Diversionary action at Yeovil Pen Mill

A five-day blockade of the main line between Taunton and Exeter St. Davids from Monday (28 September 2020) meant the rare opportunity to see GWR Class 80x IETs at Yeovil Pen Mill, as services between London and Plymouth were diverted between Castle Cary and Exeter via Yeovil.

Yeovil Pen Mill is a rather delightful spot, 141¼ miles from Paddington, and the only place that these diverted GWR services will encounter semaphore signalling on their journey to Plymouth, with an unusual mixture of upper and lower quadrant arms controlled by Pen Mill signal box.

Down trains will pass two of the three upper quadrant two-signal brackets that control their entry and exit from the station, while up trains will pass lower quadrant home and starting signals, of which just the starting signal (YPM4) is visible from the station area.

Next stop Chard Junction for 800312 with 1C78 after its 23 minute pause at Pen Mill

Paying a return visit to Pen Mill on the first day of diversions (Monday, 28 September) it was interesting to note just how long a number of the Paddington-Plymouth services were forced to wait at the station (an unadvertised stop) due to the limits of the predominantly single track route from Yeovil Junction to Exeter.

166210 at Pen Mill with the 08.42 Gloucester-Weymouth (2O74)

Longest of all these stops seemed to be 1C78, the 11.04 from Paddington to Plymouth, which had a booked nine-minute stop at Castle Cary (12.26-12.35) then no less than 23 minutes at Pen Mill (12.49-13.12), before another ten-minute stop at Chard Junction (13.33-13.43), only passing loop on the 22 miles of route between Yeovil Junction and Axminster.

158762/747 depart Pen Mill with the 11.11 Weymouth-Gloucester (2V64)

After a further five-minutes stop at Honiton, which was an advertised calling point (13.58-14.03), passengers aboard 1C78 would finally reach Exeter St.Davids at 14.20 – three hours and 16 minutes after leaving Paddington, and Plymouth at 15.28 – a veritable master-piece of timetable planning!

SWR 159007 departs Pen Mill with the 10.56 to London Waterloo (1O40)

802112 passes YPM4 with the 08.42 Plymouth-London Paddington (2O74)

One consequence of reduced rail timetables during the pandemic has been the virtual elimination of SWR services at Yeovil Pen Mill. In place of the handful of services to and from Waterloo via either Westbury or Yeovil Junction, the only day-time service currently is the 07.50 from Waterloo via Westbury and Frome, arriving at 10.36 and returning to Waterloo via Frome 20 minutes later.

During three hours at Pen Mill on Monday (28 September) I was able to see and photograph rolling stock of Classes 158/159/166 as well as four different nine-car Class 80x units on diverted Paddington-Plymouth services. One nocturnal highlight of this week’s diversions was the scheduled crossing at Pen Mill (02.31) of the up and down Night Riviera sleeper services.  

My sincere thanks once again to the management of Lazenby’s builders merchants for allowing me in to their handily-placed yard, just north of the station, from where a number of these photos were taken, including the one below showing 800312 in platform 3 with 1C78 (left) as 802101 passes with the 10.48 Plymouth-London Paddington (1A80).