road vehicle mileage, small and heavy plant operation, carting away 1,500 tons of material along a narrow lane, all carry a burden of risk and consequence, seen and unseen, immediate and delayed. Of course it would have been irresponsible to have done nothing when there was the remotest chance of harm to human life, but the balanced response would have been the most minimal. That is, demolition of the arch back to its springing points, where the structure would be stable, and distribution of the fallen material between the abutments and wing walls.
Another example of real risk can be found just beyond the main line junction, 7½ miles away. Many times every day for decades, passengers have been faced with the greatly substandard Down platform at St. Thomas Station, but nothing can ever be done to make it safe.
It is repeated until everyone is sick of hearing it that public money allocated to one area cannot be spent in another, even in the same field (broadly, in this case, transport), so it is no use considering how better it might have been applied. The £150,000 and more blown on Greenwall Lane, though government money raised through taxation, could not have been spent on some constructive task or to lessen some greater danger.
So the notional risk to the occasional rambler is dealt with at enormous cost, while the lot of passengers at St. Thomas is ignored. And this must include those elderly and less fit who find it impossible to use the station, and are therefore banished from the otherwise safe environment of the railway to the hazards of the world outside.
Bunkers Hill “B”
The railway which supposedly is billed to be the first reinstatement of a closure in Devon is the stretch of the former London & South Western (Plymouth, Devonport & South Western Junction Railway) main line between Tavistock and Bere Alston.
Talked about for more than two decades, it would be a half-hearted scheme, about as lightweight as railway reconstruction can get.
If plans were realized, Tavistock would not be served once more by through trains from Waterloo; it would not even have its North Station restored. The massive viaduct straddling the town leads to a station site smothered by development, including the West Devon council offices erected almost as a statement of policy: “We will never have a railway return here.”
Instead, a new car park station would be built on the outskirts of Tavistock, possibly as distant as Callington Road Bridge, to avoid having to replace its missing steel spans. Nothing more than a single line would connect the new “basic” station with Bere Alston, where the disused island platform would not be brought back into use for the Callington Branch. Trains from Plymouth to Gunnislake would share the single line from St. Budeaux Junction to Bere Alston with trains from Plymouth to Tavistock.
And the line would only be rebuilt if the now obligatory shared-use path were put alongside.
The first engineering feasibility study was done on behalf of Devon County Council in 1991, 23 years after the line was closed. The report itself is now 23 years old.
The consultants found, as the E. & T.V.R. scout did in September, that all the structures between Callington Road (exclusive) and Bere Alston were in tact, bar one. Bridge No. 682, Bunkers Hill “B,” 219 miles and 72 chains from London Waterloo, and just six chains short of the buffer stop at Bere Alston.
The Teign Valley scout confessed that, distracted by the sound of the engine whistle on the other side of the Tamar, he cycled past without even noticing the ruined bridge, before skidding to a halt and setting back.
The line was closed completely in 1968. It can be taken that very quickly afterwards, following standard practice, the track was lifted and the railway laid waste. Not too many years later, the land was sold off where possible, including right up to where the buffer stop at Bere Alston sits today.
In the 1970s (maybe later, since the bridge is still shown on a 1982 survey), the B.R. Property Board would have got in a steam navvy to pull down the brick segmental arch, presumably because of limited headroom. The very substantial neighbouring embankment has since been reduced as well.
If anyone had come along at the time and suggested that it would not be long before consultants would be studying the possible reinstatement of the railway, he would have been laughed off the site.
The double line of well-engineered railway that once went over this bridge and carried express trains heading for Devonport King's Road and Plymouth Friary—and the latter-day D.M.Us. that this writer remembers—was gone.
This was not a temporary suspension of services while the era of cheap oil—and all the stupid, short-sighted planning and provision that rode on the back of it—was allowed to play itself out. No, this was annihilation. It was intended to be, or seem, physically irreversible and this view became rooted in people's minds, to the extent that most now scoff at the idea of railway reconstruction; unlike their take on the road transport structure which is somehow untouchable and meant to last for ever.
The point here is that the pleas for Greenwall Lane Bridge today were received in much the same way as those for Bunkers Hill “B” might have been when it was demolished.
The descendants of the people that would not have listened then are the residuals now making their last stand in a garret in York, where they continue to follow orders and destroy what they can of the abandoned part of the railway system.
The ruins of Bunkers Hill “B” lie a short distance from the end of the line at Bere Alston.
Tavistock, 6½ miles away, waits for the return of one of its railways, which does not look like being soon.
Over this former Down Main, expresses from London Waterloo once sped towards Plymouth.
Perridge Tunnel is by far the largest individual engineering work on the Teign Valley Branch. It lies just east of Longdown Station in the parish of Holcombe Burnell and takes its name from the nearby Perridge House and estate. The tunnel's eastern portal is four miles from the main line junction, while the western portal is 3½ miles from Christow.
Work began on both Culver and Perridge tunnels in August, 1896. The ceremonial blasting through of Perridge's headings to join each other was completed on 3rd March, 1897. The bore was later opened out but it was to be another two years before the bricks were delivered to Teign House Siding (Christow), and the tunnel was not finally lined throughout until around January, 1902.
After closure of the line in 1958, the tunnel was let to Traycrop, Ltd., for mushroom growing and was later divided by a partition wall and let also to the former Exeter Maritime Museum for storage of craft. In about 1986, a collapse occurred and the tenants cleared out. It has been closed up ever since.
The collapse is almost midway into the tunnel, which corresponds with a point on the surface a little to the west of Perridge Lane. Here the crown of the tunnel is around 190 feet deep.
Unlike its close neighbour, Culver Tunnel, which is now part of the Culver estate and is open and in regular use, rock pressure caused movement of the lining quite early in the life of Perridge. This was first repaired in 1927 and repairs continued to be done up until 1950. Although there can be no denying that the lining is deteriorating (“Every possible tunnel profile you could wish to see is in there,” said one B.R. examining engineer), the tunnel is substantially in tact: the collapse affects around 40 yards out of 829.
One of the defects discovered during the tunnel's operational life was that in places considerable voids existed between the crown of the lining and the shillet. This may have stemmed from inaccurate boring or from the time it took to line the tunnel after boring. In any case, the voids should have been filled so that any pressure on the side walls would not cause the unloaded arch crown to distort.
Another possible cause of the collapse was slippage in one of the nine recorded back-filled construction shafts, but this has been dismissed. It is now thought that the cause was a slip on a geological fault line along which part of the tunnel alignment coincides. In March, 2000, a 165 ft. borehole was sunk just off the line of the tunnel from 522 ft. above sea level. The tunnel floor rises from 339 ft. at the Exeter end to 382 ft. at the Longdown end.
