Having outlived three other locations along the Mid-Sussex Line by almost a decade, time is fast running out for the semaphore signals at Littlehampton and Bognor Regis, along with the veteran Class 313 units that continue to pass them every half hour, but will be gone by the time of the May 2023 timetable change.
Earlier this month (on 3 March 2023) Arun District Council approved a plan by Network Rail to remove the two semaphore signal brackets at the platform ends of Bognor Regis’ Grade II Listed station and it seems certain that the two brackets at Littlehampton are also on borrowed time.
So the perfect excuse for another day trip to the South Coast and a chance to photograph the 47-year old York-built PEP units, which date from 1976, coming and going from the two coastal resorts in their last couple of months of working life and passing the equally-doomed semaphores.
Run-down of Southern’s Class 313 fleet has begun, with three units (313202/214/217) having already been sent to Eastleigh prior to scrapping, but discovering details of their booked operations, it looked like there were six remaining weekday Class 313 diagrams along the West Coastway route (B1701-4/6/9).
Planning a day (15 March 2023) that gave around two hours at each terminus looked like offering a chance to photograph four of the units that should be working between Brighton, Portsmouth and Littlehampton/Bognor Regis and although I was able to see four different Class 313s, sadly celebrity “Big Blue” 313201 was not one of them.
There are numerous opportunities for photographing trains and signals from the two station platforms, but there are also footbridges north of each station that are close to the two very different signal boxes and each offer good vantage points from which to see departing trains.
Littlehampton is signalled from a small Grade II-listed London, Brighton & South Coast Railway box dating from 1886, while the box at Bognor Regis is a 1938-vintage art deco “Odeon” style box, known as a Southern Railway Type 13. This is reckoned to be amongst the most significant signal box designs of the twentieth century, and is an identical design to the box at Deal, which also retains a handful of semaphore signals.
At Littlehampton the quartet of semaphores comprises a bracket housing signal 0032 (platform 1) and 0030 (2), with another containing 0036 (3) and 0033 (4). Those signalling exit from Bognor Regis comprise 008 (platform 1) alongside 009 for platform 2, with 010 on platform 3 and 012 on platform 4.
In its application for listed building consent to remove the semaphores, Network Rail stated: “The Bognor Regis signalling assets are currently in operation way beyond their extended life…the structures at the end of Bognor Regis platform are corroded and are not fit for re-use, so need to be removed to enable new signals to be installed, providing a safer and more reliable railway infrastructure.”
Whilst their removal has now been approved, NR’s decision was “regretted” by Arun District Council’s Principal Conservation Officer, Martyn White, who was disappointed to note that the structures had not been adequately maintained and complained that “no attempt has been made to relocate or offer the structures to relevant museums or railway heritage trusts for use elsewhere.”
When giving its approval for the semaphores’ removal on 3 March 2023, the Planning Committee of Arun District Council noted that: “The semaphore signals have historical significance in their own right. The applicant is encouraged to liaise with Bognor Regis Town Council regarding the removal and future safeguarding of the semaphore signals.”
Though life-expired and disliked by many for their lack of toilets and air conditioning, the Class 313 “PEP” units were a revolutionary design of dual-voltage EMU when introduced in 1976. They ended their days working Great Northern suburban services in September 2019, with the now 16-strong Southern fleet (313201-220) having operated on the South Coast since 2010 and are now the oldest EMUs in service on our national network
Prior to their final withdrawal ahead of the 21 May 2023 timetable change, a charity farewell special featuring 313201 and another Class 313 unit has been organised by Southern and the Branch Line Society on Saturday, 29 April. The day-long trip from Brighton will include visits to Portsmouth Harbour, Eastbourne and Newhaven Marine, with details and tickets available from www.branchline.uk
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