The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History

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Updated:  31 March 2012 


The inaugural run of the Great Western Railway’s rail motor service between Plympton, Plymouth and Saltash left Plymouth Millbay Station at 2.45pm on Tuesday May 31st 1904 and after stopping at Lipson Vale Halt and Laira Halt, it duly arrived at Plympton Station.

It left one of the two cars at Plympton and returned via Wingfield Villas Halt, Ford and St Budeaux to Saltash.   A speed of 50mph was attained.  The return journey to Millbay was accomplished in ten minutes and the party were entertained to refreshments in the waiting room.

The full service commenced on June 1st 1904.

A GWR steam railmotor crossing the Royal Albert Bridge on its journey from Saltash to Plymouth.
A GWR steam rail motor crossing the Royal Albert Bridge on its way from Saltash to Plymouth.
From a postcard.
Another view of a GWR steam railmotor on the Royal Albert Bridge. In 1908 locos 2120 and 2140 were on the service with class 2132 saddle tanks following.

Around 1928 when it was found that traffic was starting to fall off on the Yealmpton branch because of increased road facilities, steam railcar No. 72 was brought to Plymouth to work the remaining services on the branch and also do one trip per day to Saltash around midday.

The Plympton to Plymouth North Road service ceased on July 7th 1930 except for one train, the 8am from Plympton to Saltash.


Another view of a GWR steam rail motor on the Royal Albert Bridge.
From a postcard.

British Railways Western Region

The last day of steam operation on the “Saltash Motors” was Sunday June 12th 1960 and that last rain pulled into Platform 6 at 10.30pm having run as empty stock from Saltash.  The Guard, who was the longest serving on the service, was Mr Arthur Cook of 24 Ladysmith Road.  The other Guard was Mr Philip Mumford of 257 Old Laira Road.  The two Drivers on the service were Mr Bill May, aged 63, and Mr David Lavers of Pennycross.  One of the last locomotives to run the service was No. 6421.   

From Monday June 13th (when the summer timetable started) the service was operated by DMUs, except those trains which ran through to Tavistock, the 12.40pm Plymouth to Saltash and its 1.25pm return to Tavistock South. Likewise the 4.30pm from Tavistock South formed the 5.23pm to Doublebois and remained auto-worked.  Mr Reg Beal of Laira drove the first diesel train.

The very last steam auto trains worked were:-

Friday December 28th 1962; No. 6438 on the 12.40pm Plymouth to Saltash and 1.25pm return to Tavistock;

Saturday December 29th 1962; No. 6400 worked the 7.40am Plymouth to Tavistock and the 8.45am return.




  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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