South Wales’ last main line semaphores

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Travel down Brunel’s Great Western Main Line towards Bristol, pass through the Severn Tunnel into Wales and, after a change of train at Swansea, it will be exactly 208 miles from London Paddington before you reach the first of two semaphore signalling outposts on the South Wales Main Line.

Pembrey & Burry Port marks the start of old technology in signalling terms, and is the first of six surviving boxes between here and Clarbeston Road (junction of the Fishguard and Milford Haven routes) that are due to be closed during Network Rail’s forthcoming Control Period 6 (April 2019-March 2024).

The former Pembrey East box is a large and impressive Great Western Railway Type 7 design, which controls an adjacent level crossing around 400 yards east of the station and dates from 1907, being fitted with a rather later (1953) 83-lever frame.

img_0502With the once huge freight traffic having all but disappeared west of Port Talbot, apart from a limited amount of Milford Haven oil traffic, the size of this box is a reminder of times past, and it now controls just a handful of semaphores, along with the adjacent level crossing.

Looking in the up direction from Pembrey & Burry Port station, outer home signal PY82 stands at the end of up platform 1 with a home signal close to the signal box and protecting the level crossing.

Semaphore signals visible in the down direction are a home signal on a bracket protecting the crossing, a starter between the box and station and a section signal with a white sighting board behind, which stands beyond a road bridge west of the station.

Photography at Pembrey is very straightforward, with a footbridge just east of the station offering a good vantage point from which to see the station in one direction and the signal box in the other.

Pictured above is 175003 in the new Transport for Wales livery approaching the station on 9 January 2019 with the delayed 16.02 departure for Carmarthen, while the bottom image shows 175006 departing at 15.24 with a service to Manchester Piccadilly. 

img_0426Continuing westwards for 12 rail minutes and, after passing a modern (1950s) box at Kidwelly, a request to the guard for the train to stop will bring you to the charming and final outpost of mechanical signalling in South Wales, Ferryside.

Here a rather smaller and Grade II-listed GWR box dating from the 1880s stands at the south end of the down platform. This attractive box gained its listing for being well-preserved and for being the best surviving example of a GWR Type 3 box in the United Kingdom.img_0451

img_0372Semaphores controlling the up line that can be seen from the station platforms are an outer home some distance north of the station and up home signal FS3, which stands at the south end of the platform, in front of a footbridge and opposite the signal box.

In the down (westbound) direction the three semaphores are a down home (FS21) protecting a level crossing at the south end of the station, then a starter (FS20) and section signal (FS21), both visible from the north end of the platforms, as the line traces a slight S-bend in the Carmarthen direction.img_0415

Ferryside is a delightful spot, with some great vantage points for photos in both directions, but particularly to the south from the footbridge (sunlight permitting), where you can watch trains passing along the River Towy estuary as they approach the station.img_0336

Pictured above, all on 9 January 2019, are 175006 arriving with the delayed 14.13 service to Carmarthen (the workmen are replacing the level crossing not the signalling), 153312 passing with a Swansea-Pembroke Dock service, 175115 approaching the station with a Milford Haven-Manchester Piccadilly service, and 175011 on the 13.12 departure for Manchester Piccadilly.

My new book “Britain’s Last Mechanical Signalling” is due to be published by Pen & Sword Books in June 2019img_0483

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