The History of Cornwall’s Ghost Trains

Published:
00:15 17 October 2022



Enthusiast Stephen Roberts boards the Bodmin Railway line in search of the many ghost trains that no longer run and the lost stations they no longer stop at.

Cornwall has seen its share of branch closures with this railway enthusiast’s bogeyman, Dr Beeching, playing his usual role.

Small, quaint communities have lost their station and their connection to the world. Sometimes the whole branch closed: even when a line survived, the intermediate stops disappeared. Sometimes a station is reborn, with trains once again threading their way through its platforms. In most places though, you’ll be listening to ghost trains.


The overgrown shooting range platform on the Camel Trail, June 6, 1996 and the author a quarter of a century ago,
– Credit: Steve Roberts

The Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway opened in 1834 with industrial aspirations, linking the town of Bodmin with Wadebridge Harbor and Wenfordbridge Quarries. This was Cornwall’s first steam line, predating the main line to the capital by a quarter of a century. Taken over by the London and South Western Railway in 1847, the line survived the BR era before being closed to passengers in 1967, freight continuing until 1978 thanks to kaolin.

Wadebridge’s three-platform terminus was featured in a film recital by John Betjeman: “Upon Wadebridge’s Platform, what breath of sea perfumed the Camel Valley!” The station building survives as today’s Betjeman Center, while the old platform is now used by the Camel Trail. Bodmin meanwhile became “Bodmin North” in 1949 to distinguish it from Bodmin General and fared worse than its counterpart after being completely demolished for parking.


Old railway lines and stations no longer in use in Cornwall

The remnants of Defiance Platform. The station was formerly used by naval personnel from the barracks of HMS Defiance. This is the old entrance towards Saltash, May 2009
– Credit: Author – Geof Sheppard, CC BY-SA 4.0

There were many small scenic stops on the line including Shooting Range Platform, built around 1880 to serve as a shooting range and used by troops during the Boer War and World War I with soldiers arriving by train as it there was no other access. The platform still exists, albeit heavily overgrown. Dunmere Halt was opened later, in 1906, along with a few other halts for rail service between Bodmin North and Wadebridge. The platform, which once had a Great Western Railway (GWR) pagoda-style shelter, is still in situ and looked well maintained when I last saw it.

Bodmin’s other station, Bodmin General, was the terminus of a GWR branch of Bodmin Road (now Bodmin Parkway) on the Cornish Main Line. The branch opened in 1887 and the following year saw a junction with the old Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway at Boscarne Junction. The branch closed in 1983 following the disappearance of final freight traffic on the line, but in a happy conclusion the heritage Bodmin & Wenford Railway (BWR) resumed running trains between Parkway and General in 1990, the line to Boscarne Junction also being reopened in 1996. There is even talk of extending the railway to a new station at Wadebridge, which would involve realigning the existing Camel Trail.


The recently restored Truthall Halt on the Helston Railway

The newly restored Truthall stop on the Helston Railway, May 2018, when steam services ran the line again for the first time since it closed in the 1960s
– Credit: Marky7980, CC BY-SA 4.0

Just to show this isn’t entirely a ‘ghost station’ story, the poetically named Colesloggett Halt (Betjeman would have approved) was recently opened on the BWR in 1993 and comes in handy for Cardinham Woods , a local beauty spot.

There are no less than 17 closed stations on the Cornish Main Line section between Plymouth and Penzance, including Defiance Platform, which would have been the second stop after the Royal Albert Bridge (after Saltash) and as Shooting Range Platform the was intended for the military. Opened by the GWR in 1905, the platform served naval personnel traveling to a nearby torpedo and mining training school, based on HMS Defiance, the last wooden battle-line ship built for the Royal Navy (1858-1862), which had become a training ship in 1884 and was moored not far from the platform. The platform was moved in 1907, after which access was by steps from a bridge and was finally closed in 1930.


The old Bodmin North station has now disappeared

Bodmin North Station, which was the terminus of the Bodmin & Wadebridge Railway, opened in 1834 and closed in 1967. The station disappeared without a trace, with the Bodmin & Wenford Heritage Railway using the former GWR terminus.
– Credit: Alan Murray-Rust

Another of the Cornish Main Line’s closed stations is Gwinear Road (1852-1964) which served as a junction for the Helston branch from 1887. The branch would close to passengers in 1962 and to freight in 1964 which also saw Gwinear Road joining the ranks of closed stations. The Helston branch is another making a comeback as the historic Helston Railway resumed operating services in 2011. It currently runs 1 ¼ miles between Prospidnick Halt and Truthall Halt and hopes to be closer to Helston at the future where the cargo shed and platform survive, the site is now part of a retirement home.

Truthall Halt (1905-62) was reopened in 2018 while Trevarno Station was a new build (2011) and a terminus at the time, but is now an intermediate demand stop. The Lostwithiel and Fowey Railway opened in 1869, linking the Cornish Main Line (Lostwithiel) with the port of Fowey (in fact it ran as far as Carne Point just north of Fowey). Industry again played its part, with kaolin being the mainstay of the line. The line suffered a period of closure (1880-95) but then reopened, its passenger service limping off until 1965. The line however remains open for this kaolin traffic. Fowey (1874-1965) was formerly the terminus of passenger services on another line, the Cornwall Minerals Railway, which ran to another junction further south-west on the main line at Par (until 1929), and thence to Newquay, with goods continuing on this line until 1968.


The ghost trains that no longer run in Cornwall

Fowey Station, 1964. The station originally had two platforms, but one was removed once service to Lostwithiel-Fowey was reduced. Passenger service was withdrawn in 1965 Fowey station, 1964.
– Credit: author – Alan Murray-Rust

The loss of passenger traffic on the Fowey-Par line reduced Fowey’s two hubs to one. It has been suggested that the Lostwithiel-Fowey line may reopen in the future, although Fowey station itself has been demolished along with the site currently being used as a car park.

Newquay also benefited from a GWR line which opened in 1905 to Truro and survived until 1963. The closure of the entire 23¾ mile line resulted in a plethora of closed stations including St Agnes which was 8.5 miles along the line from Truro, saw its last train in February 1963 and is today surrounded by a light industrial area.

St Agnes had opened 60 years earlier in 1903 as a single platform station, with a siding in a goods shed. Half a dozen years later in 1909 the station was bustling when the Royal Cornwall Show was held at St Agnes, although passenger trains were unable to pass through here as the station still had no only one platform, but a passenger train could cross with freight if it had entered the siding.


Old trains leaving Bodmin Railway in Cornwall

Reputedly the oldest rolling stock in the country, photographed on the Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway in 1896 after being in use for 50 years. It certainly looks like this
– Credit: archive.org

The station was transformed in 1936 when the single platform was demolished and replaced by a two-sided island platform, allowing passenger trains to finally pass each other there. A new signal box was provided for the commissioning of the new layout which was in January 1937. A walkway connected the station approach to the island platform but this disappeared in the 1950s probably due to a lack of custom with all customers. using a level crossing afterwards.

I’m glad Cornwall has seen some of its closed lines get a new lease on life, because it means this story isn’t just about the end of the line. In many places it’s fair to say that if you walk to the old station you won’t see any trains, but if you listen carefully you might just hear the spectral whistle of a ghost train…

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