History of the Line 1872-1889
On the opening of the line the signalling was in accordance with the signalling on the main line which was at that time still operated by the South Devon Railway Company (SDR). The branch would have been signalled using Telegraph, in what we would class as an “Absolute Block” system. Originally block working on the SDR was done by messages using ordinary double needle instruments. These instruments were used for all commercial and operating messages so as traffic levels increased it became necessary to have dedicated instruments for signalling. In 1867 the SDR disposed with using double needled instruments in favour of the single needle type. All branches which were operated by the SDR would have been signalled in accordance which current SDR practice, so when the Buckfastleigh, Totnes and South Devon Railway was opened in 1872 it would have been worked by single needle block instruments located in the station masters office.
The telegraph for the line was erected by the Post Office who were keen to join Buckfastleigh and Ashburton to the national network. In 1871 the Post Office were threatening to lay a pole route along the roads but in an agreement with the railway company they were aloud to lay their poles along the route of the railway for free and the railway in return would be aloud to erect two wires on the poles free of charge for railway communications and signalling. In the end the Post Office erected the wires for the railway at a charge of £202 which it took the Post Office until 1877 with threats of a court hearing to start to receive payments for. In the companies “Undertaking” sent to the Board of Trade on the 30th April 1872 the sections on the branch were given as Totnes to Buckfastleigh and Buckfastleigh to Ashburton.
Ashburton Junction was originally not a block post but acted under instruction from the main signal box at Totnes. It however did become a block post for the branch and main lines at some point prior to 1894 but the exact date is unknown.

Staverton was laid out with a passenger platform on the main running line (203ft) and a single siding to the east of the level crossing. There most likely would have been block instruments provided to let staff know to expect a train and be ready to open the crossing gates. There were two home signals provided both 220yrds from the level crossing, operated by two levers on the platform. The points for the siding were operated by a ground lever and would have been wire locked with the down home signal.

Buckfastleigh was laid out as a passing place with two platforms and one siding leading into the goods shed. All points were operated by ground lever and were wire locked with the home signals, which were worked from two levers on the platform (one for the up home and one for the down home) it is most likely that there were no starting signals, permission to start being given verbally, inline with practice at other SDR stations. By 1881 the Buckfastleigh plan showed the signalling to have been updated to the modern practice of distant, home and starting signals in each direction. They still remained to be operated from individual levers on the platform, with wire locking on only the home signals.

Ashburton was laid out with one passenger platform (300ft), a loop line to enable locomotives to run around, one goods siding and a single road engine shed with a turntable. The points were worked by ground levers, the home signal was placed at 190yrds from the first facing point, with which it was wire locked and operated from a lever on the platform.  Evidence is lacking on the date of which the starting signal was erected but it certainly existed by the 1880’s, it too was operated by a lever on the platform but remained un-interlocked until the line was closed.

In October 1873 The Bulkamore Magnetic Iron Company was formed to reopen an abandoned mine 2/3rds of a mile from the railway, they conveyed their output by road to Totnes Quay or to Brent station owing to the high charges put on using the Totnes Quay branch. When the SDR were taken to the commissioners and forced to reduce their charges the mine was quick to approach the railway for a private siding, it was constructed in 1874 at 5 miles 7 chains. It consisted of a blind siding, the points facing down traffic and being operated by ground levers. There was a signal provided for down trains, which was wire locked with the points and therefore could only show clear when the points were set for the main line. The site of the signal itself is unknown. The mine didn’t last very long with the price of iron ore suddenly dropping the company stopped operations and wound up their interests in December 1875. It is not certain when this siding was taken out of use and taken up although the 1887 OS map shows the points as being removed but the track for the siding remaining in situ.