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.
There are now just four signal boxes remaining along the important 108¼-mile long route linking Aberdeen and Inverness in north-east Scotland, following a number of resignalling projects over recent years.
Most recent casualties in the march of progress have been the boxes at Forres and Elgin West in 2017, followed by those at Inverurie and Dyce in 2019, leaving the current quartet of mechanically-signalled locations at Keith, Huntly, Kennethmont and Insch.
Hereford is probably best known for the remarkable Mappa Mundi housed in its cathedral, and for Ronnie Radford’s equally remarkable 1972 FA Cup goal for Hereford United against Newcastle United, but the city also has an interesting railway history and a place long overdue a proper visit.
While the Bulmer’s Railway Centre and the steam loco King George V that I remember visiting in childhood are both sadly long-departed, this remains an important junction on our national railway network and one of those curious places that is in England, but managed from 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.
After I had last paid a photographic visit to Craven Arms in May 2022, I lamented the blockading of a footpath across the line just north of signal box and level crossing that would have been a great place to see trains passing the surviving semaphores.
A sign at the entrance to the footpath from the A49 had said that it would be closed until early 2023 “pending the installation of safety features”, which I assumed would be the sort of lockable gates and warning lights that I have seen at other foot crossings.
After a welcome sighting of Network Rail’s New Measurement Train (NMT) on a recent trip to Dawlish, I was inspired to take day trips to a couple of my favourite photo-spots in the hope of seeing the “flying banana” once again as it visited Yeovil and Moreton-in-Marsh, on its everlasting tour of our national rail network.
But things did not quite go according to plan, and on a dismal and foggy day (25 January 2023) the NMT failed to make its scheduled mid-afternoon appearance at Yeovil Pen Mill, when its circuit from Derby to Bristol via Weymouth was seemingly curtailed, while the following day produced a rather different NR test train at Moreton-in-Marsh.
There are a trio of major seaside destinations along the South Coast that retain some mechanical signalling interest, with four semaphores apiece at Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, but no less than seven surviving semaphore arms at the charming East Sussex resort of Hastings.
Unlike its two West Sussex counterparts, Hastings lost an attractive 1931-vintage neo-Georgian station building when it was replaced in 2004, but fortunately it retains its 1930 Southern Railway signal box, with its 84-lever Westinghouse frame.
The sight and sound of High Speed Trains (HSTs) has been an enduring feature of the railway scene in South Devon since their full introduction on services between London Paddington and Penzance in May 1980, and their introduction on cross-country services two years later.
But after more than 40 years’ service things will look very different by the end of 2023, with GWR committed to retiring the last of its 2+4 Castle sets by December, leaving just the handful of XC 2+7 sets passing this iconic location on their journeys between Plymouth and Edinburgh Waverley.
It was less than 48 hours before what had been billed as its last ever sailing when things began to look a little brighter for the historic Hythe Ferry, which links the waterside village with Southampton, and the 100-year old narrow gauge railway that takes passengers along the 700-yard Hythe Pier to the ferry.
Mounting losses and withdrawal of council financial support had led operator Blue Funnel Ferries to announce that the ferry would close on New Year’s Eve 2022, when the final sailing would have left Southampton’s Town Quay at 17.30. But on the evening of Thursday, 29th December came a glimmer of hope that the link could be saved.
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.
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