BRB (Residuary) Ltd., the successor since denationalization of the B.R. Property Board and owner of the residual, non-operational estate, in keeping with its mandate to dispose of or extinguish its assets and liabilities, intends to block Perridge Tunnel with concrete in the area of the collapse; and beyond it, if there is determined to be a danger of further failure. In a reply from the now defunct Strategic Rail Authority to Richard Younger-Ross, M.P. for Teignbridge, this was stated: “The costs of partial infilling are estimated to be in the order of £800,000 while repair work would be at least £1-million.”
The railway (E. & T.V.R.) began its campaign in 2003 by bringing the matter to the attention of organizations, representatives and individuals, it being important always to shine as much light on an obscure subject as possible. South Western Mining & Tunnelling Ltd. and Gunn Engineering & Environment Consultancy were engaged to advise the railway in 2004 and later an approach was made to the Board's (BRB) civil engineer. He advised that work to infill the tunnel was programmed for the summer of 2006.
In a letter to the Director, Structures, at Hudson House in York, the railway contended that, although Perridge Tunnel “carried” a public road, there was only an “infinitesimal liability” and that no work really needed to be done. This was refuted: the risk, it was stated in reply, was that the tunnel could not be monitored in its present dangerous condition.
The officer was also asked whether the presence of the public road meant that the tunnel could not be handed over to other than a statutory body; Culver Tunnel, which lies entirely within the estate and carries no road, had been disposed of years ago. He replied:
“The presence of the public road is one of the factors preventing the transfer of the tunnel to a non-statutory body.”
The railway's suggestion of a partnership, like the one that enabled the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway to fund the difference between repairing Chelfham Viaduct to a safe condition and one adequate for railway operation, was agreed to in principle. The railway then requested an estimate of costs and a meeting of BRB, Jacobs (its consultants) and the railway's engineers (to be paid for by the railway) at Longdown. No figure was mentioned in writing by the Board but it was agreed that a meeting should take place. That agreement was restated on several occasions but no meeting ever took place.
After obtaining a bat licence from DEFRA, delayed because work was prohibited during the hibernation period, a radar survey of the tunnel was completed in September, 2006. A copy of the survey report was provided for the railway's engineers to study. It transpired that the course of the tunnel was not quite as plotted by the Ordnance Survey.
The railway continued to keep in touch and press for the opportunity to present a viable and economical method of repair. A letter sent to York in July, 2007, included a résumé of South Western Mining & Tunnelling (see box).
The Board engaged Carillion Rail to research the construction and subsequent history of 60 (of the 160) disused tunnels remaining in state ownership, including Perridge.
No further word was received until a letter from the BRB engineer in February, 2009, advised that a planning application had been put before Teignbridge District Council for permission partly to infill the tunnel. The scale of the engineering works proposed exceeded even the statutory body's permitted development rights.
Strangely, the BRB maintained that a meeting was still possible. The railway replied stating that a meeting would cost around £1,000 and that it was “loath to spend such a sum if the outcome is merely a fuller explanation being given of the methods you intend to employ on the course you seem set upon.”
The railway hurriedly tried to whip up opposition to the planning proposal, which resulted in three out of the eight parish councils or meetings that were contacted writing objections to Teignbridge.
After reading the railway's letter to the Western Morning News, a volunteer with the National Coastwatch Institute at Teignmouth, who sees the natural forces attacking the coastal line, wrote an objection. And one conscientious individual from Ashton objected.
The district councillor agreed to call in the planning application for determination by the committee, which would have allowed the railway three minutes to convince the members in a former railway town that railways had a future.
The young case officer's hubby was a railway employee, yet she did not know what BRB stood for. How quickly the near half-century of the “Clause Four” railway has slipped into obscurity.
In an office not far from the station which once dominated Newton Abbot, where trains once left its Moretonhampstead Bay for the Teign Valley, the planning officer passed the case in front of her senior, forgetting to mention it had been called in, and the destruction of
Perridge Tunnel was nodded through under delegated powers. The railway sent a letter to the head of planning asking for some general statement of support. The appeal not to be dismissed was answered with a six line dismissal.
Did any of this matter in the end? Not at all, for in July, 2009, the BRB engineer advised that the most likely option now was abandonment of the tunnel. The estimated cost of the infilling was £800,000; repair of the collapsed area was put at £1,100,000. Costs were estimated for the “do nothing” option; these were substantial but mostly theoretical.
All along, there seemed to be reluctance by the BRB to deal with the Cornish miners, who are in demand the world over (two jobs await each graduate of the Camborne School of Mines). This could be put down to any of a number of factors: the general aloofness of public bodies; the dislike of any shadowy organization having its cosy world intruded upon; and the enforced procurement procedure which militates against local, common sense solutions. The railway must stop short of claiming that there was a transport politics factor because no obvious influence can be discerned.
All that can be said here is that any impartial observer would surely find it strange that the offer to pay for the Cornishmen's suggestions to be heard was not taken up, if only for the sake of widening the advisory circle.
In January, 2010, the BRB engineer advised that both mouths of the tunnel were to be sealed and that internal examinations would cease.
In March, 2014, the railway submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Highways Agency, successor to BRB (Residuary). The reply disclosed that from 2000 to date £221,015.72 had been spent on the tunnel, not including the unavoidable costs of officer time and expenses attributable to this structure.
The western portal of Perridge Tunnel in 1921, showing the original aqueduct carrying one gully across the cutting to join another. This is the summit of the four mile climb from Marsh Barton. Just off picture to the left, on a rail post which is still there, would have been the board instructing Up “Goods and Mineral Trains to stop here to pin down Brakes.” A considerable length of the tunnel at this end (less at the other end) was built partly in the open and then covered. Had this not been done, to make the tunnel shorter, an enormous amount of extra material would have had to have been removed as the approach cutting became deeper and wider.
The western portal in January, 2013.
The “palisade” gate of recent years has been replaced by a wall with a ventilation grille and access hatch.
The notice warns of “CONFINED SPACES.” There were no such warnings when the Daniel brothers worked at South Crofty.
With much of the cutting rim drainage having failed, the basin is filling up and is at a depth of about 2½ feet at the tunnel mouth. If this level continues inside the tunnel, then the water will be up to the height of the blockage—above the crown—which will be acting as a weir.
About three chains of the tunnel at this end was built as “cut and cover,” still obvious on the surface. The five brick rings of the lining are visible.
Talk of another railway route inland to Plymouth ("Second rail line not part of £35bn upgrade" and leader, 3rd April) generally refers to the reinstatement of the Southern’s main line via Okehampton and Tavistock. This was closed as a through route in 1968 and today 23 miles of it are dismantled.
Less mention is made of the Great Western’s way of avoiding its coastal route: the branch lines that linked Exeter and Newton Abbot by means of the Teign Valley. These closed from 1958 and now 15 miles of the 20 lie abandoned.
It was a difficult route: the severe gradients and curvature on the Exeter section through the north of the Haldon Hills and the original minimal track provision made for very drawn out diversionary working.
During the last war, however, Government paid for long passing loops at four stations which greatly improved the line’s capacity. And modern traction would make light work of the banks, which were less taxing anyway than those between Newton Abbot and Plymouth.
