Cornish Main Line

London and South Western Railway Category:CS1 maint: ref=harv Royal Albert Bridge
Infinite Construction - STEAM

Cornish Main Line
Royal Albert Bridge 2009.jpg
OwnerNetwork Rail
LocaleCornwall, United Kingdom
TypeHeavy rail
SystemNational Rail
Operator(s)Great Western Railway
(Freight: DB Schenker and Freightliner)
Line length79.5 miles (128 km)
Number of tracksDouble with two single track sections
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Operating speed75 mph (121 km/h) maximum[1]

The Cornish Main Line (Cornish: Penn-hyns-horn Kernow) is a railway line in Cornwall in the United Kingdom. It runs from Penzance to Plymouth, crossing from Cornwall into Devon over the famous Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash.

It directly serves Truro, St Austell, Bodmin (by a Parkway station), and Liskeard. It forms the backbone for rail services in Cornwall and there are branches off it which serve St Ives, Falmouth, Newquay, and Looe. The main line also carries direct trains to and from London, Birmingham, the north of England and Scotland.

It is the southernmost railway line in the United Kingdom, and the westernmost in England.


The Royal Albert Bridge under construction in 1858

The Cornish Main Line was originally built by two separate railway companies, the West Cornwall Railway between Truro and Penzance, opened in 1852, and the Cornwall Railway between Plymouth and a separate station in Truro, opened in 1859. The West Cornwall Railway was itself based on the Hayle Railway, opened in 1837 as a purely local mineral railway.

Rail travel from Penzance to London was possible from 1860 when the West Cornwall company was given access to the Cornwall Railway’s Truro station, but the West Cornwall trains were standard gauge and the Cornwall Railway was broad gauge, so through passengers had to change trains there and goods had to be transhipped into wagons of the other gauge at Truro.

The impecunious West Cornwall company sold its railway to the more powerful broad gauge Associated Companies, dominated by the Great Western Railway, and the new owners converted the West Cornwall line to broad gauge. Through goods trains started running in 1866 and passenger trains in 1867.

The Associated Companies merged into the Great Western Railway, and in 1892 the Great Western converted all its broad gauge track to standard gauge, a process called the gauge conversion.

Both the West Cornwall and the Cornwall railways had been built cheaply and had numerous timber trestle viaducts; these were cheap to build but very expensive to maintain, as the timber decayed, and the iconic viaducts were eventually all reconstructed in masonry or masonry and wrought iron, or in a few cases by-passed. Those on the Cornwall Railway section are described at Cornwall Railway viaducts.

The most iconic structure on the route, however, is the Royal Albert Bridge spanning the River Tamar and opened in 1859; it remains in use to the present day.

During the later decades of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, the Great Western Railway was famous for providing transport to holiday destinations in Cornwall, and there were numerous branch lines served from the Cornish main line giving access to the resorts. The physical limitations of the steeply graded line imposed severe problems during the busiest times, not least for goods train operation. Equally famous was the line’s use for transporting vegetable produce from Cornwall, famously broccoli and cauliflower, and cut flowers from the Isles of Scilly.

To cope with the increasing traffic the line was gradually doubled between 1893 and 1930.[2]

Many of the branch lines were closed during the second half of the twentieth century, but in Cornwall the Looe, Newquay, Falmouth and St Ives branches remain in operation, with a basic local passenger traffic in winter considerably boosted by holidaymakers in summer. The historical development of the line is more fully dealt with at Hayle Railway, West Cornwall Railway, and Cornwall Railway. [3]


The Cornwall Main Line has been a very safe railway for passengers, with only a few accidents in the 19th century. These include:


