After the South Devon Railway (SDR) stopped running Mince Pie trains after Christmas on Wednesday 1 January, work began in earnest on the winter track renewal plan between Staverton and Totnes where approximately 1/3 mile of old track will be re-laid with new flat bottom rail instead which will help ease future maintenance and cost considerably.
And, with the SDR needing to undertake such a large, on-going programme of important work on both the railway track and locos and rolling stock over the winter period and into 2020, a reluctant decision was made last year not to run any train services over the coming February half-term period.
That said, the SDR was well aware that a good number of visitors and local people will probably still arrive at the railway during the February school holiday and be expecting to see the line in Springtime despite there being no advertised services running. An SDR spokesman said:
“Many people will expect the SDR to be open for business in February simply because we always have been in recent years when they can enjoy the glorious display of early Spring line-side flowers and open views of the river, so the SDR felt it’s important that something is provided for people to see and do rather than them simply finding that the railway was closed and then being disappointed.
“Whilst there was no way a normal pattern of train operation could be provided without causing serious disruption to the tight schedule of vital winter works, and following a series of detailed discussions with all of the departments involved, a plan has just been drawn up which will see a limited train service for visitors with just minimal disturbance of important winter works.
“As a result, diesel rail-car No.W55000, affectionately known as the ‘Bubblecar’ due to its great all-round visibility, will operate a limited shuttle service each day from Saturday 15th February to Sunday 23rd February between Buckfastleigh and Staverton only.
“Trains will be running every 45 minutes with the first one leaving Buckfastleigh at 10:30 and the last one departing at 15:25, with a slightly extended break at lunchtime. In addition, it’s planned to stable a static steam locomotive in the platform at Buckfastleigh where the loco’s footplate will be accessible for visitors to inspect. Totnes station will remain closed however.
“This compromise solution will give some level of service to valued visitors and locals whilst minimizing the disruption to the winter work programmes for the SDR’s locomotive, carriage & wagon, and civil engineers. The Buckfastleigh café and shop will also be open and, subject to weather, the gardens will also be accessible and, in addition, it’s hoped that the museum can be opened too.”
Please check the SDR website for more details at: www.southdevonrailway.co.uk and some colour photos are attached for your use of the Bubblecar courtesy of Sarah Anne Harvey.