Driving for Rail-River Link in South Devon

OK, so now I can spill the beans. I am now a local bus driver for Rail-River Link, the bus service arm of the Dartmouth Steam Railway & River Boat Company (formerly the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway).


While still looking for a permanent Graphic Design position, I’ve taken a seasonal job at the aforementioned company. I suppose it’s one of the unplanned benefits of having taken my PCV test – it qualifies me for a secondary profession! I was invited to an interview and assessment session on the strength of my bus driver CV, which I had sent to the bus operations manager. When I arrived it appeared that he had already appointed me and rostered me for service the following day!

After that first day my head was spinning and I asked for a few more days’ training so the roster was altered to allow me some proper preparation. I know the area very well so learning the routes was not a problem but getting to know all the ticket types, learning the timetable and using the ticket machine would take longer.

I started with 4 days of training and route learning with several other drivers. The service runs with buses connecting Totnes Steamer Quay with Paignton Bus Station on an hourly frequency, with additional services serving Torquay. As the name suggests, the service links in with the company’s Paignton – Kingswear steam trains and the Dartmouth – Totnes river boat service and, while it operates a normal timetabled service for locals, passengers for the boats and steam trains form the bulk of the traffic on the buses. The ‘Round Robin’ excursion is particularly popular.

M832HVC-Torquay-StrandThe buses in use are two open top Bristol VRTs (one of them is pictured at the top of this page) and three Olympian/Alexander Royale buses which are still in their East Yorkshire livery. The buses are stabled on land next to the company’s Churston Station, which is the mid-point on the line where steams trains pass each other.

7827-at-ChurstonI’ve long been a follower of the company’s fortunes as it has been my local heritage line for the last 25 years or so. In fact I first visited the line in 1973, when it was called the Torbay Steam Railway, an offshoot of the Buckfastleigh-based Dart Valley Railway. Now it has become a highly profitable tourist operation with a fleet of ferries and pleasure cruisers as well as the trains and buses. New for this season is the 1924-built paddle steamer P.S. Kingswear Castle, the UK’s only surviving coal-fired paddle steamer. I could tell you more about this but it’s probably better to leave that until another time!


Last week gave me my first taste of local bus service work, as I was out in service on my own with one of the Olympians. I was on a late duty which meant relieving another driver at Paignton Bus Station at lunchtime and then working the Paignton – Totnes service for the rest of the day. There is a lot to tell but I will save the detail for another post. Next up will be a report of a 2-bus wedding job for Crosville to Cheddar.

4 comments on “Driving for Rail-River Link in South Devon

  1. William Spencer says:

    Look forward to photographing you driving soon then! River Link have always had a great set of vehicles, with the more recent batch of Olympians adding some much needed quality for us Torbay bus photographers. lol.

  2. Hi John,
    I told you that you should become a Bus Driver, one of the best jobs going, and what a nice area to work in, nearly as good as the Yorkshire Dales where I worked, AND you get paid for it.
    What is more you are associated with Steam Trains and Paddle Steamers.
    They will have you rostered on the Kingswear Castle next (as long as it is not stoker).
    Keep the posts coming excellent reading.
    All the best

    • busmanjohn says:

      Thank you Stephen. Yes, I suppose I am fortunate to have a spell working in a heritage environment like this. With all this hot weather, I’m glad not to be feeding PS Kingwear Castle’s fire. I heard that the temperature down there was 38 degrees C the other day!

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