Rapid Service to Britain’s South-
LEAVING WATERLOO STATION. The “Atlantic Coast Express” daily departs from London at
11 am for the south-
FOR many years past, back into London and South Western days, an express has left
Waterloo daily at eleven o’clock in the morning. But it is only since the formation
of the Southern Railway, and the coming into fashion of the attractive habit of naming
trains, that this popular train has acquired the dignity of a title. The choice of
“Atlantic Coast Express” is, moreover, a particularly happy one. Not only does this
train spread itself over a considerable length of the shores of the Atlantic before
the daily journeys of its various sections are completed, but also the initial letters
of the name form the appropriate word “ACE”. The Southern Railway has not neglected
to use this telling detail in its advertisements of the service -
Now that the “Cornish Riviera Express” of the Great Western Railway is run in two
portions daily throughout the year -
Next the engine comes what might be termed the main section of the train, consisting
of three coaches for Ilfracombe -
At Sidmouth Junction two coaches come off, one for Sidmouth and one for Exmouth. These will run together as far as Tipton St. John's, after which the Exmouth coach will travel round the coast through Budleigh Salterton into Exmouth. Last of all there is a coach detached at Salisbury for all stations between Templecombe and Exeter.
The various portions are, therefore, for Ilfracombe, Torrington, Plymouth, Padstow,
Bude, Exeter, Sidmouth, Exmouth, and Exeter “slow” -
During the height of the summer scason, of course, the traffic to the coast resorts of Devon and Cornwall is so heavy that one train could not possibly carry it all. The Ilfracombe, Bude, and Padstow portions then run separately, at 10.35 am from Waterloo, calling only at Salisbury between London and Exeter, which is reached in 3 hours 12 minutes, notwithstanding the distance of 171¾ miles, the exceedingly heavy gradients, to which reference will presently be made, and the five minutes spent standing in Salisbury Station. On summer Saturdays further expansion takes place, and independent trains are run at 10.35 am for Ilfracombe and Torrington, at 10.45 for Padstow and Bude, at 11 for Plymouth, and at 11.45 for Exmouth and Sidmouth.
As with previous “Famous Trains” which have come under consideration in this work, the best appreciation of the “Atlantic Coast Express” is obtained by making a journey on it. The opportunity is the more valuable as it makes possible a review of the extensive railway system which was built and operated by the late London and South Western Railway, now the Western Section of the Southern Railway, and the largest ot the three constituent companies of this group.
Out of Waterloo the line ascends for a short distance on a 1 in 141 gradient, and
the engine which has brought the coaches to the platform assists the train engine
by pushing in rear for a hundred yards or so out of the station. As far as Salisbury
the "Atlantic Coast Express" is usually worked by one of the four-
A Flying Junction
The first stage of the run, from Waterloo to Salisbury, measures 83¾ miles in length,
and the schedule of 87 minutes leaves no time to spare. For the first fifty-
At Hampton Court Junction (13¼ miles) the down line to Hampton Court leaves the main
line by means of a flying junction, directing attention to the care with which the
late London and South Western Railway brought practically all its branches between
Wimbledon and Basingstoke into the main line by either flying or burrowing junctions.
This was to avoid any interference on the part of the slower traffic on the outer
lines with the fast trains, which use the centre lines of the four-
IN CLAPHAM CUTTING, between Clapham Junction and Earlsfield. Not far beyond Clapham Junction, four miles out of the terminus at Waterloo, the “Atlantic Coast Express” attains a speed of fifty miles an hour or over. The “ACE” is generally hauled by a “Lord Nelson” class engine, one of which is seen in front of the express, above, as far as Salisbury, Wiltshire.
MELDON VIADUCT, near Okehampton (Devon), is the highest structure on the Southern system; it has a maximum height of
113 ft and six spans of 86 ft 6 in. in length. Over this viaduct passes the Plymouth
section of the “Atlantic Coast Express”. On the Exeter-
Past Weybridge (19¼ miles) there is a slight descent, and speed may here rise to
The “Atlantic Coast Express” now passes Woking -
Southern's Highest Speeds
Worting, although a lonely box in the open country, is one of the most important
junctions on the system. For here the West of England main line diverges from the
original London and Southampton Railway that later became the London and South Western.