Railway reconstruction involves huge costs, but new construction would in most cases be very much more expensive. On the Teign Valley Branch, for instance, the two tunnels and four out of the six river bridges remain.
Ownership of disused structures is still vested in the fag-end of the British Railways Board, which is charged with disposing of or extinguishing its liabilities.
Many argue that the time has come to cease destroying disused railways because nobody can be sure what the future has in store. Continuing to develop road transport, with its complete dependency on oil, while shunning other modes, shows no caution or foresight.
Yet, even as there is increasing awareness of the need for an alternative rail route, Teignbridge District Council has before it a planning application by the BRB which proposes blocking a collapsing tunnel on the Teign Valley line with 100 lorry loads of concrete.
At nearly half a mile long, Perridge Tunnel, between Exeter and Christow, is the largest engineering work on the whole inland route. It was repaired several times in its operational life and is beyond repair now. I have tried to cooperate with the BRB, commissioning expert tunnel engineers to advise, but nothing I have been able to do has stopped BRB’s consultants firming up a scheme to destroy the tunnel, almost as if there were some other force at work.
Not beaten, I am now mobilizing opposition to the planning application from parish councils, pressure groups and individuals that think the tunnel should be kept open as an option for the future. Anyone interested may contact this railway, view the web pages (teignrail.co.uk) or submit comments to Teignbridge, quoting the authority’s reference 09/00389.
The letter you kindly published under "Don't destroy our disused rail routes" on 21st omitted a crucial word—which I think readers would have gathered. Perridge Tunnel on the Teign Valley line is NOT beyond repair.
It is now too late to stall the British Railways Board’s plans to block the tunnel through the planning process because the junior case officer at Teignbridge has issued a consent, despite the application having been called in by a district councillor for determination by the committee.
This is how a massive structure on what was once a railway route of strategic value is disposed of by the local authority, which happily continues with policies enabling free movement of the motor car and lorry, even as doubts grow about how the road system can be sustained in the future.
In answer to Richard Giles’ appeal for reality in rail spending (25th): the situation at Perridge is in fact led by the state’s pressing ahead with a scheme to destroy the tunnel which would cost around £1-million. My demand is that, if taxpayers’ money is to be spent, it should produce a beneficial result if possible.
Cornish mining and tunnelling engineers are respected and sought after the world over (I am told that two jobs await each graduate of the Camborne School of Mines), yet the BRB seems reluctant to give the specialists I have engaged a hearing. So it is not known whether the tunnel can be repaired for the same sum—or maybe even a bit less—as is planned to be spent on its destruction.
Who Supported the Railway?
|Organization or Individual||Stance|
|Devon County Council||...||...||...||...||...||...||...||...||Not interested §|
|Teignbridge District Council||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||"||"|
|Campaign for Better Transport (formerly Transport 2000)||.||"||"|
|Railfuture (formerly Railway Development Society)||...||...||Supportive *|
|Torbay Line Rail Users' Group||.||.||.||.||.||.||"|
|Sir Harry Studholme (Landowner, Perridge)||...||...||...||...||"|
Before the planning application was submitted, Holcombe Burnell, Dunsford, Bridford, Christow and Doddiscombsleigh parish councils, representing in all 2,854 head of population (2001 census), had written to BRB (Residuary) expressing support for the railway.
When the application went in, an attempt was made to excite more of the line's communities‟. Eight parish councils or meetings were contacted, representing 5,318 souls.
Holcombe Burnell did not reply to the railway but objected to the proposal. Dunsford did not reply and entered “no objection” to the proposal. Bridford and Christow replied to the railway and objected to the proposal. Doddiscombsleigh did not reply, resolved to object but missed the deadline. Ashton, Trusham and Hennock did not reply and did not object. Bridford and Christow have since turned against the railway.
§ For good measure, does not support reinstatement of former Southern
route to Plymouth.
* Lists the Teign Valley as a route to be safeguarded. www.railfuture-sw.co.uk
For a while, the railway kept up a steady flow of letters to RAIL magazine and the Western Morning News, which circulates in Devon and Cornwall and parts of Somerset and Dorset. It was a useful exercise as it enabled different aspects of the wide subject to be summarized and articulated, usually in response to events, or a prompt from the editors or other correspondents. Many of the points had never been made before and the railway's approach was unusual. It is the sort of low level, “drip-drip” campaigning that the railway in exile should be doing all the time, across the land, to keep the ideas and knowledge alive.
Sadly, although the correspondence is now quite old, most of what was said remains true. So much could have been done since then, but instead nothing happened and the position is worse than ever today.
If you read nothing else of the 20,000 words...
The railway's favourite piece has to be the one that RAIL entitled "Who needs the men in suits?" The most succinct must be the one which rejected that there was any comparison between a modern train operating franchise and the oldest of the "Big Four" pre-nationalization railway companies.
The favourite line: "Don't you love to hear people who have been trampled on while making a bid to reach the trough, start moralizing about the inequality of the struggle?"
And the one the rag did not publish: “Thank you for issuing the motoring pages as a supplement. Now I can throw it out in one piece. When are you going to publish a public transport supplement for your grown-up readership?"
>> Appendix: Letters >>
Boots the Chemist
Until the railway is in a position to have its own diaries printed, it cannot function without the Boots Scribbling Diary, it being one of the few to start the week on Sunday.
In 2007, the railway wrote to the Nottingham H.Q. to congratulate the old quaker firm for sensing which way the wind was blowing and quietly repositioning itself. In the 2008 diary, the motorway map had been replaced with one of National Rail. Jesse Boot would never have forsaken the railway.
Unfortunately, the motorway map was back in 2009 and it is still there in 2013. Perhaps many more wrote about its loss than wrote in support of the rail map.
Rail Transport Services
As the cause of the decline of the railways since nationalization, at times the utter defeatism within the industry must at least have ranked equal with external political meddling and the other acts of sabotage.
For all that B.R. was at times capable of showing the vigour of private enterprise, the nationalized railway was mostly geared for continual contraction and it was a rare manager who wholeheartedly believed in the system in its entirety.
This malaise was not cured by denationalization and was epitomized in Exeter's Yellow Pages a few years ago. Under "Rail Transport Services," it said: "See road haulage." See road-bloody-haulage!
A letter was despatched to English, Welsh & Scottish, the company founded by Ed W. Burkhardt of Wisconsin Central, and now owned by a branch of Deutsche Bundesbahn. The craven surrender was pointed out to them and they were implored to be more constructive. The letter was repeated; no reply was received.
But the situation has improved: there is now no entry in Yellow Pages. Apparently, there are no Rail Transport Services.
Contrast this with the Great Western's bullish approach to establishing new sources of traffic, as exemplified in the circular letter (see appendix) from Exeter's Goods Office at the foot of St. David's Hill. The Great Western had Traffic Advice Cards for staff of all departments to fill in and return if it was thought that a firm should be approached with a view to securing traffic to the company.
