The Southern Railway had many evocative and well known named trains such as: the Golden Arrow, Bournemouth Belle, the Devon Belle (as per my Talking Stock #20 post here) but one of the possibly most misnamed but well of them all was the Atlantic Coast Express. Why misnamed you might ask, well of the ten different termini served by the train there was only one that was actually on the Atlantic Coast itself! The genius of the name, however, a result of a competition run in the Southern Railway staff magazine in 1924 credited to Guard F. Rowland* of Woking, was its simple initials ‘ACE’.
Owing to fiddle yard length I do not run a full length or accurate ACE on Fisherton Sarum, although one of my Merchant Navy class locomotives 21C6 Peninsular and Oriental Line does carry the Southern Railway style ‘scalloped’ style headboard and I have to say does look the part on my rake of Bulleid post 1946 coaches.
Although no new train service was actually introduced, the 11am from Waterloo on Monday 19th July 1926 was the first service to carry the name. There were a number of eventual charms about the ACE; firstly it was a multi-part train with through coaches for destinations including: Seaton, Sidmouth, Lyme Regis, Exmouth, Exeter, Plymouth, Torrington, Ilfracombe, Padstow and Bude. On leaving Waterloo it could be formed of up to 13 or so coaches, many of them brake composites being single coaches for a specific destination, 2 or 3 coach sets (Plymouth or Illfracome) and a 2 coach restaurant set (as far as Exeter). Secondly on many days there were in fact more than one ACE run in each direction sometimes as little as 10 minutes apart leaving Waterloo. The formation and destinations varied over time so this post is a summary rather than a particular snapshot in time.
The ACE not only changed engines at Salisbury, as per all Waterloo – West of England trains (except for the Devon Belle, that changed just down the line at Wilton as a PR exercise) but also on many occasions the train split there with the second portion containing the through coaches for the Dorset coast branches.
The King Arthur N15 class were the originally engines of choice from Waterloo but these were soon displaced post war by the Merchant Navy Class. once past Exeter where the train once again split a variety of locomotive classes could be seen ranging from the King Arthur N15. Bulleid light pacific classes (post war) to more humble engines such as 4-4-0 T9’s and 2-6-0 N classes.
*footnote, it is unfortunate to record that Guard Roland although based at Woking at the time of the competition moved shortly after to Torrington (one of the ACE’s destinations) but sadly just six years later became the only person to killed on the North Cornwall Railway due to a shunting accident.