For a route that has seen only freight traffic since its closure to passengers in 1964, the line heading north east from Newcastle to Bedlington and Ashington has done remarkably well to retain its traditional infrastructure.
Much of the route is double-track and there is a fine group of six North Eastern Railway signal boxes still in use and controlling a large array of semaphore signals, as well as level crossings at each of six locations.
Two noticeable features on this section of the line are how the character and architectural integrity of the boxes has been adversely affected by the installation of replacement windows, and how the majority of semaphore signals along the route seem are very modern-looking galvanised steel structures, such as these junction signals (WG2 & WG3) at Winning.
My June 2017 visit was not well timed, as Lynemouth Power Station, previously the destination for a considerable volume of coal traffic, was undergoing conversion to biomass firing.
That meant meaning all traffic on the route north from Bedlington had been suspended until October, although two signal boxes on this section of line – at North Seaton and Marcheys House – remained staffed, despite the total lack of any train services!
Working from north to south along the manually-signalled section of this route, first up is North Seaton, one of the earliest surviving boxes in the UK, dating from 1872 and controlling a level crossing on the A196 at the site of the former North Seaton station, which closed when passenger services to Ashington ceased in November 1964.
Approaching by road from the west, there is a splendid view of North Seaton Viaduct, a 14-span steel structure built in 1926 as replacement for an earlier wooden structure and known locally as “The Black Bridge”. There are semaphore arms close to the box in both directions, and a good vantage point to see the box and up home is from a footbridge just north of the level crossing.
Heading south, the next box is Marcheys House, just to the south of North Seaton Viaduct and controlling the line northwards to North Seaton, southwards to Bedlington North and the north-to-east side of a triangular route to Cambois and North Blyth, where the eastern junction of this triangle is controlled by the nearby Winning Level Crossing box.
Marcheys House box dates from 1895 and has a number of semaphores within easy view of the level crossing. Looking north there is a very modern looking pair of junction home and distant signals, while looking south (pictured) the line descends towards Bedlington, there are home and distant signals controlling both the main route and the line coming in from Winning.
A drive of less than a mile to the east and then south brings you to Winning, an identical North Eastern Railway design to Marcheys House, also dating from 1895. Here again, there are another pair of very modern home and distant signals standing close to the box and protecting the up line and junction towards Marcheys House.
Looking west to the junction itself, there are home signals, both obscured by sighting boards, protecting the two routes in the Blyth direction. This view looking west from Winning level crossing shows the rusted rails of the curve towards Marcheys House and the shinier rails of the route from Blyth towards Bedlington.
Little more than a mile south of Winning are the two signal boxes at either end of the former Bedlington Station – whose former single platform on the east side of the line and station building remain remarkably intact and awaiting the long-anticipated revival of passenger services between Newcastle and Ashington.
This view looking north from the road bridge at Bedlington shows the junction for North Blyth, controlled by a colour light with Marcheys House Signal box in the distance behind its two down home signals, at the north side of the triangular junction.
Largest and most important of this pair is Bedlington North (pictured), which stands in the fork made by the line heading north to Ashington and Blyth and a connecting route heading north-west to Morpeth, where a triangular junction with the East Coast Main Line means it sees occasional use as a diversionary route.
Bedlington North box dates from 1912 and, besides a level crossing, has a number of semaphores under its control in the station area, as well as colour lights on both the Morpeth branch and north towards the triangular junction whose northern and eastern points are controlled by Marcheys House and Winning respectively.
After my lack of luck in seeing any action further north, my patience at Bedlington was rewarded by the chance to photograph celebrity Class 66 locomotive 66779 “Evening Star” working a freight train from York to North Blyth (pictured below).
To the south of the former station, and less than 300 yards from the north box, the smaller Bedlington South box controls a busy level crossing and signalling at the southern end of the station and southwards towards the final outpost of mechanical signalling on the route, at Newsham South.
Unlike the north box, Bedlington South does not have any colour light signals under its control, while the signals controlled by both Bedlington boxes, like those at Winning and elsewhere, look remarkably recent installations.
Modern semaphore signals are also a feature at Newsham South, around two miles south of Bedlington and the southern end of the double track route all the way northward from here to Lynemouth and some way east of Winning on the Blyth line.
Looking north from the level crossing here there is an up home signal, with down section signals protecting both lines some distance beyond (pictured below), while looking south there is an up starter and then furthest away a down home signal.
The box here once controlled a branch towards two former collieries, but now simply controls the route south to Benton Junction, at which point control of the line moves to the Tyneside regional signalling centre.
To read more about the compelling and longstanding campaign to re-open the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line to passengers, do visit http://www.senrug.co.uk
Pictured below on 20 June 2017 is 66779 “Evening Star” passing Bedlington station with a working from York to North Blyth.