Return to Tondu

THREE YEARS after my previous visit (blog: 17 January 2019) it is time to make a return to Tondu and attempt to get some shots north and south of the station featuring a trio of the numerous lower quadrant semaphores that survive here.

My challenge on 8 March 2022 was to see the hourly services to and from Maesteg passing the three signals I had not photographed before – down outer home signal TU64 from the platform end at Sarn, along with down section signal TU57 and up outer home TU2 from a bridge north of Tondu station.

For those unfamiliar with South Wales, Tondu is one of only four surviving outposts of mechanical signalling in the region, with the former Tondu Middle Signal Box (a Great Western Railway Type 3 design from 1884) controlling the only passing place along the eight-mile long branch line from Bridgend to Maesteg. 

Having been lucky enough to visit the box (courtesy of Network Rail) on my January 2019 visit I had seen that no less than 60 of the 65 levers in the box remain operational, though regular passenger services will only pass five semaphores – three in the down direction and two in the up (Bridgend-bound) direction.

170205 approaches Tondu with 2G58 from Maesteg (11.15) to Gloucester

Tondu nominally remains a junction, with the remaining semaphore signals controlling entry and exit from the mothballed diversionary route to Margam, as well as a surviving stub of the closed branch line to Blaengarw, which has remained to allow any train from the Margam direction to cross and clear the Maesteg line so that a loco can run round its train and continue towards Bridgend, or vice versa. 

175108 approaches down section signal TU57 with 1Z92 from Cardiff Central (11.20) to Maesteg – the replacement for a scheduled and heavily-delayed service from Holyhead

The hourly weekday services passing Tondu comprise Class 170 and 175-worked services between Maesteg and a number of destinations ranging from Cheltenham Spa or Gloucester to Cardiff and Holyhead.

170205 passes signal TU64 with 2L49 from Cheltenham Spa (08.46) to Maesteg

Alighting on my latest visit at Sarn it was possible to get a reasonable shot of the Maesteg-bound train passing down outer home signal TU64, before taking a rather circuitous 25-minute walk to Tondu station.

175108 approaches Tondu with 1W94 from Maesteg (12.17) to Holyhead

Here there is a good vantage point from a footbridge near the signal box to see up services approaching the bracket on which the up home signal TU3 is alongside another signal (TU9) for the Margam route, then pausing in front of the signal box to surrender the single line token for the section from Maesteg.

From this footbridge there is a path leading west towards a main road (A4063), where taking a right turn and continuing for around 300 yards brings you to a footpath that leads to another footbridge over the line, close to down section signal TU57.

170205 passes Tondu Signal Box with 2G58 from Maesteg (11.15) to Gloucester

Looking north from here you will see another signal (TU26) protecting exit from the out- of-use loop, but up outer home signal TU2 is sadly out of sight round the left hand curve in the line, with no vantage point to photograph it that I could discover.

170272 departs Tondu with 2L53 from Gloucester (11.00) to Maesteg

Re-signalling has been on the cards at Tondu for a long time, but nothing has yet to be done although Network Rail has previously said that this would take place in January 2023. Meantime the route to Margam remains signalled, but out of use, exactly as it was on my January 2019 visit, when I remember being told that a decision would soon be taken on its future by the Welsh Government!

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