Cornish Main Line
from London via Castle Cary
Plymouth Millbay
Millbay Docks
Pennycomequick Viaduct
Cornwall Loop Junction
Devonport Junction
Wingfield Villas Halt
Devonport Kings Road
Stonehouse Pool Docks
Albert Road Halt
Devonport Tunnel
Keyham Viaduct
Ford Platform
Devonport Dockyard branch
Camels Head Halt
Weston Mill Viaduct
Bullpoint Siding
Weston Mill Halt
St Budeaux Ferry Road
St Budeaux Victoria Road
Coombe by Saltash Viaduct
Defiance Platform
Original line until 1906
Forder Viaduct
Shilingham (Wivelscombe) Tunnel
Grove Viaduct
Nottar Viaduct
St Germans Viaduct
St Germans
Tresulgan Viaduct
Coldrennick Viaduct
Treviddo Viaduct
Carthuther Viaduct
Bolitho Viaduct
Liskeard Viaduct
Coombe Junction Halt
Moorswater depot
Sperritt Tunnel
Westwood Viaduct
St Pinnock Viaduct
Largin Viaduct
West Largin Viaduct
Derrycombe Viaduct
Clinnick Viaduct
Penadlake Viaduct
Glyn Valley Siding
Bodmin Parkway
Carriage shed and sidings
Milltown Viaduct
Treverrin Tunnel (
565 yd
517 m
St Blazey engine shed
Par Harbour
St Austell
St Austell Viaduct
Trenance Siding
Gover Viaduct
Coombe St Stephen Viaduct
Fal Viaduct
Grampound Road
Probus and Ladock
Tregagle Viaduct
Polperro Tunnel
Buckshead Tunnel
Truro Viaduct
Carvedras Viaduct
Truro (Newham)
Higher Town Tunnel
Chacewater Viaduct
Drump Lane
Redruth Tunnel
Redruth Viaduct
Redruth & Tresavean branches
Portreath branch
Carn Brea
Dolcoath Halt
Roskear Branch
Roskear Junction
Gwinear Road
Original Hayle Railway route
Copperhouse Halt
Hayle Wharves
Hayle Viaduct
St Erth
Penzance TMD
A train from London Paddington to Penzance crosses Moorswater Viaduct

The communities served are: Plymouth (including the suburbs of Devonport and St Budeaux); Saltash; St Germans; Menheniot; Liskeard; Bodmin; Lostwithiel; Par; St Austell; Truro; Redruth; Camborne; Hayle; St Erth; Penzance. In addition branch lines link Plymouth with Bere Alston, Calstock, and Gunnislake; Liskeard with Looe; Par with Newquay; Truro with Penryn and Falmouth; and St Erth with St Ives.

The railway stations at St Austell and Penzance are adjacent to bus stations. In addition, integrated bus services operate from Bodmin Parkway to Bodmin, Wadebridge, and Padstow; from St Austell to The Eden Project; and from Redruth to Helston and RNAS Culdrose.

The route has a large number of viaducts, but the most significant structure is the Royal Albert Bridge[4] which crosses the River Tamar at Saltash. At Truro the viaducts give sweeping views of the city and River Fal, while further west the north coast can be seen near Hayle before the line swings onto the south coast for the last mile or so along the beach at Marazion, giving a good view of St Michael's Mount.

Nominal line speed is 65 mph (105 km/h) but there are local restrictions at many places. The route is mostly double-tracked and cleared for trains up to W7 and W6A gauges.[5] The 7.5-mile (12.1 km) section of single track from Burngullow to Probus (between the stations at St Austell and Truro) used to be a major cause of delays in the region, requiring trains to wait for preceding trains to clear the singled section before proceeding. The second track was restored in August 2004. The total cost of the project was £14.3 million and was funded by Objective One, Strategic Rail Authority and Cornwall County Council.


The number of passengers travelling on the Cornish Main Line has increased in the last few years. Between 2004/05 and 2011/12, with the exception of Keyham and Menheniot, all stations have reported an increase of at least 33% while Hayle, Par, Saltash and St Budeaux Ferry road all reported calculated to be in excess of 200%. The busiest stations are Plymouth, Penzance and Truro which all handle more than one million people arriving or departing each year. St Austell, Redruth and Liskeard all had more than 300,000 people in 2011-12, increases of around 50% or 60% over 2004/05.[6]

See also



  1. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 October 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ Railway Magazine October 1963 p. 747
  3. ^ MacDermot, E.T. (1931). History of the Great Western Railway. Volume II 1863-1921. London: Great Western Railway.
  4. ^ Binding, John (1997). Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge. Truro: Twelveheads Press. ISBN 0-906294-39-8.
  5. ^ Route 12: Reading to Penzance (PDF). Network Rail. 2007. p. 17. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 September 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  6. ^ "Station Usage". Rail Statistics. Office of Rail Regulation.