1800's - The Arrival of the Railways.
The story of Exeter and its railways began in 1835. The incorporation of the Great Western Railway on 31st August 1835 saw the start of their railway between London and Bristol. It was mostly the merchants of Bristol who had been pushing for a railway to link their city with the capital and help secure their financial status. With the coming of the Great Western Railway on the horizon another group of merchants saw the benefits for building a second railway to Exeter, which could bring even more wealth to the city. They formed a group in November 1835, officially received their act of Parliament as the Bristol and Exeter Railway (B&ER) on 19th May 1836.

The act authorised the company to build a double track line between Bristol and Exeter, the route was 75 Ĺ miles long and the engineer was Isambard Kingdom Brunel. At the time of the act becoming law the company had not yet decided upon the gauge of which their line was to be built, naturally as Brunel was the engineer the route was surveyed with the broad gauge in mind. The company however was reserving their decision on gauge until the Great Western had officially chosen their gauge. The decision was finally made in 1839, the line was to be built to Brunelís broad gauge.

Work began in sections, the first from Bristol to Bridgwater was opened to traffic in June 1841, by the following year the works had reached Taunton and the whole line was opened in May 1844. Arrangements had been made with the GWR in 1840 that they would lease the line from the Bristol and Exeter Railway, so the former worked the line from the outset. The B&ER trains used the Great Western station at Bristol Temple Meads up to the opening of their own station in 1845, this station was set at right angles to the GWR terminus. The main lines of the two companies were joined by a sharp curve, which left the B&ER just south of their station and joined the GWR mainline just east of their station, a platform was provided on this cord for direct services from London to Exeter.

The station at Exeter was built to the west of the city, owing to the city council refusing access for a railway or station within its limits. It was therefore decided to build the station at the village of Red Cow, in the parish of St David, leading to the name of the station itself and also the name for the later level crossing. The original station was built to Brunelís one-sided layout, i.e. both platforms were on the same side of the track. This system had the benefit of saving passengers and luggage from crossing the running lines when changing trains and was not much of an issue with a limited service. Complications however arose when traffic density grew, the need for trains to cross to reach their respective platforms led to delays and gave more opportunity for accidents to occur. The down station building was located to the south of the layout and the up buildings to the north. Between the two were a series of scissor crossings to allow the trains to reach their required running line. This system was employed at a lot of locations on the GWR and B&ER and indeed on many other lines that Brunel was engineer for.
As the Bristol and Exeter Railway company received itís act another group of merchants, this time from Plymouth, were planning yet another link in the chain for railways in the west country. The Plymouth, Devonport and Exeter Railway had, during the summer of 1836 Brunel make a survey for a route from St Davidís via Dawlish, Teignmouth, Torquay, Dartmouth, Kingsbridge and Modbury terminating at Millbay. This route would have required considerable bridges of the Teign and Dart at Teignmouth and Dittisham respectively. With these bridges and other expensive works required it was going to be a very expensive line, it is for this reason, with a lack of forthcoming finance that this route was abandoned and the motivation lapsed. At the same time there were also plans afoot to build a line via Crediton, Okehampton and Tavistock, this line having been surveyed by Francis Giles, the engineer for the London and Southampton Railway. This line was back by the people of Exeter, however the residents of Plymouth were supporting Brunelís route. This line, or at least part of it, did have plans deposited to parliament in November 1836. It was proposed to be the London, Exeter and Falmouth Railway.

However it took another few years before Plymouth was to consider other routes between Exeter and Plymouth. There were 3 routes proposed, their preparation being done by James R. Rendel, the first proposal was a line via the Tamar valley, Launceston, Okehampton and Crediton, very much inline with the plans surveyed by Francis Giles, and again this route was not favoured.

The second proposal was for a Ďdirectí route, this would have cut through the centre of Dartmoor making it the shortest route of the three suggested. This route would have followed the course of what was later to become the north end of the Teign Valley line, through Ide, Dunsford and follow the Teign up to Chagford where there was to be a rope worked incline using a water wheel. This was to take the line up on to the moor where locomotives would take over there were to be two tunnels one at either end of the Ďhighí section, the line would pass Warren house cross the East and then West Dart rivers and drop back down with another water wheel and rope worked incline between Whiteworks and Meavy. At the foot of this incline locomotives would again take over, the route passing Yelverton through Roborough and on to Plymouth. This route was favoured after the original Brunel line was abandoned, in February 1840 in fact a Parliamentary Bill was Deposited for the line and £62,000 was subscribed. In the end interest in this route was lost, it was decided the route past through too much wasteland with very few business opportunities, which raised questions on the viability of the line.

With another route under scrutiny the merchants of Plymouth were getting restless, feeling that they were being left off of the developing railway map.
They started to put more pressure upon the company to get a railway open, their attention was now focused on the third route, different route through South Devon. This route was not completely certain but was to pass on the southern fringes of Dartmoor to Plymouth. It was to leave Exeter on the same route as Brunel had surveyed in 1836 but when Teignmouth was reached the line would instead head inland, basically the present route. The alternative proposal saw the line follow that of what was to become the Teign Valley line, continuing from Heathfield to Ashburton and then to join back to the other route at South Brent.

A meeting was held in October 1842 to test the attitudes of the land owners and residents of the proposed route, and to decide which course would provide the best business case. In the end it was the course via Newton that was chosen. It was about this time that the railway changed itís name to the South Devon Railway Company, with the Bristol and Exeter making fast progress towards opening and with finance being difficult for the South Devon line it was a natural interest for the GWR and B&E to take an interest in the line. The GWR, B&E and also the Bristol and Gloucester Railway all subscribed heavily to the scheme, which finally received its act of parliament on 4th July 1844.

Construction of the line was well under way by February 1845, the viaduct at St Thomas was nearly complete and the track bed was prepared up to Powderham. The line was opened between Exeter and Teignmouth on 30th May 1846, the first train - on hire from the GWR - left Exeter at 12.25pm.

Exeter now had two railway companies operating from St Davids. The South Devon Railway opened throughout on 2nd April 1849, the new line now formed part of the link of the broad gauge which now stretched from London to Plymouth. St Davidís Station naturally became a busier place with through trains from London now running, the opening of the South Devon Railways branch to Torquay, opened in December 1848 increased the traffic through Exeter again.

In 1832 an act had been passed for the Exeter and Crediton railway, the act gave the company powers for a line from Exeter city basin. However this act lapsed, the idea re-emerged in 1844, the original proposal was altered and the new railway was to join the B&E at a junction at Cowley Bridge. The company received itsí act in July 1845. The following year an act was granted for the Taw Vale Extension Railway, which extended the Crediton line up to Barnstable, to join the Taw Vale Line. The Exeter and Crediton Railway was leased to the B&E in May 1851, again increasing the traffic at Exeter. The Taw Vale Extension line saw delays in its opening because the gauge could not be agreed upon. When the line finally did open it was leased by the London and South Western Railway Company and renamed the North Devon Railway, opening to Barnstable and Fremington in August 1854, in November 1855 the line reached Bideford.

To be continued...
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