As another year blighted by the spectre of COVID-19 draws to a close, and all the signs are that we are about to face another winter of travel restrictions, this seems a good moment to briefly cast aside health worries and take a look back at some UK railway images of the past year.
Despite not being able to take any rail trips until late April, I was fortunate enough to be able to make numerous trips around the country in the following months, so what follows is a selection of 21 favourite images from 2021.
Rather than going chronologically through the year as I have done in previous annual reviews, I have grouped this selection geographically, beginning in Scotland, then featuring other visits to the North-West, North-East, Midlands, North and South Wales and finally the South and South-West.
Our tour of Britain begins with the eagerly-awaited Lumo service between Edinburgh and London, with a shot at the top of this feature showing 803001 approaching Prestonpans on 25 October 2021 with the inaugural day 16.12 service from Edinburgh Waverley to King’s Cross (1E86).
Heading next onto the Highland Main Line, where on the first of two trips north of Perth I spent an early summer day at Blair Atholl, as seen above, where Inter7City HST set, powered by 43183/028, departs on 5 June 2021 with 1B31 from Inverness (12.49) to Edinburgh Waverley.
Returning to the route in rather different weather conditions, this view shows the line’s most northerly remaining outpost of mechanical signalling at Kingussie on 27 October 2021, where LNER 800104 is about to depart with the up Highland Chieftain (1E13) to London King’s Cross as 66743/73369 wait with the heavily-delayed Inverness portion of the Caledonian Sleeper (1S25) from London Euston.
For another look at an LNER Azuma in Scotland, I took a bus from Arbroath to the remote village of Inverkeilor on 8 June 2021, where this view of the signal box and former station site shows 800109 passing with 1W02 from Leeds (07.08) to Aberdeen.
Like Scotland, North-West England retains some charming outposts of semaphore signalling, so on 27 April 2021 I paid a return visit to Helsby Junction, between Chester and Warrington, where this view (above) from Bank House Lane shows TfW 150258 approaching the station with 1D36 from Manchester Airport (11.35) to Chester
The following month it was time for a return to the wonderful Cumbrian Coast and a pause on the way at Barrow-in-Furness, where this view of the station scene from the bridge next to the Holker Street football ground shows 156472 arriving with 2C50 from Carlisle (11.07) on 4 May 2021 as 156447 and 195130 await their next turns.
My ultimate destination was Foxfield, where change was afoot. Up distant signal FD1 had been motorised just before my 5 May 2021 visit, with down distant signal FD51, seen here as 156475 passes with 2C57 from Barrow (14.17) to Carlisle, set to be motorised only days later.
The Hope Valley Line between Manchester and Sheffield remains another highly scenic outpost of semaphore signalling, so on 2 June 2021 I spent a delightful day at remote Edale, where my pick of the day’s photos is this view looking west showing TPE 185130 halted at signal EE4 with 1B75 from Cleethorpes (10.26) to Manchester Piccadilly as 195126 approaches with 2S84 from Manchester Piccadilly (11.49) to Sheffield.
Replacement of mechanical signalling by centrally-controlled lights has been relatively limited over the past year, with the main loss occurring during the winter lockdown, when the fine collection of semaphores controlled by the boxes at Billingham and Norton-on-Tees was lost in February.
Another loss in the North-East was at Bridlington, where the fine Bridlington South Signal Box remains open, but its semaphores were swept away in October as part of a re-modelling of the southern station approach. Paying a visit there on a gloriously sunny day (17 July), this view shows 170477 departing with 1J48 from Scarborough (13.00) to Sheffield.
Among few areas in the Midlands to retain semaphore signalling is the North Staffordshire route from Stoke to Derby, where a day trip on 23 April 2021 saw me attempting to photograph some of its elusive distant signals. My pick from that day is this shot of EMR 156907 passing Scropton Crossing down distant SN19 with 1K11 from Derby (11.42) to Crewe.
My quest to photograph those rare yellow and black fishtailed arms also led to two day trips along the charming Poacher Line from Grantham to Skegness, with the photo above showing EMR 158799/156473 passing Ancaster down distant AR1 on 9 July 2021 with 2S09 from Nottingham (08.46) to Skegness.
A trip to delightful Heckington on 23 June 2021 proved less successful when it came to working distant signals, with the down distant only pulled off for trains not serving the station and the up distant not pulled off in time for the train I had gone to photograph passing it from a nearby crossing! But I was able to see DB 60062 passing with a freight from Toton to Boston (Sleaford Sidings).
Loco-haulage has become a feature of services along the important Marches Line route from Newport to Chester in recent months, as TfW has introduced a limited number of Cardiff-Holyhead services formed of a Class 67 loco and four ex-ECML MkIV coaches and a driving van trailer (DVT).
In the view above 67017 (+ DVT 82216) approaches Sutton Bridge Junction at Shrewsbury on 18 August 2021 with a test working, while the shot below features 67015 (+ DVT 82225) departing Gobowen on 1 October 2021 with 1W93 from Cardiff Central (11.22) to Holyhead.
Later in October (20th) I was again able to capture one of the three scheduled daily loco-worked services from Holyhead to Cardiff. This time on a visit to Abergavenny the combination was 67008 (+ DVT 82216) forming 1V96 from Holyhead (11.33) to Cardiff Central (photo below).
A springtime visit to North Wales was a chance to photograph trains passing semaphores controlled by the four mechanically-signalled locations on the Isle of Anglesey, at Holyhead, Valley, Ty Croes and Gaerwen.
Among these were Avanti Voyagers 221117/11 passing Ty Croes down distant signal TC1 on 12 May 2021 with 1D83 from Crewe (10.49) to Holyhead. This is one of only two semaphore distant signals in Wales (Deganwy being the other).
The two remaining outposts of semaphore signalling on the South Wales Main Line are due to be re-signalled in 2023, so it was time to revisit Pembrey & Burry Port on 30 April 2021, where TfW 175113 can be seen (above) approaching the station with 1V37 from Manchester Piccadilly (08.31) to Milford Haven.
Further west, semaphores can be found at charming Ferryside, a request stop and the final station before Carmarthen. On 10 July 2020 GWR IET 800006 passes non-stop with 1B07 from London Paddington (08.48) to Carmarthen.
Like Pembrey and Ferryside, many of the surviving semaphores in Cornwall are also scheduled to be replaced in late 2023. One of the finest locations is Par, junction for the branch to Newquay. Seen above on 2 August is GWR 158765 departing with 2P13 from Penzance (11.50) to Plymouth, while DB 66133 waits with a train load of China Clay from Goonbarrow Junction to Carne Point.
2021 was the year that train services finally resumed on the Isle of Wight, albeit seven months behind schedule and after missing an entire summer. On the somewhat troubled re-opening day (1 November 2021) units 484001/004 arrive at Brading with the 10.45 from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin.
This review began with the new Lumo service between Edinburgh and London so it is fitting to end with another landmark new service and the return of daily services between Exeter and Okehampton for the first time in 49 years. Pictured below is GWR 150221/233 at Okehampton on 22 November 2021, the first weekday of the new service, with the 11.25 to Exeter St. David’s.
*As this will be my final post of 2021 I would like to wish all my friends and readers around the world a merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year.