RE-OPENING of signal boxes is something of a rarity in a world where closures are far more commonplace, so another mini-break in the Scottish capital meant a chance for a couple of rail and bus trips to see and photograph two boxes north of the border that are now back in daily use.
Most recent of the re-openings is Greenloaning, a remote village just off the A9 north of Dunblane, which had been routinely switched out for years until daily re-opening last month, while re-opened to coincide with the launch of Montrose-Inverurie local services is another remote box at Craigo, mid-way between Montrose and Laurencekirk.
Greenloaning stands between two other surviving boxes at Dunblane to the south and Blackford to the north, both having some semaphore interest, with a 32-lever frame in the 1891-vintage Caledonian Railway box controlling home and section semaphores on the main line, as well as junction signals for goods loops that have been disconnected.
Best known of its semaphore quartet is up section signal GL27, which has the distinction of being one of only two remaining co-acting semaphores to survive on Network Rail, following the loss early last year of the one at Cantley – the other survivor being at Helsby and featured in my post of 6 April 2022.
Getting to Greenloaning is pretty straightforward, with a one-hour rail trip from Edinburgh to Dunblane and a 12-minute journey on a Stagecoach 15A bus from the Police Station, three minutes’ walk from the rail station. This takes you to a stop called Millhill View, close to the road over-bridge that is the best vantage point.
From this bridge there is a view to the south of GL27 that is no longer obstructed by phone cables, as it had been on my only previous visit here in December 2016, along with down home GL5 and a small arm GL9 alongside controlling access to the currently disconnected down goods loop.
Looking north, the signal box can be seen beyond the two disconnected goods loops, then up home signal GL29 on another bracket where a small arm (GL25) controls access to the disconnected up goods loop, with down section signal GL7 beyond as the line curves to the left.
Regular day-time passenger traffic passing Greenloaning comprises hourly Class 158/170-worked services between Glasgow Queen Street and Dundee and longer- distance workings between Aberdeen/Inverness and Glasgow/Edinburgh, which are predominantly formed of 4/5-car Inter7City HST sets, but also feature Class 158s/170s.
But draconian temporary cuts to Scotrail timetables that were introduced a week before my visit (on 23 May 2022) significantly reduced the number of passenger services I was able to see at Greenoaning on 30 May and also at Craigo, on my visit there the following day (31 May).
Among the limited amount of freight traffic scheduled to pass Greenloaning is a path around midday for a working from the newly-installed Highland Springs sidings at nearby Blackford to Mossend, although this did not appear and is yet to commence operation.
A day after my trip to Greenloaning it was time to pay a visit to the very last box along the East Coast Main Line I had yet to see, with a trip to Craigo, involving a one hour 45 minute bargain-priced 90-mile trip to Montrose (£3.30 advance single with railcard) in one of the comfortable Inter7City HST sets, then another 12-minute £2.10 bus ride, this time on a Stagecoach 9 minibus.
Like Greenloaning, Craigo is a Caledonian Railway box, which dates from 1907, boasts a 21-lever frame and controls four semaphore arms, most notable of which is down home signal CO16. This stands on a lattice post immediately in front of the signal box and can be seen and photographed from a road over-bridge to the south and a road alongside.
The box here had also been routinely “switched out” for many years, but as I had learned from a fellow and local enthusiast on my March 2022 visit to Carmont, it re-opened on a regular basis when Montrose-Inverurie “Aberdeen Crossrail” local services began in 2018.
From the road over-bridge, which is just yards from where the 9 bus stops, there is a good view looking south of up section signal CO14, while looking towards the signal box there are views of the two home signals CO16 (down) and CO12 (up) though, annoyingly, encroaching and rather colourful vegetation means it is impossible to get an unobstructed shot of a passing train framed by the two signals, as seen above.
One signal not in view from the bridge is down section signal CO15, some way north of the signal box. To get a reasonable side-on view of a train approaching it I took a ten-minute walk, following a footpath signed to Marykirk Bridge, close to which is an open field with a good view of the railway embankment and signal, as seen above.
Traffic passing Craigo on 31 May was a bit more varied that the previous day’s visit to Greenloaning, and comprised a mixture of Class 170 and Inter7City HSTs on services between Aberdeen and Glasgow/Edinburgh, Class 158s on the Montrose-Inverurie workings, a couple of LNER Class 800 Azumas on services between Aberdeen and King’s Cross and Colas 70805 on the regular working of cement tanks from Oxwellmains Lafarge near Dunbar to Aberdeen Craiginches.
Returning to Montrose was a chance to see again another Scottish signal box that is enjoying a new lease of life. The listed Montrose North box (North British Railway, 1871) had been closed for a number of years before being re-opened in 2010 as part of a re-signalling scheme that led to closure of the boxes at Montrose South and Usan, and two of its three semaphores can be seen from the station platform (photo below).