Coordinates: 50°07′30″N 5°18′04″W / 50.125°N 5.301°W / 50.125; -5.301

The Helston Railway
HRPC Logo.jpg
View of the station (now disused) at Trevarno in April 2010
View of the now disused station at Trevarno in April 2010
TerminusHelston railway station
Commercial operations
Original gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Preserved operations
Length1.5 mi (2.4 km)
Preserved gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Commercial history
Closed to passengers1962
Preservation history
2010HR granted Light Railway Order
2011HR re-opens
2012HR relocates (upwards) into 'a nearby' Prospidnick
2018Truthall Halt formally opened by HRH Duke of Gloucester
Official website
The Helston Railway
(Left arrow Penzance – Plymouth Right arrow)
Gwinear Road
Prospidnick Halt
Trevarno Sidings
formerly Trevarno
Truthall Summit
Truthall Halt
Truthall Bridge
River Cober

The Helston Railway is a heritage railway in Cornwall which aims to rebuild and preserve as much as possible of the former GWR Helston Railway between Nancegollen and Water-Ma-Trout on the outskirts of Helston. It is operated by the Helston Railway Preservation Company using members of the Helston Railway Preservation Society.

The Railway was a 8.5 miles (13.7 km) long 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge railway branch line and is the southernmost branch line in the United Kingdom. It opened in 1887 and was absorbed by the Great Western Railway in 1898, continuing in existence as the Helston branch, and closing to passengers in 1962 and to goods in 1964.[1]

It was built to open up the agricultural district of south-west Cornwall, joining Helston to the main line railway network at Gwinear Road, between Penzance and Truro.

Its predominant business was agricultural, but in summer it carried holidaymakers, and its terminus at Helston was the railhead for a pioneering road connection service to the Lizard. During the Second World War there was considerable goods traffic at Nancegollan, sponsored by the Admiralty.

The current Heritage Railway has won a number of awards including: The Ian Allan Publishing Heritage Railway of the Year 2010, The Heritage Railway Association Publication & Media Award 2012 and The Heritage Railway Association Small Groups Award 2019.

Original railway

The Helston line (in red) and current railways in Cornwall
The Helston line (in red) and current railways in Cornwall

The line ran from Helston, in south-west Cornwall, to a junction with the main line of the Great Western Railway at Gwinear Road(50°11′50″N 5°20′51″W / 50.1972°N 5.3475°W / 50.1972; -5.3475 (Gwinear Road railway station))(50°06′25″N 5°16′17″W / 50.1070°N 5.2713°W / 50.1070; -5.2713 (Helston railway station)). The connection there faced Penzance.

The line was 8 miles 67 chains (14.2 km) in length. As a purely local line running through difficult terrain, it was heavily curved and graded. Although Helston is an important town, most of the intermediate area was dedicated to agriculture, with little population, and the terminus at Helston was some distance from the seaside.

The main line at Gwinear Road gave direct access to London and the rest of England, on the route that is now known as the Cornish Main Line.


Before the advent of the railway, Helston was an important centre for tin and copper mining, as well as being the hub of an area of considerable agricultural production. Local businessmen observed the success that followed the opening of early railways elsewhere in Cornwall and further afield, and from 1825 a succession of schemes for tramroads and railways were put forward, many of them oriented towards Falmouth or Penryn and the River Fal estuary because of the harbour facilities there, (and, later, the arrival of the Cornwall Railway, enabling onward transport of minerals by coastal shipping). All of these schemes fell by the wayside due to the high cost of crossing the difficult terrain; after the collapse following the Railway Mania in the mid-1840s, money became increasingly scarce, and moreover the shallower seams in the mines began to become worked out, reducing the profitability of local mines.

In 1879, a rough survey was made of the proposed route and it was estimated that the railway could be constructed for £80,000, with the most expensive portion being a viaduct over the River Cober.[2] The Helston Railway Company was formed later that year, with a share capital of £70,000, with the object of building a standard gauge railway to Helston, not from the Falmouth area but from Gwinear Road on the West Cornwall line. The Great Western Railway was friendly towards this line, and they agreed to work the line when built.

