New trains and semaphores on the Borderlands Line

Along with the semaphores at Gobowen which I featured last month (2 October 2021) one other outpost of mechanical signalling in this area is at Penyffordd, a remote station along the 27-mile long Borderlands Line linking Wrexham with Bidston on the Wirral.

Penyffordd is a quiet and pleasant spot that is seven miles north of Wrexham, where a relatively modern (BR London Midland Region, 1972) signal box controls a handful of semaphores from its 25-lever frame, as well as releasing a ground frame controlling access to a nearby cement works.

150230 arrives at Penyffordd with the delayed 2F60 from Wrexham General (11.50) to Bidston

Big changes are afoot on the sleepy Borderlands Line, with its current Class 150-worked hourly service, operated by Transport for Wales (TfW), due to be replaced in May 2022 by a half-hourly service worked by hybrid (battery/diesel) Class 230 units, created from former London Underground D78 stock.

230009 in the sidings at Chester awaiting its next test run

Like the two-car third-rail variants of the former D78 LU stock now entering service on the Isle of Wight (Class 484), introduction of the Class 230 units has been beset by problems and delays. Having originally been due to enter service in May 2019, the first of the five-strong three-car TfW fleet (230006-010) only arrived at its new Wrexham base in July 2020.

230008 departs Shotton with its first test run of the day (5T01) from Chester to Bidston

Day-time traffic passing Penyffordd is largely confined to the hourly Class 150-worked passenger services, some of which are replaced by a bus while testing of the new Class 230 units takes place. The regular Dee Marsh-Margam freight also passes here, and there are almost daily workings to and from the cement works. 

150267 departs Penyffordd with the delayed 2J59 from Bidston (11.34) to Wrexham General

Since July 2020 an extensive process of training and mileage accumulation runs have been taking place with the new Class 230 units along the Borderlands Line, bringing some welcome extra rail action to a couple of hours spent on Wednesday, 10 November 2021 at Penyffordd station. 

230008 passes signal PD22 with 5T12 (ecs) from Bidston to Wrexham General

I had already seen most of the new fleet before even reaching Penyffordd, noting 230010 on Crewe South depot, then 230006/009 both stabled in the sidings at Chester, while my first sighting of 230008 was as it passed Shotton High Level on its first test run of the day to Bidston.

230006 in the sidings at Chester

After that midday view at Shotton, I was then able to see and photograph 230008 passing Penyffordd bound for Wrexham General at 13.20 and then again as it passed through – non-stop this time – bound for Bidston at around 14.10.

150230 departs Penyffordd with the delayed 2F60 from Wrexham General (11.50) to Bidston

Passengers using the Borderlands Line must be a long-suffering lot, if my experience on 10 November was anything to go by, with half the hourly service replaced by buses and what trains that did run being, in most cases, hopelessly late, not helped by a boat having struck a bridge somewhere towards the northern end of the route!

Signal PD3 can just be seen at the foot of the gradient as 150230 approaches with a Bidston service

The quintet of semaphores at Penyffordd, all of which can be seen from the station platforms, comprise up (southbound) starter PD22 just south of the station, close to down home signal PD2, while to the north and some distance away are up home PD23, up outer home PD24 and down section signal PD3, just visible in the far distance. Penyffordd also boasted a down semaphore distant signal (PD1) until its replacement by a colour light at the end of 2019.

150230 passes PD23 with the delayed 2J61 from Bidston (12.34) to Wrexham General

Photographing trains passing PD22 and PD2 is easy, with vantage points from both platforms, with the best view of up home signals PD23 and PD24 being from the north end of the down platform, next to the signal box.

230008 approaches Shotton High Level with 5T01 from Chester via Wrexham to Bidston

For anyone tempted to pay a visit to Penyffordd and travel there by rail via Shotton, I can highly recommend the Wetherspoon-owned Central Hotel adjacent to the High Level station, where Bombardier and Hobgoblin beers were on offer when I visited at a quite remarkable £1.10 a pint!

230008 approaches Penyffordd at 14.10 with its final run of the day to Bidston (5T03)