Seeing Hitachi Class 80x IET units passing semaphore signals has become an everyday sight on GWR services in Cornwall, but there is only one place in England where LNER Azuma trains are regularly signalled by semaphores.
While there are numerous locations on the Highland and East Coast Main Lines north of the border to see Azumas and semaphores, the only location to witness such a combination in England is at remote Swinderby, mid-way between Newark and Lincoln.
Such sights were destined to be short-lived. In August 2020 Network Rail announced a project to re-signal the Newark-Lincoln route that was due to be implemented later this year (2022), with modernisation of 14 level crossings, closure of Swinderby Signal Box and control of the route taken over by Lincoln Signalling Control Centre.
But the money has run out, so the entire route modernisation project has been put on hold, meaning that the future of Swinderby Signal Box is secure for at least the next couple of years.
Paying only my second visit to this charming spot, with its Grade II Listed signal box and station buildings, my challenge on 26 January 2022 was to capture some of these Class 80x units passing the Swinderby semaphores on the off-peak workings between Lincoln Central and London King’s Cross that had not been introduced at the time of my previous visit here in June 2019.
Taking advantage once again of the remarkably cheap advance purchase tickets that are on offer at this time of year (London-Swinderby return for a total of £24.30 with railcard) the three hours I spent at Swinderby meant a chance to see three Azuma services – the 11.27 ex-Lincoln Central being temporarily cancelled.
That was in addition to the regular EMR local services, formed of Class 156/8 and 170 units and comprising regular workings between Leicester and Lincoln Central or Grimsby Town, most of which call at Swinderby, along with occasional services between Newark North Gate and Lincoln.
Freight traffic is pretty sparse along this route, but my luck was in when GBRf 66783 passed through Swinderby at around 12.45 with 6M75, a train load of imported coal en route from Immingham to Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, across the county border in Nottinghamshire and one of the last three coal-fired power plants in the UK.
For those missed my previous feature, Swinderby is a small village mid-way between Newark and Lincoln, close to the A46 Fosse Way and best known for RAF Swinderby. This opened in September 1940, was home to more than 3,000 trainee airmen by 1943 and continued training RAF recruits until its closure half a century later in 1993.
Its railway station, some distance north of the village, has a rather longer history, having been built by the Midland Railway in about 1850 and now being a collection of buildings that includes the station, station master’s house and 1901-vintage signal box which enjoy a Grade II Listing.
The listing citation describes Swinderby’s main station building – on the up side of the line – as being in an Italianate style, with deeply overhanging eaves, round-arched windows on the ground floor, and a two-storey polygonal bay on the corner. The adjacent signal box was listed by virtue of being part of the group of station buildings.
It is a Midland Railway type 3a box with an original 16-lever frame, being a wooden structure with what is known as a hipped slate roof, and a single finial. The lower section is barge boarded above glazing bar windows on three sides, with iron steps and iron balcony.
Swinderby controls four semaphores, with home and section signals in each direction, while its distant signals are both colour lights. In the down direction, SY1 is the colour light distant, followed by down home SY2 with a sighting board behind, which stands close to a foot crossing not far from the station, and down section signal SY3 north of the station and level crossing.
In the up (southbound) direction, colour light distant signal SY16 is followed by up home signal SY15 standing north of the signal box and almost opposite SY3, with section signal SY14 close to the foot crossing of the line south of the station.
Besides the box and station buildings, another increasingly rare period feature at Swinderby is its hand-worked wooden level crossing gates, which are locked by an Annett’s Key. What seems curious here is the single gate on the north side of the road only closing off only half of the railway line (photo below).