As the blight of COVID-19 gives way to the blight of disruption caused by prolonged industrial action, it is time for some seasonal cheer to lift the gloom, and a look back at some of my railway travel and photographic highlights from around the UK, with a selection of 22 photos from trips on the British railway network during 2022.
My focus has remained on capturing our last outposts of mechanical signalling, so on 19 January I paid a return visit to the wonderful York-Harrogate line, where fine semaphore signalling remains, despite some piecemeal replacement by colour lights since my previous visit. Seen below is 170458 approaching Wilstrop distant signal W5 with 2C36 from Leeds (13.29) to York.
Later in the month (26 January), I paid a return visit to Swinderby, mid-way between Grantham and Lincoln, to capture LNER Azumas passing the handful of semaphores at a location where planned re-signalling has been delayed indefinitely. In the view below 800207 passes the station with 1B84 from London King’s Cross (12.06) to Lincoln Central (13.47).
A visit to Chapel-en-le-Frith in early February was on the 65th anniversary of a tragic accident at this remote corner of the Peak District, when two railwaymen lost their lives and the original signal box was destroyed. Among the semaphores controlled by the 1957 replacement box is up distant signal CH20, seen below on 8 February as 156402/150115 pass with 2B18 from Manchester Piccadilly (12.08) to Buxton.
On my first 2022 visit to Scotland I travelled (2 March) to the scene of another and far more recent rail tragedy, when I paid a first ever visit to Carmont, just a mile south of the site of the August 2020 Stonehaven accident. This view (below) shows a Scotrail Inter7City HST passing with 1A61 from Glasgow Queen Street (11.39) to Aberdeen.
Back in England and returning to Britain’s finest outpost of semaphore signalling on 19 April, I managed to bribe the staff of Shrewsbury Castle museum into letting me onto the castle roof, where I captured this panoramic shot of TfW 175111 passing some of the signals controlled by Crewe Junction Signal Box with 1V39 from Manchester Piccadilly (10.31) to Milford Haven.
Later in the month (26 April) I made a return visit to Droitwich Spa, northernmost outpost of mechanical signalling in the Worcester area, where my selection of shots from that day (below) shows DB Maritime Intermodal 66051 approaching the station from the Kidderminster direction, with a freight working from Burton-on-Trent to Cardiff.
A spring-time trip to the North-West meant a chance to re-visit the West Lancashire Line from Wigan to Southport and to spend some time at its mid-way point, Parbold, to photograph the semaphores controlled by Parbold Cabin and the nearby Chapel Lane Crossing (due to be abolished in the near future).
The listed Parbold Cabin can be seen in the background on 11 May as bi-mode unit 769450 passes the Parbold up section signal, with Chapel Lane’s distant signal beneath, forming 2K88 from Southport (13.15) to Alderley Edge. Less than a dozen combined home and (working) distant semaphores now remain on the national rail network.
Craven Arms is one of a number of boxes on the Marches Line to have lost semaphore signals in recent years, along with Tram Inn and Moreton-on-Lugg, where all the semaphores have now gone. But a handful remain, including the tall junction signal CA27 at the north end of a down goods loop and the up section signal beyond, seen above on 12 May as DB 67010 passes with 1W93 from Cardiff Central (11.22) to Holyhead.
Two seaside destinations to have seen summer services return during 2022 were Newquay and Skegness (top photo). In this view (above) GWR IET 802021 approaches platform 3 at Par on 19 May with 1C74 from London Paddington (09.04) to Newquay during the first week of long distance services to the Cornish resort.
Returning to the Marches Line while on a walking holiday in the Brecon Beacons meant a chance to pay a return visit to Abergavenny, where this view on the evening of 24 May shows Colas Rail 56113 passing Abergavenny Signal Box with a trainload of logs from Baglan Bay to Chirk.
Re-opening of mechanical signal boxes is something of a rarity, but on a trip north of the border I was able to photograph the boxes and semaphores at two locations whose signal boxes have returned to daily use. First up was Greenloaning on 30 May, where this view above shows 43149/036 approaching with 1H13 from Edinburgh Waverley (10.32) to Inverness. Co-acting signal GL27 is one of only two remaining examples on the network, Helsby being the other.
The following day (31 May) saw me take a train from Edinburgh to Montrose then a bus to the hamlet of Craigo a few miles to the north, where what was for a long time a “switched out” box is now back in daily use. In this view (above) 43032/139 pass Craigo Signal Box with 1B78 from Aberdeen (11.01) to Edinburgh Waverley.
Finding railway routes where there is more freight than passenger traffic is something of a rarity. One contender though is the Mid-Cheshire Line from Stockport to Chester, where a couple of semaphores remain under the control of Plumley West Signal Box, which is seen in the background above as GBRf 60026 passes on 8 June with a bio-mass working from Liverpool Bio-mass Terminal to Drax Power Station.
Paying another visit to the North-West later in the month, I travelled to Rainford Junction, mid-way along the route from Wigan to Kirkby, where there is an end-on connection with Merseyrail services. This view, looking east from News Lane over-bridge, shows 150140/156424 departing Rainford on 20 June with 2N99 from Kirkby (13.53) to Blackburn.
A two-day visit to Haydon Bridge on the scenic Tyne Valley Line was a chance to photograph semaphores there and at Prudhoe, where the impressive North Eastern Railway signal box can be seen as LNER 800206 passes three of its up semaphore signals on 28 June with a training run (5Z93) from Carlisle, as 156480 forms 2W31 from Nunthorpe (12.18) to Hexham.
Returning next to Cornwall I took a trip down another scenic route, the Looe Valley Line, before walking back towards the junction at Liskeard and pausing to get some panoramic shots at Terras Bridge Level Crossing, where services were formed on 7 July by unit 150219 in the old FGW blue livery, seen above with 2L79 from Liskeard (11.36).
One of the two remaining outposts of semaphore signalling on the South Wales Main Line, is Pembrey & Burry Port, where its fine Great Western Railway signal box is due to have closed by next autumn. This view (above) on 5 August shows units 153329/968 departing with 2E13 from Pembroke Dock (11.09) to Swansea.
Having been to Skegness to see the first day of seasonal Class 180-worked Saturday specials from Derby on 23 July, as seen in the top photo of 180109 departing with 1S02 to Derby, I went back on 10 September to witness the last day of the summer service. My pick of that day’s photos shows 180111 passing the Hubbert’s Bridge down distant signal (HB5) with 1S03 from Derby (09.23) to Skegness.
Heading north once again, a two-day trip to Giggleswick gave me a chance to photograph the southernmost semaphores on the Settle & Carlisle Line at Settle Junction and at Hellifield. In this view (above) 66713 approaches Settle Junction on 14 September with 4N00 from Carlisle NY to Clitheroe Castle Cement.
Rounding off 2022, here are a couple of images that it will not be possible to repeat 12 months from now. Time is almost up for the semaphores controlled by the listed Lostwithiel Crossing Signal Box, which 43004/192 approach on 22 September with 2C69 from Cardiff Central (08.00) to Penzance. All the GWR Castle Class HST sets are due to have been withdrawn by December 2023.
Returning once again to the South Wales Main Line, another scene that will have disappeared within the coming year is the semaphores at picturesque Ferryside. This view from the station footbridge shows 175114 departing on 3 November with 1V32 from Crewe (05.58) to Carmarthen.
As this will be my final feature of 2022, I would like to wish all my friends and readers around the world a Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year.