Railmotor – 1                                                                       11 February 2013


The scenic South Devon Railway (SDR) will be hosting a unique steam-powered visitor at its nine-day Western Branch Line Gala over the half-term week from 16-24 February which showcases rail travel in the West Country from 1900 to the mid 1960’s.

The GWR Steam Railmotor introduced in 1903 (see below) was a real breakthrough in design and technology of the day and -- rather like the Model T Ford that revolutionised car production – it set a steam-age blueprint which then became the forerunner of all of today’s modern diesel and electric multiple unit trains that are now found across the UK and the rest of the world. (pic courtesy of Sarah Anne Harvey).

The Edwardian-era design saw Steam Railmotor No. 93 constructed in 1908 -- one of 99 built by the GWR -- to help deal with growing passenger numbers and compete with electric tramways. They were so popular that they became victims of their own success and were rebuilt into ‘auto trailers’ to carry more people and coupled to special ‘push-pull’ steam engines which could pull more coaches and travel greater distances.

Steam Railmotors ran locally around Plymouth, Exeter and Teignmouth, but notably also on the SDR line from Totnes to Ashburton for just nine months from 1904 to 1905 over a century ago. So, the Railmotor’s staccato exhaust will echo down the Dart Valley once again.            


But Steam Railmotor No. 93’s survival was down to both luck and determination. It involves a long story following its conversion to an auto trailer in 1935 by the GWR after a mere 479,000 miles in traffic; then use as a mobile railway office from 1956 after withdrawal from yet further passenger service by British Railways; then rescue in 1970 by Great Western Society (GWS) members, and eventually to a £1million plus restoration to its full glory by the GWS at Didcot using significant Heritage Lottery Funding.


The Railmotor’s cleverly-designed original ‘Chicago’ seats even came from faraway Australia via the Grenelg Tramay in Adelaide which had fitted identical seats to those used on Railmotors in1927 and these were rescued by GWS members when the trams were being modernised in 2005! Note to News Desk: Please see attached notes about No.93’s restoration and the GWS website at: http://www.railmotor93.org/homepage/homepage.html and http://www.didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk/index.html


Steam Railmotor No 93 is set to be the star of the SDR’s Western Branch Line gala in February which aims to demonstrate typical GWR and British Rail Western Region branch line trains through the ages from 1900 through to the 1960’s and the advent of the first diesels. The line-up includes diesel “Bubblecar” No. W55000, which is a direct descendant of the Railmotor design and that once worked on the long closed Kingsbridge branch in Devon.


From Saturday 16th to Sunday 24th February 2013, the scenic South Devon Railway -- often described as “the quintessential former GWR Branch Line” -- will host some classic former GWR and BR (Western Region) Branch Line trains running to an intensive timetable, especially the weekends. See: http://www.southdevonrailway.co.uk/news/railmotor-93


In addition to the Great Western Society’s stunning Steam Railmotor -- which has been hired in especially for the event as part of a nationwide tour of heritage railways -- not one but two GWR-design ‘Auto’ trains will be running each day with visiting GWR engines Nos. 5542 and 1450, plus other interesting ‘local’ train workings with GWR steam loco No. 1369, plus milk tanks as ‘tail traffic’ on some trains.


A Winter Real Ale festival is also being held on both weekends at Staverton Station by the Devon Diesel Society with late running trains on both Saturday 16th and 24th February to add to the attraction of the Gala. See: http://www.devondiesels.org.uk/2013Winter%20Ale.pdf


 And, if repairs to auto coach W225 are completed in time, it is hoped that that a three-car auto train can be run with GWR loco No. 5542 and auto coaches W228 and W232 which will be the first time a three-coach auto train has run in preservation with a 55xx class engine.                     


The SDR’s Museum, extensive Refreshment Rooms and well stocked Expressway Models & Gift shop will be open throughout the February Gala period, including a sale of selected model railway equipment.

There has been considerable public and enthusiast interest in the SDR’s Gala, with nearly 200 advance tickets sold already for travel on the Railmotor alone.

One SDR supporter, Ray Mason, has even commissioned well known railway artist John Austin to paint him a lasting memory of the Steam Railmotor’s visit to the SDR which has been turned into a railway style promotional poster (a pdf image is available on request).



From Saturday 16th to Sunday 24th February 2013, the South Devon Railway will be offering the following tickets to try and suit all visitor tastes:


Saturday 16th & Sunday 17th and Saturday 23rd & Sunday 24th February:

On both weekends, there will be four round-trip journeys a day on the Steam Railmotor with departures at 10.35, 12.20, 14.00 &15.45 hrs from Buckfastleigh ONLY.


