A Brief History of the Railway at Dawlish

The Atmospheric Railway       The Broad Gauge     Steam Locomotives    

The “Western” Diesel Hydraulics      Limited Edition Railway Prints of Dawlish


1835 First serious proposals made for a railway to run from Exeter to Plymouth
1836 Brunel survey’s a route across South Devon (preferring to tunnel behind Dawlish & Teignmouth to avoid a sea wall)
1843 Resurvey carried out by Brunel
Great Western Railway and Bristol & Exeter Railway agree to provide large share of Capital
South Devon Railway deposits its plans
Isambard Kingdom Brunel appointed Engineer for the South Devon Railway
Considerable opposition on environmental grounds, especially at Dawlish
1844 All objections referred to the Admiralty Engineer, James Walker
SDR received its Act in July, just after completion of line from London (Paddington) to Exeter
Construction commences with completion objective of July 1845, with 2,000 workmen known as “navies” employed
SDR buys almost all properties in
Marine Parade, Dawlish to buy out opposition and uses a house (now the site of Great Cliff) for Board Meetings for several months 
SDR Directors agree to adopt the Atmospheric system following a visit to Dalkey, near Dublin but would not be operational until 1847
1845 Many problems experienced in building the sea wall
Sea Wall at Dawlish built with sub-way from the beach to
Marine Parade
Track-laying commences on Broad Guage
16th December first SDR test run from Exeter to Cockwood and back
Boathouse footbridge built
1846 Track laid as far as Teignmouth, through Dawlish
Gradient from Dawlish Station past Marine Parade has a steep gradient of 1 in 30 to avoid spoiling residents’ sea views (now 1 in 96)
5 tunnels built – Kennaway, Coryton, Phillot, Clerk’s and Parson’s (first three are named after the landowners; last two named after the famous rocks)
Temporary timber station built at Dawlish – lasts for 27 years!
Work starts on the Engine House at Dawlish for the new Atmospheric Railway
Saturday, 30th May first train from Exeter to Teignmouth via Dawlish with 9 coaches hauled by locomotives Exe and Teign (renamed Viper for the event), hired from the GWR by the SDR
4,000 tickets sold at Teignmouth on the Bank Holiday Monday, many to Dawlish
Trains take 45 mins to travel from Teignmouth to Exeter with 7 trains each way
Teignmouth to London takes an unprecedented time of 5 hours 20 mins
31st December line opens as far as Newton Abbot
Sea breaches line near Breeches Rock
1847 First Atmospheric trains start to run in February but no public service trains until 13th September
Icy weather disrupts services with valves not closing properly
1848 Whole service is Atmospherically worked as from February
Hot weather during summer causes valves to dry and tear
Half year accounts for
Atmospheric Railway show a loss & Shareholders vote to abandon the system in August
Last Atmospheric train runs on Saturday night 9th September, returning to
steam locomotives.
SDR begins to sell off properties in
Marine Parade
Fares increase & public enthusiasm destroyed until lowered in 1850’s
1852 Exminster Station opened
1853 Railway bridge at Holcombe destroyed in a storm
1855 Sea breaches line at Smugglers’ Lane
1869 Sea breaches line at Sea Lawn
High level footway on sea wall extended eastwards from Coastguard footbridge
1870 Footbridge constructed at Rockstone (known as Black Bridge locally)
1872 Sea breaches line at Rockstone
1873 Original Dawlish Station destroyed by fire
Doubling of line through Dawlish Warren
Line slewed inland at Langstone rock
Footbridge at Langstone Rock removed
Footbridge built at Dawlish Warren
GWR agrees with Dawlish Local Board to provide a public footway along the sea wall when the line is doubled
1874 Line doubled from Starcross to Dawlish
1875 Dawlish Station rebuilt
1876 South Devon Railway taken over by the Great Western Railway
1879 Cast iron footbridge added from sea wall across to Marine Parade
1884 Signal box built at Parson’s Tunnel
Line doubled west of Parson’s Tunnel
1885 Large rock fall at West Cliff – cliff face then “sloped”.
1892 Last Up and Down Broad Gauge trains run on Friday 20th May, both passing each other at Dawlish Station
First Standard Gauge Down test train leaves Exeter on Saturday 21st May at 5.30am and passes Dawlish at 1.15pm on way to Newton Abbot
Normal service with Standard Gauge resumes on Monday, 23rd May
1901 Work starts on replacing the Sea Wall at Dawlish – 18ft further out and has a dramatic effect on lowering the beach level. The sub-way from the beach to Marine Parade is reconstructed
1902 New walkway along sea front opened at Dawlish in April – sometimes known as “The King’s Walk” in commemoration of the coronation of Edward VII.
Work starts on doubling the last section between Dawlish and Parson’s Tunnel.
1903 The Teign Valley line available as a diversionary route for problems with sea wall until 1968
1905 Completion of last section of double lines between Dawlish and Parson’s Tunnel
Railmotor service introduced between Exeter St Thomas and Dawlish or Teignmouth
New station created at Dawlish Warren, known as “Warren Halt” located by deserted waste land but with good beach
1906 Warren Halt’s platforms extended – site becomes popular day trip destination from Exeter
Replacement signal box built at Parson’s Tunnel
1907 Warren Halt becomes staffed and renamed “Warren Platform”
1909 Parson’s Tunnel signal box boarded up out of use
1911 Line slewed inland for second time at Langstone Rock
1912 Warren Platform station replaced by a new station ¼ mile to the North – named Dawlish Warren by the GWR

