Above and below Par

CORNWALL has long been one of the country’s most remarkable outposts of lower quadrant semaphore signalling, but time is fast running out for much of its marvellous mechanical infrastructure, with a major re-signalling project due to be completed in autumn 2023.

After an enjoyable visit to see and photograph the signalling at Liskeard in October (2020) it was time to make an overdue return (on Monday, 2 August 2021) to what is arguably finest of the five remaining junctions to retain semaphores along the 56-miles of route between Liskeard and St. Erth.

Par is one of two operational Cornish signal boxes – along with Lostwithiel – to enjoy a Grade II Listing, being one of only two surviving examples of a GWR-designed Type 2 box to survive in its original location, at the western end of platforms 2 and 3 on Par station.

158951 departs Par with 2C19 from Exeter St. David’s (08.55) to Penzance

In the citation for its Listing, the box is commended for its intactness, despite the replacement of its original windows, and for being a good example of what was once a standard signal box on the GWR network. Its extension in 1893, when it was doubled in size, provides evidence of its historical development, while the box retains the 57-lever frame that was installed in around 1913.

43088/022 approach Par with 2C65 from Bristol Temple Meads (07.52) to Penzance

Signals controlled by that frame and visible from the station platforms comprise a down starter PR4 and a bracket with up home signals PR50 (for platform 3) and PR55 (for platform 2) west of the station. 

802001/011 depart Par with 1C72 from London Paddington (08.04) to Penzance

Another bracket immediately in front of the signal box hosts down home PR5 (access to the main line), PR8 (Newquay branch + shunting disc for Chapel siding) with the branch section signal PR9 round the right hand curve towards St. Blazey and mounted above the St. Blazey fixed distant signal.

43016/042 approach Par with 2U20 from Penzance (10.50) to Bristol Temple Meads

At the London end of the station PR54 is the starter signal from the main platform (2) alongside PR52 which controls exit from the Newquay branch platform (3). East of the road overbridge there is a bracket on the west side of the line holding down home signal PR5 (main line) and a junction arm (PR7) for Newquay-bound services going into platform 3. 

150246 departs Par at 12.13 with 2N06 to Newquay

Close to the bridge, but obscured by vegetation, stands signal PR30, controlling exit from the down goods loop, while out of sight beyond the right hand curve stand up section signal PR51 and a bracket housing down outer home signal PR2 alongside another arm controlling entry to the goods loop. 

Colas Rail track vehicle DR75406 “Eric Machell” passes Par Signal Box

Passenger traffic passing, and almost always stopping at Par, comprises Class 80x IET units on Paddington-Penzance services (mainly five-car sets), the former HST 2+4 Castle sets on workings between Penzance and Plymouth/Bristol, with two-car Class 150 units operating Newquay services and occasional main line appearances by Class 150/158 units.

158765 departs with 2P13 from Penzance (11.50) to Plymouth as 66133 waits in the loop before departing for Lostwithiel (reversing there) and then Fowey Carne Point

Notably absent this summer are any through services from Paddington to Newquay, which seems rather surprising given the boom in staycation holidays, and also cross-country services to or from Penzance and Newquay – currently reduced to just one early morning Plymouth-Penzance, a Penzance-Newcastle and back service and a late night return from Penzance to Plymouth.

XC 220024 approaches Lostwithiel with 1S49 from Penzance (09.25) to Newcastle

Freight traffic passing through Par is pretty sparse, and comprises occasional china clay traffic from Goonbarrow Junction on the Newquay branch and from the terminals at Parkandillack and Burngullow west of St. Austell, which run via Lostwithiel (reversing here) to Carne Point terminal on the Fowey branch line. 

DB 66133 draws its train of clay hoppers into Par with a working from Goonbarrow Junction

Besides semaphores controlling the main line and its junction with the Newquay branch line, an added attraction of a day spent at Par is the chance to also see and photograph trains passing the semaphores controlled by St. Blazey Signal Box, less than ten-minute’s walk from Par station.

43098/170 depart Par with 2P12 from Penzance (11.15) to Plymouth

A good vantage point here is Middleway Level Crossing, from where there is a good view of Par-bound services approaching junction signals SB2 near the crossing, and Newquay-bound trains passing starter signals SB39 and SB38 then, in the distance, approaching section signal SB36. 

150246 approaches St. Blazey with 2N07 from Newquay (13.10) to Par

Another good spot nearby is at a foot crossing of the line close to St. Blazey Signal Box, from where trains can be seen descending from Par and passing home signal SB40 before pausing to pick up a token for the section to Goonbarrow Junction.

150246 passes signal SB39 with 2N08 from Par (14.16) to Newquay

Under the re-signalling proposals currently being developed, the signal boxes as Par, Lostwithiel and Truro would close, with control of that section of route being taken over by Exeter Power Signal Box.

It is a long time since a weed-killing train ventured onto the Newquay branch!

That would leave isolated outposts of mechanical signalling at Liskeard and St Erth on the main line, along with the Newquay branch, where the boxes at St Blazey and Goonbarrow Junction would also apparently remain.