Winter sunshine and semaphores in South Wales

Passing a pair of new Transport for Wales (TfW) Class 197 units while travelling from Newport to Craven Arms on Monday, 20 February, inspired me to pay a visit to Ferryside and Pembrey & Burry Port on 23 February 2023, in the hope of photographing the new CAF sets passing the doomed semaphore signals.

Under the current weekday timetable, Class 197 units, which are being assembled at Newport, are scheduled to operate around a dozen daily test/mileage accumulation diagrams from Swansea to Carmarthen, all beginning with the prefix 3E, although how many of these are actually run seems to vary from day to day.

Ferryside is no longer a request stop, so the driver of 150255 is definitely going to stop to pick me up with 1B60 from Carmarthen (10.58) to Cardiff Central

But on a gloriously sunny day that was ideal for photographing the new units, it came as a huge disappointment when the friendly Ferryside signaller told me that none of the Class 197 sets was working, despite their appearance on Swansea-Carmarthen test runs earlier in the week

150255 departs Pembrey & Burry Port with 1B60 from Carmarthen (10.58) to Cardiff Central

So I was left with no alternative but to spend my time there, and later at Pembrey & Burry Port, photographing examples of the current TfW fleet that will soon be consigned to history in this area, along with the semaphore signals, which are due to have gone in the next six months.

175105 is about to call at Pembrey with 1B33 from Cardiff Central (10.07) to Carmarthen

Once complete, the fleet of Class 197 units will comprise 51 two-car units and 26 three-car formations, which are set to replace TfW’s Class 150/153/158/175 units. That will see them operating the three TfW services along the South Wales Main Line to pass Pembrey and Ferryside, namely Manchester Piccadilly-Milford Haven, Cardiff Central-Fishguard Harbour and Swansea to Pembroke Dock.

175105 passes signal PY10 with 1B33 from Cardiff Central (10.07) to Carmarthen

Whether they will be in service along this route before the end of semaphore signalling in autumn 2023 remains to be seen, so this had seemed like a timely moment to pay a return to this rather charming area and try to capture some of the test workings as they passed the handful of semaphores at Ferryside and at Pembrey.

150280 passes signal PY7 with 2E22 from Swansea (11.49) to Pembroke Dock

Closure of the signal boxes at Ferryside and Pembrey forms part of Network Rail’s Port Talbot West 2 (PTW2) project, by which control of the route from Swansea West Loop (215m 14ch) to Whitland (250m 0ch) will pass to the Wales Railway Operating Centre (ROC) at Cardiff, leading to the closure of the two boxes, along with those at Kidwelly, and Carmarthen Junction.

175105 passes Pembrey Signal Box with 1W60 from Carmarthen (12.01) to Manchester Piccadilly

 As I wrote in November 2022, Ferryside Signal Box dates from the 1880s and stands at the southern end of the down station platform (2). It gained a Grade II listing in 2014 for being the best surviving example of a GWR Type 3 box in the United Kingdom, and is now the subject of energetic attentions of the Ferryside Signal Box Preservation Trust.

158824 departs Pembrey with 2E13 from Pembroke Dock (11.09) to Swansea

From south to north, the five semaphores here comprise down home signal FS21, now sadly devoid its finial and up home signal FS3 immediately in front of the station footbridge and, opposite the signal box. To the north of the station are down starter FS20, section signal FS19 and up outer home FS2.

A quintet of semaphores also remains at Pembrey & Burry Port, and are controlled from what was once called Pembrey East Signal Box (pictured above), which is a large Great Western Railway Type 7 box dating from 1907 with an 83-lever frame, though sadly not a listed building. 

158824 approaches Pembrey Signal Box with 2E13 from Pembroke Dock (11.09) to Swansea

Its semaphores are up outer home PY82 at the end of platform 1 and an up inner home PY81 close to the signal box and protecting the level crossing. In the down direction, home signal PY7 is on a bracket east of the level crossing, starter PY9 stands between the two running lines and section signal PY10 around 200 yards west of the station.

Evidence of resignalling work at Pembrey with a fenced compound having appeared opposite the doomed signal box as 175109 approaches with 1B37 from Cardiff Central (11.47) to Carmarthen

Ferryside Signal Box Preservation Trust would like to hear from anyone interested in supporting the project, and particualry those with any historic photos or artefacts relating to Ferryside. The group can be contacted by email:

153367/320 pause at Pembrey with 1B63 from Carmarthen (13.01) to Cardiff Central
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