The Devonshire Regional Railways Book

When it comes to planning your own railway, it pays to do some research first into the style of railway that you want and ensure that you plan for everything carefully, as well as bare in mind future requirements, such as getting that extra long coach to suddenly find it does not fit round the curve with out catching on something. Also plan for plenty of clearance on the inside of curves, through any bridges and tunnels and think about what you might end up running or what someone else brings to your railway as a visitor.

I did a lot more planning than most would do, as I had a goal in mind to produce a wide range of locomotives and rolling stock that I would then share with people by producing them commercially through North Pilton works. I have always been in love with the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, even as a kid. I started in 009 and learnt how to scratch build and kit bash to get the results i needed. So when it came to coming back to modelling narrow gauge in 16mm scale, I wanted to plan out everything I had been wanting to do for the past thirty years.

The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway closed down in 1935 and was literally just scrapped as no one wanted any part of the railway, the locomotives were cut up, the carriages were sold as chicken sheds and very little survived. I looked at changing history by taking the hold of the story line from 1935 and planning a rescue plan that would then see the railway survive and become a prosperous expanded modern network with a mix of the old and new. The main reason was I wanted to create a wide range of locomotives and rolling stock to fit the needs of a busy narrow gauge system and bring my railway to life with charm and a reason to be.

The book i created took a complete look at every aspect of a narrow gauge railway, its reason for existing and how it needs to earn it keep. A vital part of a real railway is to be profitable, and back in the late 30's the car and bus was knocking passenger numbers on all railways. With lorries becoming more reliable, the goods traffic suffered greatly and railways were closing down as a result. Industrial narrow gauges ran well into the 1960's and many people didn't see them as they were tucked away hard at work. 

Here is a story on a fictional regional narrow gauge system in Devonshire and how it progressed from a small commuter line and closure to a regional network. 

Outline of the book

In 1935, the Soutern Railway closed the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway as it was making a loss and numbers for passengers kept dropping year on year, the feight has also seen a dramatic drop. The railway was to be auctioned off with very little interest shown in its sale. At the last minute, a wealthy industrialist came to the rescue of the railway, as he had a sand pit close to the railway at West Lyn that was expanding and needed to get its sand distributed across the county. By linking the sand pit into the railway at Barbrook, he could then transport bulk loads and exchange it with the main line at Barnstaple to reach anywhere in the county. He managed to buy the railway at a knock down price and set about organising the railway for his industrial use.

The passenger rolling stock was of no use to his opperation, so all the carriages would be shunted up to Lynton station and simply stored up there. The five locomotives would be used to haul loads of sand down to Barnstaple and exchange the loads with the main line. At Barnstaple he built an embankment and a drop stage over the exchange siding of the main line railway so sand could be dropped into the larger wagons. To link the line into the sand pits at West Lyn, he constructed a new viaduct over the Lyn Valley at Barbrook to take it across the gorge and round into West Lyn Sand Pit. 

While the Barbrook viaduct was being constructed, he ordered a fleet of sand hopper wagons so that he could start the process of moving bulk loads of sand down to Barnstaple. As the operation started in 1936, more hopper wagons were added to increase the capacity of the sand pit. By 1938, all four Manning Wardle locomotive were on duty hauling loads of sand from the pit, the Baldwin Lyn locomotive was used inside the pit for shunting duties. This now saw the railway in full strength as an industrial railway, workingn very hard.

After the War, the pit found a surge in orders for sand to help with the re-building of many of the major cities. New diesel locomotives were added to the sand pit, as they were easier and cheaper to run and did not need hours of preparation like the steam engines. As more diesel locomotive were added, the steam engines were finally retired in 1949 to be locked up at Pilton shed, where there would have been left to rot. A group of enthusiasts had been bugging the owner for years to re-start passenger services on the line and now approached the owner with a view to using the steam engines at weekends for giving people rides up the line from Barnstaple to Lynton. Being a rail enthusiast him self, the owner gave permission to the group to use the line at weeknds and they took over the steam engines in order to restore them to their former glory. The old carriages were gradually put back into service one by one as the group got passenger services established for weeknd summer services. 

The owner then took control of a limestone quarry close to Porlock as its owners had fallen onto hard times. The owner of the sand pit wanted to expand his business into the building trade and this would give him access to limestone rock. As part of the deal with the quarry came all the land and the survey results that they had done  years before looking for extra reserves. Part of the survey showed a massive seam of soft limestone south of the current quarry site that was ideal for the componebts needed for cement. This would allow the owner to then not only have hard limestone blocks, but set up a cement factory and move heavily into the building trade as a supplier. 

