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5526 and two trailers at Staverton. © Sarah Anne Harvey
Two car AutoTrain at Staverton Station©Sarah Anne Harvey
Driver at the controls of an autotrain
Driving an AutoTrain©SDR Collection

The South Devon Railway in Buckfastleigh is offering visitors for the first time ever an opportunity to drive an "auto train" - often known as a "push and pull" train - as part of the line's 40th anniversary celebrations.

This unusual opportunity is on a strictly first come, first served basis with just seven places available. The driving days are on Saturday 4th April, Monday 6th April, Tuesday 7th, Wednesday 8th and Thursday 9th April. The cost is £350 per person for the experience which includes one round trip, plus free travel on other SDR trains that day.

Auto trains were commonly used by the Great Western Railway on lightly used branch lines and could be driven from the locomotive in one direction and from the auto coach in the other, to save the engine having to change ends of the train for the journey back.

Auto coaches have windows in one end and a set of driving controls that are connected by mechanical rods and pulleys to the locomotive. This means that the driver can control the train from the driving cab of the auto coach, while the fireman stays on the footplate.

They have a particular association with the South Devon line as auto trains were used extensively in the branch's early days of preserved operation as engines could not run round their trains at Totnes.

Dick Wood, who takes on the role of General Manager on 1st April, said: "This is the first time we have offered auto train driving courses and we are expecting huge interest from railway enthusiasts and the general public alike.

"There are only a few places available and are sold on a first come, first served basis. If the response is very high, it's certainly something we'll consider running again."

The South Devon Railway is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the line's reopening, which took place back in 1969 when the infamous Dr Beeching cut the ribbon to start steam services running again between Buckfastleigh and a field just outside Totnes.

The South Devon Railway is marking the date with a week of intensive services, from 5th - 13th April. The focal point will be the visit by four Great Western Railway locomotives to augment the railway's own fleet of GWR steam engines.

The celebrations reach their climax on Easter Sunday and Monday, 12th and 13th April, when no fewer than eight former GWR steam engines will be in steam.

To book a place on the auto train driving course, contact the South Devon Railway on 0843 357 1420 or

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