The return journey will take around 75 minutes, but it will not be possible to board or alight at Staverton or Totnes due to expected operational restrictions with the Railmotor at both stations.


Passenger accommodation on the Railmotor is very limited with just 52 seats per round trip working, so advance booking is recommended if you do not want to be disappointed. Please call on 01364 644370 to make a reservation or e-mail to: sales@southdevonrailway.org


Tickets to travel on the Railmotor are priced at £20.00 for adults and £15.00 for children (which includes one specific timed journey on the Railmotor), but also will entitle the ticketholder to all-day travel on all other SDR trains running on the day of issue. This includes the two ‘Auto’ services and GW and BR local workings, thereby offering a varied and good value-for-money day out.


For people who don’t wish to travel on the Railmotor, but do want to enjoy the day travelling on our lovely line on GWR & BR (W) ‘Auto’ and local trains, then cheaper ‘Day Rover’ tickets are available. 


‘Day Rover’ prices are: adults (16+years) £15.00 and children (3-15 years) £10.00, but with the added option of being able to upgrade and include a Railmotor trip for an extra £5.00 per person subject to seat availability.


Normal SDR tickets with our wide range of discounts will also be available to those who just wish to have a return trip on the South Devon Railway.



Visitors can break the journey at Staverton, where the ‘Winter Ale Festival’ will be taking place on both weekends. Please note that it will not be possible for passengers to consume any food or drink on the Railmotor; there are NO toilets onboard, and it has limited disabled and pushchair accommodation in the dedicated luggage area.


There will also be some special diesel Bubblecar trains running in the evenings on each Saturday (16th and 23rd) and steam ‘Auto’ workings on the first Sunday (17th) to provide public services to and from the Winter Ale festival at Staverton from both ends of the line.


Please note that the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm and the Buckfast Butterflies and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary are not fully open so there are none of our usual Joint Tickets available. However, the Rare Breeds café will be open at Totnes and the Otter Sanctuary will have limited hours opening at Buckfastleigh.


Monday 18th- Thursday 21st February


Two GWR and BR(W) ‘Auto’ Trains will be running all week and normal fares apply with the usual SDR discounts available.


Although it will not be running mid week, the Railmotor will be on static display at Buckfastleigh and it can be inspected free of charge for those who have train tickets.


For anyone who would like to just visit the Railmotor, the charge will be Adults (16+ years) £1.00 and Children (3-15 years) 50 pence with tickets available from the Booking Office.


Friday 22 February


Should the weekends’ Steam Railmotor trains sell out in advance, additional Railmotor services will run at 11.20, 13.20 and 15.20 from Buckfastleigh ONLY on Friday 22nd in addition to the two GWR and BR(W) ‘Auto’ Trains which will be running from 10.00 onwards.


If the Railmotor does run, Friday’s ticket prices will be: Railmotor – adult £20.00, child £15.00, including one Railmotor round trip and unlimited travel on other SDR trains. Standard prices as set out below will apply on the two ‘Auto’ trains running that day.


SDR standard fares for 2013.


Our normal 2013 fares are: Adults (16-64 years) £12.00; Senior Citizens (65+ years) £11.00; Children (3-15 years) £7.00 and Families (2 Adults + 2 Children) is just £34.60.



Having celebrated its 40th Ruby anniversary in 2009, the South Devon Railway is the oldest heritage railway line in the West Country. It rose to prominence as the line that the infamous railway axe wielding Dr Beeching re-opened in 1969. The South Devon Railway line is now run as a charitable trust. It has grown steadily to become one of the West Country’s top visitor attractions. It now carries over 100,000 passengers a year.

During the last four decades, well over three million passengers have travelled over the pretty seven-mile former Great Western Railway route from Totnes to Buckfastleigh, with many visitors enjoying the experience so much that they come back every season. The South Devon Railway is run by a group of 50 staff and several hundred volunteer workers who all work hard together to recreate the Golden Age of steam and keep memories of the GWR, British Railways Western Region and historic transport alive and well.

The SDR has grown from being a purely Summer season business in 1969 to almost an all year round operation. The railway’s popular Expressway Model Shop and large Refreshment Rooms are now open throughout the year offering a wide range of products, and the SDR’s engineering business has a strong reputation for the range and quality of railway projects it undertakes, including some work for the national Train Operating Companies.