A short railfreight revival occurred under Ed Burkhardt, the unlikely dragon-slayer of the new private era, who brought his experience from the States to our shores. In very little time, E.W. & S. salesmen had won back traffic and found new flows. Even with minimal infrastructure, opportunities were taken to load a few wagons at a semi-derelict siding and find a way of collecting them. The attitude was summed up in a statement issued to the railway for its 1997 open day (see appendix).
Ed, the only railwayman with a fan club, was unceremoniously dumped by his board and his expansive moves quickly turned to retreat.
But at least traffic is being forwarded again from Marsh Barton.
>> Appendix >>
And the traders—what do they care?
The example of British Ceramic Tiles.
Only in Britain could a railway station exist right beside a large factory without it being the least dependent on rail for the transport of its materials and finished products, not to mention the other services which once would have been afforded.
While this is not entirely true any more, road having somehow gained supremacy even in countries that have tried to advantage their railways, nowhere has general railfreight suffered such decline as in Britain.
Because of the reduced network and sparseness of facilities, and the dispersed nature of modern commerce and industry, there are often obvious reasons why rail is unsuitable or impractical as a means of transport; but when a factory site which once had a private siding is redeveloped and the railway remains at the neighbouring station, it becomes harder to explain if there is no movement.
Whose fault is all this? Is it anyone's fault? Well, of course it is. Putting aside the uncomfortable truth that in a democracy everyone has theoretically to share responsibility, the true instigators can be identified and the blame apportioned. It is not a simple process, but it is not a mystery either, even though as time passes, and knowledge and experience wane, it takes on the air of the inexplicable.
In a world full of chatter, strange is the silence on this subject. Letters to the shrunken railfreight organization are ignored; letters to traders and industrialists are ignored.
A reply from a rail operator might point out some of the political and practical realities of overcoming years of contraction, but still would sound an upbeat note. A reply from a manufacturing concern, priding itself on following good environmental practice, might state: “The Acme Tile Company has looked into using rail transport but no services are available to meet our requirements. The firm is desirous of putting traffic on rail and will press for changes in policy which would help to stimulate a revival in the mode.”
But, instead, there is no answer. Not a word. Not even the courtesy of an acknowledgement. In the so-called information and communication age, an entire system can slip from view and cease to be discussed.
>> Appendix: Letter >>
Stover Canal Society threatens railway
In the 19th century, it was the railways that did for the canals ...
Those who delight in finding industrial dereliction should see the remains of the Stover Canal before much longer, because they are about to be cleared and interpreted and prettified by the heritage humpers for the benefit of the masses, with their screaming children, shitty dogs and psychedelic psychling attire.
Seriously, though with some there may a tinge of sadness at losing a little unspoilt haven of the past, the restoration of the Stover Canal, sensitively done, would surely be a wonderful sight and a valuable amenity to Newton Abbot and the district.
The canal was opened in 1792, principally to carry clay and granite to the Teign estuary and thence to Teignmouth for shipment. The Moretonhampstead & South Devon Railway was built alongside the canal and it was later bought by the Great Western Railway. By the last war, the canal was disused, falling into ruin in the succeeding decades.
After ten years' parleying, a 30-year lease has been granted by Network Rail to Teignbridge District Council, which lease has been assigned to the Stover Canal Trust to enable work and fundraising to begin.
This would have earned congratulations from, and caused no concern to, railway supporters and campaigners, but for a stupid remark from someone, picked up by the press, about the Stover Canal Society's aims including closure of the branch line.
A letter was sent to Teignbridge requesting a statement of its support for retention and development of the railway in accordance with local plan policy. The council replied positively.
>> Appendix: Letters >>
Marsh Barton, Exeter
Further truncation of the Teign Valley Branch (Exeter Railway) to allow the development of an out-of-town superstore, the construction of a new road and the greater use of cars and lorries provides an example of how destructive planning policies of the „seventies and „eighties continue to be applied, even as authorities proclaim ever more loudly their conversion to environmental philosophy.
This case was first described in a pamphlet published in 1998. Much has changed since then but the following abridged version serves as a good introduction.
Anyone who has gone along Marsh Barton Road will have passed beneath a girder bridge, the only obvious sign that a railway penetrates the trading estate. Although not built as an industrial railway, it is today all that remains of Exeter's small system of lines which once served the area.
The changed emphasis of recent times may lead people to believe that this railway’s integrity and future development is assured. Here it will be shewn that this is far from being the case.
As a longstanding centre of administration and clerical shunting, Exeter has never had a large industrial area like its neighbouring cities and former great ports, Bristol and Plymouth. Even so, it would be unusual for a place the size of Exeter, positioned at the gateway to the west and once a port itself, not to have some vestige of a district given over to trade and industry, and of the transport systems which were once essential to such activity.
Plymouth, being a conurbation with water frontage on three out of four sides, has always had numerous industrial areas, unlike inland Exeter which originally had just one compact commercial district, clustered around its waterways, the River Exe and the Ship Canal.
The low-lying area behind the quay and the canal basin later became the domicile of the city's light industry and utilities. In 1867, a branch of less than half a mile was built to connect the South Devon Railway's main line with the canal, and so the two great transport modes of the 19th century came to coexist, with mixed gauge lines laid around the city basin, where a wagon turntable bed can still be seen today, preserved as a feature.
In later years, the branch would serve the canal, the gasworks, a timber yard, an engineering works and the Central Electricity Authority. Not strictly part of the Basin Branch, but accessible from it, was the oil terminal alongside the main line, designed to discharge quickly complete trains of fuel tankers.
The Paddington to Penzance main line contained the industrial area for many years, and when the embankment was made on the other side which completed the Exeter Railway from Christow in 1903, it stood above the fields of Marsh Barton. The E.R. intended that its new Alphington Road goods depot (now the site of two more loud shopping sheds), although on the Up side of the main line, would serve the old commercial district just around the corner under the bridge. The E.R. was linked directly to the Basin Branch by the Canal Branch, which dived under the main line between the two junctions.
It was not until the opening of Exeter Corporation's new cattle market in 1939, along what was Marsh Barton Lane, that the old area spilled over into a new expanse. A siding from the goods depot ran down to Marsh Barton Road and served the extensive cattle pens at the foot of the Exeter Railway's embankment.
The Exeter Railway joined with the existing Teign Valley Railway at Christow, the two lines being worked as one, later generally becoming known as the Teign Valley Branch. The early development of Marsh Barton Trading Estate would have been seen from the branch trains, but this view was denied the railway passenger when the line was closed in June, 1958.
