History of the line
Left: A far cry from today, how Exeter St Davids station looked on opening day in May 1844 with 'Orion' arriving with the first train from London. Note the incomplete tracks on the left side.
Right: The line between Dawlish and Parsons Tunnel was the final section of the Paddington-Plymouth route to be doubled between 1902 and 1905. Here, in around 1900, an 'up' express is seen emerging from Coryton Tunnel powered by No. 3075 'Princess Louise'.
|The problems of wash outs on the Sea Wall section is nothing new. In this artists impression dated 1840 a breach of the wall at Parsons Tunnel is depicted. Today this is the access to the line at the bottom of Smugglers Lane, Holcombe and the start of the sea wall walkway to Teignmouth. This etching was done for a newspaper at the time and shows a washout which appears to have involved the parting and likely derailment of an 'up' train.|
|There are few drawings or etchings of the original Atmospheric Railway which operated along the sea wall section. This one shows how Dawlish looked in around 1847, the atmospheric system opened in February 1847 between Exeter and Teignmouth and extended to Newton Abbot in January 1848. This view shows one of eight pumping houses used to expel air from the pipe, which were located between Exeter and Newton Abbot. Here we are looking back towards Dawlish from the area of the present Coastguards footbridge. Serious problems with the atmospheric system led to its closure after just eight months of running, with conventional steam hauled trains operating.|
|With the conventional twin track railway in position, this view shows the Coastguards footbridge crossing the line at the Exeter end of Dawlish station. The building with the tall flagpole is the Coastguards look-out which is now a cafe/restaurant The footbridge piers are the same today, but the bridge deck and railings have been replaced with a modern assembly.|
|The original route, after the Atmospheric Railway was removed, was laid out to Brunel's broad gauge. This was replaced by standard gauge (4ft 8 1/2in) on May 21/22 1892 when thousands of men converted 168 miles of broad gauge track to standard gauge in just 31 hours, this included the entire railway west of Exeter. Here one of the last broad gauge trains rounds the curve into Teignmouth. Note that the new standard gauge timbers are in position.|
line west from Exeter followed the granting of the South Devon Railway Act
on July 4, 1844 and covered the construction of a new railway, a continuation
of the Bristol and Exeter Railway, west from Exeter to Plymouth. Isambard
Kingdom Brunel was appointed engineer, who for the first time since he started
construction of the Great Western Railway from Paddington, had to construct
a railway over a difficult terrain, the route was very hilly and involved
sharp curves, unlike anywhere else on the route. Brunel had concern that
conventional locomotives would have adhesion problems. At around the same
time, success had been made of using an 'atmospheric' propulsion system
in Ireland, where a pipe was laid centrally down the middle of the broad
gauge track which had a leather flap on top. This pipe was connected to
a steam powered 'exhauster' which expelled air from the pipe. On the bottom
of special propulsion vehicles attached to trains a piston slotted into
this pipe and with differences in air pressure either side of the piston
trains would be 'sucked' along the line. Brunel decided that this would
be used on the section west of Exeter.
Construction of the new line commenced immediately following Royal Assent and even though construction was badly affected by poor weather in late 1844 and early 1845 work progressed well. Huge amounts of earth works were required around Cockwood, Dawlish and Teignmouth and some delays were experienced in constructing a wooden viaduct at Cockwood and the series of tunnels between Dawlish and Teignmouth. The project was also delayed by constructional and agreement problems with the Harbour commissioners at Teignmouth.
The original planned completion of the line in June 1845 did not materialise, and it was not until March 1846 that Brunel decided he could start running trains. However, this would only be between Exeter and Teignmouth and construction was halted at Newton by purchase problems and the atmospheric pipe equipment was late in delivery meaning the line was 'opened' using traditional steam traction on May 30,
The first train formed of 11 four-wheel
coaches was powered by hired-in Great Western 2-2-2 'Teign' (renamed from
'Viper' for the event).The land acquisition problems at Newton (not Newton
Abbot until 1877) led to the route west of Teignmouth not opening until
the end of December 1846. The first through train from Exeter to Newton
was powered by 1841 built 'Sun' class loco 'Antelope', which took 50 minutes
to cover the journey.
To operate the atmospheric system, Brunel constructed eight pumping houses at Exeter, Countess Weir, Turf, Starcross, Dawlish, Teignmouth, Summer House and Newton. The pipe equipment was delivered in early 1847 and the section between Exeter and Turf saw its first train in mid-January, it was at that time very successful with speeds of 60mph and thousands of people flocking to see the new transport system. After just a few days serious problems were experienced and the atmospheric service was withdrawn with conventional loco operation returning.
Atmospheric trains returned to use in September 1847 between Exeter and Teignmouth and to Newton from January 1848. Serious problems still befell the project, atmospheric leakage, water ingress and faults in the leather top seal which included rats eating the leather and sealer. The first frost of the 1847/48 winter saw the railway shut down with the leather seal, by now impregnated with water, freezing. These problems led to the abandonment of the atmospheric project and the replacement of the line with conventional broad gauge track.
The broad gauge track remained in operation until the 1890s when it was agreed that its replacement with standard gauge lines was the most desirable option, a major engineering operation was put into force to convert the gauge of the sea wall railway which took effect on May 21/22 1892. At this time the route from Exeter to Newton Abbot was principally two track, except for a short section between Dawlish and the tunnels leading to Teignmouth. Major earth works and new sea retaining walls were needed to lay double track in this area, but to improve workingthis was acheived
1902 and 1905.The
station at Dawlish Warren, saw major development in 1910-12 when loop lines
on both the up and down sides were added, this was dictated by the number
of trains requiring to stop at this growing holiday location and the need
for a method of passing slow trains en route between Exeter and Newton Abbot.
The loops remain in place today and are still used for stopping services
and a method of passing slower trains by expresses.
Between Exeter St Thomas and Starcross one intermediate station existed at Exminster, however this closed in March 1964 as part of route rationialisation.
In the heyday of railways, goods yards existed at both Dawlish and Teignmouth but these were again lost in the huge changes brought about by railway rationalisation in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This left just yards at Exeter and Newton Abbot. Exeter yard still remains, but the facilities at Newton Abbot, which once included a massive loco depot and workshop, have now closed. A small civil engineering yard still remains at Hackney Yard just east of Newton Abbot which sees infrequent traffic.
Ownership of the Exeter-Newton Abbot route passed from the South Devon Railway to the Great Western Railway and from 1948 to the British Transport Commission, later British Railways Board. Following the privatisation of the UK rail network, the track and stations are now owned by Railtrack, while five passenger operators work services, First Great Western, Virgin Trains, Wessex Trains, Wales & Borders Trains and South West Trains.
In terms of freight, the lines through Devon were once very busy with non-passenger workings, however today very few freight services operate, these mainly consist of parcels and Royal Mail traffic and china clay associated products. The MoD Navy base in Plymouth generates a handful of nuclear flask trains each year, all of which are operated by EWS.
site is maintained by TheRailwayCentre.Com and authored by Colin J Marsden,
it is a guide to the world famous
section of line between Exeter and Newton Abbot, traversing the Dawlish Sea Wall.
The author can be contacted at SeaWall@TheRailwayCentre.Com