Present (now disused) signal box built at Dawlish
GWR takes over
Bridge House as a railway convalescent home

1920 Rock tipping begins between Langstone Rock & Dawlish Warren with engineers siding installed to tip direct from wagons. Footway closed.

Parson’s tunnel lengthened by 129 yds to avoid rock-falls
Star Class loco No. 4055 "Princess Sophia" on a north-bound express collides at low speed with a goods train (carrying corn, baskets, coal, alcohol and toilet pans) transferring from the up to the down line at Dawlish station

1924 Dawlish Warren platform building destroyed by fire
1929 GWR builds Haldon Aerodrome
1930 Sea breaches line at Sea Lawn
1934 Dawlish down platform lengthened
Parson’s Tunnel signal box re-instated to cope with summer traffic
1935 Camping coaches introduced at Dawlish Warren
1936 Act approved for a “Dawlish Avoiding Line” from Eastdon to Hackney
1937 Act approved for a revised “Dawlish Avoiding Line” from Exminster to Hackney
1939 Outbreak of war puts “Dawlish Avoiding Line” on hold.
1937 Footbridge span replaced at Dawlish
1941 Engineers siding at Langstone Rock lifted
1945 Footway re-opened between Langstone Rock and Dawlish Warren
1948 New Parcels Office built at Dawlish
1949 “Dawlish Avoiding Line” scheme abandoned
1952 Sub-way to Marine Parade filled in – slight protrusion marks site
1961 Ridge and Furrow type Canopies of Dawlish station replaced by Flat Canopies
1962 New generation of diesel hydraulic locomotives gradually replace steam locomotives
Ballast washed out at Marine Parade on 8th March due to storm - Dawlish down platform also damaged.
1964 Parson’s Tunnel signal box closed for good
1965 New concrete footbridge from sea wall to Marine Parade replaces cast iron bridge
1971 Major works commence by the Water Authority to help stabilise Dawlish Warren

Large section of Dawlish down platform demolished by a storm on 11th February
Work completed on stabilising Dawlish Warren area

1976 Diesel hydraulic locomotives phased out in favour of High Speed Trains (HST’s)
1981 Camping coaches replaced at Dawlish Warren
1986 Sea breaches line West of Smugglers’ Lane
Mechanical signalling replaced by colour light signalling, controlled from Exeter St Davids. Reversible working introduced between Dawlish Warren and Teignmouth on the Up Line
Dawlish & Dawlish Warren Signal Boxes closed for good

Dawlish Warren signal box demolished


 Useful Links....

Atmospheric Railway
Broad Gauge
Diesel Hydraulic Locomotives  
Haldon Aerodrome 
Great Western Railway  
Steam Locomotives   

Limited Edition Railway Prints