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The Tarka Valley Railway Group received planning approval in March 2013 for the first phase of its plans to restore a steam railway along the valley of the River Torridge based on the former London & South Western Railway station at Torrington in North Devon.  

The line from Barnstaple to Bideford was opened in 1855 but was not extended to Torrington until 1872, and it was as late as 1925 that the route was extended to Halwill Junction, running over much of the trackbed of the former 3 foot gauge Torrington & Marland Light Railway for the first few miles out of Torrington.  The route eventually closed to passengers in 1965 with freight finally disappearing in 1982.  Attempts were make to rescue the line at the time but these sadly failed. Torrington station itself however is still remarkably well preserved with most of the main buildings still intact and serving as the Puffing Billy pub and restaurant.  Both ‘up’ and ‘down’ platforms are also still in place, as is the original coal loading bay, albeit heavily overgrown.  

The Group was set up in July 2008 by a small group of likeminded individuals and local support was quickly achieved and a strong membership base was soon established.  Whilst the planning process has taken a vast amount of effort behind the scenes, visible signs of progress were soon evident on site.  Two panels of track were added to the original track in the platform and a new temporary buffer stop was installed at the end of the platform.   The railway has been fenced off from the Tarka Trail ensuring the safety of all involved.   The ‘Thursday Gang’ of volunteer members has restored the ‘clay hood’ wagon and work is now under way on the brake van. The B.R. Mk 1 coach is undergoing heavy restoration and this will eventually be available for passenger carrying duties and will be air and vacuum braked.    

The Fowler 0-4-0 diesel-mechanical locomotive ‘Progress’ which spent most of its working life at the Peters Marland clay works was kindly donated to the group and has been repaired and refurbished to operational condition.   Eventually it is planned that steam power will return to Torrington and several possible locomotives have been identified as suitable for use on the line.  

The first phase of the extension is to extend the line just over 200 yards to the first overbridge with two sidings approximately 100 yards and 20 yards long alongside the Tarka Trail.   This will provide sufficient length of track to start running short brake van rides.  The sidings will provide storage space for rolling stock and trans-shipment facilities for the movement of stock onto or off the site.  The Trail will be refurbished and a fence erected between it and the railway.

Further phased extensions would see the line extend some half mile up the valley with restoration of Torrington’s unique signal box, stores shed, permanent way trolley shed and platelayers’ hut part of the project.   The old signal post and lighting post which are still standing will also be refurbished for future use – some emergency work has already been completed.  

The line from Barnstaple to Torrington was engineered to a high standard and the track bed of the railway has been preserved generally intact, largely thanks to the presence of the Tarka Trail cycle and walking path.  The Group is working closely with Devon County Council’s Coast and Countryside Service to ensure the integrity of the Tarka Trail, and although there are some relatively minor engineering problems to be overcome further along the line, the establishment of an operating steam railway is perfectly feasible.

Much work remains to be done before the sound of steam is once again heard echoing along the valley, but with the support already garnered and interest in the project growing both locally and nationally, the Group is very optimistic of the future.        

With the granting of planning approval the Group is now working hard on fundraising and preparation for the construction work.  New members and volunteers are urgently needed to help in this exciting project.  Enthusiasm rather than experience is required as we have a wide range of jobs to be done!  Please get in touch via this website, or come and see us on an open day or a Thursday - you are assured of a very warm welcome.



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