The original Act of Parliament of 1845 for the Plymouth, Devonport and Exeter Railway, to join the Bristol and Exeter railway at Exeter, granted permission for a line passing through Buckfastleigh and Ashburton. (All new railway lines have to be passed by an Act of Parliament.) In the same year, a proposal was made for the Ashburton, Newton and South Devon Junction railway to run from Newton to Ashburton. (Newton Abbot was just “Newton” at this time.)
Also in 1845, a public meeting held in the Totnes Guildhall agreed that Totnes should be connected to Buckfastleigh and Ashburton. This did not become an Act until July 1848. The line was to be designed by Brunel and would have been broad gauge. On completion, it was to be operated by the South Devon Railway.
By the end of all these negotiations however, the country was in recession and all plans were shelved. But by 1862, it was decided that the area needed the railway to boost trade and the Buckfastleigh, Totnes and South Devon Railway Company Act was passed in 1864. In 1865 another Act of Parliament extended the line to Ashburton. It was of course, broad gauge, converted to standard gauge in 1892.
The principal traffic of the railway was always freight, with passengers a poor second, mainly workman and children attending school in Totnes. Apart from the usual pick-up goods, the main traffic into Staverton was agricultural feeds, timber for the joinery, and over 20 wagons of coal a week. Outgoing traffic was cider from Whiteways at Stretchford and from Hill’s at Barkingdon and furniture from Staverton Joinery.
Interestingly, until the end of the Century, the woollen mills of Buckfastleigh provided the railway with more traffic than Newton Abbot.
The branch was closed to all traffic on 10th September 1962, the last passenger train having run in 1958. The line had fallen victim, like so many others, to Dr. Beeching’s cuts. The Great Western Society restored the line and it was re-opened in 1968 as the Dart Valley Railway. It is well worth taking a ride on the train from Buckfastleigh to Totnes via Staverton Station. The line follows the Dart for much of the way and is picturesque at any time of the year, but most especially in the Spring when the primroses are in full bloom.