Platform 4 at Helsby station in North Cheshire is not somewhere you battle the crowds in order to board your train. It briefly comes to life just once a day, when a Northern Rail Class 156 unit prepares to set off on its 10-minute, 5¼ mile, journey to Ellesmere Port.
Coming to life is probably a bit of an exaggeration, as there are few takers for a “Parliamentary” service that is run at times seemingly designed to be as useless as possible to anyone contemplating a journey.
Having a weakness for anything narrow gauge, the offer of some cheap as chips Ryanair flights to and from the Bulgarian capital tempts me to pay a springtime return visit to that country’s remarkable state-run and sole-surviving narrow gauge railway, the 125km (78-mile) route from Septemvri, south-east of Sofia, into the Rhodope Mountains close to the Greek border.
When the 2,800-mile round trip from Stansted to Sofia had cost less than £28.00 it means my four-day mini-break came in at a remarkably modest total of just £195.65, including flights, all rail travel, accommodation in Sofia (one night) and Velingrad (two nights), as well all my restaurant food and drink.
HUGE CHANGES have taken place at Reedham Junction since I spent a wonderful day there exactly five years ago (on 17 March 2017), with a protracted project to re-signal the Wherry Lines finally completed in February 2020, bringing an end to this marvellous outpost of semaphore signalling.
Five years ago Reedham Junction Signal Box controlled the double track Norwich-Lowestoft route and a junction with the single line to Great Yarmouth via Berney Arms. This was shut for almost two years when the signal box here was closed on 22 March 2019 and connection to the Berney Arms route was temporarily severed.
THREE YEARS after my previous visit (blog: 17 January 2019) it is time to make a return to Tondu and attempt to get some shots north and south of the station featuring a trio of the numerous lower quadrant semaphores that survive here.
My challenge on 8 March 2022 was to see the hourly services to and from Maesteg passing the three signals I had not photographed before – down outer home signal TU64 from the platform end at Sarn, along with down section signal TU57 and up outer home TU2 from a bridge north of Tondu station.
Significant signalling changes have taken place at Leuchars, railhead for the important university town of St. Andrew’s and one of two remaining outposts of semaphore signalling on the route between Edinburgh and Dundee, along with Cupar, which I featured on 4 September 2021.
While the century-old (1920) North British Railway signal box remains for the time being, a £4m upgrade programme, undertaken during two weekends in February, has seen both down (LE20) and up (LE30) home signals replaced by colour lights, as track was renewed near the box and a cross-over re-sited.
A few days spent north of the border, in Edinburgh, and some remarkably cheap LNER advance purchase tickets gives me the chance to head up the East Coast once again and pay a visit to one of the last outposts of semaphore signalling between Edinburgh and Aberdeen I have yet to photograph.
After an enjoyable day at Stonehaven last year (blog: 2 September 2021) my destination this time (2 March 2022) is Carmont Signal Box, which stands 5½ miles south-west of Stonehaven in a remote and picturesque setting, where I am hoping to get some of the panoramic views of trains and semaphores I have seen posted elsewhere.
After my success in photographing the two working semaphore distant signals at Hubbert’s Bridge, it is time to pay a return visit to the delightful Peak District and seek out another of those yellow and black fishtailed arms at a location with a tragic place in British railway history.
Chapel-en-le-Frith station is a delightfully quiet and remote station, formerly known as Chapel-en-le-Frith South, where it is now rather hard to imagine the horror that unfolded exactly 65 years ago, on 9 February 1957, when two railwaymen lost their lives and a signal box was destroyed.
My continuing quest to find and photograph working semaphore distant signals takes me back to the delightful Poacher Line from Grantham to Skegness, and to one of the six stations along the 58-mile route that only enjoys a “Parliamentary” service.
Hubbert’s Bridge is a fascinating spot, just 3¾ miles west of Boston, where a futuristic looking signal box dating from 1961 makes a stark contrast to the traditional crossing gates which it controls, along with six semaphores that include working distant signals in both directions.
Seeing Hitachi Class 80x IET units passing semaphore signals has become an everyday sight on GWR services in Cornwall, but there is only one place in England where LNER Azuma trains are regularly signalled by semaphores.
While there are numerous locations on the Highland and East Coast Main Lines north of the border to see Azumas and semaphores, the only location to witness such a combination in England is at remote Swinderby, mid-way between Newark and Lincoln.
SIGNIFICANT CHANGES have taken place on the charming Harrogate Line since my last visit two years ago (blog 8 September 2019) but for now, at least, most of the remarkable mechanical signalling interest remains along the 17½ miles of route between Harrogate and Poppleton, on the northern outskirts of York.
Over the course of the delightful 35-minute trip from York you will pass no less than 11 locations that feature some semaphore signalling, comprising six signal boxes – Poppleton, Hammerton, Cattal, Knaresborough, Starbeck and Harrogate – along with five gate boxes at Hessay, Marston Moor, Wilstrop, Whixley and Belmont.