Distant delights in North Staffordshire

Working semaphore distant signals have become a great rarity across the British rail network, as I have written many times, so after my successful December visit to west Cumbria it was time to revisit another area notable for its distant signals.

My only previous visit to the North Staffordshire Line (in March 2017) had taken me to Tutbury & Hatton, Scropton Crossing and Uttoxeter to photograph semaphore home signals at each location, but I had not had enough time to seek out the six working distant signals.

So making my first major rail excursion since travel restrictions were lifted on 29 March, my plan for 23 April 2021 was to pay a return visit by train when, with the help of local OS map 128, I would see how many of these six elusive yellow and black fishtail arms I could manage to find and photograph.

Alighting at Tutbury & Hatton (10.07) I would first walk east in search of down (westbound) distant TY1, before returning to the station and continuing along a path south of the line that would hopefully yield sightings of both up distant TY7 and Scropton Crossing’s down distant SN19.

Subject to my success and time, I would then either see if there was a way to view Scropton Crossing’s up distant (SN1) before returning by train to Uttoxeter where I was pretty confident that down distant (UR1) could be reached along a path close to the railway and race course. 

If time allowed I would then head west, passing Britain’s newest mechanical signal box, celebrating its 40th birthday this year, in search of up distant UR40, which my map suggested might be visible from a path along the north side of the line.

EMR 156415 approaches TY1 on 23 April 2021 with 1K99 from Derby (10.42) to Crewe

For a good vantage point to see TY1 I took a brisk, but easy, 30 minute walk from Tutbury station, heading north for 200 yards before a right turn into Church Avenue. From the end of this road a path continued around the huge Nescafé plant before joining Marsh Lane.

EMR 156415 approaches Tutbury & Hatton station with the Nescafe plant on the right

This is a pleasantly quiet metalled lane heading east to St Mary’s Church in the village of Marston on Dove, where a right turn takes you to an automatic half-barrier level crossing, with a reasonable view of the Tutbury distant on the straight section of track leading back to the station.

Returning to Tutbury, I then went over the level crossing and turned right into Scropton Old Road, a cul-de-sac leading to a path along the south side of the line. About 3/4 mile along here there was a great view of the Scropton down distant SN19 on its tall and unusual lattice post.

EMR 156907 passes the Scropton down distant with 1K11 from Derby (11.42) to Crewe

What was also just visible here was the Tutbury up distant TY7 around 200 yards beyond SN19 but seemingly impossible to reach for a photo. Having already noted how remote the Scropton up distant was on my rail journey to Tutbury, I decided to head back to the station and try my luck at Uttoxeter.

EMR 170420 passes SN19 with 1K10 from Crewe (11.07) to Derby

As my train approached Uttoxeter I noted that down distant UR1 had not been pulled off, and my fear that it was not pulled off for stopping services was confirmed by the driver of my train, who pointed out that it would lead to long delays on a busy level crossing west of the town if cleared for stopping trains.

Uttoxeter’s down distant UR1 alongside its up section signal UR36

Despite this disappointment – something I had also experienced with the down distant at Millom on the Cumbrian Coast – I decided to take a walk back to the signal along a path north of the line, where I found a great vantage point to see both UR1 and down section signal UR36 alongside it.

EMR 156415 approaches UR1 with 1K15 from Derby (13.42) to Crewe

My final foray took me to the western edge of the town and through the rather charming Bramshall Road Park. I had seen up distant UR40 pulled off as I had passed it earlier, but finding it proved a step too far, and after walking past a new housing development beyond the park I had to admit defeat.

All was not lost, however, and returning to Uttoxeter station for my train back to Stoke-on-Trent I was able to get a good shot of EMR-liveried 156907 approaching down section signal UR5 (above) then, from the by-pass over-bridge near the station, a trio of services passing the signal box, including Network Rail’s “flying banana” New Measurement Train returning to Derby.

EMR 158856 passes the 1981 Uttoxeter Signal Box with 1K19 from Derby (15.42) to Crewe

For those unfamiliar with the North Staffordshire Line, this 35-mile link between Stoke-on-Trent and Derby is a sleepy and pleasantly rural double-track route that sees hourly passenger services and only the very occasional non-passenger service, usually stock movements between Crewe and Derby.

Changes are afoot to North Staffordshire Line services, with the current hourly Crewe-Derby shuttles being extended from 17 May to Nottingham and Newark Castle, which should help improve connectivity for those from the East Midlands wanting destinations on the West Coast Main Line via Crewe.

Besides the trio of boxes featured here, two other locations with some semaphore interest are Foley Crossing (Longton) and Egginton Junction near Derby. A couple of other signal boxes to look out for along the line are those at Caverswall and an attractive 1885 (North Staffordshire Railway) box on the south side of the line at Sudbury, between Scropton and Uttoxeter.

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