By Cliff Thomas

80 years after closure, Lynton & Barnstaple Railway revival steps up a notch or three

Published: 6th March 2016

Planning applications lodged to extend iconic line by 4.5 miles

Seven planning applications forming a package aimed at extending the present mile-long section of revived Lynton & Barnstaple Railway by an additional four and a half miles have been lodged with Exmoor National Park Authority and North Devon Council.

The two planning authorities registered the applications and posted them on their respective websites with the public consultation period stated to be open until March 4 2016. Within days of posting the Exmoor National Park Authority website appeared to crash. With the ‘comment’ section on the site suffering technical issues the authority advised that comments should be sent by email direct to plan@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk .

Reinstatement of the Lynton & Barnstaple, which opened in 1898 and closed on September 29 1935, has been described as representing the last great piece of unfinished narrow gauge preservation business. Many would make a case of it being the most important piece of unfinished business in railway preservation, regardless of gauge.

Revival of all, or even a significant part, of the 19-mile L&B across Exmoor from Barnstaple to Lynton also ranks as one of the most complex railway restoration projects ever undertaken in Britain. Within a year of the line closing all track had been lifted, every item of equipment disposed of and the route sold off to numerous purchasers.

Trains first started running again over the original route from Woody Bay station in 2004 with operations to today’s temporary terminus at Killington Lane commencing in 2006.

Comprehensive documentation

The planning applications seek to extend the line from Killington Lane through Blackmoor to Wistlandpound reservoir. The section from Killington Lane to Blackmoor falls under Exmoor National Park Authority ( www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk - application number 62/50/16/001-005) while Blackmoor to Wistlandpound lies within the jurisdiction of North Devon Council ( www.northdevon.gov.uk – application numbers 60675 and 60676).

The applications have cost the L&BR Trust over £360,000 to prepare over the last three years and the submissions were huge. Each of the seven comprised about 520 pages for the application and technical reports with a further 860 pages covering the Environmental Statement. The important elements of the documentation can be downloaded from L&BR’s website http://www.lynton-rail.co.uk/ .

The seven applications comprise two to North Devon Council (NDC) and five to Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA). The NDC applications cover reinstatement of the railway and change of use and extension of The Old Station House Inn to Blackmoor station. In addition to reinstatement of the railway within its boundary the ENPA applications encompass new rolling stock shed and sidings, new railway car park, redevelopment and expansion of public car park and amenity area (all at Blackmoor) and erection of two dwellings (one for railway purposes and one for local needs affordable housing) at Parracombe Halt to replace a 1988-built bungalow which will be demolished. Parracombe Halt will be reinstated with a passing loop, enabling passengers to alight and explore the locality on foot.

Relocation of HQ to Blackmoor Gate

A core element of the extension proposals is relocation of L&BR’s centre of operations from Woody Bay to Blackmoor Gate where an engineering centre and locomotive and carriage sheds will be constructed. The Old Station House Inn – the former Blackmoor station on the old railway and now a restaurant and pub business – will be remodelled to provide a new station together with railway offices, a museum and an exhibition area, incorporated with the existing catering business.

The main car park, capable of accommodating 160 cars, will be on the other side of the A399 (adjacent to the livestock market) linked to the reconstructed station area by a pedestrian underpass. The intention is for Blackmoor Gate to become the centre of a park and ride operation serving Woody Bay (in the national park) with a shuttle bus service operated to convey passengers onwards from Woody Bay to Lynton, and in the other direction to a new halt station adjacent to the reservoir at Whistlandpound.

The railway reinstatement applications include clearance of cuttings filled in since the railway closed and replacement or repair of original bridge structures and embankments which have been removed or deteriorated since the old railway closed. Major civil engineering is required to reconstruct Parracombe Bank, a massive earth structure severed in August 1952 where it crossed the River Heddon amid catastrophic floods which devastated Lynmouth, downstream to the north on the coast. The work will include construction of a culvert larger than a double-decker bus.

As the extension project comes to completion the current Killington Lane station (which is located adjacent to but not quite on the original trackbed) will be removed.

Job creation and boost for North Devon tourism

The present mile-long L&BR carried 48,000 passengers in 2015, setting a new record for traffic. An extended railway would provide a major boost to the North Devon tourist industry, directly support 24 full-time jobs and many more in the wider service sector locally. Apprentices will also be trained in the engineering centre at Blackmoor Gate.

Hopefully the planning applications will be determined this summer. If passed the next stage is to seek around £16.5 million of grant help to finance reconstruction of the railway and apply for a Transport & Works Act Order. If all goes well, a serious start on construction could be anticipated around 2018.

Lynton & Barnstaple Railway’s ultimate aim is complete reinstatement of the original line. The existing Woody Bay – Killington Lane operation represents Phase 1 of the project with the latest planning applications covering Woody Bay to Wistlandpound considered as Phase 2A. Although somewhat into the future, Phase 2B will be reinstatement of Woody Bay to Lynton with Phase 3 being completion of the railway from Wistlandpound through to Barnstaple.

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