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South Devon Railway
The Former Dart Valley Railway, the Quintessential Great Western Branch.
The standard gauge South Devon Railway follows the meandering River Dart for most
of it’s 7 mile length from Buckfastleigh on the edge of Dartmoor, to Totnes where
it meets the Great Western Main Line. The beautiful river valley can only be fully
appreciated from the train as the river is only briefly glimpsed from the road.
South Devon Railway at a Glance
Type: Preserved Railway
Gauge: Standard, 4’ 8½”
Length: 7 miles
First opened: 1872
Closed: 1958 (Passenger) 1962 (Freight)
Re-opened in preservation: 1969
The best terminus at which to start your journey depends on your mode of transport.
By train - Totnes mainline station is less than 500 yards from the SDR’s Totnes (Littlehempston)
station and is accessed via a footpath and footbridge accross the River Dart. The
mainline station is served by Great Western Trains and Arriva Cross Country Trains
from London, Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth, Penzance, The Midlands, The North and Scotland.
By car - Buckfastleigh is the best choice, it’s close to the A38 and easy to find,
just follow the brown signs from the A38 slip road. There is a large car park adjacent
to the SDR station.
By bus - The following buses stop close to Buckfastleigh station or Totnes mainline
station or town centre:
The map below shows the location of all the stations on the South Devon Railway,
click on any of the markers to see the station name and postcode (where applicable).
Use the zoom and pan tools to explore the map.
Attractions and Facilities
Buckfastleigh - Museum, historic steam and diesel locomotives and rolling stock,
play area, gardens, maze, riverside walks, picnic area, refreshment rooms, model
and gift shop with OO gauge model railway, 7¼” gauge miniature railway, Dartmoor
Otters & Buckfast Butterflies, large car park, toilets.
Staverton - riverside walks to the village with pub and 13th century church
Totnes (Littlehempston) - Rare Breeds Farm, Garden Café, picnic area, toilets, town
centre with car parks.
South Devon Railway, The Station, Dartbridge Road, Buckfastleigh, Devon. TQ11 0DZ
The Dart Valley Railway was the first preserved line to be established in the South
West and was probably more famously known under that name. However, the branch has
benefited tremendously from the transition into the South Devon Railway and can offer
a better service and more to see and do.
The SDR holds a first for me, it was on this line that I was first hauled by a preserved
standard gauge steam locomotive; ex GWR 2251 class 0-6-0 No. 3205, a delightful little
tender engine which is still on the SDR. The railway is not terribly far from where
I live so I get the chance to go there fairly often.
Whichever end of the South Devon Railway you start your journey from, it’s wise to
get there early because there’s plenty to see and do, you can easily spend all day
At Buckfastleigh there’s the museum, historic steam and diesel locomotives and rolling
stock, refreshment rooms, model and gift shop with OO gauge model railway, 7¼” gauge
miniature railway and more. The Dartmoor Otters & Buckfast Butterflies are adjacent
to the car park.
The SDR station at Totnes (Littlehempston) has been built entirely from buildings
and artifacts rescued from GWR stations in the West Country. The main building is
from Toller on the former Bridport branch in Dorset. The Rare Breeds Farm and Garden
Café are right next to the station, Totnes town centre is about a half mile away.
The trip from end to end takes half an hour, if you have time you can stop off at
Staverton, the intermediate station to take a stroll along the River Dart. If not
you can still enjoy the spectacular views of the unspoilt Dart Valley and it’s wildlife
from the train.
A steam train ride through the stunning Dart Valley is an incredibly pleasant experience.
Add a visit to the Otters and Butterflies at Buckfastleigh and Rare breeds Farm at
Totnes and you have a excellent family day out.
Trains operate daily from the end of March to the end of October with at least four
steam hauled trains each way. In the Summer peak season the passing loop at Staverton
is brought into use with nine trains each way, some of these are diesel hauled. During
the winter, trains run on certain Sundays and school holidays including some diesel
multiple unit services, click on the image in links below to view the timetable.
The South Devon Railway offers a Dining Train service, The Devonshire Pullman on
certain Fridays, the train is comprised of historic carriages and takes a leisurely
2½ hours for the round trip. Refer to the SDR’s website for more details (see link
The South Devon Railway is home to a collection of steam and diesel locomotives including
some unique historical engines on static display at Buckfastleigh:
5 GWR tank locomotives
4 GWR tender locomotives
Original South Devon Railway broad gauge (7’ 0¼”) 0-4-0WT ‘Tiny’
Lee Moor Tramway (4'6" gauge) 0-4-0ST No. 2
4 industrial tank locomotives
6 BR main line diesel locomotives
2 BR diesel shunters
3 industrial diesel shunters
BR Mk1 coaches
BR auto trailers
GWR, LMS, LNER, BR and private owner wagons
BR Diesel Multiple Units
1847 - Original South Devon Railway between Exeter and Plymouth opened as far as
1848 - Act of Parliament was passed to build a 10½ mile branch from Totnes along
the River Dart to Ashburton.
1872 - The Buckfastleigh, Totnes and South Devon Railway opened (so called as the
line was not originally planned to extend to Ashburton). The branch was built to
Brunel’s broad gauge (7’ 0¼”) and was operated by the South Devon Railway from the
1876 - The South Devon Railway was taken over by the Great Western Railway.
1892 - Branch converted to standard (4’ 8½”) gauge. The work was carried out over
one weekend involving a massive workforce. The Ashburton branch had a quiet existence
and was never profitable, following nationalisation and the rise of road transport,
traffic declined even further.
1958 - Line closed to passengers but remained open to freight.
1962 - Line closed completely.
1962 - A group of businessmen announced that they planned to re-open the line to
Ashburton and run it as a commercial enterprise without needing a volunteer workforce.
1965 - The Dart Valley Light Railway Ltd was formed and the first rolling stock arrived.
This comprised Ex GWR 45XX class 2-6-2T No. 4555, GWR 2251 class 0-6-0 No. 3205 and
four BR(W) auto trailers.
1969 - First passenger trains hauled by GWR 64XX class 0-6-0PT No. 6412 commenced
between Totnes and Buckfastleigh. Dart Valley operations could never reach Ashburton
as the building of the A38 Devon Expressway prevented the line being re-opened beyond
Buckfastleigh. It was soon found that the line was not commercially viable without
1989 - The Dart Valley Railway started looking for another operator, if none could
be found the line would have to close.
1991 - Existing volunteers together with a registered charity that was already based
on the line, Dumbleton Hall Locomotive Ltd, saw the chance to run the railway as
a charity. The existing charity which was restoring GWR 4-6-0 No. 4920 Dumbleton
Hall had Articles of Association which allowed it to run a railway so it took over
the lease of the Buckfastleigh branch. The charity was renamed the South Devon Railway
Trust and the railway was renamed the South Devon Railway.
Since then the railway has seen tremendous expansion, the building of a passing loop
at Staverton has enabled two-train running effectively doubling the number of passengers
that can be carried in the peak season. Building work on stations, signal boxes and
bridges together with restoration of a fleet of rolling stock has progressed attracting
more visitors. In 2007, the line carried over 100,000 passengers for the first time
under SDR operation and was named Heritage Railway of the Year.