Semaphores and Class 37s on the Cumbrian Coast


IMG_8705After last week’s trip along the scenic Furness Line, it is now time to head north from Barrow-in-Furness and take a look at some of the many delightful spots that retain their mechanical signalling along the route through Whitehaven and Workington as far north as Wigton.

My journey to this most northern outpost of semaphores could hardly have got off to a better start on Monday, 3 April 2017 when I boarded the Sellafield workers’ train, the 05.46 from Barrow to Carlisle, which powered by DRS-owned 37401 Mary Queen of Scots hauling four aged Mark II coaches.

On that first of three glorious days travelling the Cumbrian Coast I alighted first at Whitehaven, before continuing on to Wigton, returning later in the day to Workington and finally alighting at St. Bees.IMG_7829 37401 departs Whitehaven on 3 April 2017 with the 05.46 Barrow-Carlisle.

Whitehaven is one of the major stops along the Cumbrian Coast, but its station has rather limited photographic potential. Arriving from the south you reach the single through platform and modern station building immediately after emerging from the 1,322-yard Whitehaven Tunnel, with the platform on your left and a bay platform for terminating services from Carlisle.

Bransty Signal Box (London & North Western Railway, 1899) stands on the west side of the line some way north of the station, at a point where double track resumes, the route having been single from Sellafield, 10¾ miles to the south. But photographing the box is difficult, as two-storey high Network Rail portakabins stand alongside, with NR vehicles also hampering the view.

While the up starting signal immediately in front of the tunnel is a light (BY4), there are a trio of semaphores in view at the north end of the station, with down home signals controlling exit from the two platforms and a down section signal just visible in the distance, as seen in the photo above.

IMG_7862After an early morning break of just under an hour at Workington it was time to press on to the northernmost outpost of the Cumbrian Coast’s semaphores at Wigton, where I got a chance to see 37401 propelling its four Mark II coaches,  and making a first return journey of the day from Carlisle to Barrow (photo above)

Colour lights control trains north of the station, but looking south from the fine, but rusty, footbridge, up home WN37 stands just beyond the end of the southbound platform with the modern (BR LMR 1957) signal box on the west side of the line 300 yards beyond and a down home signal still further down the line. Out of sight to the south stands down distant signal WN1.

IMG_7969156459 approaches Workington on 3 April 2017 with the 11.44 departure for Barrow

Having once again stopped for just under the hour, and seen 37401 departing at 09.01, it was time to begin my journey back towards Barrow. Next up was a rather longer break at the route’s major town, Workington, one of the few places in Britain, along with Bedlington, Norton-on-Tees, Shrewsbury and Worcester, to retain more than one mechanical signal box.

IMG_7994 (1)37401 approaches Workington on 3 April 2017 with the 13.32 departure for Carlisle

At the north end of the station, Workington Main No 3 Signal Box stands just beyond the up platform, with a down home signal opposite and another close to it controlling exit from the western freight loop. North of the station is a down section signal and an up home, with a distant below and a shunting arm to its right. To the south of the spacious station up home and distant signals stand close to Workington Main No. 2 Signal Box on the west side of the line, as seen above.

IMG_7984142005 leaves Workington on 3 April 2017 with the 11.46 departure for Carlisle

Concluding my first day on the Cumbrian Coast, I spent a couple of hours at St Bees, a charming location and sole passing loop on the single line from Sellafield to Whitehaven. Its Grade II Listed chalet-style signal box (Furness Railway, 1891) stands to the west of the line at the north end of the down platform, controlling level crossing barriers and with five semaphores in view from the station footbridge, which offers great views in both directions.

IMG_8034142005+153378 at St. Bees on 3 April 2017 with the 14.10 departure for Barrow

In the down (northbound) direction there is a home at the southern end of the passing loop, a starter alongside the box and a section signal a short distance beyond at the end of the loop. In the up direction there is a home signal beyond the points for the loop and a starter at the end of the up platform, where a disc signal also controls access to a short siding (pictured below).

IMG_8073156484 approaches St. Bees on 3 April 2017 with the 14.40 departure for Carlisle

Day Two (Tuesday, 4 April 2017) took me first to Sellafield, before retracing my steps and paying visits to four more splendidly semaphore-signalled locations on the journey back to my B&B in Barrow-in-Furness – Bootle, Silecroft, Millom and Askam.

Sellafield is an interesting and desolate location that has another unusual station layout, with the down (northbound) platform being an island, with a fence alongside the up line and a separate up platform (1). Its 1918 Furness Railway signal box stands at the north end of the island platform immediately behind what looks like a working water column (there is another at the south end of the station) and alongside a down starting signal.

