Completion of the Wherry Lines re-signalling in February 2020 means that there are now just two outposts of mechanical signalling in the whole of East Anglia, both of which are on the busy cross-country route between Ely and Peterborough.
Having spent a few hours at Whittlesea last summer, it was time to pay a return visit to the other place along this route with working semaphore signals, the charming and remote village of Manea, mid-way between Ely and March.
Manea station is a pretty remote spot, standing some way north of the small village (population around 2,000) and served by two-hourly Peterborough-Ipswich stopping services, as well as a couple of XC services between Birmingham New Street and Stansted Airport.
After stopping to pick up a solitary passenger GA 755414 departs Manea on 18 March 2020 with the 11.50 Peterborough-Ipswich
Its 1883-vintage signal box is a Great Eastern Railway Type 3 design that boasts a 25-lever McKenzie & Holland frame and stands next to the station and level crossing, just to the east of the up (Ely-bound) platform.
Both the Manea distant signals are colour lights, with M1 in the down direction and M24 controlling the up line. That leaves just four remaining semaphores here, all of which can be seen and photographed from the station platforms.
All four of the Manea semaphores can be seen here as GA 755414 pauses on 18 March 2020 with the 09.58 Ipswich-Peterborough
There are great views of passing trains from the platforms, but for a different perspective it is worth taking a 30 minute walk towards the village and then left into Wisbech Road as far as the Welney Road Level Crossing around ¾ rail mile south-east of the station (photo above taken from the crossing).
The station has gained a ticket machine since my previous visit in 2016, while contractors from a business called Natural Solutions were assembling an attractive wooden shelter on the down platform during my 18 March visit. No action yet, though, on long-planned platform extensions.
DB 66055 at Manea with a working from Mountsorrel Sidings to Kennett Redland Siding
What I really like about Manea station is the cosy waiting hut on the up platform, close to the level crossing, which is maintained by the Hereward Community Rail Partnership, is well equipped with leaflets and magazines, and has windows giving a view towards the signal box and crossing.
Looking south-east towards Ely, the semaphores are up section signal M21 and down home signal M2, while looking west towards March, up home signal M23 is on a bracket on the left hand side of the line, while down section signal M3 stands on the same side of the line some way beyond.
GBRf 66788 approaches Manea with a working from Chesterton Jct-Bardon Hill
As I had discovered at Whittlesea, what makes this route particularly interesting is the sheer amount of passing trains, with the regular class 158 (EMR), class 170 (XC) and GA class 755-worked passenger services, supplemented by a succession of class 66-hauled freight traffic, most of which is running to or from Felixstowe.
Before anyone challenges my assertion that Manea and Whittlesea are the last semaphore-signalled locations in East Anglia, I do recognise that there are still a number of small shunting arms at March, but these do not see regular use, and neither box at March has any semaphores on the main line.
GA 755414 is about to call at Manea with the 11.50 Peterborough-Ipswich
Travelling to Manea was a stark reminder of the devastating impact which Coronavirus is having on our rail network, with stations and trains largely deserted, yet timetables remaining resolutely unchanged at present.
Making what will probably be my last rail journeys for some time, having already bought advance tickets before the latest travel advice was issued, it was an eerie feeling to see how empty were the 07.02 from Haslemere to Waterloo and the 09.00 from King’s Cross to Edinburgh.
XC 170114 approaches Manea with the 06.24 Bristol TM-Stansted Airport
Forget earlier suggestions that passenger numbers are down 20 per cent – On the basis of my travel from Haslemere to Manea and back via London and Peterborough, l would suggest the true figure is at least 80 per cent, which is clearly not sustainable.
On my return journey from Manea (via Ely) I heard an East Midlands Railway guard announce that the operator had stopped on train ticket checks, while on my LNER service from Peterborough it was announced that all on train catering was being withdrawn from the following day (19 March). I’m sure that is only the beginning.
Pictured below on 18 March 2020 is EMR 158783 with the 10.57 Norwich-Liverpool Lime Street about to pass 158813 on the 07.42 Liverpool Lime Street-Norwich