Semaphores on the Harrogate Line

SIGNIFICANT CHANGES have taken place on the charming Harrogate Line since my last visit two years ago (blog 8 September 2019) but for now, at least, most of the remarkable mechanical signalling interest remains along the 17½ miles of route between Harrogate and Poppleton, on the northern outskirts of York.

Over the course of the delightful 35-minute trip from York you will pass no less than 11 locations that feature some semaphore signalling, comprising six signal boxes – Poppleton, Hammerton, Cattal, Knaresborough, Starbeck and Harrogate – along with five gate boxes at Hessay, Marston Moor, Wilstrop, Whixley and Belmont.

Having visited and photographed the trio of gate boxes between Hammerton and Poppleton on my 2019 visit and walk, the challenge this time was to get shots of a number of signals that I had not been able to visit then, or on my only previous visit to the line exactly five years ago. 

170473 approaches signal H56 with 2C34 from Leeds (10.55) to York

Starting my day (Wednesday, 19 January 2021) by travelling from King’s Cross to York with Grand Central for a remarkable £20.30 return (advance singles with railcard) I then travelled on to Harrogate, where a first challenge was to see if a footbridge north-east of the station gave the view I was hoping for of down (Leeds-bound) outer home signal H22 and up (York-bound) section signal H56.

170459 passes down outer home signal H22 with 2C33 from York (11.11) to Leeds

These are the only two of the seven semaphores controlled by the former Harrogate North Signal Box that are not clearly visible from the station platforms and can both be seen and photographed from this footbridge, which crosses the line as it sweeps left towards the station, with the end of a new down siding visible on the left.

170474 departs Harrogate with 2C28 from Leeds (11.29) to York

Standing at the north end of platform 1 – opposite the signal box – gives you a good view of the other five semaphores, which comprise up home H57 alongside H59 protecting the middle line, with H44 controlling exit from sidings on the up side of the line and down home H23 standing on a gantry some distance beyond, with a short shunting arm beneath the main signal.

170475 approaches Harrogate with 2C85 from York (11.43) to Leeds

What has changed here since my only previous visit is installation of a light (H50) at the north end of platform 3, immediately in front of the signal box, with a two-light feather below to signal the now-regular (two-hourly off-peak) terminating LNER services from King’s Cross into the new down siding. 

LNER Azuma 800113 enters the down siding after arrival with 1D89 from King’s Cross

From Harrogate my next stop was Starbeck, where the only remaining semaphore is up outer home signal SB2 that can be seen from the station platform, as seen below.

170475 passes signal SB2 with 2C32 from Leeds (12.29) to York

Another nearby location to retain a solitary semaphore is Belmont Level Crossing, a ten-minute walk from Starbeck station, where up home signal No. 1 can be photographed from the crossing (photo below).

170459 at Belmont Level Crossing with 2C38 from Leeds (11.59) to York

Continuing my journey back to York and passing the remarkable Listed box at Knaresborough, my next call was at Cattal, where the only remaining signalling interest is down home signal C2, which stands adjacent to a level crossing immediately opposite the diminutive signal box and is mounted above a distant signal (WH1R) controlled by Whixley Level Crossing, around a mile to the west.

170477 departs Cattal with 2C89 from York (13.42) to Leeds

The 2020 upgrade programme saw a slight extension of double track to the west of the station, with elimination of semaphore up home signal C14 and its replacement with a light that stands beyond an overbridge to the west. Further back along the single track to Knaresborough, Cattal’s fixed up distant has gone, while Whixley Level Crossing has gained up (WH2) and down (WH1) stop signals (lights), but also retains a semaphore up distant signal (WH2R).

170475 with 2C32 (left) passes 170477 east of Cattal working 2C89 from York (13.42)

My final stop on the journey back to York was at Hammerton, where some significant signalling changes have taken place in order to allow for the introduction of a half-hourly service frequency. The £9.8m upgrade programme, completed in November 2020, brought an end to token working on the single track sections of the line, with other improvements, such as those around Cattal. 

A new and illuminated diagram showing signalling at Wilstrop and Hammerton

Apart from the end of token working, another significant change has been replacement of Hammerton’s down distant signal H1 with a light. This signal stood out of sight from the station, around ¾ mile to east, and had the distinction of being the only wire-worked distant among those remaining along this route.

That leaves the 10-lever frame at Hammerton – whose unique housing in a large wooden cupboard on the up platform has now be commemorated with this plaque (above) – controlling three semaphores, comprising an up (eastbound) home signal H9 just beyond the level crossing gates (as seen below), an eastbound starter H8 and westbound home signal (H2).

The up platform at Hammerton showing the blue painted lever frame cover

One other signal that is visible from the platforms is up distant signal W5, controlled by Wilstrop Level Crossing. Like all the other distant signals on the section from Hammerton to Poppleton it is motor-worked, and will normally be in the off position, as Wilstrop Level Crossing is only opened to road traffic on request.

170458 approaches Wilstrop up distant W5 with 2C36 from Leeds (13.29) to York

The Harrogate-York route survived proposed closure by Beeching in the early 1960s and, after rationalisation in the early 1970s, saw both Hammerton-Poppleton and Knaresborough-Cattal reduced to single track, steady growth in passenger traffic led to the doubling in service frequency to half-hourly, following the 2020 upgrade project

170473 arrives at Hammerton with 2C64 from Leeds (13.59) to York

There was none of the rolling stock variety I had noted on my previous 2019 visit, with all services in the hands of 3-car Class 170 units and a total of five (170458/9/73/4/5) in use on 19 January. Reliability seemed extremely good, with all services running to time and only one cancellation during the time I was travelling the line.

Hammerton’s 10-lever frame with the now-shortened lever 1
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