Porlock Quarry was only 8 miles away from the West Lyn site, so expanding the railway across to the site would not be a major task. Upon looking for a suitable site for setting up a new cement factory, the owner found that Minehead was under going a major building phase as it was rapidly expanding as a holiday attraction. It was also closer to the heart of the country and had a main line railway that could the transport the cement across the country. Expanding the narrow gauge from Porlock to Minehead would be a major undertaking but make more economic scense than moving loads of limestone all the way down to Barnstaple.

In the mean time, the group running the live steam passenger services at weekends found that they were becomming very busy with visitors and had expanded their services to run all weekend to cope with demand. They had started to make a decent amount of profit from the venture and had poured this into restoring the rest of the carriages. The owner then approached the group about his proposals for opening up Porlock Quarry with the railway and extending the line up to Minehead which was a major tourist attraction. The L & B passenger group has a large team of volunteers that helped then out and had laid their hands to many of the track duties to improve the line over the past few years. Having a team of volunteers assist in laying the Minehead route would keep costs down and give a dual use for the railway as a passenger service as well as heavy freight.

The Minehead Railway

The route across to Minehead was planned out and work started on the Lynton Minehead Railway line in 1952 with the goal to join up Barbrook with Porlock Quarry then continue on to Minehead by 1958, when services would start. The new cement factory would be constructed south of Minehead and would be in production by 1958. The passenger services would then be able to capitalise on the mass of holiday makers and pay back the owner for part of the construction costs.

The Porlock Quarry would need a new fleet of locomotives and rolling stock, as the West Lyn fleet was getting old and not suitable to the heavier limestone loads. Looking around at the commercial rolling stock available in the Uk, the costs were far too high and what was available on the second hand market was worn out. With a view to how much rolling stock was requried, it made more sense for the railway to set up its own workshops and make its own rolling stock. The Pilton Yard was now being used for all the passenger stock and steam locmotives on the line, so a new site was would north of Pilton where the manufacting base would be set up.

The Minehead railway would need a complete fleet of new locomotives and heavy hopper wagons for the Porlock quarry and Minehead cement factory. As the workshops were constructed and new staff employed to do the metal work and welding, the designs for a new Bo-Bo diesel were put forward along with the plans for 10 tonne hopper wagons for the limestone quarry. The passenger services found exactly the same problem with sourcing new rolling stock, that buying in new coaches was far too expensive. To solve the problem, the North Pilton works would add a carriage works and the L & B group would build their own carriages for the Minehead services. 

As the railway was being construced across to Minehead, the L & B group looked at the problem of getting the old steam engines to run the extra milage from Barnstaple to Minehead and made modifications to the engine LEW to cut a door way in the back of the cab and add a large bogie tender to the loco to carry the coal and extra water it would need to complete the journey with out lengthly stops for refueling. Trials were carried out with LEW as a tender engine and proved to be successful. The L & B group would then modify the cab on TAW and add a bogie tender so that they had two trains that could run the route.

The construction of the line into Minehead was completed by 1958 with the spur off to the cement factory now allowing the initial loads of limestone to be moved across to help with completing the buildings for the cement complex. In th mean time the line continued on into the back of Minehead and work was taking place to construct the station building at platforms at Minehead with the use of the limestone from Porlock used for the paving of the platorms. The first test train with a rake of new bogies coaches was run up and down the line in late 1958 to get an idea of the timing and make final adjustments.

In 1958, the Minehead passenger services started running from Easter taking people across to the seaside. The trains were packed as more than expected numbers of passengers flocked to the railway to take advantage of the new service. The railway found that it had to get more rollings stock in opperation as they had under estimated the heavy demand for people wanting to get across to Minehead. A second hand Polish engine was aqcuired quickly to help run extra services. This saw the use of the original L & B coaches having to be put in service to put on extra trains.

In the mean time, the limestone quarry was now in full operation hauling loads over to the new cement factory with 20 bogie hoppers laden with soft limestone for the cement production. This made for a very busy railway with more traffic than was originally intended. The boom in Minehead continued with Billy Butlin announcing the opening of a new Butlin Holida Camp that would bring thousands of new holiday makers each week to Minehead. This would see the railway needing to expand its capacity even more to cope with the expected number of holiday makers.

Minehead station was extended to make the platforms longer to cope with ten coach trains. At Barnstaple, a new extra long platform was added in on the main curve into the station area and the points moved back so that trains could change ends around the longer trains. Additional coaches were built over the winter season, ready for the next summer and another steam engine was ordered. Manning Wardle had since gone out of business, so a new manufacturer was source to build a similar locomotive but with modern materials including roller bearings and a larger capacity boiler. With a donation from Billy Butlin, the railway managed to order a second new locomotive so that they could meet the expected demand.