Steam Railmotor No 93 was built by the Great Western Railway in 1908 for use in suburban areas and on country branch lines and ran all over Great Western territory. The GWR built 99 in total between 1903 and 1908 and 93 was among the last batch.


The introduction of the Steam Railmotors marks the beginning of self propelled rail vehicles, where the driver could walk from one end of the train to the other without having to shunt the locomotive, and as such is the fore runner of today’s diesel and electric multiple units which are now almost universal within the UK.


No. 93 began life working around West London working from Southall and also spent considerable amount of time working from Stourbridge in the West Midlands. At different times it also ran in the Bristol, Bath, Reading, Gloucester, Taunton, Pontypool Road, Whitland in West Wales, Stratford on Avon and Wrexham areas. In all it covered just over 479,000 miles before being withdrawn at the end of 1934.


In many ways, the Steam Railmotors were victims of their own success as passenger numbers grew and whilst they could haul another coach or auto trailer they could not cope with the volumes of people on offer and conversion of Steam Railmotors to auto trailers began in the mid 1910s. No. 93 was converted to auto trailer 212 in 1935 and ran as such until 1956. There is no record where 212 ran during these 20 years or so.


In 1956, vehicle 212 was withdrawn as an auto trailer and converted to become a mobile office for the Signal & Telegraph Department and was used in this capacity until 1970 when it was finally withdrawn and purchased by a member (the late Mr Gwyne-Jones) of the Great Western Society in the hope that one day it might be restored as a Steam Railmotor and moved to Didcot where it became a mess vehicle.


In 1985, another member, the late Ralph Tutton, began a study of the GWR Steam Railmotors and amassed a mine of information, including the location of a good number of original drawings in various places sufficient that, by 1991, the Great Western Society felt it had enough information to be able to make a good stab at building from scratch a new power bogie based on the original drawings and a small working group was set up to take this forward.


The Steam Railmotor Project was launched in 1998 and initial efforts were directed towards building the new power bogie under the direction of Dennis Howells and Mike Rudge – Great Western Society volunteers.                                                           


The biggest gap in drawings concerned the motion and here it has been necessary for the Society to copy similar motion on a different locomotive to different dimensions.


The Great Western Society was also aware that the 99 GWR Steam Railmotors had three different wheel diameters which added to the difficulty in being precise. As motion is costly to manufacture, some items which were known to be uncertain had a timber mock up made beforehand to prove the measurements.


The power bogie is driven by a vertical steam boiler which has been built to the original 1904 drawings. This was made by Israel Newton in Bradford and cost in the region of £100,000. The overall cost of the power bogie was £525,000, funded by donations from Great Western Society members and other benefactors, and took just over 12 years to complete between late 1998 and late 2010.


The coach has been rebuilt to the original specification by the Llangollen Railway with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund from late 2007 to early 2011 at a cost of around £600,000 under the guidance of another Great Western Society member, Graham Drew, who also masterminded the Heritage Lottery Fund application.


An auto trailer No. 92 of similar vintage, which would have run with the Steam Railmotors in their heyday, is also being rebuilt at Llangollen with assistance from the HLF and is expected to join the Steam Railmotor during 2013.


The ‘walkover’ seats in both vehicles are to the same ‘Chicago’ design made by Peters of Slough as used in the original Steam Railmotors. These seats were made by Peters and shipped to Australia in 1927 for use on the trams used by the Glenelg Tramway which runs from Adelaide to the nearby seaside resort of Glenelg. They were spotted being withdrawn by two GWS members living in Australia when Glenelg Tramway was being modernised in 2005 and purchased and shipped back to the UK the following summer for an overall cost of £7500. The 40 seats acquired saved the project much time and a figure well in excess of £100,000 if new ones had to be manufactured. The seat covering is to the 1908 seat moquette used by the GWR.


Following the introduction into traffic of the Steam Railmotor in 2011, Graham Drew began work on the possibility of running 93 on Network Rail which was successfully achieved in November 2012 when it ran for two weekends on the Liskeard-Looe branch with the support of First Great Western. This is the first wooden bodied vehicle to be allowed to run on Network Rail lines since the late 1970s. The Steam Railmotor has also visited the Bodmin & Wenford Railway since then and, after visiting the South Devon Railway in February, will then go on to the West Somerset Railway ‘On Tour’.                                                                                              



Press Release prepared and issued on behalf of

the South Devon Railway

by Dick Wood, mobile 07711 552947,

 e-mail: DickWood@southdevonrailway.org