Celebrating 160 years of Falmouth trains and 30 years of the Friends of Penmere Station

Friends Of Penmere 2023 Gala Poster

This August marks the 160th anniversary of trains to Falmouth and 30 years since the Friends of Penmere Station, the volunteer group who look after the Falmouth station, was established.

To mark their anniversary, the Friends are holding a Gala Open Day in the station car park on Saturday 26 August between 10 AM and 5 PM.

On display will be several vintage vehicles including a 1929 Marshall Steam Traction Engine “Reo”, a 1936 Austin taxi, 1953 BSA motorbike and a 1964 AEC Harrington Cavalier coach.

There will be various stands including from The Falmouth Mission for Seafarers and the Bodmin Steam Railway, plus the Friends will have a Commemoration and Celebration Table remembering late members Geoff Nichols and Brian Philpotts.

Tea and cake will be available and there will be a beer stand too with three beers supplied by Dynamite Valley Brewery Co of Ponsanooth, Viaduct Pale Ale, Black Charge Stout and Powder Works Pilsner.

It’s Penryn Fair Day that day too and King Harry Coaches will be operating a frequent free bus service between Penryn Bowling Club, Quay Hill, Penryn and Penmere station.

The station car park will be closed that Saturday to allow for the Gala Open Day which is being run courtesy of GWR.

Over the thirty years, the Friends of Penmere Station have received many national and local awards and commendations.

Steve Lloyd of the Friends said “We are really pleased to be able to celebrate 30 years of transforming Penmere from a quite rundown station into a little piece of railway station and gardens Eden for all to enjoy.   Thanks must go to the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership, GWR and the Community Rail Network for valued assistance.

“Someone who visits the station recently said to us ‘ Its like stepping back in time’ !   Summed up well.   Come and have a look for yourselves.”

The Gala Day is happening just two days after the 160th anniversary of the first trains to Falmouth and Penryn, with the opening of the line, now called the Maritime Line, from Truro on 24 August 1863.

Ten years ago, the 150th anniversary was marked in great style including the display of a GWR Pannier Tank steam locomotive that weekend on the Moor in Falmouth. An exhibition was mounted in the Poly, a school poster competition and Falmouth shop window dressing promotion run and there were many other commemorative activities too.

Bodmin Steam Railway GWR Pannier Tank on display on The Moor, Falmouth, August 2013

Centrepiece of the celebrations was a special run of a GWR InterCity 125 High Speed Train between Falmouth and Truro on the Sunday – one of the very few times one had been seen on the line.

Fifty years earlier, in 1963, the centenary of the line had not been celebrated at all. The Beeching report calling for the closure of railway lines and thousands of stations across the country had been published just a few months before and, while the Falmouth line was not among those listed for closure, the mood was such that no celebrations were organised.

In 1966, there was an attempt by British Rail to close the line but this was rejected due particularly to freight to and from Falmouth docks, something that hasn’t run for many years now.

After this, the line was simplified and all stations unstaffed. Through most of the period, right up until 2002, the line didn’t have trains on Sundays all year round.

A new era for the Maritime Line began in May 2009 thanks to a Cornwall Council led scheme which saw a passing loop installed at Penryn station and the train service on weekdays and Saturdays doubled. By then, a full Sunday service was running throughout the year. All this continues to this day.

Use of the Maritime Line has grown greatly since the beginning of the century. 185,000 journeys were recorded on the line in 2001. By 2008, the year before the passing loop at Penryn opened, there were 293,000 journeys.

The Penryn passing loop and particularly the doubling of train services to half hourly saw usage more than double over the next four years so that in 2012, there were 613,000 journeys made.

The Maritime Line has bounced back strongly after the Pandemic and in 2022, 632,000 journeys were made.

Looking ahead, the line is set to see further improvements under the Mid Cornwall Metro initiative with through trains to St Austell and Newquay.

The Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership is a non profit partnership between local authorities, including Cornwall Council, GWR and other rail industry bodies and the University of Plymouth where it is based.

It has worked on the Maritime Line since 1995, promoting the use of the line, working to improve train services and facilities, helping link the community and the railway and working to boost the local economy of the places served through their rail link.

Among many other things, the Partnership led the bids that saw the all year Sunday service introduced in 2002 and worked closely with Cornwall Council and GWR to promote the improved service with the Penryn passing loop from 2009.

It has worked throughout to promote the line and the places it serves and to help and support The Friends of Penmere Station, its sister group at Perranwell and others. Promotion has included securing the Falmouth Town Team day-long free slots at both London Paddington and Birmingham New Street stations to promote the town and local area to passengers.

Manager Richard Burningham said “Happy 30th Birthday to the Friends of Penmere Station and Happy 160th Birthday to the Maritime Line. The Friends have transformed the station over the last thirty years and, thanks to them, it has long been a real jewel in the crown of Cornish stations.

“Having just survived the 1960s and been transformed in 2009, thanks to Cornwall Council, with the opening of the Penryn passing loop and doubling of the train service, the Maritime Line is celebrating its 160th anniversary in fine fettle.

“The key thing is that generations of local people have and are finding the trains are a great way to get around. Long may this remain the case and I’m very confident it will.”

Penmere station garden as it was in 1993, as the Friends of Penmere Station began.

Penmere station more recently, thanks to the Friends

Rockery installed by the Friends of Penmere Station