Southern Named Trains
"Atlantic Coast Express"

The ACE Publicity Poster
A Southern Railway publicity poster for the ACE
Reproduced by kind permission of Southern Posters - classic railway art

The forerunner of the "Atlantic Coast Express" was the LSWR 11:00 am departure from Waterloo for Plymouth. This was quite a notable train in its day as, in 1904, it was running to Salisbury in 1 hr 32 mins, changing engines there, then on to Exeter in 1 hr 38 mins where, after another change of engine, it departed for the next booked stop, Devonport, where it arrived at 3:44 pm, followed by North Road, Mutley and finally Plymouth Friary at 4:05 pm. The LSWR advertised the service as non-stop from Exeter Queen Street to Devonport, though of course the GWR would never allow the train to pass through their St Davids station without stopping! It was largely the success of this train that prompted the GWR to build two of its cut-offs, at Westbury and Castle Carey, to shorten its own route to London, then some 22¼ miles longer from Exeter. The LSWR supremacy, though, was not to be long-lived as in July 1904 the GWR intoduced the "Cornish Riviera Express" with its non-stop run from Paddington to Plymouth in 4 hrs 25 mins, some 19 minutes quicker than the LSWR train with all its stops and changes of engine.
Atlantic Coast Express Merchant navy class Nº 35005 Canadian Pacific ready to work the "ACE" in early British Railways days. Note the Southern Railway style of headboard still in use and compare with the later oblong version in the photograph below.

photograph: Mike Morant collection

No longer competitive on the time to Plymouth, the LSWR started adding extra stops, calling at Sidmouth Junction, North Tawton, Okehampton, Lydford and Tavistock, as well as acknowledging the stop at Exeter St Davids. Extra destinations were bolted on and with Plymouth no longer a competitive run, this portion became of secondary importance to the Ilfracombe portion and there were portions for Bideford, Bude and Padstow with through coaches detached for other places. Then in the late 1920s, by which time there were nine different destinations for parts of the train, came one of those PR masterstrokes for which the Southern Railway was known. A competition was held amongst staff to find a name for this many-destination train and one Guard Rowland of Woking came up with the winning suggestion, and the "Atlantic Coast Express" was born. The inaugral run under this name took took place on 19th July 1926, behind King Arthur class loco Nº779 Sir Colgrevance.

With the arrival of the Lord Nelson class locos through running from Waterloo to Exeter had been tried, but did not last for long and the Salisbury engine change was re-instated (though Wilton was used for the later "Devon Belle"). In 1939 timings were 1 hr 26 mins to Salisbury where five minutes were allowed for the change of engine, then on to Sidmouth Junction in 1 hr 23 mins and a further 18 mins to Exeter Central. Here the train was split and lighter engines took over portions for Ilfracombe and Torrington (split at Barnstaple Junction), Bude, Padstow and Plymouth (split at Okehampton and Halwill). Final arrival times for the 11:00 am Waterloo departure were: Torrington 3:58 pm, Ilfracombe 4:05 pm, Plymouth Friary 4:19 pm, Bude 4:39 pm and Padstow 5:37 pm. All this ceased for the duration of WWII, though there was still an 11:00 am departure from Waterloo.

The up Padstow portion of the "Atlantic Coast Express" arriving at Otterham behind 34038 Lynton on 21st April 1960.

photograph reproduced with kind permission of
Joanes Publications

Atlantic Coast Express
Upon restoration of the "ACE" after the end of the war the railway now had its new Bulleid pacifics to call upon. The train would normally leave Waterloo behind a Merchant Navy which would go all the way to Exeter, though the stop at Salisbury was still required for water and a crew change, then a light pacific would take over for duties west of Exeter. Lack of proper maintenance during the war meant that initially schedules were slower than pre-war, but by the summer 1952 timetable timings had been reduced to lower than in 1939. Through the height of the summer season loadings were so great that the train would run in two portions, the main train left Waterloo at 11:00 am with portions for Ilfracombe, Torrington, Sidmouth and Exmouth whilst the relief train left at varying times just before or after this with portions for Bude, Padstow and Plymouth, also calling at Axminster to connect with the Lyme Regis branch. The up journeys were basically the reverse of the down with one exception, a through portion from Yeovil Town which called at all stations to Gillingham where it was added to the rear of the "ACE", also only a brief halt at Sidmouth Junction was required as the through coaches from Sidmouth were attached along with a coach from Seaton, to the preceding 10:30 am ex-Exeter service. During the late 1950s traffic could be so heavy on summer Saturdays that there was a succession of trains needed to carry all those wanting to travel to the Devon and North Cornwall resorts but by the early 1960s this traffic was in decline. As the private motor car became more reliable and affordable so the numbers travelling by train dropped off rapidly with the result that the last ever "ACE" ran on 5th September 1964.
Atlantic Coast Express In August 1962 a very unusual form of motive power was photographed on the ACE at Salisbury - a Schools Class, Nº30934 St Lawrence. How this came about was not until recently known, but the train arrived in Salisbury behind this loco, about 30-40 minutes late. There was some conversation between the engine crew and Salisbury shed staff and, rather than being replaced by a Bulleid pacific, St Lawrence took on water and hauled the ACE on to London. Getting the train moving round the bend off the platform and up to Salisbury Tunnel Junction was quite some effort, with drain cocks fully opened and blower on full blast. St Lawrence could be heard all the way to the tunnel! Four months later, she was withdrawn from service.