The Minehead Railway ran very busy passenger services into the late 60's and made a significant profit on the services. The line had exceeded its capacity with the mineral traffic and heavy passenger services, so the line had been doubled between Porlock and Minehead to expand the services. It was around this time that the rest of Britain was facing the Beeching Axe and many lines were shutting down. Barnstaple station was getting pressure from BR as the Ilfracombe services were coming under scruteny. Although the Minehead Railway was making a rouring trade taking people up to the coast, the rest of the main line network was suffering from losses.

Ilfracombe Branch Line Closure

In 1970, BR announced that it intended to close the Barnstaple to Ilfracombe branch line as it was making a loss and passenger numbers were not significant enough to keep the line open. This would have a significant impact on the Minehead Railway if BR reduced or even stopped it main line connection with the narrow gauge. This would effectively strangle the railways main source of income with exchange passengers from the main line. After a bitter dispute and many meetings, the Minehead Railway acquired the station building at barnstaple from BR and agreed to have the services continue from Barnstaple Junction into Barnstaple Town station for another year. After 1971, the Ilfracombe line would close to traffic and the bridge over the River Taw would be removed. 

This gave the railway a year to build its own extension from Barnstaple station acorss a new route into the back of Barnstaple Junction, were the narrow gauge would use the old disused platform to exhange passengers with the main line. This would see the railway continue its trade in significant passengers numbers.

Pressure was applied to the railway to take over the running of the Ilfracombe Branch line to keep passenger services operational. As more groups looked to the small railway to take over services, they gave into the mounting pressure and came to an agreement with BR to purchase the Ilfracombe line to keep it operational. The narrow gauge had very little experience of running full size rolling stock and managed to secure an old DMU set to run passenger services up the line. It took over operations in 1972 with the start of the summer season. It soon came aparent that passenger numbers were not improving to Ilfracombe and dispite all the people begging to keep it open, few people were using the line.

The railway ran the Ilfracombe services till 1974 with no end of problems, costing them alot of money, from the breakdowns of the old DMU set and the costs of repairs that were needed on the line from the years of previous neglect from BR, it looked like the railway would have to face the fact that they had inherited a white elephant. A careful study was undertaken to consider the Ilfracombe lines future, as the railway could not afford to keep loosing money on the line. The report was far reaching and identified the railways strengths as a narrow gauge. The cost of running the heavy full size rolling stock was a major problem. The conclusion of the report was to change the whole line over to the narrow gauge, concentrate on their strengths in attractine people with live steam services and build up the tourism trade in Ilfracombe.

A large team of volunteers were found to help with the conversion of the line by simply removing the bolts as rail chairs and moving the rail in to the narrower 2ft gauge. This was helped by the fact that the rail was the older lighter rail and was compatible with the 2ft gauge profile. The volunteers were mobilized across the line to work from each of the stations and meet up at the next, working on several sections of the line at the same time. The new Ilfracombe services would then utilize some of the old rolling stock and be able to attract new people with live steam services.

By 1975, the line conversion was complete and easter saw the first narrow gauge live steam service reaching Ilfracombe station. A lot of planning and work had gone into promoting the new services by working with the Tourism Board in Ilfracombe to get all the hotel trade involved in revitalising the area and attracting new visitors to Ilfracombe. By the end of the 1975 season, the new services showed that the change over was a success. North Pilton Works was then set about building a new set of carriages for the line ready for the next years season.

Not To Be Snookered

The railway was now running busy services from barnstaple Junction across to Barnstaple and up the lines to Lynton, Minehead and Ilfracombe. The three lines proved that the narrow gauge had the attraction to get passengers onto the railway and make a successful profit. The only down side was that the railway only had a limited connection with the rest of the UK through the Barnstaple to Exeter line and there had been several close calls with BR considering closing this vital line over the years. The railway needed to ensure that its future was secure and not totally reliant on BR. The other fact was that the Exeter line only took people south, when most people wanted to get to the main heart of the county and this took them out of their way.

The railway looked closely at its options and come up with a bold plan to build its own line across from Barnstaple to Taunton to create a commuter line from East to West. This would not only secure their own passenger base independant of what BR did with the Exter line, but it would also create a whole new customer base for the railway with the large population in Taunton. Suprisingly, BR was supportive of the idea and offered the railway the oppertunity to aquire the old parcels shed at Taunton as a station building, which would be ideal as it was jus across from the main line Taunton station for exchaning passengers.

The Taunton Line

The new Taunton line would be a major undertaking for the railway and a major investment. It would how ever see the railway expand its reach and customer base as well as open up a new commuter servive between Barnstaple and the heart of England and secure the railways future if successful. The new line would link Barnstaple with South Molton, Tiverton and then Taunton, a distance of nearly 50 miles. The new services would need to be run with modern trains, requiring the development of modern diesel rail car sets for passenger compfort. 