The track was immediately lifted between Christow and Alphington Halt, the usual practice to prevent any thoughts of reinstatement. The dismantling would have extended to Marsh Barton Lane were it not for two of the new traders on the estate requesting rail connections. So, instead of Marsh Barton Lane bridge being demolished as well as the one at Church Road, it was rebuilt in 1960 with a new longer span and the road beneath was lowered to give the standard clearance. A three-quarter mile rump of the old Exeter Railway was spared, the last 11 chains acting as a headshunt for the new Marsh Barton Trunk, which was opened in July, 1958. The line fell towards the estate and had a buffer stop just off Trusham Road.
Following the norm everywhere else, the railway gradually retreated from the area. Commercial shipping ceased on the canal, the power station shut, Exeter converted from coal to natural gas and firms went over to road transport. Alphington Road goods yard and its modern rail-served warehouse were closed. The cattle market removed, though its sidings had been lifted long before then. Part of the Marsh Barton Trunk was recovered, followed by part, and then all, of the Basin and Canal branches.
All that remains today is the rump of the Teign Valley line, the “EXR” mileage mark on Marsh Barton Road bridge being one of only a few clues to the railway's origin. The Trunk now goes only as far as Pearse's siding, from which is despatched a weekly block train of fragmented scrap to a Cardiff steelworks. For a while, before the purchase by Wisconsin Central of the B.R. railfreight operation, this was Exeter's only revenue-earning traffic and all there was in Devon outside Plymouth.
The remnant of the Teign Valley Branch, now Exeter's industrial railway, having survived largely hidden from view for forty years after the last passenger train, is now under threat. The railway which is the reason for many of the Marsh Barton roads being named after Teign Valley villages is to be cruelly truncated by the very authority which should be responsible for the line's integrity. And not because the line is defunct, its traffic having long ago vanished, for on most Saturday mornings the old E.R. still carries a thousand tons of metal over the same track whose condition in 1958 was cited as one of the stock reasons for closure to passengers.
The threat to this tenuous rail link arises from the growth of Marsh Barton and its road traffic. The estate has only two entrances and now has a new neighbour, the more genteel business park, feeding its traffic. For many years, expansion was held up by the Alphin Brook, but development has long since crossed this natural boundary and now rolls out like the Wehrmacht across the Russian steppes. Homes have sprung up all over the old commercial district, helping to reduce the pressure on the green fields, while these are gobbled up by the extravagant, North American-type land use of park developments, whose sprawl was caused, and now depends upon, road motor transport.
The desire to provide a new entrance to Marsh Barton and relieve some of the pressure on Alphington Road, one of Exeter's busiest routes, led to plans for a Grace Road link. Grace Road is very near to Alphington Cross and it is only natural that the highway boys should be itching to join them up. At the Marsh Barton end is an empty plot, formerly occupied by a factory, while at the other end is a development site where the Government Buildings have recently been demolished. Between lies the embankment of the old Teign Valley line with its accommodation underbridge, reminding of the days when there were fields on each side.
The Government Buildings site was designated in Exeter City Council's local plan as employment land, a continuation of existing use and an extension of Marsh Barton. However, speculators had a different idea and sought planning permission for a retail development. Rightly opposed by the city council, this application was granted by Government after an appeal because of the value of what is called “planning gain;” the developers had agreed to build part of the Grace Road link at their own expense.
At this stage the retailer did not have a name, so which one would take up this opportunity? Less than a mile away is the second of Exeter's three branches of Sainsbury's, a dreary „eighties shed adding a further blot to the already disfigured riverside at St. Thomas. Sainsbury's could not let another giant open on its doorstep so it had little choice but to take the Government Buildings site. Soon there will be a redundant superstore at St. Thomas and an even bigger new one, complete with petrol filling station, in Alphington. And there will be a road to nowhere: part of the Grace Road link will be built as far as the railway's boundary fence.
The county council has no powers to purchase operational railway property, but this is immaterial in a case like this where the owner is only too glad to divest itself of land which is seen more as a liability than an asset. Not long ago, the solution here would have been somehow to lose the residual traffic; all around the country, a well-practised routine involving reduction in service, ridiculous rate rises, condemnation of sidings, imposition of impossible conditions or the like, would usually convince businesses that their traffic was no longer wanted on rail. Fortunately, that sort of approach has been dropped but we are left with the colossal damage to the infrastructure it caused, as every flow of traffic lost was followed swiftly by the ripping up of track and terminals.
But truncation of the branch is still possible. Pearse's premises lie in the fork between the main line—that is the branch itself—and what is left of the Marsh Barton Trunk. The yard immediately adjoins the branch, but is at a lower level, so if some means could be found to load wagons standing on the embankment, the rest of the track could be taken up, leaving the way open for the developer of the Marsh Barton plot to oblige the impoverished council by building the second half of the new road, cutting through the railway's abandoned earthwork.
Despite lots of talk, there is still no sign of traders queuing up to use rail transport and some may question the point of holding on to track which can be dispensed with by restructuring, or which has been devoid of traffic for some time. But this is Exeter's only industrial railway. A public railfreight depot has been mooted for Marsh Barton and the site of Hardinge Machine Tools would serve the estate in this capacity very well. The course of the Trunk is still open and if it were to be relaid, firms requiring rail transport could take premises along Marsh Green Road and Christow Road, which back onto the line, as they became available. Sight of the buffer stop on Trusham Road used to suggest that it had once been the intention to continue the Trunk further into the estate, possibly with in-street sections. These opportunities will be lost, at least in the short term, when 14 chains of the branch is taken up. And it should be borne in mind that the track authority is under no obligation to surrender its land, certainly not to assist road development. Attracting freight traffic back onto rail is always going to be hard now that commerce and industry have become in the main so remote from the network; a situation aggravated by the loss of many railways which once penetrated the industrial areas. It is madness now to inflict further damage.
Anyone looking at this little area would have some difficulty in reconciling what is occurring on the ground with the various policies and guidance notes that have been reissued to reflect the public's new-found concern for the environment. With the county being unable to fund the Grace Road link, the key to the commencement of the scheme has been the new superstore situated well away from the city. Out-of-town shopping is supposed to be discouraged because of its effect on centres and its complete dependence on motor transport. The city council was not at fault here, but if the link road had been shelved, the inspector would have had no planning gain to consider at the appeal. In this case, the retailer is relocating from a town site occupied for scarcely ten years, thus introducing the ultimate in material consumption: the throwaway building.
The road improvement was not planned because the traffic of the area had ground to a halt, although this is very nearly the case sometimes, but because it is still accepted that the number of motor vehicles will rise and that therefore additional road space will be needed. This theoretical forecasting has now been discredited, either for the simple reason that providing for a perpetual increase in traffic can no longer be afforded, or because of a realization that endless road expansion is actually getting us nowhere.
It is strange, then, reading in the county plan and elsewhere about the hierarchy of transport modes, about the protection of railway land, the importance of town centres, the need to make less use of cars and lorries and to cut emissions, about sustainable development and all the rest of it, to come across an instance where three of the subjects repeatedly mentioned arise together—out-of-town shopping, road building and railfreight—and to find that the one which by all accounts is to be encouraged, is in fact being sacrificed for the benefit of the other two.
