140 years of the Ashburton branch

On Tuesday 1st May 2012, the South Devon Railway marks a significant date with the 140th anniversary of the opening of the branch line from Totnes to Ashburton on 1st May 1872.

The railway has come a long way since 1872 and had something of a chequered history over the last 140 years having been run and owned by five different companies and saved from closure twice in that time (see History); had two different track gauges (Brunel’s broad gauge of 7 feet and ¼ inch and Standard gauge of 4 feet 8 1/2 inches); was even closed down for seven years from 1962, and also lost two miles in length when the A38 was built over part of it in the early 1970’s!

 But it is going strong today and, having re-opened as a steam-run tourist line in 1969, is the third oldest, standard gauge heritage railway in the country, regularly transporting over 110,000 visitors down its remaining seven-mile route from Buckfastleigh to Totnes via Staverton.

One hundred and forty years ago, the coming of the new railway up the scenic valley of the River Dart was something of a ‘Red-Letter’ day for the local communities who only saw prosperity coming from it, with widespread public rejoicing and civic celebrations.

And to mark the anniversary date in 2012, the SDR is laying on a very modest event for local civic dignitaries from Totnes, Staverton, Buckfastleigh and Ashburton who will travel on the final train of the day from Buckfastleigh at 3.45pm)to enjoy a Devon Cream Tea with some of SDR’s directors en route.

The civic guests will also probably tour the SDR’s ever expanding museum, meet some of the volunteer staff who run it and the railway, and see new and recently refurbished exhibits some time after 3.00pm.

All of the SDR’s four service trains on 1st May will be composed of chocolate and cream liveried coaches hauled by unique ex-GWR 0-6-0 tender loco No. 3205 which will carry a 140th Anniversary headboard -- made especially by the Driver that day Chris Bowden -- and all passengers will receive a special 140th anniversary souvenir ticket and brief history of the line as a memento.

And, as an added and very unusual bonus attraction, there will also be a limited number of free brake van rides for visitors on 1 May behind another unique GWR steam loco No.1369 around the Buckfastleigh Station area harking back to the era when the railway was alive with freight -- once the lifeblood of the line.

As part of further celebrations to mark the 140th anniversary of the opening of the line during the year, a specially prepared book with over 200 colour and mono illustrations written by SDR Museum Curator John Brodribb will be released over the June Jubilee weekend. It is being produced by Silver Link Publishing and will be available in the SDR’s Expressway Models shop. 



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