Favourite photo-spots: Pembrey & Burry Port

Returning to one of the last two outposts of semaphores on the South Wales Main Line, my aim on Friday, 5 August 2022 had been to photograph new TfW Class 231 “FLIRT” trains passing the doomed semaphores at Pembrey & Burry Port while on test runs between Swansea and Carmarthen. 

But despite seeing a handful of the new Stadler units on Cardiff Canton depot as I passed by on my way to Pembrey, and regular Swansea-Carmarthen paths being shown on Realtime Trains, none of the new units was in action and passing services remained the usual diet of Class 153 and 175 units. 

153320/922 pass signal PY10 with 2E22 from Swansea (11.41) to Pembroke Dock

As I wrote following my previous visit to Pembrey in April 2021, time is almost up for the semaphores here and at Ferryside, with re-signalling of the 35 route miles from Swansea to Whitland due to be completed in just over a year’s time (September 2023). 

175001 approaches Pembrey with 1V35 from Cardiff Central (10.49) to Carmarthen

Network Rail’s planned Port Talbot West Re-signalling Phase 2 (PTW2) means control of the route from Swansea West Loop (215m 14ch) to Whitland (250m 0ch) would pass to the Wales Railway Operating Centre (ROC) at Cardiff, with closure of four signal boxes – Pembrey, Kidwelly, Ferryside and Carmarthen Junction. 

175006 departs Pembrey with 1W62 from Milford Haven (11.05) to Manchester Piccadilly

So for just one more year the impressive former Pembrey East Signal Box (Great Western Railway, Type 7, from 1907) continues to control this section of the busy main line, with a total of five semaphores remaining on it 83-lever frame. 

153329/968 depart Pembrey with 2E13 from Pembroke Dock (11.09) to Swansea

That quintet comprises an up outer home signal PY82 at the end of platform 1 and an up inner home PY81 close to the signal box and protecting the level crossing. The down trio are home signal PY7 on a bracket some distance east of the level crossing, starter PY9 standing between the two running lines east of the station and section signal PY10 around 200 hundred yards west of the station.

153362/910 approach signal PY81 with 1B97 from Fishguard Harbour (12.50) to Cardiff Central

Two of the five semaphores look to be in need of a spot of TLC, with the signal arm of PY9 above the horizontal when in the on position, and seemingly left in the off position for much of the time, while up home PY81 is at rather less than a 45 degree angle when in the off position, as seen above. 

175103 approaches Pembrey with 1V37 from Manchester Piccadilly (09.15) to Milford Haven

By far the best vantage point for photographing the signals and box is a footbridge just east of the station, but other worthwhile shots of trains passing semaphores are from the western end of up platform 1, from the B4311 town by-pass, on what is called New Road Tunnel to the east of the station (photos above and below), and from the level crossing.

175001 passes Pembrey Signal Box with 1W64 from Carmarthen (13.00) to Manchester Piccadilly

Since my April 2019 visit there has been some change in regular passenger traffic, with the restoration of through Swansea-Pembroke Dock services meaning the regular appearance of pairs of Class 153s on these services, and on occasional workings to and from Fishguard Harbour, along with Class 175 services between Milford Haven/Carmarthen and Cardiff/Manchester. 

153968/329 pass signal PY7 with 2E24 from Swansea (13.51) to Pembroke Dock

On a fine summer’s day, Burry Port is a pleasant place to spend a few hours looking at the soon-to-be-lost railway scene, with a good range of shops and facilities close to the station. In these inflationary times it was particularly pleasing to see that the Portobello Inn, just outside the station, is still selling Felinfoel Brewery’s Double Dragon for a very reasonable £2.50 a pint.

153329/968 pass Pembrey Signal Box with 2E13 from Pembroke Dock (11.09) to Swansea
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