Doomed trains and semaphores on the West Sussex coast

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.

313204 approaches Chichester with 2S14 from Littlehampton (09.55) to Portsmouth & Southsea

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.

313204 departs Littlehampton at 12.09 with 2P30 to Bognor Regis

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). 

313204 is about to pass Chichester’s Listed signal box with 2S14 to Portsmouth & Southsea

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.

313215 approaches Ford with 2S09 from Portsmouth & Southsea (09.57) to Littlehampton

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. 

377117/139/413 pass Littlehampton Signal Box with an ECS move to Lover’s Walk, Brighton

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. 

313204 approaches Littlehampton with 2S11 from Portsmouth & Southsea (10.57) and passes 377158 with 2S18 to Portsmouth & Southsea

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. 

313210 departs platform 3 at Bognor Regis at 13.36 with 2P79 to Barnham

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.”

Bognor’s four semaphores and signal box can be seen as 313210 departs for Barnham

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.”  

313462 departs from platform 2 at Bognor Regis with 1C39 to London Victoria and passes 313210

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.”

313220 approaches Barnham with 2P81 from Bognor Regis (14.36)

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

313215 passes Barnham Signalling Centre with 2S17 from Portsmouth & Southsea (13.57)

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

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