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.
When I described the handful of mechanical signals at Deal as “Kent’s last semaphores” in a feature last month, a reader helpfully pointed out that there were actually two others in the county, at Grain on the freight-only branch from Hoo Junction to Thamesport.
Discovering not only that their days were numbered, but also that the diminutive Grain Crossing Signal Box is a unique design that enjoys a Grade II Listing for its rarity, meant that it was high time to pay a first ever visit to the remarkable Isle of Grain.
As another year blighted by the spectre of COVID-19 draws to a close, and all the signs are that we are about to face another winter of travel restrictions, this seems a good moment to briefly cast aside health worries and take a look back at some UK railway images of the past year.
Despite not being able to take any rail trips until late April, I was fortunate enough to be able to make numerous trips around the country in the following months, so what follows is a selection of 21 favourite images from 2021.
TEN YEARS after a major re-signalling project in East Kent led to the loss of mechanical signalling at Canterbury East and at Shepherdswell, near Dover, there remains one place in the Garden of England where our fastest domestic trains are controlled by semaphore signals.
When that East Kent re-signalling project was completed at the end of 2011 it left an isolated outpost of mechanical signalling at Deal, where a handful of semaphores remain controlled by its 1939-vintage art deco style signal box, known as a Southern Railway Type 13, which also controls a level crossing just north of the station.
Less than two years before its loss to re-signalling it is time to pay another visit on Monday, 6 December 2021 to the Royal Duchy, and spend a few hours photographing the fine collection of semaphores that are controlled by Truro Signal Box.
Truro is one of three locations along the main line in Cornwall, along with Par and Lostwithiel, both of which I re-visited and featured earlier in the year, that is due to close in autumn 2023 when control is taken over by Exeter Power Signal Box.
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.