AN ‘early-bird’ train will be running from Buckfastleigh on Sunday for grandstand views of the River Dart Raft Race.

The popular event, organised by the Rotary Club of Totnes to raise funds for local charities, involves groups of people paddling and pushing homemade rafts through river torrents on the Dart for seven miles from Buckfastleigh to Totnes.

More than 30 rafts, carrying up to 300 people, are expected to take part this year.

Dick Wood, spokesman for South Devon Railway, said: ‘Some of the best views of the racing rafts can be had from the adjacent railway, so we’ve teamed up with the Rotary Club and will be running four steam trains the same day, plus an early morning diesel observation service departing from Buckfastleigh at 8.45am, just after the race starts.

‘The “early bird” diesel special will slowly meander down the line stopping at key points along the way close to the river so that local people and visitors alike will be able to enjoy grandstand views.’

The race starts from Buckfastleigh at 8.30am and rafts will be despatched thereafter at one-minute intervals until the last crew gets underway up to an hour and a half later.

The finish point is Vire Island, in the centre of Totnes.

South Devon Railway’s refreshment rooms will be open early for passengers boarding the ‘early bird’ train.

Mr Wood added: ‘The raft race is always a fun event which raises money for good causes and is a treat for many local people who come to enjoy watching the valiant entrants do battle with the River Dart in their homemade rafts.

‘There are some superb views of the River Dart at this time of year, and there really is no better way to see the race moving along than from one of our relaxing trains.

‘The teams taking part really deserve medals as their rafts often come to grief in the tricky waters!

‘The diesel railcar has great panoramic windows offering terrific views.’

Geoffrey Hyde, of Totnes Rotary’s Raft Race Committee, added: ‘This year’s race looks likely to be one of the best supported for many years, with 30 rafts and upwards of 300 team members expected to take part, so there should be plenty of excitement for the teams, their supporters and spectators alike.

‘In particular, spectators travelling on the South Devon Railway’s trains that run right along the Dart, will enjoy a grandstand view of the teams as they make their way slowly down the river to Totnes.

‘It should be a great day out for everyone and a fun way of raising much needed funds for local charities, and we’re still open for late entries!’