Two remarkable outposts of mechanical signalling are the neighbouring West Sussex resorts of Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, which have somehow outlived a re-signalling of the Mid-Sussex Line south of Horsham.
That 2014 exercise saw the elimination of signal boxes at Billingshurst, Pulborough and Amberley, but left the two coastal termini untouched and consequently stuck in a delightful time-warp, as seen in the following photos taken on 22 October 2019.
Loss of the one remaining semaphore controlled by Newhaven Harbour Signal Box means that these are now the only remaining semaphore-signalled locations along the South Coast, apart from Hastings and Deal.
Both Bognor Regis and Littlehampton each have just four remaining semaphore arms, along with a number of shunting discs. In both places these comprise two brackets, with one controlling exit from platforms 1&2 and the other from platforms 3&4.
There, however, the similarity ends, with very different station lay-outs at the two stations, and signal boxes that are from totally different eras.
Littlehampton is controlled by a small Grade II-listed London, Brighton & South Coast Railway box dating from 1886, while the box at Bognor Regis is a 1938-vintage art deco “Odeon” style box, known as a Southern Railway Type 13.
This is reckoned to be amongst the most significant signal box designs of the twentieth century, and is an identical design to the box at Deal, which also retains a handful of semaphore signals.
Bognor Regis station feels a lot more spacious than its neighbour – as seen in the top photo – with carriage sidings alongside the station rather than to the north, as at Littlehampton.
Its signal box stands at the station throat, some distance north of the platforms, but for a closer view there is a footbridge over the line which can be reached by walking along Longford Road, to the west of the station.
One of the only discernible changes since my last visit here three years ago is that a faded Network SouthEast era name board on the box has been replaced by large lettering, similar to Deal, in what looks like an appropriate period font.
Bognor Regis’ semaphores comprise 008 controlling exit from platform 1 alongside 009 for platform 2, with 010 on platform 3 and 012 on platform 4. At Littlehampton it is 0032 (platform 1) and 0030 (2) – pictured above – then 0036 (3) and 0033 (4).
Adding to the period feel which the semaphores give the two stations are the 43- year old Class 313 units that remain a mainstay of stopping services along the West Coastway route, linking the resorts with Brighton and Portsmouth.
These were a revolutionary design of dual-voltage EMU when introduced in 1976, and ended their days working Great Northern suburban services last month. The 19-strong Southern fleet (313201-220) are the oldest mainland EMUs in Britain, with talk, but no immediate plans, for their replacement.
A brief break from the diet of Class 313 and 377 units was Network Rail’s DR98979 RHTT train, seen here departing platform 4 at Littlehampton on a circuit from Horsham.
Looking at the off-peak service pattern shows an hourly Class 313-operated service arriving at Littlehampton from Portsmouth & Southsea, then shuttling round to Bognor Regis. Next it heads up to the junction at Barnham and back to Bognor, before departing for Littlehampton then returning to Portsmouth.
My new book “Britain’s last mechanical signalling” is out now, and available from publishers Pen & Sword, from good transport bookshops, and from many online retailers.