Exeter Central railway station

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Exeter Central railway station

Exeter Central railway station is the most centrally located of the railway stations in Exeter, Devon, England. It is smaller than St Davids which is on the west side of the city but it is served by trains on the London Waterloo to Exeter main line, and is also by local services to Exmouth, Paignton and Barnstaple. From 1860, when it opened, until 1933 it was known as Exeter Queen Street. Originally opened by the London and South Western Railway it is currently operated by First Great Western.


The London and South Western Railway (LSWR) opened its Exeter Extension from Yeovil Junction on 19 July 1860 and its station at Queen Street in the city centre became the terminus for services from London Waterloo station. From 1 May 1861 it was also the terminus for trains on the new Exeter and Exmouth Railway. This was also operated by the LSWR but the physical junction between the two lines was at Exmouth Junction, 1.1 miles (1.8 km) east of Queen Street.

The final piece of the LSWR’s network in Exeter was opened on 1 February 1862 when a steep line descended from the west end of Queen Street station to reach the Bristol and Exeter Railway's station at Exeter St Davids which had been opened in 1844. Here the LSWR connected with the Exeter and Crediton Railway and over that line eventually reached Plymouth, Padstow, Bude, and Ilfracombe Most trains to these destinations changed locomotives at Queen Street and many had carriages added or removed too. A locomotive shed was situated at the station but it was replaced by a new maintenance depot at Exmouth Junction in 1887. The space was later used for enlarged carriage sidings; further carriage sidings were situated at the west end of the station beyond the Queen Street bridge.

The original station had just a single platform with two tracks which were covered by a large train shed. A second platform and train shed was added in 1874 and two sidings were laid to give a total of four tracks between the platforms. The LSWR became a part of the Southern Railway (SR) in 1923 and two years later the eastbound platform was lengthened from 600 feet (180 m) to 1,210 feet (370 m), taking it beyond the New North Road bridge at the east end of the station. A fire damaged the original wooden buildings on the westbound platform in 1927 and work on rebuilding the station started in 1931. The train sheds were demolished and new brick buildings were officially opened on 1 July 1933 when the station was renamed 'Exeter Central'. At this time there were four platform tracks – east-facing terminal platforms 1 and 4 and through platforms 2 and 3 – and two additional through lines in the centre of the station.

On 1 January 1948 the SR was nationalised to become the Southern Region of British Railways but in 1963 the Southern Region lines west of Salisbury were transferred to the Western Region and by 1967 services from London Waterloo were reduced with very few running beyond Exeter St Davids. The entrance at the east end of the station from New North Road was closed in 1966. Goods yards had been provided on the north side of the line, both behind the eastbound platform and also on the other side of the Queen Street bridge. General goods traffic was withdrawn on 4 December 1967 but cement traffic continued until January 1980. The eastbound through line (the 'up through') was taken out of use on 9 November 1969, as was the 'down through' on 13 October 1984.

On 2 July 1984 the entrance from New North Road was reopened and a new ramped footbridge installed to give direct access from there to the east end of both platforms. Sectorisation in the 1980s saw Exeter Central became the most westerly station operated by Network SouthEast but it was later transferred to Regional Railways sector which operated the services to Exmouth. Privatisation therefore saw it pass to Wales and West and then Wessex Trains.

Locomotive shed

The three-track locomotive shed was sited to the east of the station on the south side of the line. The original 170-foot (52 m) shed was extended to 234 feet (71 m) in 1872 and further modernised facilities were brought into use five years later. Despite these alterations the space was too small to handle all the locomotives working in and out of the station so a new maintenance depot was opened at Exmouth Junction in 1887. A few sidings and the turntable was retained at Queen Street. This turntable was 42 feet (13 m) long but in 1888 it was replaced by a 50 feet (15 m) example.


In the 1860s there was just a single track to the East but two tracks to the West; all the points and signals were operated on the ground. The first signal boxes were brought into use in 1875 when three controlled the extensive layout: 'Queen Street A' and 'Queen Street B' at the east end of the station, with 'Queen Street C' situated at the west end between the two platforms. These signal boxes were all closed in the 1920s. The C box was replaced by a new one at the west end of the eastbound platform on 13 September 1925. The A and B boxes were replaced by a new, larger box on the north side of the line beyond the New North Road bridge on 15 November 1927. This was named 'Queen Street A' and the C box was renamed 'Queen Street B'; six years later they were renamed again as 'Exeter Central A' and 'Exeter Central B'.

The B box was closed on 23 February 1970 and the A box was then renamed just 'Exeter Central'. This too closed on 6 May 1985 when control was transferred to the new panel signal box at St Davids. With this change came resignalling; the westbound platform 2 was signalled for trains to run in either direction as was the line westbound line to St Davids. The signals are interlocked so that trains cannot start from either St Davids or Central until their route is clear right through to their platform at the other station; a feature replicated from the days of steam locomotives with less power or brakes than today’s diesels when it was undesirable for trains to come to a stand on this steeply graded section of line.


The station is situated below road level to the east of Queen Street, where the main entrance is situated amongst the shops in the 259-foot (79 m) curved brick building erected in 1933 on the south side of the line. A small ticket office is placed by the entrance to the covered footbridge that spans the tracks parallel to Queen Street. Lifts are located near the steps down to the platforms, the first of which leads down to platform 2 which is used by all trains towards St Davids but can also handle trains in the opposite direction. At platform level the old Queen Street C signal box built in 1925 and taken out of use in 1970 can still be seen standing at the end of platform 3 between the footbridge and Queen Street. Beyond this the line can be seen dropping steeply at 1 in 37 (2.7%) and curving northwards towards the 184-yard (168 m) St Davids Tunnel. The level areas alongside this line used to be a goods yard (on the right) and carriage sidings (on the left).

The wide and long platforms – they are long enough to handle 14-coach trains – are covered for most of their length by simple canopies. At the eastern end of platform 2 is the terminal platform 1, although this is seldom used nowadays as most trains approaching from this end continue at least as far as St Davids. At the far end of the platform a ramp leads up to another footbridge and another entrance, again on the south side of the line, from New North Road. Ticket barriers we installed in early 2011 with a line of 4 at the main entrance and 2 at the New North Road Entrance.

Passenger volume

Exeter Central is the third busiest station in Devon, but handles around 1,000,000 fewer people than St Davids. Comparing the year from April 2007 to that which started in April 2002, passenger numbers increased by 29%.

The statistics cover twelve month periods that start in April.


Exeter Central is served by trains on the West of England Main Line operated by South West Trains from London Waterloo station to Exeter St Davids. Local services are provided by First Great Western along the Avocet Line from Exmouth to Exeter St Davids where they generally continue to either Paignton or Barnstaple.

On summer Sundays there are also trains to Okehampton in connection with the Dartmoor Sunday Rover network. Occasionally weekend services to Yeovil Junction are operated by First Great Western when their route to London Paddington station is closed for engineering work.

Building Activity

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