The line received its Act of Parliament on 9 July 1880, and work was expected to start in the spring of 1881.[3] The first sod was cut at a ceremony on 22 March 1882 and it was hoped that the line would be completed in about eighteen months to two years. The intended stations were Praze, Nancegollan, Prospidnick and Helston.[4][5] In January 1883 the directors inspected the line, Prospidnick bridge was described as a massive granite structure 40 feet (12 m) high. Roads had to be diverted and new roads made and the estimated cost was nearly £1,000.[5]

Work proceeded but the original contractor found himself in difficulties early in 1884 and work stopped for a period, but was resumed under Lang & Son of Liskeard.

Even as late as 1886,[6] there was debate over the site of the Helston station; the site actually adopted, in Godolphin Road, was some distance to the east of the town centre. Some interests had proposed instead a location nearer the town; however the incremental cost would have been considerable and the proposal was finally dropped. The station was built as potentially a through station, with the idea of extension to the Lizard. This was revived from time to time, but was never acted upon.

The line was opened for the first service train on 9 May 1887.[6][7][8]

The line in action

Route map of the Helston branch
Route map of the Helston branch

When the line was opened there were two intermediate stations at Praze (serving the villages of Praze-an-Beeble and Crowan) and Nancegollan. In 1905, Truthall Halt was opened close to the hamlet of Trannack and less than 2 miles (3 km) north of Helston.[9] There was also a ticket collecting platform just short of Helston until the end of 1902.[7]

The only significant structure on the line was the Cober Viaduct, more properly known as the Lowertown Viaduct, 373 feet (114 m) long and with six arches.[7]

The first passenger guard on the railway was Mr Sainthill Lindsey who worked until 1921, and was briefly recalled in 1926 during the general strike.[10]


Praze had only a single platform, 223 feet (68 m) long, on the up side of the line; there was a goods line formed as a loop, controlled by ground frame, on the down side.[6]


Nancegollan Railway Station served an important agricultural district and also was the railhead for the fishing port of Porthleven. Originally it had a single passenger platform on the up side and a goods loop without a platform; the connections were operated by ground frame. In 1937 the facilities were considerably extended, with a full crossing facility for passenger trains and longer platforms on both lines, as well as a loop line behind the up platform and a large goods yard.[6]

In 1941, the station's goods sidings were further modified and extended in connection with airfield construction in the locality, and a new signal box with a lever frame that had been relocated from the Cornish Main Line at St Germans. A second, metal, bridge was also built at this time to carry the road over the new goods yard access lines.

Truthall Halt

A latecomer to the passenger facilities on the branch, Truthall Halt was opened on 3 July 1905, at a location about one and three-quarters miles (2.8 km) north of Helston;[11] it served the village of Trannack and also Truthall Manor. It was renamed Truthall Platform in July 1906 and reverted to Truthall Halt in the 1960s. Some tickets referred to it as Truthall Bridge Halt. It had a single platform 84 feet long on the down side of the line, though it was shortened later to about 50 feet.[6]


Laid out as a through station for the possible extension to the Lizard, Helston station had a single platform on the up side of the line; there was an engine release line, with goods facilities on the east side of the station. There was also a carriage shed for the two-coach branch train, and a single-road engine shed built in 1887, lasting until 1963.[6]

Helston station was much used by service personnel based at RNAS Culdrose from 1947.[6] The Royal Navy Air station is on the southern margin of Helston. If sufficient money had been given to extend to RNAS Culdrose, the line might have been saved.

Absorption by the Great Western Railway

GWR bus AF84 on Helston service
GWR bus AF84 on Helston service

The line had been worked by the Great Western Railway from the outset, and on 1 July 1898 the line was vested in the GWR, the original Helston company being dissolved.[7]

The Great Western Railway operated a pioneering road passenger connection to Mullion and the Lizard from 17 August 1903, and a Porthleven connection was added in 1909, and surrounding villages were also served. There was also an extensive van service for goods traffic to and from the railway, developed into a motor lorry service from about 1925.[7]

A fragment of the GWR route map from about 1930 is given above, and shows several "road motor routes" radiating from Helston: there was a route to Porthleven and Breage; to Penhale (a small settlement east of Mullion, not the larger place near Indian Queens), Lizard and Lizard Point, and to Mullion; and Coverack and St Keverne, and to Manaccan; and to Falmouth and to Redruth.

The GWR formed a joint venture with the National Omnibus & Transport Company, forming the Western National Omnibus Company Ltd in 1929, and the GWR services were transferred to Western National. The GWR retained its shares in Western National until nationalisation of the railways in 1948.

