The Exeter Line

After the opening up of the Parkway station in 86, the railway had managed to capitalise on gaining a large customer base with people commuting mainly between Tiverton and taunton and gained significant growth with cimmuters enjoying the fact that their towns were now linked by rail. The relatively slow journey time compared to the main line did not seem to bother most people as the times were comparitive to the bus services and there was no traffic jams or major delays usually. With the high passenger numbers on regular trains, the railway looked at extending the line from Parkway down to Exeter which would then join up comunities along the line such as WIlland, Collumoton, Brandninch, Broadclyst and Pin hoe into Exeter.

After looking at the possibilities, a site was search for in Exeter. The main railway station is Exeter St David, but the route through through from Broadclyst and Pin Hoe would mean crossing the main line with a junction. Running into Exeter Central would bring the railway into th eheart of the city centre and give them access into a population base of 125,000 people. The discussions with BR went well and BR agreed to lease land along side their running lines for the narrow gauge to run into Exeter. The new found cooperation with BR meant that talks were going ahead with how they could work together to integrate some of the commuter services with an exchange station at Pinhoe and Exeter Central stations.

The plans were announced publically in 1990 with a view to opening up the new Exeter line by 1993. The new route would need extra DEMU railcar sets and run the services from Exeter to Taunton connecting up the communities on the way. Where as BR had the main line from Exeter through to Taunton, it only stopped at Tiverton Parkway. The new commuter route was seen as a way to get people quickly to the exchange stations with BR from Wellington, Willand, Collumpton, Brandnich and Broadclyst for other main line destinations.

The route was purchased and the track laying fleet put back into action to lay a double line through from Parkway down to Exeter layin both tracks side by side this time. One line would be run two miles ahead of the other, so that it made it easier to run vital supplies down the line to the construction site to help put in the second line.

West Lyn Corp also took the opportunity to plan ahead to open up more of its DIY stores with a new store planned for Collumpton and Exeter, so sidings and marshalling yards were planned into the new route. To keep the line simple, each of the stations would be a simple layout with a station building for facilities and two platforms for North or South bound trains with a large foot bridge between the platforms. To save passebgers having to cross the lines, a ramp would also be built at the new stations to take passengers through a tunnel bunder the station for wheel chair and push chair users.

New Exeter Rolling Stock

The new route would need an additional eight railcar units with six built as five car sets and two that would be built as double units for ten coach sets. For servicing the Exeter fleet, a maintenance depot would be added south of Collumpton so that the fleet could be serviced daily. West Lyn Corp then looked at its logistics in supplying its new stores and decided to double up its own goods fleet for the Exeter extension.

Freight Services

The raiway looked at the new Exeter line with a view to starting to run its own freight services, as there was a massive amount of goods moved between Exeter and the rest of the region locally. If it could operate dedicated freight services, it could be moving thousands of tonnes a week and take some of the strain of the grid lock on the roads by relieving hauliers travelling back and forth with lorries. Two wagons could now take the same as an artuculated trailer and keep the cost down. As the Exeter line was starting construction, a survey was carried out to look particularly into freight haulage around the region. The reults of this survey found a large volume of potential customers that would be using BR freight services if it was more convenient and more cost effective. If the railway could hit the freight market hard with the right pricing, it could be another valuable income stream for the railway.

One of the major disadvantage of the narrow gauge is the loading gauge which determines the safe over hang of loads on the wagons, and the narrow 2ft gauge limited the railway to a maximum of 7ft width. This made it impossible for the railway to capitalise on the new container loads that were 8ft wide. There was however and anourmous amount of other freight traffic that it could capitalise on. The railway made plans for opening up freight yards in the future at Exeter, Tiverton and Taunton with an additional yard at Barnstaple.

Opening The Exeter Line

The line was completed a couple of months ahead of schedule, whihc alloweed them to test the line out and put in all the finishing touches to the station buildings. The main station at Exeter was not yet named as it was not to conflict with the other station names of the other three main line stations. It would be a grand station with a large canopy roof spreading over six platforms as the railway wanted to build in plenty of surplus requirement for the future expansion of the services. At the side of the station was a freight depot with two lines running into the shed and a pair of sidings. 

A competition was held in the Exeter press for the namin of the station with the winner being given the opportunity to cut the ribbons at the opening ceremony. The winning name for the competition was Exeter Main, which suited the railway as it was its largest station. The official opening was held in April of 1993 with a line up in the station of all the new DEMU railcar sets and the garratt hauling a ten coach special excursion through to Minehead. Services from Exeter would run through to Taunton an through to Barnstaple. The day got off to a great start and followed its usual opening day ceremonies with the first two trains to depart full of VIP guests and then fare paying passengers taking advantage of which ever train they could get seats on. 

Its was obvious from the amount of people at the station that the railway was going to be very busy with the new services. Over the first few days, the Exeter route loaned the extra two ten coach railcar sets from Taunton. Over the next few months, the passenger numbers had not died down and an extra pair of ten coach railcar sets were ordered to cope with peak services. The new station was attracting a massive amount of people onto the railway and this had a kncok on effect with people coming into Barnstaple and visiting the northern lines for Minehead, Lynton and Ilfracombe, so an extra train each way to Barnstaple Town as added into the schedule.

As the Exeter services settled down, the railway turned its attention to the new DIY stores that West Lyn was opening up and added in the rail yards and extra sidings needed for their supply trains. This also gave the railway a chance to gain its focus on its own freight services once more with a view to setting up the rail freight yard at Exeter and extending the taunton Yard to handle freight exchange. Looking back at their freight customer survey, one important aspect would be exchanging loads with flat bed lorries with over head cranes. This would need to be planned into the yards with a gantry crane on rails that straddled the railway lines and allowed lorries to park under the crane to receive loads. The plans were drawn up for the Exeter Freigth yard with a pair of overhead cranes on one set of rails with two tracks running under the cranes. There would then be a set of 5 sidings for storage. Another line would run along a long platform for loading box vans with trolley jacks and fortk lifts. The same plans were adopted for the Taunton and Tiverton yards.

To start the freight services off, the railway would need a complete fleet of new rolling stock that would consist of platform wagons and box vans. The success of the new class 500 Co-Co locomotives that West Lyn had built up would become the new freight service locomotives. These would be painted in the same maroon livery as West Lyn but not have any logo on. With all the extra rolling stock, there would need to be a new marshalling and storage yard added to the network for holding spare wagons while not in use. A new yard would be added at Tiverton as it was the central point of the railway network.