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Atlantic Coast Express

ACE March 1964


The ”North Cornwall & Bude Express” ran from 1907, until, as part of a publicity drive by Southern Railways the 11 o’clock from Waterloo to the West Country was named the “Atlantic Coast Express” in July 1926.  The name was chosen from a list of entries invited from employees of Southern Railways to name the improved service from Waterloo to Exeter and the North Cornish Coast.  The winning entry was submitted by Mr F Rowland, a railways guard from Torrington, who received a prize of three guineas.  The “Atlantic Coast Express’ very soon became known to many travellers and enthusiasts as the “ACE”, the shortened version of its full title

 ACE March 1964 - 35208

Over its long history the "Atlantic Coast Express" was made up of many combinations of carriage and length of train in order to accommodate the seasonal change in passenger requirements and its multiple West Country destinations. Once in the West Country the train was split at Exeter, Okehampton and Halwill Junction to cover its final destinations of Padstow, Bude, Ilfracombe and Plymouth. This required a certain amount of passenger dexterity when boarding at Waterloo to ensure you were in the right carriage for your destination!


Those coaches destined for the East Devon resorts of Seaton, Sidmouth and Exmouth carried sign boards saying “Waterloo – West of England” the true “Atlantic Coast Express” being the coaches for Padstow, Bude and Ilfracombe.  By 1961 the train was noted for the speed it attained between Waterloo and Exeter, which could be reached in just under 3 hours. The "Merchant Navy" engines used to haul the "Atlantic Coast Express" in the early sixties frequently attained speeds in excess of 90mph and 100 + mph was recorded on a few occasions. South of Exeter the maximum permitted speeds were slower, going down to a maximum of 55mph in North Cornwall

 Bude 24th May 1961 - 30709

For those going to Padstow the first stop in Cornwall was Launceston, some 223 miles down the line from London Waterloo, then on to Egloskerry, Tresmeer, Otterham, Camelford, Delabole, Port Isaac Road, St Kew Highway, Wadebridge and finally ending 260 miles from Waterloo at Padstow.  The coaches for Bude would be detached at Halwill Junction in Devon and proceed via Dunsland Cross, Holsworthy and  Bridgerule to Bude.  From about 1932 on Saturdays in the summer months a through train with dining car ran from Bude, joining with the Padstow carriages at Halwill Junction, then running straight through to Exeter, Salisbury and Waterloo. The equivalent straight through train ran in the opposite direction from Waterloo to cope with the rise in demand from holidaymakers.

 Camelford August 1962 - 31841

 The line south of Exeter was made up of the track originally belonging to a number of smaller railway companies, it was extended and improved over the years with the last section to Padstow being opened in 1899

The final part of the journey saw the train conquer some incredible gradients rising from 200ft at Launceston to a peak of 800ft above sea level between Otterham and Camelford stations in North Cornwall.  To allow the railway line a reasonable passage through the rugged north Cornish countryside there are forty three laboriously excavated railway cuttings between Launceston and Wadebridge, before the final flat nine minute journey of unforgettable views across the Camel Estuary, over Little Petherick Creek Bridge and through a final rock cutting to Padstow.  Fortunately, today these magnificent views may be enjoyed at an even more leisurely pace as the bed of the old rail track now forms the "Camel Trail", a very popular cycle and pedestrian link between Padstow and Wadebridge (cycle hire available in both towns near the trail).

Padstow May 1961 - 30717

Circa 1928 travel article:

 “Here let me say a word in praise of the Southern railway’s “ATLANTIC COAST EXPRESS,” the latest flyer on the line.  All that modern engineering ingenuity can do to make fast railway travel pleasant and comfortable has been done.  Long corridor-coaches, luxuriously appointed, mounted on wonderful smooth-running bogies; little shaded lights over each seat; clean and up-to-date lavatory and washing accommodation; comfortable restaurant cars with inexpensive meals efficiently served; and the whole train hauled at express speed by a monster green locomotive of the “Lord Nelson” or “King Arthur” class – these are the contributions of an enterprising railway management to your holiday pleasures.  Moreover, for the small sum of one shilling, you can reserve a seat on the train in advance – an inestimable boon”.


Copyright  © 1999-2021 Edward Gregory   - All photographs/images/graphics/maps/logos copyright to their relevant owners.