Main article: Western National


Cober Valley viaduct
Cober Valley viaduct

The branch was "uncoloured"—the lightest engine weight classification—but this was relaxed to permit 45XX 2-6-2T locomotives to operate, and these were the general motive power. 43XX 2-6-0s and 51XX 2-6-2Ts were allowed as far as Nancegollan only.[12] In the line's final years, Class 22 diesel locomotives were used to haul passenger and goods trains.

The line was single throughout, and several of the trains crossed at Nancegollan; from the opening of the passing loop there, the line was operated as two block sections, with signal boxes at Helston, Nancegollan and Gwinear Road East.

The line was sharply curved and steeply graded, with ruling gradients of 1 in 60 and 1 in 54.

In 1922, there were eight trains in each direction on the line; by 1939, this had been improved to ten (Monday to Friday) and eleven on Saturdays. The first train of the day started from Helston, as there was a small engine shed there.[13] The journey time was typically 25 minutes, and the general speed limit was 30 miles per hour (48 km/h)

Goods traffic on the branch was heavy, accounting for about two-thirds of the branch's revenue.[1] The primary traffic was agricultural, whist during the war years, and particularly during the D-Day preparations, Nancegollan saw extensive military traffic.

Local trains rarely ventured off the branch. In 1958, there were nine down and eight up trains Monday to Fridays; the last up train was formed of two sets of rolling stock, and two trains each way were mixed (passenger and goods). The 1.15 p.m. Helston to Gwinear Road had to be given special attention as it had a three-minute connection at Gwinear Road with the up Royal Duchy express for London. (The "up" direction was towards Gwinear Road.[6])

On Saturdays in that year there were fourteen down and eleven up trains, with three up trains running with double the stock. All of this was accomplished with two B-set two coach sets.


The branch was closed for passengers on 3 November 1962. Goods traffic continued for a further two years, finally ceasing on 4 October 1964; the track was lifted by mid-1965.[14]


The original concept to re-open the branch was in 1994 when Mart Hew from Helston and officials from British Rail, surveyed the line with the idea of a feasibility study. It was decided that due to the amount of work needed and the possible revenue that could be generated, it was not worth the effort and the project was dropped. In 2002 the Helston Railway Preservation Society was formed with about 12 members and on 28 April 2005, 40 years after the line was dismantled, work began clearing the overgrown vegetation.

The line was reopened for passengers in December 2011 for the Trevarno Gardens Winter Wonderland. As of November 2017 1 mile (1.6 km) of track had been relaid and is being used for public passenger rides from Prospidnick via Trevarno to Truthall Halt.[15]

The line is being rebuilt by volunteers and is funded by proceeds from passenger rides, donations and membership subscriptions, and by members who buy shares in the Helston Railway Company Ltd. Funds are also generated by the railway shop and a buffet. The Preservation Society gained Charity status in March 2012.

In 2016, planning permission was granted to extend the track and build new platforms and sidings at Prospidnick as well as to rebuild the halt at Truthall.[16] Truthall Halt was completed and reopened in November 2017.[citation needed]

In January 2018, calls were made to reinstate the line as part of the National Rail network.[17]

In March 2020, an unsuccessful bid was made to the Restoring Your Railway fund to get funds for a feasibility study into reinstating the line.[18]

Along the line

Current status

To November 2017:

By April 2018, the Railway had secured the use of the Peckett 'Kilmersdon' for the 2018 season from the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway Museum at Washford station, and returned to its owners in March 2021. In August 2019, the Railway purchased a further quarter of a mile of trackbed past Truthall Halt and began clearance with the help of volunteers from RNAS Culdrose.[19]

Rolling stock

The line has thirteen rail vehicles on site: a two-car Park Royal (BR Class 103) DMU, a two-car Bed-Pan (BR Class 127) DMU, two Ruston & Hornsby 165DS 0-4-0 diesel shunters, a center car from a Pressed Steel (Class 117) DMU, A Mark 1 Suburban Brake, A R4 Peckett 0-4-0ST, A B3 Peckett 0-6-0ST, two BR 20 ton standard brake van, a Type 17A Wickham Trolley and two Flatbed Wagons. The Class 103, Class 117 and Rustons are owned by the Railway, With the R4 Peckett being owned by the Southall Railway Centre (and Portsmouth Council), Mark 1 Suburban owned by the South Devon Railway and the Wickham Trolly owned by the Rail Trolley Trust. The rolling stock that is not owned by the Railway, are on either long or short-term loan.

