©  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: April 02, 2017.
Webpage updated: April 18, 2017

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At the time of the commencement of the Great War the Royal Dockyard at Devonport had one of the largest industrial railway networks in the country.  Mr Paul Burkhalter, the author of the book "Devonport Dockyard Railway", revealed that the extent of the Railway in January 1955 was just over 23 miles of standard gauge track, the majority of which was in North Yard.  1955 was the year in which diesel locomotives first appeared in the Dockyard.  There were two locomotive sheds, one in each of North Yard and South Yard.

The first railway track was laid in the Keyham Steam Yard in 1860 to connect the Number 2 Basin with the Boiler Shop in the Quadrangle.  By 1865 the track work had been extended to other parts of the Steam Yard.  In 1867 the Cornwall Railway Company constructed a broad-gauge branch railway in to the Royal Dockyard from their main line at Keyham Junction.  The first steam locomotive to be used in connection with the Railway was introduced in 1869.

A pedestrian tunnel beneath Cornwall Street had been constructed in 1857 to link the South Yard with the Keyham Steam Yard and in 1876 the railway track was laid through it.  The tunnel was of a very small bore and the addition of railway track forever caused a great restriction on the size of the trucks that could use it.

With the opening of the Royal Naval Barracks in 1888 and the Extension Yard in 1907, the network reached its peak just in time for the commencement of the Great War in 1914.  By then a passenger train service had also been started, which survived until  May 1966.

The Dockyard Railway was principally the railway was for freight traffic, and much of the steel plate for ship-building, and timber for the sawmills arrived by rail.  Stores for the ships and food for the waterfront cold-store, as well as other general goods came this way.   The branch also saw special passenger trains for the movement of Naval personnel to other bases, and long leave specials at holiday time.

Steam engines provided all the motive power until 1956, when the Admiralty bought itís first diesel locomotives.   The last steam usage was at the time of the last passenger train in 1966.  Two dockyard steam engines and many former Dockyard wagons have been preserved.

The line through the tunnel and in South Yard was closed in 1982.  The connection from the main line is still in situ and there is still track in the North Yard and the North Yard Extension.


The principal source of information has been "Devonport Dockyard Railway" by Paul Burkhalter, published by the Twelveheads Press, Truro, in 1996