Mixed signals at Sutton Bridge Jct.

SHREWSBURY is by far and away the finest area for mechanical signalling in Britain, with four signal boxes controlling the station area, one being the largest mechanical signalling box in the world, two enjoying Grade II Listings and one controlling the last working lower quadrant distant signal.

Having spent time appreciating the magnificent listed boxes – Severn Bridge Junction and Crewe Junction – at ether ends of the station, it is time to take a walk of just under a mile south through the town centre to re-visit another of the town’s quartet of signal boxes and spend a few hours on Wednesday, 18 August 2021, photographing trains and signals at Sutton Bridge Junction.

175102 approaches Sutton Bridge with 1W54 from Milford Haven (07.03) to Manchester Piccadilly

The signal box at Sutton Bridge Junction controls the junction of the Cambrian lines to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli with the Marches Line to Hereford and Newport, as well an up goods loop, access to Coleham Yard on the west side of the line and was once junction for the Severn Valley Line to Bridgnorth and Hartlebury.

Among the ten semaphores controlled by its 61-lever frame is motor-worked down distant SUB59, now the last working lower quadrant distant signal on our national rail network, which can be glimpsed from the main road running alongside the line, as seen above, but is tantalisingly difficult to photograph, owing to line-side vegetation. Both up distant signals controlled by Sutton Bridge Junction are colour lights.

Old and new liveries as 175106 in the ATW colours working 1W52 from Milford Haven (05.54) to Manchester Piccadilly passes 175109 on 1V38 from Manchester Piccadilly (08.31) to Carmarthen

Photographing trains passing the other Sutton Bridge semaphores was more straightforward, with a footbridge and road bridge on either side of the box giving good views north and south, while two footbridges to the south give you the chance to see down starter SUB57 and section signal SUB56.

A view of the signal box, with the closed footbridge on the left and the red brick arch on the right which was the route of the Severn Valley Line

Another footbridge, this time on the Cambrian Line, is close to that route’s up outer home SUB11.

158818/840 approach Sutton Bridge Junction on 13 May 2017 with a service for Aberystwyth

But in the period since my previous visit here four years ago, the footbridge north of the signal box has been “temporarily” closed due to its unsafe condition, meaning it is now impossible to get shots like the one above of the lower quadrant junction signals and Coleham Yard on the left. 

158834/818 approach SUB11 with 1I12 from Aberystwyth (09.30) to Birmingham International

Semaphore signalling in the Shrewsbury area is a curious mixture of upper and lower quadrant signals and that is a feature of those at Sutton Bridge Junction, where SUB12, the up inner home signal on the Cambrian Line, remains a traditional GWR lower quadrant along with a bracket holding down home signals SUB54 (Marches Line) and SUB58 (Cambrian Line), with all the others being upper quadrant.

175008 passes signal SUB57 with 1V39 from Manchester Piccadilly (10.31) to Milford Haven (above) then passes down section signal SUB56 (below)

Passenger traffic passing Sutton Bridge Junction currently comprises hourly Class 175-worked services between Manchester Piccadilly and Carmarthen/Milford Haven, two-hourly Class 158-worked services between Aberystwyth/Pwllheli and Birmingham International (subject to numerous cancellations) and irregular single coach Class 153 units on Heart of Wales Line services operating between Shrewsbury and Swansea.

66110 passes Sutton Bridge Junction with its freight from Dee Marsh to Margam

As I noted on a visit to the Marches Line boxes at Leominster and Woofferton Junction earlier in the year, freight traffic along the Marches Line has become pretty sparse, with the one service I saw on 18 August 2021 being the same one I had photographed at Leominster, a working from Dee Marsh to Margam, which passed Sutton Bridge at 10.51.

66110 approaches signal SUB57 with its train from Dee Marsh to Margam

One other notable working on the day of my visit to Shrewsbury was a test train comprising 67017, four mark IV coaches and DVT 82216 working a regular diagram 5J41 from Cardiff Canton (10.55) to Wrexham General and passing at 13.16 (11 minutes early). It will be good to see this formation on many Holyhead-Cardiff and Manchester-Carmarthen services once TfW’s testing and refurbishment programme is complete.

67017 approaches signal SUB4 with its test run from Cardiff to Wrexham

Having got most of the shots I wanted from the four vantage points around Sutton Bridge Junction, I made a brief detour on my return to the railway station to visit Laura’s Tower within the grounds of Shrewsbury Castle, where there is a wonderful vantage point from which to see the southern end of the station, the array of semaphore signals and Severn Bridge Junction Signal Box. 

The two views here show 150229/262 departing with 1I48 from Holyhead (11.49) to Birmingham International, firstly passing the station’s most notable signals (SBJ11 – above) then heading east towards Abbey Foregate Signal Box, where both upper and lower quadrant signals are evident. Laura’s Tower is a must visit for any enthusiast visiting Shrewsbury and is completely free to enter whenever the Castle is open to visitors.