Kent’s last semaphore signals

TEN YEARS after a major re-signalling project in East Kent led to the loss of mechanical signalling at Canterbury East and at Shepherdswell, near Dover, there remains one place in the Garden of England where our fastest domestic trains are controlled by semaphore signals.

When that East Kent re-signalling project was completed at the end of 2011 it left an isolated outpost of mechanical signalling at Deal, where a handful of semaphores remain controlled by its 1939-vintage art deco style signal box, known as a Southern Railway Type 13, which also controls a level crossing just north of the station. 

Making a first return to Deal for more than five years, my visit there on Monday, 13 December 2021 coincided with a significant enhancement to the South Eastern timetable, as it was the day that marked the return of weekday off-peak fast services worked by the 140mph Class 395 “Javelin” units. 

395006 departs Deal with the delayed 10.34 from St. Pancras International to Ramsgate (1J24)

During the previous pandemic timetable, which has just ended, there were only two peak-time Class 395 services from Deal to London St. Pancras at 06.23 and 06.53, but from 13 December there are also six off-peak from Ramsgate to London services, departing Deal at hourly intervals from 09.31 until 14.31. 

Deal is one of many SR Type 13 signal boxes built by the Southern Railway in what is known as the Odeon or glasshouse style, with a model of it produced by Hornby. Another working example can be found at Bognor Regis, while there are preserved examples at Horsham, Wimbledon, Woking and Portsmouth Harbour. 

This plan of the station area (above) comes from an RAIB report into a fatal accident on 29 July 2006 and shows its quintet of semaphores, comprising a down (northbound) outer home signal (EBZ41) and down home EBZ40 at the north end of platform 2, while three up signals comprise home EBZ5, starter EBZ6 and an advanced starter EBZ7, which is very close to EBZ41.

395014 departs Deal with 1J35 from Ramsgate (12.12) to St. Pancras International

On my only previous visit to the town I had concluded that this latter pair could only be glimpsed from a train or through trees from a path alongside the line in Victoria Park. But having taken a close check of the vicinity using Google street view, it appeared that they could also be seen from a cul-de-sac called Ravenscourt Road.

Before heading there, I also wanted to see if it was possible to photograph up home EBZ5, which is not visible from the level crossing alongside the signal box. So seeing that there was another level crossing to the north, I headed NE from the crossing along Western Road, before taking a left turn into Northwall Road, which leads to this second crossing of the line. 

395006 passes EBZ5 with 1J39 from Ramsgate (13.12) to St. Pancras International

The user worked crossing here is kept closed to traffic, with any vehicle driver required to use a lever to pump open the gates, while pedestrians use a side gate with a light to warn of an approaching train. As I had hoped, this crossing gives a good view of EBZ5, which stands beyond a down colour light signal (EBZ39), around 150 yards south of the crossing and with a huge white sighting board behind the signal arm.

395009 passes EBZ41 with 1J32 from St. Pancras International (12.37) to Ramsgate

My next challenge was to see if it was possible to photograph EBZ7 and EBZ41 from the vantage point that appeared to exist at the end of Ravenscourt Road. This road is only a ten-minute walk southwards from Deal station and at the end of this cul-de-sac there is a good and largely unobstructed view of the two signals, with the railway here being on a low embankment.

395022 approaches EBZ7 with 1J43 from Ramsgate (14.12) to St. Pancras International

Getting a shot of a Javelin passing the rather short down signal proved a bit of a challenge, with an awkwardly placed lineside bush not helping, but I was able to get a decent rear shot of 395022 passing EBZ7 when a Ravenscourt Road householder was kind enough to lend me a stepladder!

*Since publishing this article a reader has pointed out that there are actually two other semaphore signals in the county, protecting Grain Level Crossing on the freight-only branch from Hoo Junction.

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