The route of the A38 road through Plymouth was protected for nearly 50 years before it was built. The preferred course of the Kingskerswell by-pass, which may never be built, is posted in the Teignbridge planning office and woe betides any rotter who applies to encroach upon it. Yet there is no measure of protection even for an operational freight railway and nothing like the same degree of foresight can ever be used where potential is unclear. Railway capacity was for so long reduced to suit the diminishing traffic available that there grew within the industry a mindset against keeping disused track in place, while the idea of major railway development taking place in the coming years is still impossible to entertain, as the statements of the track authority shew.
Those council officers with any conscience will be trying to overcome the problems of beginning an era of change and will be preparing to wrestle the monster that their predecessors helped to unleash. Others, unwilling or unable to get in step, will be happy to carry on the same sweet way they are used to and will see no real conflict in the situation here described, paying lip service to the new thinking: “Huh. We are doing all we can to encourage benign transport. The new superstore has four cycle spaces.” This lot will be undismayed by the power of big business and mystified that people should be increasingly dissatisfied at having to endure the motorized mayhem that is the substitute for sensible, far-sighted planning. If ever they stand back and regard their work, most will probably not see the damage that has really been done. While the roads of their subtopia throb with the daily scramble of people and goods turning ever-increasing circles, the old gang, slaves to the rubber wheel, still find this preferable to what might have been had public transport systems, particularly rail, been properly evolved and utilized.
Britain has already lost enough railway track to stretch more than once around the equator, so it hardly matters at all that the stump of a branch line shut 40 years ago is to be pared further. But as long as railways are on the retreat, even if only a little ground is lost here and there, all the fine principles of reports and publications are rendered worthless in reality. Putting modern ideas into action—that is if indeed they are intended to exist other than on paper—would mean safeguarding the railway formations at Marsh Barton and redoubling efforts to make them active again.
In the very long term, it may be that another reason for retention of this railway is justified. With rising sea levels and worsening weather, it is not inconceivable that a main line railway company, having reclaimed for the means of transport its former importance, may be glad at times to have an inland route to Newton Abbot.
But perhaps this is just too fabulous a notion—expecting a democracy to look twenty years ahead.
By the time the pamphlet was published, the fate of the railway had long been decided and the late protest that followed was no less futile an exercise than would have been formal objection through the usual channels from the start.
There are periods in history when rationality and foresight play no part in events and anyone bold enough to preach caution is ignored or vilified, as if the path to war were set. Even in peacetime, when passions are not so inflamed, an unstoppable momentum can carry mankind towards the precipice, no matter what warnings of disaster are heralded.
Knowing this, people at odds with their times should not break themselves in vain, but instead should articulate their views as best they can and then withdraw, leaving the majority to get on with whatever idiocy prevails.
At the height of the frenzy, nothing much could actually be done to stop construction of Britain’s major road system, intended to replace the railways. Thousands threw themselves into the fray but were overwhelmed by money and corruption.
Today there is less concerted opposition to what has sprung from massive road building, notably urban sprawl and the ugly power of the giant retailers, who outgun every local authority in the land.
Meaning that anyone who opposes a case involving the development of a superstore and a road may as well kick at the incoming tide.
The attack continued ...
Thirty-odd years after coming to Exeter, twenty-odd years after opening its second store at Exe Bridge and less than ten years after opening at Alphington, Sainsbury's were aware of “overtrading” and exhaustive studies revealed that, vis-à-vis competitors, in the dog-eat-dog world of modern retailing, the Alphington site was now quite disadvantaged.
So, in 2007, planning permission was sought for an expansion of the store and car park. The firm, under the holding name Eagle One, had acquired the neighbouring development site and it was also proposed to build the new road with houses and flats on one side and commercial premises on the other. The obligatory link road (actually to Marsh Green Road) was to be built on a different alignment, taking more of the railway embankment and wasting the earlier preparatory work.
The opening line of the Teign Valley's objection was the routine provocation: "It is well known that "so-and-so" is anti-rail."
The 2,300-word letter included these paragraphs:-
How big does the writing on the wall have to be? Councils continue to base every decision on the assumption that a substitute will be found for oil to perpetuate all that has been put in place, instead of beginning in earnest the transition to other systems. Futile gestures abound, while the same worn old blueprint is used again and again. Car culture—the thing itself and all that it has made possible—is now so embedded in human life that it blinds even those who should be planning responsibly for the future. Cars get bigger and are driven further more often. Lorries get heavier, corrugating the roads. Material consumerism grows rampantly while the pits which receive the detritus get smaller. American-style urban sprawl, entirely dependent on the car and the truck to service it, continues its cankerous advance into the countryside. The great edifice of modern civilization rises higher even as the sands beneath it start to shift.
The city is here given the chance to make a stand, to prove that change is afoot and at last to make a nod to coming realities. It could safeguard a railway, if only at first for the benefit of a few small traders who would show again how rail can provide unobtrusive transport. It could constrain an out-of-town superstore to help local enterprises entice shoppers back to parts of the city centre that have not yet been sterilized by flat-pack architecture, so that something of the character and vigour of pre-War Exeter could be reestablished. The city could abandon a senseless road scheme born in an era of ignorance and start planning for Exetram. It could even do better than the county and climb down from the position of saying that there will never again be a Teign Valley branch railway.
The case officer must have handed the letter to one of the city's bellhops, John Rigby, Director of Economy and Development, now retired.
Indignant pretence masking guilt, he stated that planners generally were very pro-rail but failed to give even one instance of this bent at work in Exeter.
After accusing the railway of being ill-informed, he stated that the Grace Road Link had been recently agreed, when in fact it had been a longstanding aim.
Quickly moving to the justification for the new road, in another example of the thinking that it seems nothing will undo, he trotted out that the link “is desirable in order to ensure that the industrial estate, employing some 9,000 people, can work more effectively because it is at present substantially constrained by only three entry/exit points.” Note that even as he professed his rail tendency, he failed in this case to consider the branch as a transport route.
Getting himself off the hook, Rigby said that he had only skimmed the letter and did not like the tone, so he would not be answering any points in detail.
Laughably, he advised that the best way of advancing the cause of rail was to join Transport 2000, a pressure group that gently and ineffectually lobbies central and local government.
Secretaries of such groups quietly would probably love to be more forthright, but they represent timid memberships and fear being cut off from the little consultation that occurs if their stance ever went beyond the "critically positive."
The reader will decide whether it is wrong to let passion and belief permeate writing of this sort, a style which a man used to the sterile, heartless verbiage of innumerable policy documents would find "splenetic."
Sainsbury’s withdrew its planning application and submitted a revised one the following year (2008).
