The Dartmouth Steam Railway is part of an exceptional heritage-railway enterprise which operates as a full commercial operation, with a small amount of volunteer help at one of the five stations.
The original railway, the Dartmouth and Torbay Railway, opened between Paignton and Churston in 1861 and to Kingswear in 1864. The Kingswear terminus connected by ferry with Dartmouth, where there remains a railway station that has never seen a train, like the former station at Hull (Corporation Pier). An independent branch line three miles long, the Torbay & Brixham Railway, opened from Churston into Brixham in 1868. The two railways were absorbed into the Great Western Railway in 1876 and 1883 respectively.
Both branches carried heavy passenger traffic until the 1960s, when the Brixham branch closed in 1963 and most through trains to Kingswear were cut back in 1966.
Complete closure was avoided when the Dart Valley Railway Co Ltd, which had been set up to run what is now the South Devon Railway between Totnes and Buckfastleigh, agreed to purchase the Paignton-Kingswear line directly from British Rail. The last BR train ran on December 30th 1972 and the first service by the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway, as it was then called, began on January 1st 1973.
The £250,000 cost of the purchase was balanced by the sale of surplus land, including a hotel in Kingswear, and astute management has kept pace with demand from holidaymakers as well as rail enthusiasts ever since.
While the Dartmouth Steam Railway has developed as a commercial enterprise, the former Dart Valley Railway, now the South Devon Railway, has remained a volunteer operation, successful enough to purchase the freehold of its trackbed and premises from the Dartmouth Steam Railway PLC in 2010.
There’s more to the Paignton-Kingswear railway than trains. As the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company it runs a fleet of river boats between Kingswear and Dartmouth, and between Dartmouth and Totnes, and its vintage bus service no 100 connects Totnes Quay with the rebuilt GWR-style railway station at Paignton (Queens Park) so that, tide permitting, it’s possible to make a full circuit within the day.
The railway also opened Greenway Halt in 2012, providing direct access to the Agatha Christie estate, Greenway, a National Trust property.
The combination of glorious seaside, heritage transport and the beauty of the River Dart and its estuary make the Kingswear peninsula a magnet for visitors.
All this is accessible by means of the Round Robin ticket [http://www.dartmouthrailriver.co.uk/tours/round-robin], as well as a variety of other options to suit individual visitors’ inclinations.
The Railways of Devon (June 12th-16th 2017) tour includes a visit to the Dartmouth Steam Railway as part of a rail, bus and riverboat Round Robin tour of the Dart estuary. For further details, please click here.