West of England Main Line

West of England Main Line

The West of England Main Line is a British railway line, running from London Waterloo to Exeter St Davids. Historically, the main line continued to Okehampton and Plymouth, and competed for the lucrative Atlantic Boat Train traffic.

The main towns served by the route are listed below. The line between London and Basingstoke is part of the South Western Main Line.

*London Waterloo
*Clapham Junction
**Route converges from Reading, diverges to Winchester and Southampton Central (see South Western Main Line)
**Route converges from Southampton, diverges to Westbury (see Wessex Main Line)
*Yeovil Junction
*Exeter Central
**Route converges from Exmouth (See Avocet Line)
*Exeter St. David's
**services continue to Newton Abbot, Paignton and Plymouth (via Great Western Main Line)

Much of the original Plymouth route still exists, however approximately twenty miles across Dartmoor between Okehampton and Bere Alston has been closed along with a suburban stretch in Plymouth that ran parallel to the GWML.

Original London and South Western main line formations

When all routes had been incorporated into the London and South Western Railway, this section of the network consisted of the various sections and stations listed below.

Basingstoke to Exeter

* Basingstoke to Salisbury
** Basingstoke to Andover opened 3 July 1854
** Andover to Salisbury opened 1 May 1857

* Intermediate branches were built to serve the following places between Basingstoke and Salisbury.
** "Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway" opened June 1901, closed all traffic 30 May 1936
** Two branches, from Hurstbourne and Andover to Romsey and onto Eastleigh and Southampton: both closed. Link via Longparish opened 1 June 1885; closed all traffic 6 July 1931.
** At Andover was the junction with the Midland and South Western Junction Railway to Cheltenham
** The Bulford Camp branch
** Salisbury to Romsey, with a branch from this line to Bournemouth
** In Salisbury, the Great Western Railway (GWR) line from Westbury and Bristol had its own terminus: the L&SWR continued the route southwestwards towards Southampton. This route today is the Wessex Main Line route.

*Between Salisbury and Exeter on the main line; the sections were opened as follows:
** Salisbury — Yeovil opened 2 May 1859
** Yeovil — Exeter opened 19 July 1860

* Intermediate branches were built to serve the following places between Salisbury and Exeter.
** branch to Yeovil Town joint station with the GWR
** branch to Chard joint station with the GWR
** branch to Lyme Regis from Axminster
** branch to Seaton from Seaton Junction (closed)
** branch to Sidmouth from Sidmouth Junction (also alternative route to Exmouth)
** branch to Exmouth from "Exmouth Junction" near Exeter

Exeter to Plymouth

The L&SWR West of England Main Line continued from Exeter to Plymouth Friary railway station via Okehampton and Bere Alston via a scenic route across Dartmoor incorporating several viaducts and spectacular views. The line was closed as a through route in 1968 and a twenty mile section between Meldon Viaduct near Okehampton and Bere Alston lifted. The line to Okehampton was closed in 1972 and only freight remained to Meldon Quarry.

At the southern end, the line's terminus, Plymouth Friary, was closed in 1954 and ten years later the line between Plymouth and St Budeaux Victoria Road was closed, with trains diverted over a spur dating from World War 2 onto the Great Western Main Line to Plymouth. The line remained open as far as Bere Alston as part of a branch service to Gunnislake now known as the Tamar Valley Line.

The freight only northern end of the route, from Crediton to a new station at Meldon Quarry, was recently reopened by the Dartmoor Railway. Trains currently run from Exeter Central to the restored Okehampton station on summer Sundays only with a shuttle service from Sampford Courtenay to Meldon Quarry on other days. However in 2008, the Dartmoor Railway [http://www.dartmoorrailway.co.uk/news.htm hopes to re-open the Okehampton platform at Yeoford] and provide more frequent services connecting with Tarka Line trains to Exeter at Yeoford. In addition there are plans to reopen North Tawton and build a new Parkway station at Okehampton East. South of Meldon Quarry, the line has been reopened to Lydford as a cycle path and includes the spectacular Meldon and Lake Viaducts.

Congestion on the A386 road has led to plans for reopening between Bere Alston and a new station in the south of Tavistock, arguably the largest town in Devon without a rail service, a project known as the [http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/plymrail.pdf Drake Line] . This will see frequent services from Tavistock to Plymouth, probably hourly, with trains as often as every 30 minutes in the peak, with a branch shuttle service from Bere Alston to Gunnislake, a reversion to the service pattern before the main line closed. Although Gunnislake will lose through services to Plymouth, this will be compensated for by provision of an hourly service, double the present frequency, with connections to both Tavistock and Plymouth.

