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EDITIONS
Friday, 2 August, 2002, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Steam powers Devon's railway revival
Paignton and Dartmouth steam railway engine
Paignton and Dartmouth steam railway engine

As he shovelled coal into the firebox, Peter Roach finally came clean about his past.

"All right, I admit it," he said with a sigh. "I used to be a train spotter."

We were on the footplate of Ajax, engine number 6435, preparing to haul a train of holidaymakers through the Devon countryside.

For the benefit of the anoraks, we are talking about an 0-6-0 pannier tank engine, built at Swindon in 1937 for the Great Western Railway.

Steam train driver Peter Roach
Driver Peter Roach admits to being a train spotter

Peter has a job any railway enthusiast would envy. He is a driver on the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway.

As a child, he used to travel to school on this very line. He was bitten by the railway bug, and after helping out as a volunteer, joined the company full time.

"You have got to be a little strange to do this, sitting here on a lovely summer's day in front of this fire," he told me, as the burning coal glowed red hot.

"But after 24 years I still enjoy it, and I am still here."

Short but delightful

It is not difficult to see why. The line runs for just seven miles, but it must be one of the most delightful railway journeys in Britain.

Leaving Paignton, the track follows the coast before winding inland through a picture book landscape, then descending through woods to Kingswear on the River Dart.

Watching the scenery glide past, and listening to the rhythmic puffing of the engine, you wonder how anyone could have decided to replace this form of locomotion.


Children are enthralled, they think it is weird because it is not electronic

Peter Roach, train driver

But despite the advent of diesel and electric trains, many steam railways have survived, largely thanks to the efforts of enthusiasts.

The Paignton to Kingswear line is run as a going concern by the Dart Valley Railway Company. It attracts 300,000 visitors a year, with ten trains a day running through the summer season.

The company has a full-time staff of fifteen, with a similar number employed during the summer months.

And there are about 50 volunteers who give their time to help preserve the railway for future generations.

"We are selling a bit of nostalgia," said general manager Barry Cogar, as we watched another train fill up with holidaymakers.

The Paignton railway attracts 300,000 visitors a year
"This is a commercially operated railway and we pay a dividend to shareholders when we can. But we plough money back into the railway to keep it running."

And it certainly is an expensive business keeping the trains running.

Repairing an engine boiler can cost anything up to a quarter of a million pounds.

Then there is the labour involved in maintaining the track and rolling stock, three viaducts and a tunnel.

With the train to Kingswear ready to depart, driver Peter Roach sounded the whistle and Ajax pulled out of Paignton Station, trailing steam and smoke.

The green paintwork and brass fittings of the locomotive gleamed in the sunshine. Behind the engine were seven coaches in the chocolate and cream livery of the GWR.

New enthusiasts

On board, peering out of the windows, were passengers of all ages.

For some of the excited youngsters, it was clearly their first experience of a steam train.

Passengers on steam train
Passengers of all ages enjoy the ride

"An engine like this is a living thing," Peter told me, trying to explain the magic.

"Children are enthralled, they think it is weird because it is not electronic, and they always want to know how it works.

"They are the future of steam, and hopefully they will carry on the tradition."

Staff at Paignton Station like to tell the story of one small boy who pointed at a pile of coal with a puzzled look.

"Mum," he enquired, "what is that black stuff?"

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Peter Gould
"A throwback to a different form of locomotion"

At the seaside

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