Five years of lost semaphores

FIVE YEARS after I began touring Britain in search of surviving semaphores to describe and photograph for my planned book seems like a timely moment to take a look back at the many places which have lost their mechanical signalling in that time. 

While there are still some wonderful outposts of mechanical signalling, a considerable amount has been lost in the period since 2016, notably on Humberside, in North Wales, Preston to Blackpool North and the Wherry Lines in Norfolk, all of which feature below.

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You only live twice

Sunday, 3 January 2021, marks the end of an era on our national railway network, when the last pre-WWII rolling stock to remain in use is finally pensioned off after eight decades of service, and the Isle of Wight’s Island Line closes for its long-awaited upgrade.

Like many others I had planned to pay my final respects to the Class 483s on Sunday, before COVID-19 travel restrictions put paid to my plans. So, to mark this historic and sad occasion, here is a photographic trip down the line featuring shots of the final five of the 1938-vintage units to remain in action.

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Images of 2020

Picking a selection of my favourite railway images from the past year has proved a good deal harder than usual, with many months written off due to lockdown, leading to the cancellation of many planned outings.

Fortunately I began the year early with visits to see the final days of semaphore signalling on the Wherry Lines in January and managed to fit in a number of other interesting visits during the course of this challenging year.

What follows are 20 photos from 2020, featuring places across Britain that I was lucky enough to visit during the course of the year, from Carnoustie, Kingussie and Dunkeld in Scotland, to the Cumbrian Coast, Teesside, and Earles Sidings in the north, to Liskeard in Cornwall and Park Junction in South Wales.

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Working semaphore distant signals in west Cumbria

My fascination with seeking out those elusive yellow and black distant signals takes me on a pre-Christmas return to the delightful Cumbrian Coast Line and the search for a clutch of these fishtailed beauties around the town of Millom.

Over a distance of eight route miles there are a total of seven working semaphore distant signals, controlled by the signal boxes at Foxfield, Millom and Silecroft, as well as by two gate boxes at Kirksanton and Limestone Hall level crossings, on the A5093 between Millom and Silecroft.

Uniquely for the Cumbrian Coast Line, the two gate boxes are protected by three combined home and distant signals on the same post, which I believe are the only working examples of combined home and distant signals on this route. 

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Worcestershire’s newest station and semaphore

A first day out since the ending of Lockdown Two and a return on Saturday, 5 December to the charming city of Worcester, for an overdue visit to the county’s newest station, and a walk over the River Severn to see one of the country’s newest semaphore signals in action.

My challenge was to get a shot of a train passing Norton Junction’s down home signal (NJ25), which can be seen from the western end of Cotswold Line platform at Worcestershire Parkway, and then to photograph a lunchtime service passing Henwick’s new semaphore, on the west side of the city.

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Wonderful Wetheral

Returning by train to Southern England after a two-night stay in Perth seemed like the perfect opportunity to pay an Eve-of-Lockdown Two (4 November) call at the one Tyne Valley signalling location I had not previously visited, Wetheral.

Wetheral station is six miles east of Carlisle and stands high above the River Eden and at the opposite end of the impressive five-span Wetheral Viaduct to the slightly curious looking Corby Gates Signal Box. 

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Eerie Errol

Together with the signal box at Dunkeld that featured in my previous post, another of the many Scottish boxes to enjoy listed status is the one at Errol, mid-way between Perth and Dundee and site of a former station, which only closed in September 1985.

Like Dunkeld, it is not only the signal box that is listed at Errol, but also the station building, built in 1847 for the Dundee & Perth Railway, as well in this case as the skeleton of a cast iron footbridge linking the two remarkably intact station platforms.

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Delightful Dunkeld

Take a 15½-mile journey north from Perth along the Highland Main Line and just as the A9 comes alongside the railway you will arrive at the first, and one of the remotest and most charming, stations along this magnificent route, Dunkeld & Birnam.

Despite noise from the nearby trunk road, this is a peaceful spot at which to spend a couple of hours on a sunny morning and to appreciate its fine listed station building, listed signal box and the handful of semaphore signals that are all in view from the station.  

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Favourite photo-spots: Liskeard

Dramatic scenery and numerous viaducts make Cornwall something of a dream for railway photography, with the added attraction of most local services now being formed of the ex-HST 2+4 “Castle” sets and semaphore signalling at five main-line stations within the Royal Duchy.

First up of this quintet is Liskeard, 264½ miles from Paddington (via Bristol) and home to a rare centre-pivot semaphore as well as being a junction for the scenic Looe Valley branch line, whose platform (3) stands as right-angles to the main line and is adorned with 1960s-style chocolate and cream signage.

Having spent time at Liskeard station in the past, I was keen to seek out the first of the six semaphore signals here, the down outer home (LD35) which westbound trains will pass on approaching the station before rounding a sharp left-hand curve that takes them onto Liskeard Viaduct and into the station.

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Favourite photo-spots: Earles Sidings

Finding an attractive and remote rural location where there is a variety of freight and passenger traffic, a signal box controlling semaphore signals and heritage diesel action might sound too good to be true.

But that was what I was able to savour on Thursday (22 October 2020) at Earles Sidings, near the village of Hope in the Peak District, and a junction on the Hope Valley Line for a 1½-mile branch line to the country’s largest cement works.

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