Returning to one of the last two outposts of semaphores on the South Wales Main Line, my aim on Friday, 5 August 2022 had been to photograph new TfW Class 231 “FLIRT” trains passing the doomed semaphores at Pembrey & Burry Port while on test runs between Swansea and Carmarthen.
But despite seeing a handful of the new Stadler units on Cardiff Canton depot as I passed by on my way to Pembrey, and regular Swansea-Carmarthen paths being shown on Realtime Trains, none of the new units was in action and passing services remained the usual diet of Class 153 and 175 units.
A day after travelling Manchester’s entire Metrolink system in a single day it was time to finally take a trip on a fabled rail service that does not have quite the same frequency as the tram network and sample the once-a-week Northern service from Stalybridge to Stockport and back.
Among Parliamentary trains that are run simply to avoid the costly closure process, this route is up with the best of them, with what for many years had been a single journey from Stockport on a Friday now a Saturday morning round trip from Stalybridge, offering passengers a full half-hour to appreciate the delights of Stockport station, before returning to Stalybridge.
Inspired by my success at travelling the whole of the Merseyrail network in a single day (feature: 7 April 2022), this time my challenge on a trip to Manchester (29 July 2022) was to ride the entire Metrolink tram network in one day, with a four-zone £4.90 off-peak day ticket.
As described below, it is a challenge I managed to complete in exactly nine hours, although that did involve saving time by taking a bus between two Metrolink termini and also ending up at the place I was spending the night (Ashton-under-Lyne) and not back at Piccadilly where I had begun.
Following my May trip to the Cornish seaside resort of Newquay aboard one of the first direct summer services from London Paddington, it is time to visit another popular seaside resort on the opposite side of the country and mark its post-pandemic return of summer specials.
The Lincolnshire resort of Skegness may not be seeing seasonal connections to match the daily Newquay services, but on Saturdays from the day of my visit (23 July 2022) until 10 September it will be receiving what I believe are the first ever workings to be operated along the Poacher Line by East Midlands Railway (EMR) Class 180 units.
Twenty-five years after it was abandoned by the state rail operator České Dráhy (ČD) and handed over to a locally-based private company, the charming 79km (50-mile) long narrow gauge system based on the town of Jindřichův Hradec in the south of the Czech Republic is booming.
Spending five days in the area known as Czech Canada for its forests and lakes I was able to sample two days of steam haulage behind a locomotive that is more than 120 years old and spend the rest of my time photographing and being hauled by diesel locos that are more than 60 years old.
Among the handful of charming branch lines in Devon and Cornwall, one of the most scenic is the 8¾-mile long Looe Valley Line, linking the GWR main line at Liskeard with the delightful fishing port of Looe and running alongside the East Looe River for much of its length.
Having walked down from Liskeard to the seldom-served first stop at Coombe Junction Halt on an October 2020 visit, my challenge on 7 July 2022 was to take a train down to Looe then walk back the 6¾ miles north from there to Coombe Junction, attempting to capture views of trains and scenery along the way.
Exactly five years after my only previous visit, it is time to pay an overdue return (on 27-28 June 2022) to the two finest remaining outposts of mechanical signalling along the charming Tyne Valley Line from Newcastle to Carlisle.
Following removal of the long “switched out” box and semaphores at Bardon Mill there are just four remaining locations where semaphores survive along the 61¾-mile route, namely Corby Gates (Wetheral), Haydon Bridge, Hexham and Prudhoe.
Five years after my only previous visit (June 2017) it is time to take a return trip to charmingly quiet Rainford Junction, mid-way along the Northern Trains route heading south-west from Wigan Wallgate to its end-on connection with Merseyrail at Kirkby.
This one-time junction for routes north and south towards Ormskirk and St. Helens is a pleasant spot, where a well-fortified Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway signal box dating from 1874 has four semaphores and will give drivers coming off the double track route from Wigan a token for the single line leading to the buffer stops at Kirkby.
Discovering a route where there is almost as much freight action as passenger traffic, as well as one with some mechanical signalling interest and one I had not previously travelled, has at last taken me on 8 June 2022 to the fascinating Mid-Cheshire Line.
Standing roughly mid-way along the 38¾-mile Stockport to Chester route is Plumley West Signal Box, where two semaphore signals are the only ones on this line and, along with Beeston Castle, Ellesmere Port and Helsby, one of just four Cheshire locations to retain any mechanical signalling.
RE-OPENING of signal boxes is something of a rarityin a world where closures are far more commonplace, so another mini-break in the Scottish capital meant a chance for a couple of rail and bus trips to see and photograph two boxes north of the border that are now back in daily use.
Most recent of the re-openings is Greenloaning, a remote village just off the A9 north of Dunblane, which had been routinely switched out for years until daily re-opening last month, while re-opened to coincide with the launch of Montrose-Inverurie local services is another remote box at Craigo, mid-way between Montrose and Laurencekirk.