Re-signalling of the charming Wherry Lines in Norfolk was due to be completed about now, but this £67m project has joined Crossrail and Great Western electrification in falling hopelessly behind schedule.
New signals along the 46 miles of route linking Norwich with Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft have been installed, but remain shrouded in black bin liners, with one insider telling me that the new equipment may not now be commissioned until March 2020.
Some significant rationalisation of the existing mechanical signalling has taken place, notably at Reedham. Here Reedham Junction Signal Box is boarded up (pending its move into preservation) and close by it are numerous recently-felled signal posts.
Removal of all signalling at Reedham means that the route from here to Great Yarmouth via Berney Arms, which was scheduled to have re-opened this month, look likely to remain closed for another year.
Elsewhere there have been significant changes at nearby Cantley, where the signal box has been downgraded to a gate box and lost two of its six semaphores. These were a down home and up starter, although happily its celebrated co-acting down outer home (C21) remains, along with a down distant and up distant and home signals.
Apart from these changes, no other semaphores have yet disappeared, and it looks like being some time yet before this delightful outpost of mechanical signalling – complete with numerous working distant signals – is consigned to history.
It is also noticeable that nothing seems to have been done to prepare for replacement of wooden-gated level crossings with barriers at places like Brundall and Cantley and that, apart from the shrouded new colour light signals, the only other significant change has been renewal of two lengthy sidings at Lowestoft, with the old carriage sidings at Great Yarmouth remaining untouched.
But it is not just signalling that is running late. Introduction of the new Stadler bi-mode Class 755 units also appears to be behind schedule, with only one (755410) undergoing test running on the Great Yarmouth route on Friday (26 April) and one other (755406) standing at Crown Point depot.
That delay looks likely to prolong operation of the Class 37-worked “short set” beyond its scheduled finish at the 19 May timetable change, until sometime later in the year.
Huge numbers of enthusiasts are now flocking to the area and swelling passenger numbers on the loco-hauled workings, which on weekdays comprise three round trips between Norwich and Lowestoft and four to and from Great Yarmouth.
While waiting for the train at Brundall I even met a young German enthusiast, who had come to spend a few days in the area simply to photograph and ride on the Class 37-hauled services!
Pictured here on 26 April 2019 are DRS-owned 37423 “Spirit of the Lakes” and 37425 “Concrete Bob/Sir Robert McAlpine” on the short set, 755410 on test at Brundall and 153335 approaching Brundall with a Lowestoft-bound service. My new book “Britain’s last mechanical signalling” is being published by Pen & Sword on 30 June.
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