Anniversary milestone for the railway station that beat Beeching
- Credit: Vernon Whitlock
This week sees an important local anniversary on our railways. It is 50 years since Feniton Station re-opened after being closed in the 1960s Beeching cuts.
Originally opened as Feniton in July 1860, in 1861 the station began its confusing series of re-namings, when it became ‘Ottery and Sidmouth Road.’ In February 1868 the name was changed again, to the slightly more explanatory ‘Feniton for Ottery St Mary.’ On July 6th 1874 the branch line to Sidmouth was opened, which lead to the station changing its name again, this time to Sidmouth Junction, the name it would bear for over 90 years.
Services from Sidmouth Junction to Sidmouth served Ottery St Mary and Tipton St John’s as it was then called. At Tipton, a further branch continued to Newton Poppleford, East Budleigh, Budleigh Salterton, Littleham and Exmouth.
The original station building was designed by William Tite, who was also responsible for the former building at Honiton and the remaining structure at Axminster. It was demolished after the branch line to Sidmouth closed in 1967.
The goods yard was closed on 6th September 1965. It is now a small housing estate. The following year saw the withdrawal of local stopping trains on the main line, but Sidmouth Junction remained open until 6th March 1967 when passenger services were withdrawn from the branch lines. However, it was to prove one of the shortest of the Beeching era closures, as the station was re-opened on 5th May 1971 following campaigning by local residents.
The line through Feniton was reduced to single track in June 1967. In 1974, the former level crossing gates were replaced by lifting barriers. The barriers were operated by the station staff until 2012, when control was transferred to the Basingstoke Rail Operations Centre.
The reduction of the line through Feniton to single track was extremely significant. While recent attempts to reverse Beeching cuts across the country have rightly focused on re-opening stations and lines that were prematurely closed, it is the reduction of huge swathes of the rail network to single track that has had the biggest impact on restricting attempts to improve rail services, as passengers numbers have increased.