Work started with the purchase of the track bed and designing a set of track laying wagons to lay in the new line. Much had improved with railway technology over the years and the railway wanted to have a faster way of putting in the new line so that it could get it operational and earning money as quick as possible. With this in mind, North Pilton Works came up with the design of a track laying train that conssted of twently platform wagons that had a large A frame crane at the front for dropping track panels off onto the ground in front of the train. The platfom wagons would be linked together with connecting rails running along the outside of the wagons on which an overhead gantry crane could move along the wagons, picking up track panels and moving them down to the front. This track laying train could then carry a hundred track panels, lay the track down and drive over it to lay the next section, speeding up the whole process.

Track laying started in 1978 with the line extending from the bridge at the back of Barnstaple Junction heading towards South Molton. A fleet of road maintenance vehicles cleared the way by digging out the route, levelling the ground and preparing the inital track bed with fresh ballast then using a roller to compress it into a level bed. The new track laying fleet could then simply drop the new track in place and connect it up so that the ballast wagons could come along with fresh ballast to pour over the sleepers. The main line at Barnstaple junction had a siding added in so that tousands of tonnes of ballast could be dropped of so that it could be loaded into the narrow gauge ballast hoppers. The ambitous plan was to construct the line within two years with a single line, then run a second parrallel line in to double the capacity a year later. 

Work started at North Pilton Works in desiging the new fleet of trains need for the new Taunton line service. To make the service viable, the new trains would need to meet all the modern requirements expected by commuters and they would need to be faster than the traditional rolling stock. As part of the designs, the works came up with a Diesel Electric Multiple Unit (DEMU) idea, where the front unit would have an under floor diesel engine generator unit powering traction motors in the power bogies using tried and tested 600V DC traction motors. Beacuse of the narrow gauge and limitations of the distance between the wheels, smaller motors would have to be used. This led to the DEMU design adopting more power bogies that would give the train the power it needed and would also allow it to accelerate quicker as it would have more tractive effort.

As the designs progressed, there was a radical idea to remove some of the bogies by articuling the carriages over a central bogie. This would have a dramic reduction in the number of wheels creating friction and also gave the advantage or reducing the noise between couplings on the carriages. It would also prove to be more sturdy as the train would be more rigid on the rails and have less tendancy to rock. A large scales model was made up and tested on a test layout to see how an articulated rail car would work. The engineers were impressed and added more track with extreem bends to test the design out. Compared with the standard coaches, the train handled the curves better with out the zig zig of carriages ends experienced on traditional coach ends.

After exhaustive testing, the designs were approved for the building of a set of eight 5 car articulated DEMU rail cars that would have corridors between the carriages, central bogies between carriages and have three power bogies at the front giving the train 50% of its wheels driven for extra power in accelleration. The new fleet would also benefit from having toilets in two of the carriages and the central coach having a buffet bar serving refreshments. One of the carriages would have a wide doorway with sliiding doors and an easy access area with folding seats to accomodate push chairs and wheel chair users. It was a radical design and the most modern that had been tried on a narrow gauge in the Uk.

By 1981, the line had been installed past Tiverton and was heading through Wellington on its way into Taunton. The old goods depot at Taunton was knocked into a shell so that it could be rebuilt as a modern enclosed station with a new glass roof and extending it to accomodate much larger platforms. The station would then have four platforms under cover in a modern stylish building. The schedule was to open the Taunton line for passenger services in 1982.

The railway then took on its new name of Devonshire Regional Railway so that it could capitalise on linking people together in the community. The new line would have stations at South Molton, Rackenfprd, Tiverton, Parkway, Wellington and Taunton, linking up the communities along the route with rail transport for the first time in two decades.

The opening of the line was a grand affair with the three of the four platforms filled with the new DEMU rail cars on show and the fourth platform had a live steam excursion train that would then head on up to Minehead through Barnstaple Town. The official ribbon cutting ceremony was done by the Mayor of Taunton, and the first railcar service left with VIP guests. The rest of the trains then took on passengers and services started across to Barnstaple.

The new rail cars proved to be comfortable and affective in pleasing customers. Despite the smaller size to normal railways, they were still considerably spacious inside. The number of passengers using the new service was higher than expected and with the fares set at the railways usual low rates, many people adopted the service for commuting. Work progressed on the dual track along the main route so that the trains could run in both directions at the same time to increase the frequency of services.

Summary

I believe that there is a place for narrow gauge railways to be revived as they are hard working railways and can get where the main line has trouble in reaching with out major invesment in earthworks, bidges and expensive tunnels. My story was used to put together a whole train of thought for a complete range of locmotives and rolling stock that I want to produce over the next couple of years trough North Pilton works and make available for people to enjoy them on their own railway. The full book will be made available online shortly with all the illustrations of the rolling stock.

If you liked the trimmed down story so far, then let me know info @northpiltonworks.com