The up line from the Southampton direction is now brought in by a fly-
Eastleigh is 73½ miles from Waterloo, and six miles beyond lies Southampton, where the great docks, the property of the Southern Railway, form one of the most valuable assets of that company. passing round a sharp curve at Northam, trains reach the Central Station, which has recently been rebuilt as a modern station with four platforms, in place of the original two. Only one daily express in either direction has the distinction of passing through Southampton without stopping. It is the "Bournemouth Limited", leaving Waterloo for Bournemouth at 4.30 pm, and Bournemouth Central for Waterloo at 8.40 am. Both make the run of 108 miles between London and Bournemouth in two minutes under two hours.
Other expresses, calling only at Southampton Central, require about two hours ten
minutes. In the down direction these fast trains for Southampton and Bournemouth
leave London at thirty minutes past the hour practically throughout the day, this
being one of the features of the systematic time-
Across Salisbury Plain
In addition, many special express trains, the principal of which include Pullman cars, run between Waterloo and Southampton Docks in connexion with the steamer sailings. These trains are run alongside the steamers, and the busiest times are experienced during the summer season, when numerous crowded cruising steamers require to be catered for in this way. At times a dozen or more large liners, either inward or outward bound, require special connecting services, several special trains being needed to supply accommodation for the passengers and mails to or from one big liner alone. But to return to the “Atlantic Coast Express”.
Soon after passing Worting, the engine is notched well up, and the regulator partly
closed, for a long and easy stretch of line lies ahead. Past Overton (55½ miles),
near which for many years past the paper for Bank of England notes has been manufactured,
the gradient is gradual, but it steepens to 1 in 194 from Whitchurch (59¼ miles)
to Hurstbourne (61¼ miles), and there is a further three-
Over the chalk downs the line descends again, as steeply as 1 in 140 and 1 in 169
for four miles, through Porton (78¼ miles). This tempting length often produces a
final “eighty” before the lender spire (404 ft) of Salisbury Cathedral -
ON THE FOOTPLATE of a “King Arthur” class locomotive. The “Atlantic Coast Express”
is sometimes hauled from Waterloo to Salisbury by one of these powerful 4-
NO RESTRICTION on maximum speeds is enforced on the west-
It has only been during the periods of through working that engines of the “Lord
Nelson” type, attached to the Nine Elms shed, have been seen as far west as Exeter.
At all other times the principal expresses between Salisbury and Exeter are hauled
by the exceptionally capable 4-
The Approach to Devonshire
Out of Salisbury, left at 12.31 pm, the train has a long and gradual climb to Semley
(17½ miles), the nearest station to Shaftesbury, finishing with two miles at 1 in
145. Suddenly a thrilling acceleration is felt; in the next four miles, to Gillingham
(21¾ miles), speed probably rises to eighty miles an hour. Up the line climbs, to
Buckhorn Weston Tunnel, and again it drops at 1 in 100 for two miles, to Abbey Ford.
Templecombe Bank lies ahead -
To Yeovil Junction (39¼ miles) there are now 5½ miles of undulations, followed by Sutton Bingham Bank (3½ miles at 1 in 200 to 140). Then, after a moderate stretch of downhill, comes the more severe climb of Crewkerne Bank, which for 2¾ miles is at 1 in 80, and may reduce the speed of the train to but little above thirty miles an hour, when the short summit tunnel has been threaded.
The next thirteen miles, from Hewish onwards (50½ miles), provide the finest racing ground of the whole down journey. This stretch is uninterruptedly downhill, on what are, for the most part, moderate gradients, and easy steaming will produce a speed that for the major part of the descent is well above seventy miles an hour, and has probably exceeded eighty by the time Axminster (61 miles) is passed. Just beyond Axminster, at the foot of the bank, the main line is at the nearest point that it reaches to the south coast, near Lyme Regis, in Dorset.
