THE Plymouth, Devonport & South Western Junction RAILWAY



A main line railway between Lydford and Devonport, in Devon enabling the London and South Western Railway to reach Plymouth more conveniently than before.


The line was worked by the LSWR as part of its own system, but the PD&SWJR adopted the East Cornwall Mineral Railway which connected Kelly Bray and Calstock, and connected it to the main line at Bere Alston. This became the Callington branch, and the PD&SWJR operated the line itself through a subsidiary company.


The rival London and South Western Railway (LSWR) sought to reach Plymouth too; it planned an approach by a northern alignment from Exeter through Okehampton, encouraging the friendly Devon and Cornwall Railway Company to build the line; the LSWR took the smaller company over on 1 January 1872. The chosen course had to penetrate difficult terrain with little population, and at first it limited its ambitions to reaching Lidford: at first only to a terminus there adjacent to the SDR station, reached in 1876.


Although this was a disappointment, it enabled other tactical agreements to be made with the SDR company, and avoided a difficult Parliamentary battle; as part of the agreement that the D&CR would abandon certain authorised extensions, the SDR granted running powers over its line between Lidford and Devonport, and agreed to build a connecting line in Plymouth (the Cornwall Loop) and a Plymouth station at North Road. The LSWR built a new terminal station (approached from the east) at Devonport, so that down LSWR passenger trains approaching the area ran east-to-west through the North Road station, via the Cornwall Loop to the Devonport terminus. A Plymouth goods station at Friary on the east side of the city was also built at this time.


Relying on facilities provided by a competitor was always unsatisfactory: the SDR naturally gave precedence to its own trains; its Tavistock line had been laid out as a branch line only, with sharp curves and heavy gradients; and the SDR was to be paid 10½d in every shilling (87.5%) of LSWR income on the SDR line.[2] Moreover, the LSWR was progressively doubling the track on its Devon lines, and the SDR section, remaining single with the SDR's own traffic as well as the LSWR's, was increasingly seen as an obstruction.


Proposals for a connecting line[edit]


The Plymouth Devonport and South Western Junction Railway in 1892

Local interests promoted a Devon and Cornwall Central Railway which obtained an authorising Act of Parliament on 18 August 1882 to build a line from Lidford to Calstock, where it would join an existing short mineral line, the East Cornwall Mineral Railway (ECMR) and to purchase it and convert it to full railway standards. The D&CCR would therefore reach the Tamar at Calstock and get to Callington.


In the 1883 session, the D&CCR sought powers to extend the authorised line from Gunnislake to run via Beer Alston (later spelt Bere Alston) and Tamerton Foliot to the Devonport terminus of the LSWR; that line would give the LSWR the independent access it required to Plymouth.


In the same session, the Plymouth Devonport and South Western Junction Railway (PD&SWJR) sought powers for a line linking Lidford and Devonport via Tavistock and Beer Ferris (later spelt Bere Ferrers), as well as several branches connecting to other lines, including the D&CCR line authorised in 1882.


The D&CCR proposal alienated many potential supporters: in particular, it was not to pass through the important town of Tavistock (to avoid generating Parliamentary opposition from the SDR, who were already serving the town). The PD&SWJR Bill was successful, receiving the Royal Assent on 25 August 1883; authorised capital was £750,000; the Act authorised a new independent line in Plymouth connecting Friary and Devonport stations, and with a large central Plymouth station east of Tavistock road; the connecting link from Devonport to Lidford; the branch to the D&CCR line authorised in 1882 near Calstock; and connections to the Dockyard at Devonport. Running powers were granted over the short harbour lines of the LSWR in Plymouth. An agreement was made with the LSWR for them to operate the line for 50% of gross receipts. A further Act of 7 August 1884 authorised the purchase of the D&CCR and abandonment of its Lidford to Calstock line; a clause was inserted obliging the PD&SWJR to purchase the East Cornwall Mineral Railway within a year of opening to Devonport.


The construction of the main line posed significant engineering challenges due to the difficult terrain, and it took some time to gain the necessary subscriptions; the first sod was not cut until 29 March 1887. The contract sum was £793,000 including land acquisition.


The Tavistock station was intended to be at the Launceston road on the northern margin of the town, but local people presented a petition and were successful in altering its location, costing an additional £2,000 due to the need to build special access arrangements.


The line involved three tunnels and seven viaducts, as well as 76 bridges in its 22 miles (35 km). The need to enter the Devonport terminus from the west end, through a residential area, posed particular difficulties, as did the tidal mud inlets in the southern section.


Major Marindin of the Board of Trade inspected the main line for approval to open on 23 April 1890. A number of improvements were required, and goods traffic (not subject to the conditions) commenced on 12 May. Passenger traffic started on 1 June 1890.


The route from London to Plymouth was 16 miles (28 km) shorter than the GWR route; the latter still ran via Bristol (until 1906). The 11:00 LSWR express from Waterloo now arrived at Plymouth North Road at 4:45 p.m. (16:45).


On 1 July 1891 the LSWR Friary passenger terminus was opened; when running over the SDR Tavistock line, LSWR passenger trains arriving in the area had run through Plymouth from east to west, calling at the GWR Mutley and Plymouth North Road stations, and terminating at the Devonport terminus. Now they arrived at Devonport, made into a through station, and ran through Plymouth from west to east, continuing to call at Plymouth North Road and once again at Mutley, and turning into the new Friary passenger terminus. The Friary goods station was improved as part of the work, and LSWR goods trains also ran through Plymouth North Road.


At this time the GWR route from Exeter to Penzance was broad gauge, with mixed gauge provided where required for LSWR trains. However the broad gauge was to be abolished, and in a massive operation in May 1892 the gauge was converted. The first GWR narrow gauge[note 2] Night Mail train from Paddington to Plymouth was passed over the LSWR Okehampton line and the PD&SWJR on the night of 20/21 May 1892; from the night of 23/24 May the GWR was able to revert to its own route throughout on its newly relaid standard gauge.[3]


The LSWR energetically developed suburban traffic in the greater Plymouth area, running a relatively frequent stopping service between Friary and St Budeaux. The rise of street-running passenger tramways in Plymouth from 1872 posed a competitive threat, and this accelerated when electric trams were introduced in 1899. The LSWR responded by introducing railmotors, single passenger coaches with an integrated steam power unit, on 26 September 1906, with additional halts opened on 1 November that year. The service proved popular, and in some cases the railmotors themselves were replaced by conventional trains because of capacity problems. Nonetheless street-running public passenger transport achieved gradual dominance, and the LSWR found that outer suburban services were more beneficial.[3]