Full Island Line service resumes at last (well almost)

Returning for a two-day Easter week working trip to the Isle of Wight, it was good to see that the promised half-hourly rail service has at last begun, almost 18 months after the route from Ryde to Shanklin re-opened.

While Ryde Pier will not reopen until at least June, it is good to see significant progress on the new transport interchange since my last visit in early December 2022, which suggests it could be completed in time for the peak summer season.

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West Coastway Class 313 swansong

313204 approaches Barnham with 2S09 from Portsmouth & Southsea (09.57) to Littlehampton

Paying a visit to Littlehampton and Bognor Regis last month to photograph the semaphores and Class 313 workings, I had noticed a couple of foot crossings west of Barnham station that had distinct potential as photo-spots.

So making a return visit to this busy junction, my challenge was to see if I could capture a final glimpse of Class 313s working all six of the weekday West Coastway diagrams they are scheduled to operate until their final withdrawal from service on 20 May 2023.

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GWR IETs diverted via Yeovil

Mid-week closure for engineering work of the route between Castle Cary and Taunton meant another excuse to savour the rare sight of diverted GWR “flying cucumber” Class 80x IETs as they passed Yeovil Pen Mill on 23 March 2023 while working services between London Paddington and Plymouth.

Returning to photograph a scene I had last witnessed in September 2020, it was once again apparent how the single line between Castle Cary and Pen Mill, as well as the long sections of single line between Yeovil and Exeter, make for some pretty slack timetabling of the diverted services and replacement of some stopping services by mythical bus connections.

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Snow and semaphores in North-East Scotland

There are now just four signal boxes remaining along the important 108¼-mile long route linking Aberdeen and Inverness in north-east Scotland, following a number of resignalling projects over recent years.

Most recent casualties in the march of progress have been the boxes at Forres and Elgin West in 2017, followed by those at Inverurie and Dyce in 2019, leaving the current quartet of mechanically-signalled locations at Keith, Huntly, Kennethmont and Insch.

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Favourite photo-spots: Hereford

Hereford is probably best known for the remarkable Mappa Mundi housed in its cathedral, and for Ronnie Radford’s equally remarkable 1972 FA Cup goal for Hereford United against Newcastle United, but the city also has an interesting railway history and a place long overdue a proper visit.

While the Bulmer’s Railway Centre and the steam loco King George V that I remember visiting in childhood are both sadly long-departed, this remains an important junction on our national railway network and one of those curious places that is in England, but managed from Wales.

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Winter sunshine and semaphores in South Wales

Passing a pair of new Transport for Wales (TfW) Class 197 units while travelling from Newport to Craven Arms on Monday, 20 February, inspired me to pay a visit to Ferryside and Pembrey & Burry Port on 23 February 2023, in the hope of photographing the new CAF sets passing the doomed semaphore signals.

Under the current weekday timetable, Class 197 units, which are being assembled at Newport, are scheduled to operate around a dozen daily test/mileage accumulation diagrams from Swansea to Carmarthen, all beginning with the prefix 3E, although how many of these are actually run seems to vary from day to day.

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A great new vantage point at Craven Arms

After I had last paid a photographic visit to Craven Arms in May 2022, I lamented the blockading of a footpath across the line just north of signal box and level crossing that would have been a great place to see trains passing the surviving semaphores.

A sign at the entrance to the footpath from the A49 had said that it would be closed until early 2023 “pending the installation of safety features”, which I assumed would be the sort of lockable gates and warning lights that I have seen at other foot crossings.

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Semaphores and Class 37s at Moreton-in-Marsh

After a welcome sighting of Network Rail’s New Measurement Train (NMT) on a recent trip to Dawlish, I was inspired to take day trips to a couple of my favourite photo-spots in the hope of seeing the “flying banana” once again as it visited Yeovil and Moreton-in-Marsh, on its everlasting tour of our national rail network.

But things did not quite go according to plan, and on a dismal and foggy day (25 January 2023) the NMT failed to make its scheduled mid-afternoon appearance at Yeovil Pen Mill, when its circuit from Derby to Bristol via Weymouth was seemingly curtailed, while the following day produced a rather different NR test train at Moreton-in-Marsh.

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Surviving semaphores at Hastings

There are a trio of major seaside destinations along the South Coast that retain some mechanical signalling interest, with four semaphores apiece at Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, but no less than seven surviving semaphore arms at the charming East Sussex resort of Hastings.

Unlike its two West Sussex counterparts, Hastings lost an attractive 1931-vintage neo-Georgian station building when it was replaced in 2004, but fortunately it retains its 1930 Southern Railway signal box, with its 84-lever Westinghouse frame. 

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HSTs along the Sea Wall

The sight and sound of High Speed Trains (HSTs) has been an enduring feature of the railway scene in South Devon since their full introduction on services between London Paddington and Penzance in May 1980, and their introduction on cross-country services two years later.

But after more than 40 years’ service things will look very different by the end of 2023, with GWR committed to retiring the last of its 2+4 Castle sets by December, leaving just the handful of XC 2+7 sets passing this iconic location on their journeys between Plymouth and Edinburgh Waverley.

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