Co-acting signals were once a reasonably common feature on the UK rail network – that is signal posts with two arms, one at low level and one located much higher up, so that drivers could always see one or other of the signal arms when there was an obstruction, such as the station footbridge (pictured above), which would obscure the driver’s sight line to a signal at conventional height.
Today there are only three such signals left on the whole of Network Rail, and having previously had the chance to visit the ones at Cantley, on the Norwich-Lowestoft line in East Anglia and one at Greenloaning, just north of Stirling in Scotland, it was a great pleasure to be able to see and photograph the third of this trio at Helsby, a delightful and unspoiled junction station, roughly midway between Warrington and Chester.
Both the station buildings and Helsby Junction Signal Box are Grade 2 listed, with the box standing at the north end of platforms 2 and 3 in the fork made by the route to Chester and the Cinderella line to Ellesmere Port, which is served by platforms 3 and 4 (see my earlier posting “Lone Rider in North Cheshire”).
In total I counted nine semaphore arms visible from the station platforms, the star of which is the co-acting pair (HY38) at the north end of platform 4. These can normally only be seen in the “off” position once a day, so it was something of a thrill when I was able to see this once daily action as the 16.14 service from Ellesmere Port to Warrington Bank Quay left the station.
Besides this pair, the other signals at the north end of the station are down starter HY37 and advanced starter HY36 visible through a road over-bridge. Looking south towards Chester, up starter (HY3) stands at the end of platform one, with a down home signal (HY42) around 100 yards beyond, and an advanced up starter (HY4) and down outer home (HY43) visible some distance away. On the Ellesmere Port line there are starters at the western ends of both platform 3 (HY7) and platform 4 (HY11).
Apart from numerous photo-opportunities on the station itself, another good vantage point is from the over-bridge carrying Lower Rake Lane, just a three minute walk from the station. Here you will see a pair of up home signals (pictured below) that are not visible from the platform and get a good view of northbound services passing the down advanced starter as the line sweeps round a right hand curve.