Cornwall's Railways and Mineral Tramways

Cornwall's Railways and Mineral Tramways map

Before 1859 and the opening of the Royal Albert Bridge, Saltash, there were already a number of railways in Cornwall, mainly involved in the transport of ore from the mines to the ports, and the carrying of coal and stores to from mines from the ports.

In Redruth in 1784 the Scot, William Murdoch, built a small steam powered model, which was the first vehicle to run under steam powerl. The Cornish engineer, Richard Trevithick, built a steam road carriage in 1801, and ran it in Camborne. He went on to develop steam for railway use, at Penydarren in South Wales in 1803.

Still horses pulled some of the tains for many years after steam was applied to rail power.

1809-c1860: Poldice Tramway. The earliest above-ground railway in Cornwall itself was the horse-drawn mineral Poldice Tramway from to Portreath, on the coast, to the great Gwennap copper mines.

1826-1915: Redruth and Chacewater Railway. The Redruth and Chacewater Railway serviced the mines of Gwennap and Redruth, running in the other direction to the south coast port of Devoran. It opened in 1826 and worked with horses until 1854, when two tank engines, Miner and Smelter, were bought to power the trains.

1829-1918: Pentewan Railway. Christopher Hawkins built the Pentewan Railway to carry China Clay. It opened in 1829, worked by horse-power until 1874, and ran from just outside St. Austell to the port of Pentewan, four miles away. When Pentewan silted up and the railway inevitably suffered. Rails still to be seen today are the relics of a later sand-extraction enterprise that closed in the 1960s.

1834-1983: Bodmin & Wadebridge Railway. Local landowner Sir William Molesworth built the Bodmin & Wadebridge Railway in 1834, to carry sea sand needed to sweeten inland farmland, from Wadebridge to the moors. It carried passengers as well as goods. The company owned Cornwall's first steam locomotive, the Camel. In 1846 The Bodmin and Wadebridge was bought by the London and South Western Railway. Today the Bodmin & Wenford Railway operates steam and diesel passenger and freight trains between Bodmin Parkway on the Plymouth-Penzance main line and Bodmin General station. And between Bodmin General and Boscarne Junction over a restored part of the Bodmin and Wadebridge route.

1837- : The Hayle Railway ran eastwards to Redruth, and from Redruth Junction north to Portreath and south to Tresavean, again built to profit from the mining industry's need to transport ore for shipping. The Hayle & Portreath Railway opened in stages after December 1837. Steam locomotion was used from the start, giving the route an early advantage over the Redruth and Chacewater line. Notable features were the steep inclines at Angarrack and Portreath, where wagons were hauled by ropes. Inclines at Penponds and Tresavean worked on a counterbalancing principle.

1852- : The West Cornwall Railway. To extend the Hayle Railway westward, the West Cornwall Railway was authorised in 1846. A passenger service from Penzance to Redruth commenced in 1852, and a little later to Truro. In 1855 an extension to Newham by the Truro River was opened which served as the terminus until 1859.

1859- : The Cornwall Railway. The building of Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash in 1859 meant rail travel and transport could link Penzance and Plymouth, albeit with a break between standard and broad gauge track at Truro until after 1867, requiring transfer from one to the other. Ambitions to extend to Falmouth prompted the building of the Truro to Falmouth line from as early as 1847 but it was not completed until 1863. Meanwhile nine stations from Saltash to Truro had been opened and others followed.

1844- : The Liskeard and Caradon Railway was built to supplement the work of the Liskeard and Looe Union Canal of 1828, carrying ore and granite from the Caradon area towards Looe. The Liskeard and Caradon Railway opened from Moorswater near Liskeard, at the terminus of the canal, to South Caradon in 1844, and from Caradon to Cheesewring in 1846. Wagons were run down from the mines and quarries to be hauled back up by horses.

1847- : Par Railway. By 1847 J T Treffry had built a canal from Par to Ponts Mill, and a tramroad, the Par Railway, from Ponts Mill to Molinnis near Bugle. This was extended alongside the canal down to Par in 1855.

1849- : Newquay Railway. Treffry opened the Newquay Railway track from Newquay Harbour to St Dennis with a branch to the East Wheal Rose lead mine. In 1873 these were to form part of the Cornwall Minerals Railway.

1862 East Cornwall Railway. The East Cornwall Railway

1863 Fowey - Lostwithiel. The Fowey to Lostwithiel Railway

1869 Newquay & Cornwall Junction Railway Newquay & Cornwall Junction Railway

1874 Cornwall Minerals Railway The Cornwall Minerals Railway

The 'Mineral Tramways Project' has opened 20 miles of walks and tracks through the mining areas of Mid and West Cornwall. These include the 'Great Flat Lode' Trail, the 'Coast to Coast Trail' - Devoran to Portreath, 'The Redruth - Chasewater Railway Tramway' (Opened 1826) and the 'Tresavean Trail' as well as trails through the mining villages of Lanner, Carharrack and St. Day. The objective is to have 37 miles (60km) of walks open. There is no charge to use the trails and the resource is open all year round.

Some books on tramways and railways in Cornwall

Tramways East Cornwall Mineral Railways
Dart Maurice, Victor Mitchell (Editor)
  West Cornwall Mineral Railways
Maurice Dart
  Historical Survey of Mines and Mineral Railways of East Cornwall and West Devon
D Bradford Barton
  Engine house survey: The Mineral Tramways Project : an historical, architectural and structural assessment of surviving engine houses and arsenic calciners in the Mineral Tramways Project area, Cornwall
  National Atlas Showing Canals, Navigable Rivers, Mineral Tramroads, Railways and Street Tramways: Cornwall v. 7A
G.L. Crowther
  Callington railways: Bere Alston Calstock Callington. An account of the East Cornwall Mineral Railway and the Southern Railway's branch line from Bere Alston to Callington from its inception as part of the Plymouth Devonport & South Western Junction Railway;
Roger Crombleholme
  The Redruth and Chasewater Railway, 1824-1915: A history of the Cornish mineral railway and port which served the great Gwennap copper mines
Denys Bradford Barton

Mine and Mining in Cornwall