Friday, 3 July 2015

Delights of the Dart [4]

The Steam Railway's Superb Ride
The history of the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway is well documented and follows the usual pattern for a former Great Western Railway branch. The inaugurating company (line fully opened in 1864) was absorbed into the Great Western and operated with broad gauge until 1892. An independent branch line from Churston to Brixham was later added to the mix.
The British Rail branch was cut back to Paignton, the Brixham branch was closed in 1963 and the Paignton and Dartmouth Railway was subsequently resurrected opening in 1973. But this has become a very different line from most "heritage" railways" in that it does not use volunteer staff. It is, plain and simple, a business to make a profit and jointly promoted with the Dart River boats.

The fbb's joint 70th birthday present was a three day rover (£29 each and massively good value) plus paddle boat tickets which are extra. Day 3 was a coastal cruise from Torquay ...
... across the bay to Brixham ...
... then round the magnificent craggy coast via Berry Head ...
... to arrive (yet again) in Dartmouth ...
... all under azure skies and brilliant sunshine. Magnifique! Sadly skies and sun cannot be guaranteed. Pause for lunch (again!) in Dartmouth, this time c/o The Sloping Deck ...
... where fbb's roast pork bap was scrumptious.

Then it was across on the ferry to Kingswear and back on the train.
One thing is clear. This is not your average preserved line. It is highly professional and very much a business-led railway, replicating the GWR of old. Everything was clean and tidy; here is loco Lydham Manor, positively sparkling as it backed onto the fbb's train.
Now there's a thought. Lydham Manor was probably never as sparkling when operated by BR. Which might raise an eyebrow or two as steam buffs insist the loco would have been polished to a mirror like finish by its Great Western Railway owners.

No so! The engine was built by British Railways in 1950! The GWR disappeared on 1st January 1948.

Then there are the coaches. Most preserved lines use standard BR Mark I stock, as does this company. But observe this female fellow.
Of course you spotted straight away that is was a non powered suburban coach ...
... from a BR class 117 diesel multiple unit originally growling its way out of Paddington. The unit used to look like this when new.
But, what a disgrace; 2 + 3 seating and one-time diesel hauled to boot! Isambard Kingdom will be spinning so fast in his grave that he will drill out a second tunnel to France!

One nice touch is that several of the Mark Is have had seats remove to facilitate families with encumbrances, namely pushchairs and their contents.
Excellent customer service.

The line is signalled with colour lights which one might presume are controlled from a very large GWR signalbox at Kingswear.
But look at this older snap taken from the other direction.
There is a decided lack of large traditional GWR signalbox! In fact it is fake and new (ish) and provides staff facilities and offices and controls nary a single signal. (poor English - too many "ands") The nerve centre of the railway's operation is Britannia Crossing, just outside Kingswear.
Here the line crosses the approach road to the "Higher" car ferry where barriers and all the line's signals are controlled by a team of busy signalman. One of the joys of taking your car across from Dartmouth to Kingswear by this route is that you can queue for ages to get ON the ferry; then grimace frustratingly for slightly less ages to get OFF, waiting for a train to pass. Deep Joy.

And yet another delight for jaded and elderly rail enthusiasts. The company has opened a brand new station called Greenway Halt ...
... complete with railway truck waiting shelter, whence you can take a steep muddy ½ mile footpath to Agatha Crusty's former pad.
The fbbs are due to visit later this summer but they will take the bus from Churston station! Greenway Halt is only big enough for two coaches with on-train staff and loudspeaker announcements directing passengers to the front/back of the train. But without the modern luxury of central door locking you can make a mistake and plunge 6 feet or more down to the ballast: ill-advised but possible!

The fbb's made four journeys on this delightful line and, every time, your chubby author was bowled over by the consummate professionalism of the operation. Today's national train companies could learn a lesson or two!

If you missed the previous three posts, they can be found here:-
1 : 2  :  3

 Next train & tram blog : Saturday 4th July 

No comments:

Post a Comment