“from St Erth to St Ives….”
The second pair of stations to be mentioned are at either end of the St Ives branch line; threatened by the Beeching Plan but eventually saved.
St Erth (1852) is on the Paddington-Penzance main line and was opened by the West Cornwall Railway, but it eventually became part of the Great Western Railway. It is the southernmost station to feature in the song. Both St Erth and St Ives are in Cornwall.
Before the branch line opened it was known as St Ives Road but took the name of St Erth, a small village to the south, after St Ives got its own station in 1877.
Services: Past, Present & Future?
Back in 1962 the branch line had around 16 trains each weekday, roughly hourly, and 9 on Sundays.
Today the service is more frequent and there are trains every 30 minutes during the day. The journey time, 10-12 minutes, is unchanged.
St Erth is the penultimate stop on the line from London Paddington to Penzance. A large proportion of the people who use the station are transferring between the St Ives Branch and other places on the network. In terms of the number of services, St Erth is the busiest station in Cornwall.
In 2018 it was used by around 210,000 passengers. This is destined to increase now as a new car park, effectively a park and ride facility for St Ives, has now opened at St Erth replacing the one at the first stop on the branch at Lelant Saltings.
The Train to St Erth (2004)
I was only ten years old when I first went through St Erth station on a train. I was on holiday in Cornwall with my parents at the time. We stayed a week in Falmouth and that first trip through St Erth was part of a day out by train to Penzance. From Penzance we went by bus to Land’s End, but we never made it to St Ives on that trip. In fact, apart from a brief trip across the Royal Albert Bridge to Saltash in 1978, it was twenty years before I made it back to Cornwall.
After settling back in the UK in the mid-90s, we drove down to Cornwall on a few occasions and made the first of several trips to St Ives by car. The first time we tried to park in the town but eventually had to leave the car far from the centre. Subsequently we learnt our lesson and on the next couple of trips we parked in the large car park at Lelant Saltings and caught the little train along the branch into St Ives.
In the early summer of 2004 in celebration of a big birthday and a big wedding anniversary, we finally got the journey to St Ives “right”. We caught the 13:35 “Royal Duchy” express from Paddington, enjoyed a lovely meal in the dining car, drank plenty of wine and then relaxed whilst looking out at the wonderful scenery as Somerset turned into Devon and finally into Cornwall. Less than five hours after leaving London we were in St Erth. We crossed the footbridge and found the little branch line train waiting ready to take us to St Ives.
On the way back a few days later I had a little more time to inspect the station when we arrived a little earlier than was strictly necessary to catch the train back to Paddington. There was a little café in the station and so I got a coffee and sat on one of the benches ready to “watch the action”; all of it controlled by the wonderful semaphore signals.
Trains on the main line coming from the east arrive at Platform 1 and make their final stop at St Erth before heading to the terminus at Penzance. Platform 2 is the London-bound platform, and it often gets crowded with holidaymakers changing off the branch line and heading back east.
The little branch line train usually uses the bay platform 3 and apart from the odd trip to/from Penzance it keeps itself well clear of the main line. It does not hang around for long at St Erth either; it runs to a tight half hourly schedule and with stops to pick up or drop passengers at the car park station at Lelant Saltings (now moved to St Erth) on the way it only has a few minutes at each end to turn around.