Park Royal Class 103

HRDG's first purchase was a British Rail Class 103 DMU, one of only two left in preservation and the only one in a near-working condition.[citation needed] It has been protected by painting, but is not currently under restoration. When purchased from the West Somerset Railway, it was little more than a shell. It is currently in British Rail (BR) green livery. The individual cars are Driving Motor Brake Second (DMBS) 50143 and Driving Motor Lavatory Composite (DTCL) 56169. On 12 October 2008, one of the engines was started for the first time.[citation needed]

Ruston locomotive 327974

This is of two Ruston shunter locomotives owned by the HRDG is number 327974. It has been restored, and has had a livery repaint into BR Blue. The locomotive is currently in use. It has been liveried with the number 97649.

Ruston locomotive 395305

The second of the Ruston 165DS 0-4-0 locomotives is build number 395305. It is out of service while being vacuum brake fitted. It is painted in a green livery.

BR 20-ton standard brake van

HRDG's newest purchase is a BR 20-ton standard brake van, B954673. It had been in a very poor state and has undergone major restoration works which were completed in November 2011; it is in brown. The van was put into use as soon as it was completed and is now carrying passengers on the line.

Rolling stock summary

Number Class Image Type Livery Status Notes
50143 Class 103
Helston Railway - - 3131151.jpg
Diesel multiple unit (DMU), driving coach British Railways (BR) Green with Yellow warning panels Static, in use as buffet
56169 Class 103
British Rail class 103 numbers W50413 and W56169 sit at the Helston Railway
DMU, driving coach BR Green with Yellow warning panels Static, in use as a buffet
59521 Class 117
59521 Class 117 Helston Railway.jpg
DMU, centre coach black Stored out of service, under occasional long term maintenance[20] This coach has been vandalised, window smashed and graffitied on. Stripped of All Interior Features ready for repair.
51616 Class 127
51616 helston railway maroon march 2022.jpg
DMU, driving coach BR Maroon in use This unit arrived from the Great Central Railway in January 2020.[21]
51622 Class 127 DMU, driving coach BR Green with Speed Whiskers Arrival Delayed This unit was due to arrive from the Great Central Railway soon after 51616 but due to COVID-19, this was delayed.[21][22]
327974 liveried as 97649 Ruston Class 165DS
327974 liveried as 97649 Ruston Shunter.jpg
Diesel Shunter 0-4-0 BR Blue not in use
395305 Ruston Class 165DS
Helston Railway Green Ruston Shunter.jpg
Diesel Shunter 0-4-0 Green Currently out of service while being vacuum brake fitted
2000 Class B3 Peckett
0-6-0 Peckett saddle tank at Barrowhill.jpg
Industrial 0-6-0 Locomotive Industrial Green In use, on loan to the railway for the 2021 and 2022 seasons
2100 of 1949, 'Wlliam Murdoch' Class R4 Peckett[23]
William Murdock (Industrial Tank Engine) out side Prospidnick station on the Helston Railway
Industrial 0-4-0 Locomotive Industrial Blue Under deep overhaul Property of Portsmouth Museums, on long-term loan to GWR Preservation Group Ltd, Repairs are replacing Boiler tubes after a Test failure.
Bluebell BR 20-ton standard brake van
Bluebell Helston Railway BR 20-ton standard brake van.jpg
Brake van BR Brown currently under restoration
Daisy BR 20-ton standard brake van Brake Van BR Brown with yellow middle section in storage awaiting restoration
94148 BR General Utility Van
94148 BR General Utility Van.jpg
GUV Coach NKA Rail Express Systems Red In use Shop
E43147 BR Mark 1
E43147 (i).jpg
British Railways Mark 1 Suburban Break Carmine and Cream In use [24] Going into BR Maroon
188815 Flatwagon Black Under restoration Gifted by the Sir Robert McAlpine Construction Company, used to build Wembley Stadium.
Flatwagon Black In use Gifted by the Sir Robert McAlpine Construction Company
68016 Type 17A Wickham Trolley
Type 17A Wickham Trolley 7594 of 1957 (i).jpg
2w-2PMR Petrol Mechanical Railcar BR Marron Under restoration by the Junior Volunteers Group[25] On long-term loan from the Rail Trolley Trust at the Chasewater Railway.

