THREE YEARS after they last ran, it is good to see more evidence of passengers being attracted back onto the rail network following the COVID-19 hiatus, with the return this week (15 May 2022) of seasonal through services from London Paddington to Newquay.
While the Cornish resort has lost its summer Cross-Country (XC) services from the north, until 9 September there is a 09.04 Paddington-Newquay on weekdays, with direct services from Newquay to the capital departing at 11.18 and 14.55, the former even offering a restaurant service from Plymouth.
Weekend through services (until 10/11 September) comprise an 08.00 from Exeter St. David’s and 11.37 departure from Paddington, with a 11.15 Newquay-Paddington and 17.30 to Bristol Parkway, while on Sundays it is 11.03 from Paddington and 11.23 from Exeter, with return Newquay-Paddington services at 13.30 and 17.18.
What has not changed with the advent of Class 80x working on the Newquay branch is the rather sedate pace of these non-stop services. Like all branch services they must change tokens at St. Blazey and Goonbarrow Junction Signal Boxes, as well slow to 10mph or 20mph at many level crossings, so are timed to take around 45 minutes for the 20¾-mile trip from Par, an average speed of just under 30 mph!
Having last travelled to Newquay on an HST and what was then titled The Atlantic Coast Express, I was keen to sample the new order, so after photographic interludes at Lostwithiel and Par, travelled on 19 May 2022 aboard the 09.04 service from Paddington (13.25 ex-Par) and returned to Par on the 14.55 Newquay-Paddington.
Being the first week of direct services I had not expected huge passenger numbers, so was not surprised to be one of just 20 passengers aboard the 13.25 from Par. But numbers picked up for our 14.55 return, when I counted a total of 29 passengers, though no first class customers in either direction.
One market that GWR is clearly not seeking to attract back to its Newquay services is the surfing fraternity. I noted a poster at Reading pointing out that the IETs (Class 80x) did not have a guard’s van, so surf boards could not be carried. They are allowed on the Night Riviera sleeper and local trains, but that’s not much use to most surfers.
For those unfamiliar with it, the Newquay branch is an interesting line to travel, making up for lacking the scenic delights of the Looe and St. Ives branches by two stops for token exchanges and some good distant Cornish views as the line emerges from valley into open countryside west of Roche.
Travelling on one of the summer services I cannot help feeling some sympathy for would-be users of the line’s five intermediate stations – Luxulyan, Bugle, Roche, St. Columb Road and Quintrell Downs – who lose their regular two-hourly service until September, and face a four hour daytime gap between stopping services.
An amusing feature of the Class 80x units is that the digital destination display shows a call at Goonbarrow Junction, as seen above. I politely asked the train manager if I might alight there on our outward journey, but was given a firm refusal!
Returning to Par meant time to see services passing what is probably the finest outpost of semaphore signalling in the south-west, though sadly the operational days of its listed signal box are numbered. Re-signalling is finally set to reach Cornwall in autumn 2023, when this box, along with those at Lostwithiel and Truro, are due to close.
A journey back to Reading on the 17.19 ex-Par (1A96 from Penzance) meant a first chance this year to sample the delightful and unique GWR restaurant car service, which is available on this train from Plymouth (dep. 18.16) as well as on the 11.18 ex-Newquay (also from Plymouth).
There is a new Spring/Summer menu and the three-course tariff has gone up from £30 to £35, but the food, ambience and quality of service remain as good as when I last dined on the line in December. From the current menu, I can highly recommend the smoked trout and beetroot wedge starter and coriander chicken main course, along with the South African Shiraz.