photograph by John Bradbeer

We are now in possession of more of the facts of this incident, thanks to James Lester, who fired the loco on that occasion:

"In 1962 when I was actually a 'Tavy Gang' (3A) fireman and was called upon to perform a 'Top Link' turn, namely the 'ACE' down to Salisbury, then returning with up 'ACE'. The driver on the day was a fine Engineman, namely (Oswald) George Coward and, after preparation, we worked down with the usual 70A Merchant Navy locomotive.

The photograph of Class 'V' Nº30934, St Lawrence at the head of the the up 'ACE' brought some memories flooding back. The up Merchant Navy hauled 'ACE' failed at Yeovil on the day with a hot bearing and I can remember the phone message we received indicating that a replacement locomotive was being hurriedly prepared in the depot but substantial delay was likely! Meanwhile the locomotive in Yeovil yard was bringing the train forward albeit quite late. In early sixties a Class 'V' ('Schools') worked down to Salisbury and then on to Yeovil in the morning, returning later to Waterloo, this then was the locomotive used on the date.

On arrival in Salisbury the 72A crew had no doubt struggled with the locomotive in the circumstances and the conditions on the footplate were somewhat depleted in terms of water, steam and fire. No doubt this was to a degree contrived, the crew believing that the locomotive would not continue further. Only when George Coward asked me if I had any previous knowledge of the condition of the locomotive was the decision made to work through. Hastily reparation of the situation took place and I toiled to build the fire and increase both water and steam levels in the short time available before the off! What a great run we had after labouring up Porton bank and on towards Grateley. Once into her stride we passed through Andover Junction with 80 mph plus on the speedometer and continued in the same manner to London without any hindrance, simply amazing!"

The "ACE" had no rival in the UK for the number of individual portions incorporated into one train, so much so that at times it almost seemed it consisted entirely of brake coaches! Leaving Waterloo a typical winter formation would be a second corridor and composite brake for Ilfracombe, composite brakes for each of Torrington, Padstow and Bude, second brake and composite for Plymouth, buffet, kitchen and open restaurant cars to be detached at Exeter, composite brakes for each of Exmouth, Sidmouth and all stations Salisbury to Honiton, the latter detached at Salisbury.

One sad footnote to the "ACE" story concerns Guard Rowland who moved from Surrey to live in Torrington in Devon where he was unfortunate enough to become the only railwayman ever to be killed on the Halwill - Torrington line.

Down "ACE" timings summer Saturdays 1953
    am     am  
Waterloo dep:   10:35 11:00
Salisbury arr:   12:05 12:31
Salisbury dep:   12:09 12:36
   Sidmouth dep:   1:35
Sidmouth Junc dep:   2U10
Exeter Central arr:   1:55 2:28
   Exmouth arr:   2:44 3:19
   Exmouth dep: 12:15 1:45
Exeter Central dep:   1:59 2:34
Exeter St Davids arr:   2:04 2:39
Exeter St Davids dep:   2:07 2:39
   Eggesford   3:15
   Barnstaple Junc arr:   3:45
   Barnstaple Junc dep:   3:49
   Barnstaple Town   3:54
   Wrafton   4:02
   Braunton   4:07
   Morthoe   4:27
   Ilfracombe arr:   4:36
      Barnstaple Junc dep:   3:56
      Fremington   4:03
      Instow   4:10
      Bideford   4:16
      Torrington arr:   4:30
Halwill arr:   3:07
   Halwill dep:   3:14  
   Dunsland Cross   3:22  
   Holsworthy   3:32  
   Whitstone & Bridgerule   3:44  
   Bude arr:   3:54  
Halwill dep:   3:09
Launceston arr:   3:29
Launceston dep:   3:36
Tresmeer   3:54
Otterham   4:05
Camelford   4:14
Delabole   4:23
Port Isaac Road   4:32
Wadebridge arr:   4:45
   Bodmin North arr:   5:31  
Padstow arr:   5:00

  Notes: U Calls to pick up only

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