A Truly ACE Tour

Railtour follows route of classic named train.

Waterloo to Okehampton Via the South West Main Line

UK Railtours' Atlantic Coast Express charter on October 29 retraced the classic route west from Waterloo to Devon formerly taken by the famous named train. The railtour was given special permission to run along the congested Salisbury to Exeter line, before travelling on to Okehampton on the edge of Dartmoor.

The original Atlantic Coast Express ran from 1926 to 1964, first by the Southern Railway and then as part of British Railway's Southern Region. It ran from Waterloo to towns along the Devon and north Cornwall coast - serving destinations such as Plymouth, Padstow, Bude, Ilfracombe and Torrington.

The ACE was one of southern England's most famous trains, and at its peak would actually be five separate trains leaving within minutes of each other. But its demise came when the main line between Salisbury and Exeter was downgraded to a secondary route in the 1960s, followed by the Beeching cuts closing the lines to many of its destinations.

Today it is only possible travel as far as Okehampton, which was saved to carry stone trains from the quarry at nearby Meldon.

UK Railtours' ACE left Waterloo at 08.05 and headed for Exeter, making stops along the way at Salisbury and Yeovil Junction. The long stretches of single line along this route mean that trains have to wait in passing loops to let other services go by. This leads to very few spare paths being available, and it was only with the cooperation of South West Trains retiming some of its services that the charter could run.

Beyond Exeter, the line to Okehampton skirts the northern edge of Dartmoor, branching away from the Barnstaple line just north of Crediton. The tour terminated at Okehampton where the splendid Southern Railway station has been restored as the home of the Dartmoor Railway. The DR operates heritage steam and diesel trains over the remaining two miles to Meldon Quarry, stopping just short of the magnificent Meldon Viaduct - which is now a cycleway and footpath offering stunning views across Dartmoor.

The tour’s return journey to London was delayed at Exeter while a defective coach was removed, which led to a delay of nearly 100 minutes. But some spirited running saw it make up 40 of those by Waterloo - and the train also ran non-stop from Pinhoe near Exeter to Woking, which is an extremely rare event.

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