Having visited the route on 23 July to photograph the first day of summer specials, it seemed only right to pay a return visit to the charming Poacher Line on 10 September 2022, in order to mark the final day of seasonal Saturday EMR Class 180 workings from Derby to Skegness.
Rather than head to the coastal resort this time, my plan was to make a return to one of the quietest spots along the 58-mile line and attempt to photograph the Class 180s as they passed Hubbert’s Bridge and its pair of working semaphore distant signals.
For those who may have missed my February 2022 feature, Hubbert’s Bridge is one of numerous Poacher Line stations to only enjoy a “Parliamentary” train service – it its case this means two early morning services and three later in the day, with an eight-hour gap in between when nothing calls.
It stands 3¾-miles west of Boston and features fine replicas of traditional level crossing gates that are hand-worked by the signaller here, who is housed in a remarkable looking 1961 (British Rail, Eastern Region) signal box and also controls a total of six semaphore signals, three in each direction.
Despite leaving my home station of Haslemere at dawn (06.14) there was no prospect of being able to arrive at Hubbert’s Bridge on the only morning down train to call (06.45 Nottingham-Skegness at 08.12), so I was once again forced to take a £10.00 taxi ride back from Boston, although later able to depart by rail to return home at 15.54.
After being dropped from my taxi at 10.45 – having arrived in Boston at 10.20 – I had missed the first Derby (07.58)-Skegness service (1S01), but would be in time to see the final three Class 180 workings to pass through – 1S03 to Skegness at around 11.25, 1S02 to Derby an hour later and finally 1S04 to Derby at about 14.25.
Having become familiar with the vicinity of Hubbert’s Bridge during the two days I spent there in early February, my plan was to walk west for about 15 minutes along the A1121 to photograph 1S03 as it passed motor-worked down distant signal HB5, then see 1S02 passing up distant signal HB25, before standing on the station for last of the summer special quartet to pass.
All six of the semaphores can (just) be seen from the station platforms, and apart from the two distant signals these comprise an up home (HB24) at the end of the single line section from Boston and an up section signal (HB23) while in the down direction there is a home signal not far west of the level crossing (HB6) and section signal HB11 at the eastern end of the down station platform.
While there is a good and safe vantage point to photograph trains passing the down distant from the side of the road, at a point where road and railway curve to the south, a roadside shot of the up distant signal is rather tricky, due to the narrow verge. Instead I once again opted to get my second shot (of 1S02) from south of the wide man-made waterway known as the South Forty Foot Drain that parallels the railway on either side of Hubbert’s Bridge.
EMR has four of the 14-strong Class 180 fleet (180109-111/113), with the remaining ten units now with Grand Central. The EMR quartet came from Hull Trains and began working on the Midland Mainline in December 2020 as temporary replacements for HSTs. They will operate alongside EMR’s Class 222 Meridian units until next year (2023), when both fleets are due to be replaced by new bi-mode Class 810 Aurora units.
Services on the final day of seaside specials were in the hands of the last two of the EMR units, with 180113 working 1S01 from Derby (07.58) and 1S02 from Skegness (11.42) while 180111 worked 1S03 from Derby (09.23) and 1S04 from Skegness (13.44). Regular Poacher Line services were either formed of 3-car Class 170 units or pairs of Class 156/8 units.
As lightly-loaded 180111 passed me while I stood on the deserted down platform at Hubbert’s Bridge shortly before 14.30 on Saturday it brought an end to the all-too-brief appearance of main line rolling stock on the Poacher Line, and left me wondering whether the 180s would ever return, or could next summer see the appearance of the new Class 810 units?
To pass the time between trains at Hubbert’s Bridge I can once again highly recommend the Wheatsheaf pub, just over the South Forty Foot Drain from the railway station and level crossing, where the service is friendly and you will find some good food and fine local ale (Bateman’s XB – 3.7% and £3.90 a pint).