The Teign Valley's short objection contained these lines:-
Even the first minor petroleum price rises are causing hardship and dismay, but, as the fabled peak approaches, there can be no more cheap energy and there is certainly no alternative that can be squandered as oil has been. Security of the nation's food supply is suddenly looking shaky, thanks in large measure to supermarkets' global purchasing methods and their screwing of domestic farmers. Earth's resources are being depleted at a frightening rate, both land and raw materials. Add the problems of climate change, pollution, waste disposal, reduced fertility, loss of human skills and capacity, and much else that should need no expansion upon here, and the warning becomes less writing on the wall, more smack in the face.
Were Exeter part of the transitional movement, what its council would do is constrain expansion of the superstore to the existing site and confront the developer's manipulation of the planning system; preserve the railway formation both for access to the trading estate and future reconstruction of the branch line; have confidence in the railway being able to snap out of its present stupor and rise to the challenge of winning back its position and new traffics; allow development of the Hardinge's site for commerce and industry, laid out for rail at the doorstep; accept the need to reduce and gradually eliminate dependence on the car and heavy lorry; encourage a return to diverse and dispersed small to medium-size shops and outlets which would be much better able to arrange local supply; scrap the road link, the pet project of some long-retired traffic engineer of the 1970s school.
In September, 2008, Exeter City's planning committee refused permission for the development on the grounds that the proposal would mean the loss of too much of the railway embankment. Its value here was the screening it provided between Sainsbury's car park and the residential area, and as a nature reserve; no transport potential was attached to the earthwork, despite it having carried traffic on rail only ten years before.
Incidentally, Sainsbury's had bought one of the houses nearest the store at above market value. It is not clear what the purpose of this was, but it could have been to provide for a footpath through to Blenheim Road.
A Third Objection
Like a great army, regrouped and reinforced, Sainsbury's again joined battle in 2009, determined to win their objective. Actually, this time the campaign was less ambitious: the homes and flats had been dropped and the road and roundabout realigned so as to take much less of the railway embankment. And a new embankment was proposed which would divide the residential area from the rest. Some environmental crap was thrown in as a sop.
If only for the mind stretching (and possibly to be assured a place at the top table after the revolution), the railway shoved in its third objection to the straitjacketed authority. The following passages are extracted:-
Anyone with an enquiring mind, standing near here today, might reasonably ask how the much trumpeted raft of policies designed to reduce car and truck dependency, encourage freight onto rail, reduce pollution and waste, tackle environmental degradation, improve health and so on, had been interpreted in this instance.
For the reality—practice over policy, it could be said—is that a railway which once served communities nestling in some of the most beautiful countryside immediately accessible from Exeter; a railway which was once a diversionary route for main line trains now more than ever troubled by disruption on the coastal route; and a railway which, forty years after closure to passengers, was still carrying freight traffic and had vacant land on its flanks which should have been reserved for railfreight customers, was lifted to make way for a road.
In fact, 500 yards of functioning, network railway was lifted to make a few yards of 1970s “aspirational” road, which it seems, like so many hare-brained schemes of the time, once published in a local plan, can never be unseated by alternative thinking in later years. Such is the driving weight of the road establishment, that its adherents will continue with a scheme without having the sense to question its original purpose or test it against accumulated experience.
So, less railway, more road; more cars and lorries; worse air, more CO2, poorer health and more out-of-town shopping; an enquirer would surely be scratching his head as he tried to reconcile the policy statements and their application here, and as he pondered the future and its many challenges: peak oil, ever-extending supply lines, wanton consumption, rising sea levels, creeping urbanization etcetera.
In historical terms, out-of-town supermarkets are a flash in the pan; they and their methods belong to the era of cheap oil and have no prospect beyond it, despite apparently having become part of the established order. Authorities have no choice but to let the store owners play out their time, consumer demand being so great for what they provide, but they should never be allowed to mess up provision for a future in which they will have probably little or no part.
A Brief Recap
The Government Buildings site, designated by the city council for employment, was granted retail use after an appeal because the developer agreed to build the first stage of the Grace Road link, a local plan aspiration.
Sainsbury's could not let a competitor open on a road leading to the St. Thomas store so the firm took the new site and its 13-year old building at Exe Bridge was demolished.
Railtrack surrendered the end of the branch railway so that there was no need to build an underbridge. The line was truncated and its embankment breached by a road thrusting towards the trading estate.
Within ten years, Sainsbury's needed to extend the Alphington store. The firm had bought the neighbouring land and was able to complete the link road, which ended up on a different course, rendering much of the earlier work useless.
So, where there was a railway there is now a road, which appears to have little value. Expansion of railfreight capacity at Marsh Barton and reinstatement of the branch railway when conditions change will now be more difficult. The out-of-town store and car park have got bigger. And it's all dressed up as being environmentally sensitive.
But there is a pond.
Add this to the list of reasons why the Teign Valley Branch cannot be reinstated
In a letter to John Hartley of C.P.R.E. Devon, on 6th October, Dave Black, Head of Planning and Transportation at Devon County Council, stated:-
“The Teign Valley route ran through a sparsely populated rural area providing little demand for its reopening. It was constructed as a rural single track line with passing places and poor curvature. As such any potential it has as a diversionary route is limited due to the lack of capacity and low line speeds. Furthermore as you state there are a number of obstacles to reconstructing the line. The A30 and the recently opened Grace road link (sic) bisect the line in Alphington and the A38 is constructed on its former alignment in places.”
Just to be clear, Mr. Black is right in his physical description of the branch, but wrong about its potential. In 1943, Government paid for long passing loops to be installed at Longdown, Christow, Trusham and Heathfield as part of wartime improvements to diversionary routes. This greatly improved capacity until the advantage was thrown away in 1958.
Reinstated with electronic, tokenless signalling, modern traction would enable heavier and faster trains to be worked over the line. Taking the running time of a main line, non-stop train between Exeter and Newton Abbot as about 17 minutes, a train diverted via the Teign Valley would be delayed by around 25 minutes. Which, to anyone who has endured emergency bus substitution, would be quite tolerable.
Mr. Black is also right in saying that there would be little demand for a train service. Decades of effective encouragement of car ownership has led to havens like the Teign Valley being stuffed with people whose only experience of public transport is taxis, aeroplanes and inter-city trains. They have escaped the worst of the degradation caused by mass motor transport and see any curtailment of the freedom to drive as being a matter for the city dweller. The smug rural dweller, whose work is elsewhere and whose choice of home was based exclusively on private transport, still would expect to press his vehicle into the confines of the town or city.
There is no understanding of how widespread, communal transport would work; how largely radial bus services centred on a spinal railway system would cause the least impact and make the best use of energy. Thinking people know that events stacking up will force a rethink of much modern practice. Transport will not escape restructuring and in future will have to be considered in pure terms, devoid of status or edge.
It is true that few in the Teign Valley want their trains back. But is it possible to measure demand from people who are not yet sufficiently informed to know what it is they really need?
Friends of the Atlantic Coast Line - Focal
Anyone wishing today to experience a Great Western branch line like the Teign Valley should catch the train to Newquay.
