THREE YEARS after I wrote a feature lamenting the continued absence of weekday trains to Okehampton (blog: 12 August 2018) it was a great pleasure to be able to travel on the first weekday service to and from the important Dartmoor town in over 49 years.
While I had only expected to see a handful of hardy souls aboard the 06.29 departure from Exeter St. David’s on that inaugural weekday journey (Monday, 22 November 2021), what came as a shock was the lack of custom for the 07.20 departure from Okehampton, pictured above, the commuter service that reaches Exeter Central at 08.05.
Along with the semaphores at Gobowen which I featured last month (2 October 2021) one other outpost of mechanical signalling in this area is at Penyffordd, a remote station along the 27-mile long Borderlands Line linking Wrexham with Bidston on the Wirral.
Penyffordd is a quiet and pleasant spot that is seven miles north of Wrexham, where a relatively modern (BR London Midland Region, 1972) signal box controls a handful of semaphores from its 25-lever frame, as well as releasing a ground frame controlling access to a nearby cement works.
SEVEN months late and one entire summer season lost, but passenger trains finally returned to the Isle of Wight on Monday, 1 November 2021, with the launch into service of a third generation of ex-London Underground trains to ply the 8½ miles between Ryde Pier Head and Shanklin since its electrification in 1966.
After all the delays the re-launch service is just half of what it is supposed to be, with an hourly service for the next six weeks until the long-awaited two trains an hour is finally introduced with the next timetable change on Sunday, 12 December. Even the one an hour service was badly disrupted on re-opening day.
Following my early summer visit to Blair Atholl (blog: 6 June), the current bargain price £10.00 flat fare offer for Scotrail’s Club 50 members tempts me to pay a return visit from Edinburgh on 26/7 October 2021 to another delightful spot on the Highland Main Line and its most northerly outpost of semaphore signalling.
Kingussie is an attractive small town that stands 11¾ miles south-west of Aviemore and boasts both a listed station building and a listed signal box with the latter, dating from 1922, controlling a passing loop and a total of six semaphore signals from its 17-lever frame, all of which can be seen from the station and from a nearby footbridge.
Almost 14 years after I made a dawn departure from Sunderland on Tuesday, 18 December 2007 aboard the first scheduled passenger train to be operated by Grand Central it is time to sample our newest “open access” operator on the East Coast Main Line, with a trip on the first Lumo service from King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley.
Back in the days when I was helping to launch the Grand Central service a key requirement for any would-be open access operator was satisfy the ORR that a new service would generate new traffic to the railway and be “not primarily abstractive”, in other words would not be devaluing a franchised operator by stealing its fare-box.
After visits earlier this year to Leominster, Woofferton Junction and Sutton Bridge Junction, it is time to pay a return on 20 October 2021 to the southernmost outpost of mechanical signalling on the charming Marches Line between Shrewsbury and Newport.
Abergavenny is a delightful spot to watch and photograph trains, with an attractive 160-year old Grade II Listed station building and a Great Western Railway timber signal box from 1934 standing south of the station and controlling a total of 11 semaphores from its 52-lever frame.
Scheduled steam services will continue to operate from the world-famous depot at Wolsztyn in Western Poland for at least the next two years, under an agreement between the depot and the Marszalek (Marshal) of the Wielkopolskie province, who comes from Wolsztyn and is determined to see steam working continue.
There had been fears that the twice daily services to Leszno on Mondays to Fridays and two Saturday returns from Wolsztyn to Poznan would finally come to an end on Saturday, 27 November this year, after which there is the usual seasonal break in services until mid-January.
My successful August visit to photograph trains and signals at Sutton Bridge Junction in Shrewsbury prompted me to pay a return on Friday, 1 October 2021 to another of the locations on our national railway network where semaphore signals go both up and down.
Gobowen is a very pleasant spot on the GWR route from Chester to Shrewsbury and a junction with the former Cambrian route south to Welshpool that awaits eventual re-opening as far south as Oswestry, to which rails remain in situ and a bay platform awaits a return to use.
Finally resuming an extended tour of the wonderful narrow gauge railways in eastern German, my travels take me on 22 September 2021 to the city of Dresden and a return to the two steam-worked narrow (750mm) gauge lines I last visited back in 1990.
Much has changed over the past three decades, but it is reassuring to see that daily steam-hauled services still continue to operate on the 16.6km (10.4 mile) Lößnitzgrundbahn to the north-west of the city and the 26.1km (16.3 mile) Weißeritztalbahn to the south-west of Dresden.
After an enjoyable visit last month (2 August 2021) to Par and St. Blazey, it is time to pay a return visit to another of the doomed trio of Cornish signal boxes and spend a few hours photographing trains and semaphores at Lostwithiel.
Like the box at nearby Par, Lostwithiel Crossing Signal Box enjoys a Grade II Listing and, until its planned closure in autumn 2023, controls more semaphore signals (14) than any of the other mechanical signalling outposts in the Royal Duchy.