Published 29th July 2015
Controversial Masterplan proposals prepared by the local authority for Chuley Road in Ashburton would see a supermarket and houses built around the old railway station and on the former track bed. This would preclude any future possibility of reinstating the branch from South Devon Railway’s present Buckfastleigh terminus back into the town of Ashburton.
The Masterplan was endorsed by Dartmoor National Park Authority on July 3 but the fight will continue. The South Devon Railway Trust Board, meeting on July 17 to consider its options, reaffirmed its support for the project to save Ashburton station and to try and bring steam trains back to the route.
Specific actions to be pursued include Trust support for:
FoAS obtaining urgent legal advice about seeking a Judicial Review of the DNPA Masterplan decision.
FoAS seeking public donations for a dedicated fund which will initially finance a public opinion survey in the area to judge public and business support for returning the railway to the town. If the findings show widespread support for the project a new costed feasibility study and linked economic impact study will be funded aimed at showing SDR trains could return to Ashburton in the future and the economic benefits this would bring.
FoAS seeking and identifying people with specific skills (e.g. planning law expertise) in Ashburton and elsewhere to form a new, separate, Ashburton project management team to deal with the issue, in turn raising greater public and business awareness and support.
If the public opinion survey reveals widespread support - and if feasibility and economic impact studies show it is possible - the SDR Trust will support the new Ashburton project management team in developing a national fundraising appeal aimed at buying land if opportunities arise towards the objective of returning trains to Ashbuton.
All money raised would be placed in a designated fund. If the project to return steam to Ashburton proves unsustainable, the cash would be directed to funding the expensive (potentially £250,000) restoration of former Ashburton branch locomotive GWR 14xx 0-4-2T No. 1420.
SDR’s 0-4-2T No. 1420 was no stranger to Ashburton in pre-preservation days. The out-of-ticket GWR 14xx made what turned out to be a triumphant return to the town on July 4, aboard a low-loader to attend Ashburton’s carnival – and scooped first prize in its class!
For the carnival the locomotive was fitted with Bulliver nameplates to remind local people of the link between No. 1420 and Ashburton. This was the name given to the loco by schoolchildren who used the railway to get to KEVICS in Totnes. SDRA’s members magazine is called Bulliver, thus also keeping the historic name and link alive. No. 1420 last left the town by rail in October 1971, just prior to construction of the A38 over the trackbed severing the rail connection. Following adoption of the Masterplan by DNPA the previous day, No. 1420 carried a wreath on its smokebox during its carnival return.
If efforts to return the railway to Ashburton do not succeed this will probably be the last time No. 1420 visits the town – but at least it would have ended its long association with Ashburton as a winner.
The branch off the Exeter to Plymouth main line opened to Ashburton on May 1 1872, engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and built to broad gauge, being regauged to standard in 1892.
The last passenger service ran on November 3 1958 and goods ceased on September 7 1962. Dart Valley Light Railway Ltd acquired the Totnes to Buckfastleigh section of the branch (the two miles on to Ashburton could not be secured since part of the trackbed was earmarked for A38 road enhancements) and commenced passenger services on April 5 1969.
The DVLR took over the Kingswear branch from BR in 1972 and the Paignton to Dartmouth line became its main focus. What subsequently became the SDR Trust took a lease on the branch from January 1 1991, the volunteer supporting organisation being renamed the South Devon Railway Association. SDR purchased the freehold of the line from DVLR (for a nominal £1) on February 8 2010.
SDR has always harboured hopes of returning 'home' to the centre of Ashburton. The A38 road as it now stands is a problem, but thought to be soluble. The big attraction of going back to Ashburton was for SDR to return to the historic, original Brunel-designed overall timber roofed station, just 200 yards from the town centre rather than an out of town development which people could view as being remote.
"There is now an accepted and significant economic gain for areas served by the heritage railway sector and, with no fewer 20 other heritage railways around the country all working closely with local communities, planners and councils to expand their railway operations, it seems that Dartmoor is out of step with this vision and lacking in imagination for the future," commented SDR Trust Chairman Alan Taylor.