Princetown Railway

Great Western Railway

BR Western Region

Line Closed

A 10¼ mile single track branch railway line that ran from Yelverton on the Plymouth to Tavistock line, to Princetown via four intermediate stations utilising a large part of the Plymouth and Dartmoor's horse drawn mineral railway established in 1823, its line connecting Princetown with a wharf on the River Plym near Plymouth. The original intention of encouraging agricultural development of the moor had been frustrated, but the line was carrying considerable traffic in granite from quarries a little below Princetown.

In 1852 business interests were formulating the prospectus of the South Devon and Tavistock Railway Company (SD&TR), which was to connect Tavistock with the main line railway near Plymouth. They wrote that arrangements would also be made, if found desirable, to form a branch line to Government establishments at Princetown. The Government establishments were of course Dartmoor Prison, then recently re-opened as a convict prison. The proposed branch was not proceeded with, and the SD&TR opened its line on 22 June 1859. Leaving the Exeter - Plymouth line of the South Devon Railway near Marsh Mills, today a large siding complex adjacent to the Laira train servicing depot, and ran northwards to Tavistock, passing through a tunnel under Roborough Down, near the settlement of Yelverton.


In 1874 an independent company proposed a branch line from Yelverton to Princetown, with a short branch there to the prison. Although the scheme failed to gain support it spurred the Great Western Railway (GWR) into action. Having taken over the SD&TR line and under the guise of a nominally inndependant Princetown Railway company it proposed a branch to Princetown from its station at Yelverton; it obtained powers by Act of Parliament on 13 August 1878, by which a nominally independent company, the Princetown Railway. The GWR was to work the line when built, and to have a controlling interest. Notwithstanding GWR sponsorship, the line was to be built on the standard gauge (4 ft 8½in, 1,435 mm).


The Company purchased the upper section of the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway (P&DR) for £22,000, in order to use the P&DR trackbed. It did so for much of the route, but it ran to the east of Yennadon Down. There were also a number of local realignments where very sharp tramway curves had to be smoothed for locomotive operation.


The line was evidently partly supported by the Home Office, as a financial grant towards the construction was expected to be made. It was also anticipated that convict labour might be used for the construction, but this was abandoned as impractical.


The line opened without ceremony on 11 August 1883 after a second visit by the Board of Trade Inspector, Colonel Yolland who was then happy that the changes that he had outlined in his first visit had been carried out.


On opening passenger trains ran from Horrabridge through Dousland to Princetown, as there was only a goods siding at Yelverton. Yolland had required that either a junction station should be provided at Yelverton, or that Horrabridge station should be extended to accommodate interchange traffic. For the time being Horrabridge served as the junction station, but the GWR opened a station at Yelverton on On 1 May 1885, and from that time the branch passenger trains operated to and from that point.


The Princetown branch trains were able to utilise the mixed gauge track (standard and broad gauge rails) originally built to allow the trains of the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) to use the line, they also travelled through to Plymouth for servicing.


The ruling gradient was 1 in 40, rising almost continuously to Princetown, with short-radius curves, making locomotive operation difficult.


The branch line left Yelverton in a southerly direction and curved sharply east on a steeply rising gradient. Immediately at the platform end there was a spur siding which led back to a 23 ft 6in turntable. Normal operation in the twentieth century was that an arriving train (from Princetown) would unload and then be propelled empty up the gradient past the siding connection. The engine would then move into the spur and the coaches would be gravitated into the platform under the control of the guard.[5]


Stations on the branch were:


Dousland station; it was a block post and had a single platform.

Burrator & Sheepstor Halt; it was opened on 4 February 1924, the area having become an attraction for ramblers. Burrator reservoir is nearby.

Ingra Tor Halt; it opened on 2 March 1936.

King Tor Halt; opened 2 April 1928

Princetown; the terminus was at an altitude of 1373 feet above sea level.


Prisoners destined for HM Prison Dartmoor were no longer conveyed by the route after 1930 except during and just after World War 2, as the Southern Railway route to Tavistock and a road connection were more convenient.


The line was operated by the Great Western Railway, but owned by the Princetown Railway until 1 January 1922 when the Company amalgamated with the GWR. The line passed to British Railways in 1948 and closed on 3 March 1956.


Today, the disused track is a popular walking destination across the moor. Much of the line now forms the route of the Dousland to Princetown Railway Track walkway and rough cycle track.



Opened at Dousland Barn in 1883 was located on the 10.5 mile long single track branch railway line in Devon, England, running from Yelverton to Princetown with eventually four intermediate stops, three being halts and one at Dousland as a fully fledged station.

Burrator and Sheepstor Halt



Ingra Tor Halt


King Tor Halt