The Teign Valley Branch train never used to deliver its passengers almost to the edge of a Cornish cliff as the Newquay one does. The Teign Valley Branch did not start on one coast and end on another, or pass through clay country—the spectacle of china clay mining, at any rate. And there were none of those names so redolent of the land beyond the Tamar; the Devon train did not stop at Luxulyan, Bugle, Roche, St. Columb Road and Quintrell Downs.
But the deep, sheer cuttings and high embankments, the gradients and curves between Par and Luxulyan are characteristic of the ruined branch line between Exeter and Christow.
The rest of the Newquay line is a delight and should be savoured in its own right. It was mostly put together from two horse-drawn tramways and apart from diversions to avoid a rope-worked incline and an inadequate tunnel, the modern train takes the same route, passing much of interest in its 21 mile journey.
And the best of it is, thanks to regular through trains in summer (mostly on Saturdays), the line can be enjoyed in the comfort of a Mark III coach on an H.S.T., almost the last semblance of a real train left in G.W. territory.
Young holidaymakers, bound for their fortnight of excess in Cornwall's premier resort, probably do not wonder why their train has stopped at Goonbarrow Junction, where the only mineral traffic on a West Country branch, and some of the little freight traffic in the West of England, originates.
The line beyond is a long siding, not quite reaching the old buffer stop. A glance at the ruins of Newquay's terminus tells of grand days gone by, its remaining platform—one of three and the longest in Cornwall—mostly now deserted.
Newquay was also the terminus of the later branch from Chacewater, which ran via St. Agnes and Perranporth. When it closed, it was still very busy in summer and only just unremunerative overall.
It is this latter-day prosperity that the stalwart members of the local rail champions' group wish to see again—or at least, a bit of it.
The E. & T.V.R. is a supporter of the Friends of the Atlantic Coast Line.
Local Transport Plan, Three
Not, it has to be admitted, the railway's best work, but since the recipients would be dead set against it, the phraseology hardly mattered. This submission was written hurriedly and sent to Devon County Council and Torbay Council in January, 2011, for consideration at the Consultation Stage of the Local Transport Plan.
No acknowledgement was received. It was also ignored by Doddiscombsleigh Parish Council. Other campaigners agree that it is important to state a case, even though it will be shouted down or shunned, because it acts as a marker in time. No decision-maker in future can say that he was not presented with an alternative view.
The Need for a Feasibility Study into
the Reopening of the Inland Railway Route
between Exeter and Newton Abbot
Until 1958, there were two ways of avoiding the main line of railway between Exeter and Newton Abbot during emergencies. After 1958, and until 1968, there remained one way, via Okehampton, but this was only of value to Plymouth and Cornwall. Now there is but one way into the peninsular beyond Exeter and this estuarine and coastal route is becoming increasingly vulnerable.
There is already a drift from road to rail, caused more by a tiring of the car than by the particular attractiveness of trains. This is unfortunate but it is good that railways are winning on a practical level.
The era of cheap oil, which has been the foundation of unbridled road expansion, must pass and provision has to be made for a future in which energy will be costlier and less easy to waste.
Road transport being made to pay for its full environmental imposition will drive up the costs of vehicles and road use. Rising fuel prices, diminishing resources, extended supply lines and world political instability will lead to the abandonment of road transport use on the present scale. Much frivolous and unnecessary movement will be curtailed and demand for sustainable transport will ensue.
All pointers are towards the massive resurgence of a general purpose rail transport system, able to make frugal use of energy from any source, finite or renewable.
Rail operators must not use the normal tactic of pricing off new passengers and freight flows that cannot be accommodated but must have in train well advanced programmes to increase capacity and reach; that is, new and reopened lines and vastly more access points.
Volume usage and the winning back of profitable classes of traffic, both passenger and goods, will lead to railways that can afford to provide social benefits such as line reopenings which do not satisfy established funding criteria.
The Line Today
In engineering terms, despite 50 years' attrition, the Teign Valley Branch is still 80% complete. The remainder of the branch in Exeter serves a scrap metal trader on the Marsh Barton estate and weekly trains of 102-tonne wagons are forwarded. The branch would still be in tact as far as Alphington, with potential for the development of more freight traffic from the estate, had not the city council pressed on with its obsolete road scheme. Huge incursions were made at each end of the branch in the 1970s by the construction of the A30 and A38 dual carriageways, but these are not insurmountable. Both tunnels and four out of the six river crossings are still in tact. At Heathfield, the four-mile rump of the Moretonhampstead Branch lies mothballed. In all, 15½ miles of railway need to be rebuilt.
As existing structures weaken and crumble, others will take their place. Areas like the Teign Valley which are awash with wealth, but where there is little exchange, will become more community focussed. Interest in a communal transport system will grow, along with more localized production and supply. The idea of lines penetrating territory long lost and adding to the steel network will start a mania of rebuilding.
Beyond a functional role, the Teign Valley would of course provide for recreation which would add much to the line's viability. Town dwellers will use branch railways to reach tranquil areas for exploration on foot or cycle, causing little intrusion but bringing trade to new and existing accommodation and catering establishments.
As well as through working of ordinary services, there would undoubtedly be demand for land cruises and excursions to traverse the inland route by choice.
A reinstated Teign Valley Branch would not be an alternative main line. It would be what it was latterly: a branch line with diversionary capacity. This was greatly improved during World War II, with long passing loops installed at four places. Today, with electronic signalling and modern traction able to make light work of the severe gradients, a diverted train from Exeter to Newton Abbot could be delayed by as little as 25 minutes.
Exeter & Teign Valley Railway
The E. & T.V.R. has established a railway presence at Christow, the mid-point of the Teign Valley Branch. It can go no further as a construction project without major backing, but it is part of the purpose in the meantime to raise awareness and understanding of the potential of country railways to change not just transport, but established structures and practices in their hinterlands.
Open days are held and a permanent exhibition and educational resource will soon be finished. The railway leads with its “Transition Tourism,” which penalizes the motorist and encourages benign modes of travel to its on-rail camping accommodation.
The railway campaigns for rail and public transport in general. This mostly involves taking local examples and honing arguments which can be used universally. Most recently, the railway successfully campaigned against Department for Transport plans to block Perridge Tunnel and unsuccessfully against Exeter City severing the line at Alphington to further a 1970s aspirational road scheme.
Authorities must stop fixating on road transport because of the apparently endless demand from motorists and pressure from lobbyists who serve vested interests without shouldering any responsibility for the future.
Other systems must be nurtured into being to safeguard the best of modern civilization. Railway schemes must be talked about, promoted and set in motion. If a case can be made for the reinstatement of the Teign Valley Branch, others will follow and a momentum will be gathered.
Main railway routes must be made robust and reliable, Swiss fashion, and vulnerable stretches must have by-pass routes where possible.
The E. & T.V.R., in conjunction with professional consultants and graduate interns, is capable of conducting a feasibility study into the reopening of the inland railway route between Exeter and Newton Abbot.