This Saturday (4 July 2015) is likely to be the very last time that a former Great Western Railway steam engine will ever visit the sleepy Dartmoor town of Ashburton when diminutive old GWR 0-4-2 Tank No. 1420 is hauled dead — out of steam and without a fire in its belly — through the narrow streets on the back of a low loader for the local Carnival in order to say a final goodbye to the town it once served so well.
The former station — with it’s wonderful, almost unique Brunel-designed overall timber roof and once the terminus of a 10-mile branch line from Totnes in South Devon — will probably never again hear the whistle of a steam train.
This is despite the efforts of our group of local people and railway enthusiasts who wish to see the town’s historic station and route protected so that it might one day re-join the nearby South Devon Railway which has run its steam trains down the scenic valley of the River Dart for the last 46 years since 1969 and that now carries 100,000 passengers a year.
The reason for the ‘fond farewell’ by the steam engine, owned by the South Devon Railway, is because Ashburton station and part of the track bed is set to be swept away under a new so-called ‘Masterplan’ for the Chuley Road area of the town which will be discussed by the Dartmoor National Park Authority this coming Friday (3 July), and whose members are expected to simply ‘rubber-stamp’ the recommendation of their own planners.
Under the plans, Ashburton station and the area around Chuley Road will see a convenience store and houses built over it despite howls of protest from many quarters about a lack of vision and ambition for the site; a failure to acknowledge the railway’s strong history in the town, and the enormous potential for the future which bringing steam trains back would provide as has been seen already in many other parts of the country.
National railway magazines and several web forum groups have flocked to support our campaign, we have been supported too by many local people and businesses who do not wish to see the town’s nature changed for the worse by such a development and also lose a potentially, lucrative life-line that would bring visitors right into the town centre with its vibrant local shops, but without their cars which could be left at the South Devon Railway’s nearby large station car park at Buckfastleigh.
We are urging local people to lobby members of the Dartmoor National Park Authority this week in the hope that they will kick out the Chuley Road Masterplan and safeguard the station site and track bed for the future and the time when trains might be able to return again to Ashburton.
Our group Chairman Alasdair Page said: “The visit by steam loco No. 1420 to Ashburton this coming Saturday will be a poignant one if the National Park Authority members vote to endorse the seriously flawed Masterplan the day before as recommended by their planners.
“Once the historic Brunel design station is gone, then it’s gone forever and the opportunity lost.”
“All we are asking for is for the site to be protected from development so that steam trains might yet return one day in the future. We know it’s an ambitious hope, but it’s one with real substance and a great chance for the town’s future.”
Assuming the Masterplan is adopted, the former Ashburton branch steam loco No. 1420 (which last left the town by rail in October 1971 just before the A38 was built over the track bed to then sever the rail connection) is expected to carry a fitting “Farewell to Ashburton” wreath as part of the Ashburton carnival procession which will run through the town from 6.30pm.