IMG_8240The driver of 153378/330 surrenders the single line token from St. Bees to the Sellafield signaller on 4 April 2017 with the 11.08 departure for Barrow

Drivers will pause alongside the box on leaving the station to collect a key token for the single track section to St. Bees from the signaller who is standing on a metal platform on the north side of the box, with up (southbound) trains pausing here before entering the station to surrender the token, as seen above.

Looking north, the semaphore signalling interest here are the down starting signals for both platforms, with an up home signal beyond and a short outer home at a point where the line curves to the left. To the south of the station there are a number of semaphores controlling access to the nuclear complex, where there is the chance to see some of the DRS-owned Class 37 and 66 locos.

IMG_8318156469 is flagged down by me at Bootle on 4 April 2017 with the 12.40 to Lancaster 

Travelling for 15 minutes back towards Barrow brings you to delightful Bootle, a small settlement and request stop, with a small Grade II Listed signal box that is one of Britain’s oldest working boxes and dates from 1871. It stands at the north end of the down platform alongside metal level crossing gates.

A total of four stop signals can be seen from the station, including an up section signal some 400 yards to the south, where a white square has been painted as a sighting board onto the brick over-bridge standing immediately behind it.

IMG_829437401 at Bootle on 4 April 2017 with the 12.28 departure for Carlisle

There are good views of the box and the other three semaphore arms from the up platform, but I also found a fine vantage point from which to photograph 37401 on a northbound service (sadly in less than ideal light) from a spot alongside the line in a nearby coal yard, accessed by permission, about 200 yards north of the level crossing.

After flagging down a southbound train, a journey of just six or seven minutes brings you to another request stop with signalling interest at Silecroft. Its 1923 Furness Railway signal box stands south of a level crossing on the west (northbound) side of the line and controls a trio of semaphore arms, all of which are in the down (northbound) direction.

IMG_8342153330/378 pause at Silecroft on 4 April 2017 with the 13.08 departure for Carlisle

Most interesting of this trio is a down distant that is mounted beneath a home signal protecting the nearby Limestone Hall Level Crossing, a location I did not have time to visit on this trip, but one I hope to return to and photograph sometime later in the current year. The other down semaphores are a home signal close to the station and a section signal 400 yards to the north, as seen above.

Exactly three miles south of Silecroft brings you to the attractive small town of Millom, whose diminutive 1891 Furness Railway signal box stands just beyond a road over-bridge to the north of the station platforms. As at Bootle, there are a total of four semaphore arms in view, with an up section signal some way south of the station, while looking north there is a down home at the platform end, with down section and up home signals visible beyond the signal box.

IMG_8370153331+142031+153307 at Millom on 4 April 2017 with the 14.50 departure for Lancaster

At the time of my 2017 visit the former station building on the up platform was occupied by the Millom Heritage Museum, which also operated one of the few  independently-run ticket offices on the rail network (other examples being Ledbury and Pembrey & Burry Port), although run to help fund the museum, rather than as a commercial venture.

IMG_8405153378/330 approach Askam on 4 April 2017 with the 17.43 departure for Barrow

Concluding my second day, I spent a couple of hours at another request stop, Askam, where a Grade II-listed chalet-style station building stands alongside an equally attractive Furness Railway signal box (1895).

IMG_8443Here I was able to savour more Class 37 action, as 37401 paused with the 17.43 departure for Carlisle (pictured above), followed by 37604/059 hauling nuclear flasks from Sellafield to Crewe (below).

IMG_8471As at Bootle and Millom, four semaphore arms are visible from the platforms, with a down home 100 yards south of the signal box and level crossing and an up starter at the platform end. North of the station there is an up home signal, with a down section signal some distance further out.

IMG_8618153307/315 leaving Foxfield on 5 April 2017 with the 12.53 departure for Carlisle

Day Three of my Cumbrian Coast adventure (Wednesday, 5 April 2017) took me to my final and favourite location of all, the remote request stop at Foxfield, a visit made all the more memorable by the chance to see 37609/218 top-and-tailing a working from Sellafield to Heysham Harbour Power Station (pictured below and bottom).

IMG_8670This is the pair that you will see at the top of my home page and, unlike other workings from Sellafield, those to Heysham are worked in top-and-tail mode to avoid the need for a run-round at the power station.

IMG_8678 (1)156460 is about to call at Foxfield on 5 April 2017 with the 13.48 departure for Carlisle

Foxfield’s wooden 1879 Furness Railway signal box stands at the north end of an island platform, with five semaphore arms in view – two to the south and three to the north. Sadly out of view are its distant signals, although the up distant, on the opposite side of a viaduct across the nearby estuary, is just visible from the station platform.IMG_8663 (1)

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