GWR IETs diverted via Yeovil

Mid-week closure for engineering work of the route between Castle Cary and Taunton meant another excuse to savour the rare sight of diverted GWR “flying cucumber” Class 80x IETs as they passed Yeovil Pen Mill on 23 March 2023 while working services between London Paddington and Plymouth.

Returning to photograph a scene I had last witnessed in September 2020, it was once again apparent how the single line between Castle Cary and Pen Mill, as well as the long sections of single line between Yeovil and Exeter, make for some pretty slack timetabling of the diverted services and replacement of some stopping services by mythical bus connections.

802111 is held at signal YPM4 with 1A77 from Plymouth (07.36) to London Paddington

I have always thought of Pen Mill as a rather charming spot, but somewhat revised my view when I found the station locked throughout the morning of my latest visit, and no one on hand to assist the handful of passengers waiting in vain for a 10.25 replacement bus to Castle Cary, which was falsely shown as “on time” on station display monitors.

166210 departs platform 3 with 2O72 from Worcester Foregate Street (06.52) to Weymouth

It never turned up and the station help point did not work, so these luckless souls were forced to wait more than two hours, as the next up train (12.01) was delayed leaving Weymouth, only arrived at 12.36 and was then held until 12.50 to allow a Plymouth-bound service to clear the single line from Castle Cary.

802108 passes Pen Mill with 1C74 from London Paddington (09.04) to Plymouth

But this was not the only dismal bit of railway operation I encountered. Waiting later to board the 14.44 from Yeovil Junction to Waterloo, I was staggered when its eight-minute late arrival at 14.52 meant that it was drawing into the platform just as the 14.51 for Westbury, into which it should have made a connection, was allowed to depart.

158958 approaches Pen Mill with 2O74 from Gloucester (08.42) to Weymouth

Photographing the semaphores at Pen Mill is always a challenge, even when the management of the Lazenby builder’s merchants had once again kindly allowed me into their yard. Looking north from here there is a good view of up starter YPM4 and a couple of shunting discs, but the bracket housing down home signals YPM64/62 is fast disappearing behind vegetation.

158958 departs for Weymouth with 2O74 from Gloucester

The two lower quadrant up home signals (YPM1&2) are out of sight to the south of the station, but on a more positive note a gang of tree surgeons were cutting back vegetation at the south end of the station, opening up a good rear view from the road bridge of the bracket housing signals YMM61 (Weymouth) and YPM60 ((Yeovil Junction), as seen in the top photo.

800311 passes Pen Mil Signal Box with 1A80 from Plymouth (08.37) to London Paddington

For those unfamiliar with the location, Pen Mill is a well preserved station on the eastern edge of Yeovil, 141¼ miles from Paddington and the only place that these diverted GWR services will encounter semaphore signalling on their journey to Plymouth, with the signal box controlling an unusual mix of upper and lower quadrant arms.

166213/210 wait in platform 1 with with heavily delayed 2V64 from Weymouth to Westbury as 802102 arrives with 1C78 from London Paddington (11.04) to Plymouth

Pen Mill Signal Box stands at the northern end of island platform 2/3 and is a Great Western Railway design from 1937 with a 65-lever frame. There has been talk of its closure for many years, but it soldiers on and remains an isolated outpost of mechanical signalling and a strategically important location when handling diverted traffic.

802107 passes platform 1 (left) with 1A82 from Plymouth (10.41) to London Paddington as 802102 waits in platform 3 with 1C78 from London Paddington (11.04) to Plymouth

Down trains will pass two of the three upper quadrant two-signal brackets that control their entry and exit from the station, while up trains will pass lower quadrant home and starting signals, of which only starting signal YPM4 is visible from the station area.

802102 departs at 13.02 with 1C78 from London Paddington (11.04) to Plymouth
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