By Cliff Thomas

Award winning year for South Devon Railway

Published: 14th December 2016

Buckfastleigh to Totnes line scoops ten top awards in 2016

The South Devon Railway has hit the 2016 awards jackpot. The heritage steam line has already carried off nine top awards this year and is a shortlisted finalist (one of which is guaranteed to be gold, silver or bronze) for two more top regional and national awards to be announced in early 2017.

This haul of regional and national awards is an impressive achievement for the largely volunteer-run seven-mile line which is very much the quintessential former GWR branch. It also sets a new record for SDR, beating its previous best of seven awards picked up in 2014.

Heritage Interpretation recognised

On a national level, the latest ‘gong’ to be announced, The Mortons Media Heritage Railway magazine Interpretation Award to be presented at the Heritage Railway Association’s February 11 gala night ceremony at Grand Central in Wolverhampton, is a prestigious award in the heritage railway sector recognising what SDR has achieved at Totnes Riverside station over the last 35 years.

Starting with a green-field site, former (mainly GWR) railway buildings and structures recovered from around the rail network have been brought together, interpreted in such a way as to create a station in the Devon countryside which looks as though it has always been at the site.

Moreover, it provides the context for displays of wagons applicable to local rail heritage. The crowning glory is completion of a signal box (which controlled trains in Birmingham before relocation to its new home) at the location adjacent to the junction of the SDR branch and the Exeter-Plymouth main line national network which serves Network Rail’s Totnes station, a short distance over a pedestrian footbridge across the River Dart from the heritage lines station.

“I sincerely hope that the local powers that be look at just what has been accomplished on this site, and then do everything to help the railway extend back into Ashburton and restore the town’s wonderful Brunel-design terminus station to bring economic benefits to all, rather than think up ways to say it can’t be done,” commented Heritage Railway magazine editor, Robin Jones.

Nine tourism awards

The eight tourism awards gained by the SDR in 2016 are:

Winner of the ‘Best Tourism or Hospitality Business’ in the Western Morning News 2016 Business Awards.

Gold ‘Best Visitor Attraction’ in the 2016 Herald Express sponsored English Riviera & South Devon Tourism & Hospitality Awards.

Silver ‘Best Tourism Experience/Activity’ in the 2016 Herald Express sponsored English Riviera & South Devon Tourism & Hospitality Awards for the SDR’s Dining Train.

Silver ‘Large Visitor Attraction of the Year’ in the 2016 Devon Tourism Awards.

Bronze in the ‘Artistic, Cultural & Learning Experience’ category for SDR’s ‘Drive a Train’ in the 2016 Devon Tourism Awards.

‘Outstanding’ in the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Britain in Bloom - It's Your Neighbourhood’ awards 2016.

Gold in the RHS’ ‘Business Leisure & Tourism awards’ 2016.

‘Certificate of Excellence’ from Trip Advisor 2016.

These are the awards already picked up, with SDR in the running for two further gongs for 2016/17:

Shortlisted finalist (Gold, Silver or Bronze award) in the 2016/17 ‘South West Tourism Excellence’ awards – guaranteeing a tenth award with just the colour to be determined. Nominated for ‘Large Visitor Attraction’ in the 2016/17 national ‘Visit England’ Awards.

They said:

Dick Wood, SDR Trust PR & Business Development Manager, who is also Vice-Chairman of the Devon Association of Tourist Attractions: “Being in the running for a number of ‘Blue Riband’ awards this year has seen us line up against many of our local tourism industry peers, and with some terrific competition from other leading attractions around the country. It’s been a lot of hard work, but the South Devon Railway is now recognised as being a Premier League attraction!”

Chris Williams , SDR Railway Manager: “Winning so many awards in just one year is a very creditable achievement by our whole team, especially as it’s the first time we have been shortlisted in some of these prestigious competitions. It gives us heightened confidence that we are running a good visitor attraction and operate a sound business. On top of that, we have enjoyed a good season and expect to break through the 100,000 visitor mark again in 2017 - a record year in so many ways."

Barry Cogar , South Devon Railway Trust Chairman: “The prestigious award from the Heritage Railway Association and Heritage Railway magazine for Totnes is a fantastic achievement for the South Devon Railway. It's a terrific reward for all our loyal staff, dedicated volunteers and supporters, but especially all those people who made Totnes (Riverside) station into what it is today from the muddy, greenfield site I remember well from the 1980's, some of whom are sadly no longer with us, so it's a lasting monument to them too.”

South Devon Santa trains

SDR’s ‘Santa by Steam’ trains look likely to sell out again, with spaces only now available on Monday 19, Tuesday 20 and Wednesday 21 December in the last week before Christmas. To book visit and click on the ‘Go Online’ icon, call the booking office on 01364 644370 or email

SDR is also operating special steam train services on Boxing Day using a special timetable with departures from Buckfastleigh at 11.30, 13.30 and 15.30, and from Totnes at 12.15, 14.15 and 16.15. There will be a 15 minute stop at Staverton on the first two trains returning from Totnes, where the volunteer-run station buffet coach is expected to be open serving hot drinks, pasties, soup and mince pies.

Mince Pie trains run from Tuesday December 27 to Monday January 2 inclusive.

Plenty of seats are available for Boxing Day and Mince Pie special trains with no need for pre-booking, see .

Yard works at Buckfastleigh

SDR has applied for planning permission to construct a new carriage storage building (HRSCC - Heritage Rolling Stock Conservation Centre) over the north end headshunt and loop spur at Buckfastleigh. This will provide weather protection for at least eight vehicles. As a prelude to construction a new yard is being built this winter, initially to store stock while the new building is erected but with a view to further development in the form of a new carriage & wagon restoration building in due course.

The new yard involves complex trackwork to remodel all existing yard siding connections from the yard exit signal towards the stock shed, incorporating a three-way point which has been constructed by a contractor and delivered to the site. Installation commences on January 9 to be completed by the commencement of SDR’s Steam Gala on February 11.

Winter works also include a quarter of a mile of new sleepers and rail (already delivered) being laid from Southport Leat to just beyond Nappers Crossing.

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