The Seaton Tramway

Introduction: Apart from Devon being a wonderful county to visit with pleasant scenery there is also a narrow gauge pleasure tramway running through the Exe valley. The tramway runs along the former track bed of the Seaton and Beer Railway which was incorporated in 1863 with the line opening to Seaton Junction 4½ miles away on the London and South Western railway mainline in 1868. The railway was originally intended as a freight line but when the LSWR took over operations in 1879 the railways saw a healthy tourist traffic heading to the beach at Seaton. The railway would regularly see fast trains slipping a coach at Seaton Junction with a local engine coupling on to take the carriage the rest of the journey to Seaton. The 1960’s saw a rapid decline in holidaying in Britain as air transport and foreign holidays became more appealing to the general public. This also affected the railway which was soon running at a loss in a period when cut backs were being made to the British Railways network. In March 1966 the branch was closed the track remaining in situ until removal by the Modern Electric tramways ltd.

The Eastbourne Tramway: Then in 1969 the 2’ gauge Eastbourne pleasure tramway closed. The Eastbourne tramway had been opened in 1953 by Modern Electric tramways ltd for the purpose of providing a pleasure facility as well as to cater for an enthusiast’s dream of driving a tram. The tramway ran for 2/3 of a mile between Princes Park and Crumbles. To operate the tramway scaled down vehicles were constructed, most certainly not models (!), based on actual tram cars that had been in service in towns around the country until not many years before. As with the original standard gauge cars, road traffic started to cause problems for the little tramway so the owners started to look for a more preferable site that would allow expansion.

The Seaton tramway: The former trackbed of the above mentioned Seaton to Seaton Junction branch was brought to their attention and they started discussions with British Rail about purchasing the former route as far as Colyton. One problem was that the purchase was on the condition that a transfer order and light railway order were obtained. After a public meeting where there were some objections to the tramway that it may disrupt the natural beauty of the Exe valley and make excess noise (What planet do people live on? There were steam locomotives passing up and down not that long before!! Sorry for the interruption). The town council stated that it would be of benefit to the whole community the inquiry found in favour of the tramway. The next months saw the tramway lifted from Eastbourne and transported to Seaton where it was re-laid all in time for the 1970 holiday season. A depot was built to store the track and equipment followed by the laying of the tramway to a larger gauge of 2’9”. The first tram to operate on the new tramway used a battery to provide power as the owners had not had chance to either complete the full laying of tramway or to put up the overhead wires. However by the end of the first season the tramway had proved just as popular as it had been in Eastbourne. Needless to say the trams had to have their bogies re-gauged for the new system that had reached Colyford by early 1971, though the poles and overhead power lines were not to appear until 1973 when the first tram operated off the overhead wire in the September of that year. The tramway had not actually reached Seaton tramway until 1975 on a new alignment away from the former railway line as the station had been demolished the deviation commencing after the line passed the new tram depot. In 1980 after 5 years of pushing towards Colyton the tramway opened. At the tramways 25th anniversary a new terminus area opened built in Edwardian style. The tramway also has a section of paved tramway at Colyton station which area has also been smartened up. Today the tramway carries about 100,000 people a year and is well worth a visit if you are ever in that part of the country.