Calls have been made for reopening of the full line, to provide an alternative route between Exeter and Plymouth, not least because the GWML runs along the sea wall at Dawlish and has been prone to disruption during stormy weather in the past. However nothing has come of such calls as yet.

The conversion of much of the route to a cycle path (between Meldon and Lydford and in Tavistock), which has involved significant restoration of several viaducts including the spectacular, steel, Meldon viaduct, will secure much of the route in the event of any future potential reopening, as the formation is double track and therefore the cyclepath could share the formation with a single line railway, as is already the case between Okehampton and Meldon Quarry.

The cyclepath has ensured restoration of four of the viaducts on the closed section, Meldon, Lake, Wallabrook and Tavistock viaducts, all of which are now open as part of the cycleway, the other two, Lydford and Shillamill, south of Tavistock, remain intact, a testament to their granite stone construction. Should the line ever reopen, these six viaducts plus the spectacular viaducts bridging the Rivers Tavy and Tamerton, south of Bere Alston and the splendid views over Dartmoor, would ensure a route that would rival the Settle to Carlisle Line for scenic beauty.

The West of England Main line, west of Exeter, had several branches leading from it. These, on a map, looked like gnarled fingers and the LSWR network west of Exeter became known as the Withered Arm. The branches served the following places:
*The Tarka Line To Barnstaple. From Barnstaple Junction station were the now closed branches to Torrington via Bideford, Ilfracombe and, from the first station on the Ilfracombe Branch, Barnstaple Town, the famous narrow gauge Lynton and Barnstaple Railway, long closed but now being partially restored.
* The closed branch to Halwill Junction Station, where three branches radiated to Bude, Padstow via Launceston and Torrington.
* The Tamar Valley Line to Callington, now closed beyond Gunnislake.
* The, now closed, short suburban branch from Plymouth Friary to Turnchapel

Current operations

Passenger services are currently operated by South West Trains using Class 159 and Class 158 trains. Currently trains run half hourly from London to Salisbury, hourly to Yeovil Junction and two hourly to Exeter. There are firm proposals to double the frequency to Exeter [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/4402216.stm BBC News] ] , to one train per hour. In the 1960s the route was controversially reduced from double to single track and the long single track section between Yeovil and Exeter currently prohibits such a service owing to its limited capacity. The Network Rail South West Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy (March 2006) recommended the construction of an extended section of double track from Chard Junction to Axminster, plus a further passing loop at Whimple. According to Network Rail's Route Plan, [cite web| title =Route 4: Wessex Routes| work =Route Plans| publisher = Network Rail| date = 2008| url =http://www.networkrail.co.uk/browse%20documents/StrategicBusinessPlan/RoutePlans/2008/Route%204%20-%20Wessex%20Routes.pdf| accessdate = 2008-08-06] the Axminster loop is being progressed for implementation by December 2009, but the plan is silent on the Whimple loop.

The line is not electrified (except for the SWML portion).


The typical off peak services are:

*1tp2h to Salisbury calling at all stations
*1tp2h to Gillingham calling at all stations
*1tp2h to Yeovil Junction which runs fast between Basingstoke and Salisbury only calling at Andover
**Some of these trains divide at peak time with some going to Bristol Temple Meads
*1tp2h to Exeter St. Davids
**Some of these trains continue to Plymouth, or occasionally Penzance by reversing here.

Between London Waterloo and Basingstoke, trains call at Clapham Junction and Woking.

See also

*London and South Western Railway for history of the route, which formerly continued to Plymouth and Cornwall.


* Network Rail Business Plan 2006: [http://www.networkrail.co.uk/documents/3102_Route%203%20South%20West%20Main%20Line.pdf Route 3 - South West Main Line] (PDF)
* Network Rail Business Plan 2006: [http://www.networkrail.co.uk/documents/3103_Route204%20Wessex%20Routes.pdf Route 4 - Wessex Routes] (PDF)
* Network Rail Business Plan 2006: [http://www.networkrail.co.uk/documents/3110_Route%2012%20Reading%20to%20Penzance.pdf Route 12 - Reading to Penzance] (PDF)
*Ordnance Survey [http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/]


*cite book|author=R.V.J.Butt, |title= The Directory of Railway Stations |publisher=Patrick Stephens Ltd |year=1995 ISBN 1 85260 508 1

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