The railway from Newton Abbot through Torquay and Paignton to Kingswear was fully opened in 1864, built to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s broad gauge of 2.134m. It was then part of the South Devon Railway which was fully taken over by the Great Western Railway in 1876. With other lines in south-west England the branch was converted to standard gauge in 1892. It was heavily used in the years after the Second Word War by trains carrying holiday makers at summer weekends, but in 1972 British Railways decided to close the 10.8 km from the popular resort of Paignton to the terminus at Kingswear. It was taken over by a heritage railway project and is now run by a company that also operates cruise vessels on the River Dart between Dartmouth and Totnes, and buses that link Totnes with Paignton. Integrated packages of rail, river and road transport are available to visitors, and can be amended to suit individual requirements.
The line passes through spectacular scenery, giving opportunities to view wildlife including dolphins. From Kingswear visitors can cross by ferry to Dartmouth where they can see the Royal Navy college and Dartmouth Castle, which is maintained by English Heritage.
The railway is part of a commercial operation in which volunteers are involved only to a limited extent. Most of the locomotives that work it are of Great Western origin, some owned by the company and some by individuals or other heritage lines.