History of the line

The Branch: Plymouth - Tavistock South - Launceston

The Railway line running through the Plym Valley was opened on 22 June 1859, by the South Devon & Tavistock Railway from Plymouth (Tavistock Junction) to Tavistock, a subsidiary of the South Devon Company which took it over completely on 1 July 1865, after operating the line from the start. The section between Marsh Mills and Plym Bridge was built close to the Lee Moor Tramway. Another South Devon subsidiary, the Launceston & South Devon, extended the line from Tavistock, through Lydford and on to Launceston, opening on 1 June 1865. The Launceston Company was absorbed by the South Devon on 24 June 1869, and amalgamation took place on 31 December 1873.

On New Year's Day 1876, the G.W.R. took control over all of the South Devon lines. So the Plymouth - Tavistock - Launceston route became another G.W.R. branch line. It had been built to Brunel's broad gauge of seven foot and one quarter inch, however the line was about to be thrust into the railway supremacy for the West. The London & South Western Railway, in the form of the Devon & Cornwall Railway, had arrived at Lydford, from Okehampton, on 12 October 1874. Using running powers built into the Acts of Parliament for the two parts of the G.W.R. branch, the L.S.W.R. - which had longed for a share of the Plymouth traffic - commenced running over the G.W.R. branch from Lydford to Plymouth and onto a new station at Kings Road, Devonport.

To accommodate the standard gauge, four foot eight and a half inches, L.S.W.R. trains, the G.W.R. had to install a third rail. It was a cumbersome arrangement with broad gauge local trains and standard gauge express trains from London. Save for a short section, from Tavistock Junction to Marsh Mills, the line was single track with complicated layouts at crossing stations. At Lee Moor Crossing, between Marsh Mills and Plym Bridge, the four foot six inch Lee Moor Tramway crossed the branch on the flat, giving rise to a very rare three gauge crossing. The horse drawn wagons on the tramway took priority at the junction over the branch trains, and invariably the G.W.R. trains took priority over the L.S.W.R. trains. On 2 June 1890 the L.S.W.R. obtained an independent route from Lydford to Devonport, via Tavistock North and Bere Alston. The G.W.R. branch once again became a local line, and was converted to standard gauge throughout as part of the great gauge conversion on 20-22 May 1892.

Edwardian prosperity with the booming in local railway travel, the 'Woolworths' 6d trips of the 1930's, the hectic years of the line running at capacity in the Second World War all came and went, and the line became part of the Western Region of British Railways on 1 January 1948. Despite still seeing heavy passenger traffic in the early 1950's, by the end of the decade it had become vulnerable to road competition. The Branch passenger service was withdrawn from 31 December 1962, the last train running in a heavy blizzard, the day before Dr. Richard Beeching took over as Chairman of the British Railways Board. Marsh Mills to Tavistock was closed completely and demolished in the summer/autumn of 1964, and within two years the northern freight only sections were abandoned. The west curve at Tavistock Junction, to Marsh Mills was closed on 4 April 1965, when a new link from Tavistock Junction marshalling yard came into use to serve the 1920's spur into the China Clay works, and the now closed Coypool M.O.D. depot, which was built during the Second World War.

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