John Speller's Web Pages Launceston Branch (SDR)

John Speller's Web Pages - GWR Broad Gauge - SDR

Launceston Branch

The South Devon & Tavistock Railway

An Act of Parliament authorizing the 12 mile South Devon & Tavistock Railway from Tavistock Junction, 1 miles east of Plymouth on the South Devon main line to Tavistock, received the Royal Assent on 24 July 1854. The Act contained a clause to the effect that though the line was to be built to the 7' 0" gauge, any future narrow-gauge railway connecting with it could force it lay down mixed gauge tracks. The authorized capital of the line was 116,000 and ground was broken on 25 August 1856. The engineer was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, with R. P. Brereton as resident engineer to supervise the day to day work of construction. The line opened to traffic on 21 June 1859.

The Launceston & South Devon Railway

The Launceston & South Devon company obtained it Act of Parliament on 30 June 1862, in order to build a broad gauge railway an additional 18 miles from Tavistock to Launceston in Cornwall. Sir John Fowler was appointed engineer, with P. J. Margary as resident engineer. The Launceston extension opened on 1 July 1865.

Enter the L&SWR

Throughout the 1860s the narrow-gauge London & South Western Railway had been pressing westward from Exeter into broad gauge territory, and on 3 October 1871 they had reached Okehampton. Their surrogate company, the Devon & Cornwall Railway, obtained powers in 1863 to build a ten-mile line from Okehampton to a junction with the the Launceston & South Devon Railway at Lidford (spelt Lydford after 1897), thereby allowing the L&SWR to run trains through to Plymouth. This line opened on 1 October 1874. The clause from the 1854 Act was then invoked, forcing the South Devon Railway to lay down mixed gauge track, and the London & South Western Railway service from Waterloo to Plymouth was able to commence on 17 May 1876. The Great Western soon found the mixed gauge useful themselves. In 1883, with the opening of the Princetown Branch from a junction with the Tavistock line at Yelverton, the mixed gauge lines made it possible to trains to run onto the Princetown branch from Plymouth. The London & South Western Railway subsequently built their own, more direct, route from Lidford to Plymouth, and this opened on 2 June 1890. The Great Western Railway used this route for their Exeter to Plymouth expresses while their own line was shut down for the conversion of the gauge in May 1892. All traffic was withdrawn from the Great Western lines on 31 December 1962, but goods traffic between Lifton and Lydford resumed between 8 September 1964 and 28 February 1966, using the L&SWR line beyond Lydford, to service an Ambrosia Rice Pudding factory.
Tavistock station following gauge conversion in May 1892
South Devon Railway 4-4-0ST "Castor" built by Slaughter, Gruning & Co. in 1865, shown at Launceston in around 1875. Driver Jameson Davis.
Opening of the South Devon & Tavistock Railway, 21 June 1859. Engraving from The Illustrated London News
Accident on the mixed gauge track just south of Yelverton in 1887. L&SWR 0-6-0 No. 442 off the track
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