Regular timetabled passenger trains on the 10-mile Totnes to Ashburton branch railway ran for the very last time on 1 November 1958 and, with a final special train running on Saturday 3 November, the last rites for the railway's future seemed set.
The line opened originally in 1872 providing a service to its rural community for 86 years, and 2018 marks the 60th anniversary of the closure.
But, unlike most now closed West Country rural branch lines which succumbed to the infamous Beeching Axe of the 1960's, this one had a much brighter and interesting future. It has now enjoyed a new life for nearly 50 years since 1969 with steam hauled heritage train services operating between Totnes and Buckfastleigh, now run by the South Devon Railway Trust.
To mark both dates, the SDR Trust Museum marked the withdrawal of timetabled services on Thursday 1 November with commemorative displays, including photographs, personal memories from people who used the line, and a variety of objects from those early days, such as the now redundant single line train staff used between Buckfastleigh and Ashburton. The museum also displayed one of the original British Railways posters giving notice of the closure.
The steam locomotive working the day's trains, former GWR 'Prairie' tank engine No. 5542, trains carried a headboard bearing the legend "Totnes to Ashburton Last Train 1958-2018", and also bore a wreath to mark the occasion. Station and museum staff were dressed in mourning to suitably mark the sad events of 60 years ago. A number of invited guests helped the re-enactment of events, including some who used the railway in the years before closure.
The main event at Buckfastleigh station on 1 November was when the wreath was ceremonially carried to the front of the locomotive at lunchtime, and there was a eulogy for the passing of the much-lamented train service. Plenty of tea was available for everyone involved and, despite the painful memories of the closure for many there, it was still a railway and, as everyone knows, railways run on tea!
The very last ever British Railways (Western Region) passenger train ran between Ashburton and Totnes and back on the first Saturday in November 1958 hauled by former GWR Class 14xx locos Nos. 1466 and 1470.
To mark this other 60th anniversary of closure, the SDR also ran a special, evening steam hauled service on Saturday 3rd November 2018 leaving Buckfastleigh at 1958hrs (7:58pm) and returning from Totnes at the same time as the last train did 60 years ago, arriving back in Buckfastleigh at 9:21pm. The loco this time though was No. 5542. The SDR railway museum was open from 6:30pm the night of November 3rd.
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