Along with those at Pembrey and Ferryside, featured in my previous post, another South Wales signal box potentially being replaced during Network Rail’s Control Period 6 (2019-24) is Tondu, sole passing place on the eight-mile branch from Bridgend to Maesteg.
The former Tondu Middle box is another Great Western Railway Type 3 design and dates from 1884 although, unlike Ferryside, has been subject to some subsequent alterations.
It stands immediately north of the station and controls a passing loop (currently out of use), as well as access to a seldom-used diversionary route to Margam and a remaining stub of the closed Blaengarw branch.
Having paid a brief visit here three years ago while reviewing the Maesteg line for Railway Renaissance, I was keen to return and attempt to photograph more of its fine array of lower quadrant semaphore signals, many of which see little or no use.
What seems remarkable for a box that now simply controls the hourly service to and from Maesteg is that no less than 60 levers on its 65 lever frame remain operational, with only five white levers.
Just a handful of this 60 remain in active use, however, with down trains passing three semaphore arms on the journey to Maesteg and up services towards Bridgend signalled by just two, as up section signal TU6 is a colour light.
Those signals in regular use are down outer home TU64, which can be seen from the platform end at nearby Sarn, down home TU63 at the north end of Tondu station platform and down starter TU57 in front of an over-bridge some way beyond the box. In the up direction, outer home TU2 stands out of sight beyond this over-bridge, while home signal TU3 is on a bracket with TU9 for the Margam line just north of the signal box.
Apart from these five signals in regular use, there are a further five controlling the route towards Margam, with three in the down direction (TU12/13/14) and a bracket carrying a pair of up home signals (TU59).
This diversionary route faces an uncertain future and, despite past suggestions that it might be upgraded for use by diverted main line services, has been subject to a T3 Possession (blockade) for more than a year, while discussions over its future continue between Network Rail and the Welsh Assembly Government.
When the Margam route is being used, freight trains will pass the signal box and bear right onto a short remaining section of the branch line to Blaengarw. Here there is a lengthy loop for locos to run round their trains before continuing back into Tondu station, being signalled by this pair of two-signal brackets (TU4 and TU5).
Pictured here, all on 17 January 2019, are 158838 on the 13.55 departure for Maesteg and 14.28 departure for Cheltenham Spa, then 142010 on the 14.58 departure for Maesteg and 15.31 departure for Cheltenham Spa.
I would like to sincerely thank Bryony Parry and Catrin Hallett from Network Rail’s media team in Cardiff for organising and hosting my 17 January visit, and signallers Martin Morgan and Andy Parsons for their kind hospitality.
My new book “Britain’s last mechanical signalling” is due to be published by Pen & Sword Books in July 2019.