Semaphore swansong in South Wales

Time is fast running out for the last two outposts of mechanical signalling on the South Wales Main Line, with planned re-signalling of 35 route miles from Swansea to Whitland by September 2023 spelling an end to the semaphores at Ferryside and at Pembrey & Burry Port. 

Paying a return visit to Pembrey on 30 April 2021, my aim was to find locations both east and west of the station from which to photograph the five remaining semaphores controlled by the former Pembrey East Signal Box.

As I wrote after my last visit here in January 2019, this is a substantial and impressive Great Western Railway Type 7 design, dating from 1907, which controls an adjacent level crossing around 400 yards east of the station and houses a rather later (1953) 83-lever frame.  

Its quintet of surviving semaphores comprises up outer home signal PY82 at the station’s platform (1) end and up inner home PY81 close to the signal box and protecting the level crossing. 

In the down (westbound) direction home signal PY7 is mounted on a bracket some distance east of the level crossing, starter PY9 stands between the two running lines east of the station, with section signal PY10, and sighting board behind, around 200 hundred yards west of the station. 

TfW 153329/922 pass non-stop with 1B97 from Fishguard Harbour (12.50) to Cardiff Central

One of the best vantage points for photographing the signals and box is a footbridge just east of the station, but having more time than on my previous visit, I was also keen to check out the potential of a road over-bridge east of the signal box, carrying the B4311 town by-pass.

TfW 175115 approaches PY7 with 1V35 from Manchester Piccadilly (06.30) to Milford Haven as sister unit 175114 approaches with 1W62 from Milford Haven (11.05) to Manchester Piccadilly

That bridge is an easy 10 minute walk from the level crossing alongside the signal box, by taking a left turn and heading south to a roundabout on the B4311 then going left and continuing along a path on the right hand side of the road.

TfW 175115 approaches PY81 with 1W64 from Carmarthen (13.00) to Manchester Piccadilly


Looking back towards the station there is a clear, but distant, view of down home signal PY7 then the level crossing with up home PY81 behind it, down starter PY9 between the two running lines and the station beyond.

TfW 175113 arrives at Pembrey with 1V37 from Manchester Piccadilly (08.31) to Milford Haven

Regular rail traffic through Pembrey currently comprises TfW Class 175 units on workings between West Wales and Manchester via the Marches Line, with the occasional appearance of Class 153 units. 

TfW 175110 departs Pembrey with 1W66 from Milford Haven (13.00) to Manchester Piccadilly

There are currently no regular services between Swansea and Pembroke Dock, with the branch trains only starting at Carmarthen. Freight workings through Pembrey are limited to very occasional trains of oil tanks to and from Robeston Sidings at Milford Haven.   

TfW 175001 passes PY10 with 1V38 from Manchester Piccadilly (09.31) to Carmarthen

Under Network Rail’s plans for what is called Port Talbot West Re-signalling Phase 2 (PTW2) control of the route from Swansea West Loop (215m 14ch) to Whitland (250m 0ch) would pass to the Wales Railway Operating Centre (ROC) at Cardiff, with closure of four signal boxes – Pembrey, Kidwelly, Ferryside and Carmarthen.  

Burry Port, where the station is actually located, is a rather pleasant spot to visit and to savour lower quadrant semaphores, even with the rather limited timetable currently in force, and lack of variety in the passing traffic.

As I have written before, the station boasts one of Britain’s only independently-run ticket offices (pictured above) – the only two others I know of are those at Ledbury and Millom.

There are a good range of local shops and facilities in the station vicinity, and I can highly recommend Laurian’s Fish Bar, very close to the footbridge vantage point, as well as the Portobello Inn just outside the station, where I enjoyed a fine pint of Felinfoel Brewery’s Double Dragon, for a bargain £2.50.