After visits earlier this year to Leominster, Woofferton Junction and Sutton Bridge Junction, it is time to pay a return on 20 October 2021 to the southernmost outpost of mechanical signalling on the charming Marches Line between Shrewsbury and Newport.
Abergavenny is a delightful spot to watch and photograph trains, with an attractive 160-year old Grade II Listed station building and a Great Western Railway timber signal box from 1934 standing south of the station and controlling a total of 11 semaphores from its 52-lever frame.
These semaphores comprise four on the up main line, four on the down main, with two controlling entry and exit to a loop on the up side of the line and one controlling exit from a refuge siding on the down side of the line just south of the signal box.
The best place to photograph trains and semaphores is from the recently-restored station footbridge, which stands at the south end of the station, very close to down (southbound) home signal AY50, and looks out to the south on a section of straight track approaching the station past the signal box and goods sidings/loop.
From here there is a great view of trains as they pass home signal AY3 then after passing the signal box on the east side of the line, passing starter signal AY4 at the end of sidings on the up (west) side of the line.
Looking to the north there is a good view of section signal AY5 at the end of the long up platform, after which the lines sweep away in a right hand curve. Out of sight from the station is down outer home signal AY51, which can be seen and photographed from another footbridge over the line and, beyond it, from a bridge carrying the B4233 over the railway.
The trio of Abergavenny’s semaphores that seem impossible to photograph are down section signal AY42 and up outer home AY2, which is on a bracket with another arm controlling access to the up loop. These are all out of sight from the station as the line curves left and over a junction on the A465.
Passenger services passing – and almost all stopping – at Abergavenny comprise hourly services between Manchester Piccadilly and either Carmarthen or Milford Haven and two-hourly services between Holyhead and Cardiff Central, a few of which are now loco-powered with a Class 67 loco, four MkIV coaches and a driving van trailer (DVT).
While the weather for my Wednesday visit was not as grim as forecast – sun being a bigger problem than storms – my time in Abergavenny got off to a disappointing start when 175011 deputised for loco haulage on 1W93, the 11.32 Cardiff Central to Holyhead.
The diagrammed set, comprising DB 67014 and DVT 82226, arrived at Newport at 10.45 on a test run from Cardiff while I was on the station, and returned to the Welsh capital a few minutes later, with one of the staff on board assuring me that a technical problem had been resolved and the set would be returning to traffic.
As I commented in my previous Marches Line blogs, freight traffic along this route is pretty sparse, and once again the only service to pass during the hours I spent at Abergavenny on 20 October was the regular working from Dee Marsh to Margam, which appeared 52 minutes ahead of schedule at 12.30, hauled by 66152.
The attractive station at Abergavenny was designed by Charles Liddell, Chief Engineer of the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway (NA&HR), in an Italianate and using a local pink sandstone, with a roof of roofs and stone chimneys. In 1860 the NA&HR amalgamated with other railways to form theWest Midland Railway, which then amalgamated with the Great Western Railway in 1863.
In addition to the normal facilities of a staffed station (commendably staffed until 18.45 daily), Abergavenny also houses a family-run café and a physiotherapist business, while in January 2021 TfW announced that the Railway Heritage Trust was giving financial support to the development of an art gallery in another disused part of the station building.