The Bere Alston & Callington Railway
Plymouth Devonport & South Western Junction Railway
BR Southern Region
Line Closed Beyond Gunnislake
A POTTED HISTORY
Bere Alston station opened 2 June 1890, built by the Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway (PD&SWJR) as part of the company's line from Lydford to Devonport. Being in effect an extension of the London and South Western Railway's main line from London Waterloo it made it possible for the LSWR to reach Plymouth independently of the Great Western Railway and as such was immediately leased to the LSWR.
It was not until after the Light Railways Act was passed in 1896 which enabled railways to be built with less costly red tape and equally less costly engineering standards required that the PD&SWJR looked into a branch line to Calstock to connect to the East Cornwall Mineral Railway (ECMR), a 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) railway line, opened in 1872 to connect mines and quarries in the Callington and Gunnislake areas in east Cornwall with shipping at Calstock on the River Tamar.
The Bere Alston and Calstock Light Railway Order was confirmed by the Board of Trade on 12 July 1900. The Order also included authorisation for the acquisition of the ECMR line and its operation as a passenger light railway, except the rope-worked incline. It was intended that the gauge would remain 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in), but in finance proved impossible to obtain. Eventually the LSWR was persuaded to guarantee borrowings.
The Bere Alston and Calstock Railway (BA&CR) was formed as a subsidiary of the PD&SWJR, and a new Act of 23 June 1902 authorised it to build the connecting line and to acquire the East Cornwall line.
The upgrading of the ECMR was to be carried out under the General Manager of the ECMR, Capt. Sowton who had been in post since 1883. The PD&SWJR board soon realised that he lacked light railway expertise so they agreed to employ an engineer with the relevant experience to advise and work with Capt. Sowton. Col. Holman Fred Stephens was approached and in 1904 became a consultant engineer to the PD&SWJR. In 1905 the board decided to convert the line to standard gauge (probably on advice from Stephens).
Colonel Stephens went on to become a celebrated pioneer of the light rail branch line. More information about him, the BA&CR and his other railways along with unique photos can be found on the web site Colonel Stephens Society.
The Bere Alston to Callington line, although owned by the BA&CR, was always a subsidiary of the PD&WJR, and as a result worked by the PD&SWJR.
The new line from Bere Alston to Callington opened throughout to passengers and freight traffic on 2 March 1908. Regauging and some realignment of the ECMR line having been undertaken in 1907-1908; ordinary traffic was only interrupted for two days during the conversion.
The main line of the PD&SWJR was worked by the LSWR, becoming outwardly part of the main line network, the PD&SWJR worked the branch itself and continued to operate the line itself, remaining independent until the "Grouping" of railways on 1 January 1923, when it became part of the Southern Railway, and later British Railways.
The freight element of the ECMR line remained an intrinsic part of the branch, although the incline at Calstock was abandoned. As the PD&SWJR branch crossed the Tamar at a high level on viaduct, a wagon lift was provided there to continue access to the quay.
The line from Okehampton to Bere Alston was closed on 6 May 1968 (as a result of the Beeching Axe), which left just the Gunnislake service running through from Plymouth and reversing at Bere Alston. This had also been threatened with closure, but retained due to the local topography & poor nature of the local road network (though the last section to Callington had closed in November 1966). The line from Plymouth was reduced to just a single track on 7 September 1970 and the junction changed to allow the train guard to operate the points.
On 18 March 2008 Devon County Council backed a proposal by developers Kilbride Community Rail to construct 750 houses in Tavistock that includes reopening the 5 1⁄2 miles (9 km) line from Bere Alston to a new Tavistock railway station at a cost of £18.5million. There have also been proposals put forward to reopen the entire route through to Okehampton and Exeter St Davids as a diversionary/relief route to maintain the rail link between Plymouth and Cornwall and the rest of the UK should the coastal main line via Dawlish be blocked by bad weather, as was the case in early 2014.
It is felt that in some quarters that the proposed reopening of the Bere Alston to a new station at Tavistock, would improved the line services considerably and would change the dynamics of the area and necesitate more frequent services and improved park & ride facilities at both Bere Alston and Tavistock.
Rather than then deminish the importance of the Gunnislake branch a company called Ecorail ltd and advocate of reinstating the missing section of the former LSWR AS EARLY AS 2012, before the sea wall at Dawlish was washed away, is proposing reopening the third platform at Bere Alston and running the resultant branch line as a modern hybrid light rail operation doubling the frequency of trains and metting the trains at Bere Alston.
The proposed changing of trains would not be any more time consuming than the current train reversal in the current timetable.