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Widecombe History Group Talk December 2007
Ted Parrott and David Richards gave the meeting a most interesting and informative illustrated talk about "The South Devon Railway".
Right on our doorstep it is one of the most beautiful and scenic steam railway tracks in the country.
Today the 5th December 2007 The South Devon Railway has won the prestigious award of: "The Heritage Railway of The Year"
Last year they won "The Station of the Year" for their Totnes Railway Station.
We offer to everyone connected to The South Devon Railway, our heartiest congratulations.
The South Devon Railway Association has 12 employees but they could not function without the tremendous support they get from about 380 volunteer members of the Association who give freely of their time and energy all the year round in helping to maintain the lines, buildings and rolling stock, that makes this such an interesting place to visit. The Association is a charitable trust and all the surplus generated in a years trading is re-invested into the activities of the Association.
There is a small trading plc known as The South Devon Railway plc that runs the shop.
Years ago there was a Great Western Railway branch line that ran from Ashburton to Totnes via Buckfastleigh and Staverton. When Dr Beeching disbanded so many of the branch lines this one was closed. It was then decided ‘in haste’ to remove the section from Ashburton to Buckfastleigh and use that land for building part of what is now known as the A38 Expressway, (the dual carriageway).
A group purchased the line from Buckfastleigh to Totnes and it was opened under the name of The Dart Valley Railway.
After a few years this failed and The South Devon Railway was formed and purchased the business. It has been hard work and due to their immense dedication it thrives today.
We were informed of the amazing amount of work that is carried out under their auspices.
We had no idea that there were so many involved with the operation. There is a large workshop at Buckfastleigh where they repair and maintain their rolling stock. Not only do they maintain their own equipment but they also do maintenance work for other railway companies from all over Britain. The standard of their workmanship is well known and recognised.
We were informed with great detail how the railway functions. At Buckfastleigh they have the station, workshop with a viewing gallery, museum with a wide variety of things to see and also a retail shop.
This is near ‘The Buckfastleigh Butterfly Farm and The Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary’ which is easily accessible from the station, a separate business but joint tickets are available. A Heritage Bus Service from the station can take people on a circular tour of Buckfast Abbey, the town of Buckfastleigh and ‘a pub where time stood still’ The Valiant Soldier.
At various times during the year special days are organised. One very popular weekend is when The Military Vintage Vehicle Trust take over the adjoining field and they bring a vast amount of old military equipment, for a 1940s style exhibition. On the Sunday they generally combine to make a convoy and travel to Widecombe and back, lorries, ambulances, dispatch riders, motor-bikes and sidecars...........quite a spectacle!
The work done in the workshop is immense. Every engine has to be completely stripped down every 10 years and this can cost about £250,000. The boiler has to be sent away and tested to ensure that it can withstand the pressure of steam inside it. Sometimes the wheels have to have new ‘tyres’ fixed. This is the part of the wheel that fits onto the track, new tyres are made of metal but this is much cheaper than complete new wheels. There is a annual inspection of each engine (liken this as an MOT that one would have on ones car).
Photographs of a wide variety of engines were shown, both steam driven and diesel. The engine which has gone into ‘the folklore’ of this railway, affectionately know as ‘Bullever’, is number 1420. This train took thousands of pupils to Totnes Grammar School in its heyday and is still owned by the Trust. We were informed that in the museum they have ‘Tidy’ an early 7ft 1/2inch broad gauge engine that once stood at Newton Abbot and much more memorabilia for visitors to see. Prairy Type Engine 5526, HST (High Speed Train) that once travelled from Penzance to Paddington, Old Royal Mail sorting vans, restaurant cars, goods vehicles, signal boxes (inside and outside) were all part of this brilliantly illustrated talk.
As well as special day trips set up to celebrate special occasions, ‘special experiences days’ can also be arranged. These are birthday presents or gifts for special occasions, when it is possible to have a ‘Footplate Experience’, a chance to drive a train from Buckfastleigh to Totnes and back, act as the Fireman, shovelling coal into the furnace to keep up the head of steam. With two experienced members of the Trust supervising, a day with a difference, can be arranged for the enthusiast or just for the fun of having done an unusual activity.
To experience the unusual contact them at South Devon Railway Trust, The Railway Station, Buckfastleigh, Devon, TQ11 0DZ or telephone on 0845 345 1420 or www.southdevonrailway.org or e-mail them on info @ southdevonrailway.org
Have yourself a fascinating experience under the guidance of experts.
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