Following my May trip to the Cornish seaside resort of Newquay aboard one of the first direct summer services from London Paddington, it is time to visit another popular seaside resort on the opposite side of the country and mark its post-pandemic return of summer specials.
The Lincolnshire resort of Skegness may not be seeing seasonal connections to match the daily Newquay services, but on Saturdays from the day of my visit (23 July 2022) until 10 September it will be receiving what I believe are the first ever workings to be operated along the Poacher Line by East Midlands Railway (EMR) Class 180 units.
For this brief eight-week period, EMR is running two Saturdays-only Derby-Skegness round trips using its Class 180 fleet, departing Derby at 07.58 and 09.23 and returning from Skegness at 11.42 and 13.44, with three of the four services only calling at Sleaford and Boston, but a Grantham call (10.27/10.34) in the 09.23 ex-Derby.
That means the rare chance to see two trains standing in the spacious six platform terminus, which normally hosts just one hourly Nottingham-Skegness working that will arrive and leave from platform 4, the only one that seems to see regular use and one of only three (platforms 3-5) that are apparently still usable.
As I wrote in May, a Grade II-Listed box Great Northern Railway (GNR) signal box dating from 1882 – extended in 1900 when its 80-lever frame was installed – stands at the end of platforms 3 & 4. Alongside the box are exit signals from platform 2/3/4/5/7, with shunting arms beneath those for platforms 2/4/5 and discs for platforms 3 and 7.
Other semaphores controlled by Skegness Signal Box are down home and outer home signals, along with an up section signal and a fixed down distant signal beyond it. Finally there is a seldom-used carriage siding and run-round loop to the north of the line on the approach to the station, with a shunting arm controlling exit from it.
Skegness Signal Box was described in its listing as “a rare example of a timber-framed Type 1 GNR box, and the largest of this type to survive…both external and internal detail survive well, including its lever frame.” From an historical perspective, the 1900 enlargement “illustrates the need to accommodate a longer frame as the amount of track at the station expanded in response to the increase of traffic.”
EMR has four of the 14-strong Class 180 fleet (180109-111/113), with the remaining ten units now with Grand Central. They came from Hull Trains and began working on the Midland Mainline in December 2020 as temporary replacements for HSTs, and will operate alongside the Class 222 Meridian units until next year (2023), when both fleets are due to be replaced by new bi-mode Class 810 Aurora units.
My plan on Saturday, 23 July was to photograph the summer season’s very first 180 as it stood in the station after arrival at 10.26, then walk to a foot crossing on the station approach to capture its 11.42 departure and arrival of the second Class 180 service at 12.09, before taking one of the regular services back as far as Heckington, where I planned to photograph the 13.44 ex-Skegness as it passed non-stop.
The inaugural Skegness summer specials were appropriately worked by the first and last of the small EMR fleet, with 180109 on 1S01 from Derby (07.58) and 1S02 from Skegness at 11.42 while 180113 formed 1S03 (09.23 from Derby) and 1S04 from Skegness (13.42).
While I was rather surprised by the apparent lack of enthusiast interest in these workings, seeing no one with a camera either at Skegness or Heckington, it was good to note a fairly large volume of passengers aboard the three 180 services I was able to see in service.
Regular Nottingham-Skegness workings continued to use platform 4 at Skegness on 23 July, with the Class 180 services arriving and departing from platform 5, but it was interesting to note that the rails in platform 3 had also seen some recent use.
Alighting for an hour at Heckington on my return journey to Grantham meant time not just to photograph 180113 as it passed with IS04 to Derby but also pay a quick visit to the 8 Sails Brewery, below the unique windmill and just outside the station, where a pint of Fenman’s Bitter (4.1% and £2.90 a pint) went down rather well.