The track now turns inland again, and the engine is faced with the arduous climb
to which previous reference has been made. This is eight miles long, and for 4½ miles
it is graded at 1 in 80. The impetus of the preceding descent has been expended long
before the summit is reached, and the last mile or so to the summit tunnel will be
breasted with the speed somewhere between twenty and twenty-
At Sidmouth Junction (75¾ miles) a stop is made at 1.58 pm to detach the Sidmouth
and Exmouth coaches. And only a brief twelve-
Meeting the Great Western
Out of the Central Station to the west, the line drops in most precipitate fashion;
A peculiarly interesting feature of St. David’s Station is that it faces roughly
north and south. The Great Western expresses from Paddington enter from the north
end, and the Southern expresses from Waterloo from the south end, so that they pass
one another travelling in opposite directions. But, as if this were not enough, when
the same two railways reach the North Road Station at Plymouth, the west-
But it would not be likely for such a double meeting to take place, as the Great Western is now the faster route, both between London and Exeter, and between Exeter and Plymouth. In the early years of the present century the London and South Western Railway, with only 171¾ miles to go from London to Exeter, as compared with the Great Western 194 miles via Bristol, put up a fine fight, and for some time equalled if it did not beat the quickest Great Western schedules to Exeter and beyond. But the completion of the Westbury route in 1906 cut twenty miles from the journey of the Great Western expresses, and the Great Western gradients are, on the whole, so much the easier of the two that the Southern Railway is no longer able to equal the Great Western times, from London to Plymouth in particular.
PADSTOW STATION, in North Cornwall, 260 miles from Waterloo, is the most westerly
destination of a through coach of the “Atlantic Coast Express”. The Padstow section
of the express parts company from the Bude section at Halwill Junction (Devon), forty-
As previously mentioned, the Ilfracombe and Torrington sections of the “Atlantic
Coast Express” are the first to leave Exeter. From St. David's Station a stretch
of the Great Western main line, 1½ miles long, is followed in the direction of London,
as far as Cowley Bridge Junction, where the Southern Railway track bends westwards.
The fertile valley of the Taw carries the train gently down to Barnstaple, 38¾ miles
from Exeter Central. At Barnstaple the line divides again, the Torrington coach being
left behind to make its journey round through Bideford to its destination. The Ilfracombe
coaches, after passing Braunton, seven miles beyond Barnstaple, have some mountainous
gradients to tackle: for 3½ miles from Heddon Mill the climb is at 1 in 40, up to
Mortehoe, six miles farther on. But even this is beaten by the final descent to Ilfracombe,
54¾ miles from Exeter Central. For 2½ miles the gradient is at 1 in 36 -
The most “Atlantic” portion of the “Atlantic Coast Express” -
Before reaching Meldon Junction the train calls, at 3.14 pm, at the moorland town
of Okehampton (26 miles from Exeter Central), where the Padstow and Bude coaches
part company with the one destined for Plymouth. The former have a long single-
AT SPEED in Weybridge Cutting, near Weybridge Station, nineteen and a quarter miles
from Waterloo. The “ACE” on this section will normally be running at over sixty-
It is curious to reflect that the original 11 am from Waterloo was for many years an express to Plymouth, with a through portion for Ilfracombe attached, most of the other destinations of the present “Atlantic Coast Express” being then reached only by connexions into which the passenger had to change. Now the Plymouth express has shrunk to one coach, which, attached to two or three others to complete the train, makes its lonely way across the moors, dropping down into Tavistock, and so to the valley of the Tamar. The Ilfracombe portion, on the other hand, has become the main train.
Running underneath Brunel’s masterpiece -
Similarly it is Padstow which takes leave of the first section of the up “Atlantic Coast Express”, at 8.35 am. The Ilfracombe section starts art 10.30 am, and the whole train, leaving Sidmouth Junction at 12.55, reappears at Waterloo at 3.55 in the afternoon.
[From part 43, published 22 November 1935]