Deemed as warfare...


Teignmouth, United Kingdom

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Been a while since I’ve done one of these, but I felt it was time to get back into the swing of Railway art. :)

Seen climbing the devastating incline that was the 1 in 41 gradient Mortehoe Summit is Southern Railway Bullied Pacific, 34067 ‘Tangmere’, working an afternoon summer train from London Waterloo to Ilfracombe, the service being banked by a unidentified South Eastern & Chatham Railway N Class.

The Ilfracombe branch was opened by the London & South Western Railway between Barnstaple Junction station and Ilfracombe, commencing operations as a single track line in 1874 and later being upgraded in 1889 to a double track mainline to meet demand. The most imposing feature of the route were the two fierce climbs that trains had to negotiate from either direction, one being the 1 in 41 gradient from the south, and the other being the 1 in 36 gradient immediately after leaving Ilfracombe Station. For steam engines it was one of the steepest climbs in the UK, and would often require either double-heading or several banking engines, as depicted here. Such was the case that the line had what could almost be described as a cache of reserved locomotives to help assist trains over the bank.

However, the Ilfracombe Branch, despite being one of the busiest railways in the UK due to its summer traffic, saw major decline in passenger numbers due to the availability of cars and roads, and as traffic died down, the route faced increasing redundancy. Eventually the whole line was closed on the 5th October 1970, the last train being an 8-car Class 118 DMU which was full to capacity. But this was not before steam had disappeared off the line, with the last steam hauled trains disappearing in 1964, although there was a single steam-special making an appearance in 1965. It was after this that many of the rationalisation plans for the route came in, with the Waterloo through service disappearing in 1967, followed closely by the route being reduced to single track later that year.

However, some relics of the route continue to survive, with the trackbed remaining mostly intact from near the site of Ilfracombe station, to where the bridge across the River Taw was removed in downtown Barnstaple. Indeed Barnstaple Town station has been largely restored to its former glory, being the terminus for the preserved Lynton & Barnstaple narrow gauge railway.

Today even many locos that once traversed this route continue to live on, such as the SR Battle of Britain Class depicted here. 34067 now lives a charmed life working on many mainline railtours, being one of only a few Bullied Pacifics left on the mainline. However, although plans have been put forward many a time, it does not appear that Tangmere will be revisiting Ilfracombe any time soon.

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