Steam working

On 25–26 July 2010, steam returned to Helston for the first time since 1962, during celebration of the completion of the latest station platform on the line and the newest since Truthall Platform in 1905.

The engine Judy,[26] one of two similar preserved Bagnall 0-4-0STs, lent a working presence, courtesy of Bodmin and Wenford Railway.

The Mayor of Helston officiated at the grand opening of Trevarno Station, on 26 July 2010, with Judy in attendance. Although Judy was in steam and operating on the railway, she was unable to carry passengers, as the company were not authorised to operate passenger trains at the time.

In March 2017, William Murdoch, an 0-4-0 Peckett shunting engine, was obtained on long-term loan from Portsmouth museum trust. It ran once down the line under its own steam but was quickly discovered to be in need of maintenance. The boiler has been overhauled with a new 10 year ticket and most maintenance work on the engine is complete. It is awaiting assembly.[citation needed]

For the 2018 and 2019 seasons, the Railway hired in R3 Peckett 'Kilmersdon' from the Somerset & Dorset Railway Trust at Washford. She returned to the S&DRT in March 2021 for overhaul.

Before the 2021 season began, Peckett no.2000, an 0-6-0ST, arrived on loan to the railway and will be working passenger services throughout 2021

See also


  1. ^ a b History of the Great Western Railway, vol II, MacDermot, E T, published by the Great Western Railway, London, 1932
  2. ^ "Editorial". The Cornishman. No. 54. 24 June 1879. p. 4.
  3. ^ "Local News". The Cornishman. No. 119. 21 October 1880. p. 7.
  4. ^ "The Cutting Of The First Turf Of The Helston Railway". The Cornishman. No. 193. 23 March 1882. p. 5.
  5. ^ a b "Inspection Of The Helston Railway Works". The Cornishman. No. 235. 11 January 1883. p. 6.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Cornwall Railway Stations, Mike Oakley, 2009, Dovecote Press, Wimborne Minster, ISBN 978-1-904-34968-6
  7. ^ a b c d e The Hayle, West Cornwall and Helston Railways, Anthony G H, The Oakwood Press, Lingfield, 1968
  8. ^ Robert Smith. "The Helston Branch". Retrieved 22 February 2009.
  9. ^ The Railways of Great Britain, a Historical Atlas, Cobb, Col M H, Ian Allan Publishing Ltd, Shepperton, 2003
  10. ^ "Mr Sainthill Lindsey, Helston Railway Passenger Guard, 1926". Museum of Cornish Life. Helston Museum. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  11. ^ "Helston Branch".
  12. ^ Operation Cornwall, W S Becket, Xpress Publishing, Caernarvon, undated, ISBN 1-901056-25-2
  13. ^ The Heyday of GWR Train Services, Semmens, P W B, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1990
  14. ^ Atterbury, Paul (2011). Along Lost Lines. Cincinnati: David & Charles. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-7153-2706-7.
  15. ^ "Track Map & Progress". Website of Helston Railway Preservation Company Ltd. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  16. ^ "News". Website of Helston Railway Preservation Company Ltd. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  17. ^ "Network Rail contacted in bid to reopen Helston railway link".
  18. ^ Restoring Your Railway Fund: bids received
  19. ^ "Railway group makes further tracks to its destination". St Ives Times and Echo. 9 August 2019. p. 4.
  20. ^ "BR 59521 Class 117 DMU: Trailer Composite Lavatory built 1960". Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  21. ^ a b "Diesel Multiple Units (DMU)". Helston Railway. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  22. ^ "APPEAL: Helston Railway need your help to survive". RailAdvent. 3 September 2020. Retrieved 14 September 2020.
  23. ^ Edgar, Gordon (2016). Industrial Locomotives & Railways of The South And West of England. Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1445649207.
  24. ^ "A BR Mark 1 Suburban has arrived!". 14 April 2018.
  25. ^ "Wickham 7594 Type 17A". Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  26. ^ ""Judy" Bagnall 0-4-0 ST Built 1936". Cornish Steam Locomotive Preservation Society. Retrieved 14 July 2010.
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