Dudding Hill: the line that time forgot

IMG_4995Looking at the massive success of London Overground in reinvigorating rail corridors around the capital, such as the North London, East London and South London Lines, it is perhaps remarkable that there is one short stretch of line in North London where time has seemingly stood still, with control by semaphore signals and a sparse traffic comprising the occasional slow-moving freight train and empty stock movements between the capital’s termini.

This is what is known as the Dudding Hill Line, a four-mile long stretch of double track route which diverges from the North London Line at Acton Wells Junction, close to North Action underground station, before heading in a clockwise arc passing junctions with the West Coast Main Line at Harlesden, the Chiltern Railways route at Neasden to end in a triangular junction with the Midland Main Line at Cricklewood. Continue reading “Dudding Hill: the line that time forgot”

Favourite photo-spots: Moreton-in-Marsh

IMG_5442When Network Rail was completing a £67 million project to re-double two sections of the Cotswold Line between Oxford and Worcester in 2011 there was not enough left in the kitty to re-signal the two re-doubled stretches of line – four miles from Charlbury to Ascott-under-Wychwood and 16 miles of line from Moreton-in-Marsh to Evesham.

So in a remarkably British piece of cost saving,  semaphore signals were only replaced at Ascott-under-Wychwood and Evesham, while those at Moreton-in-Marsh were not only reprieved, along with the 1883-vintage GWR signal box, but a new semaphore was added at the south end of the down platform, in order to allow terminating trains from London to return without the need to cross to the up line and reverse back into platform two. Continue reading “Favourite photo-spots: Moreton-in-Marsh”

Humberside’s semaphore swansong

IMG_4217.jpgRail-borne visitors to the UK’s 2017 city of culture could probably be forgiven for failing to spot during the latter stages of their journey what many enthusiasts would describe as some of the finest remaining semaphore signalling in England. It survives on a 9.5 mile stretch of line between Gilberdyke Junction and North Ferriby, but is being swept away in a £34.5 million upgrading project, due for completion in Spring 2018.

A key driver of the decision to replace reputedly the largest number of semaphore signals on any English main line route is a wish to enable later services at Hull, as the manual signal boxes are all closed overnight. That means the last train departing Hull at 22.20 and the final arrival of the day, according to the current timetable, a Northern Rail service from York at 23.35. Once re-signalling has been completed, the hope locally is for faster trains and potentially for all-night services. Continue reading “Humberside’s semaphore swansong”

Mixed traffic on the Settle-Carlisle line

IMG_3875.jpgMy nationwide quest to photograph Britain’s last mechanical signalling, in connection with a new book project, has brought me back to the Settle & Carlisle line, that amazing 72 miles of line between Settle in North Yorkshire and Carlisle in Cumbria, which 30 years ago was under sentence of death.

Reprieve in 1989 has been followed by many years of effort by the Friends of the Settle & Carlisle Railway to sustain the interest which that closure threat generated, and to build a new generation of travellers, both tourists and local users of the many stations on the line that were re-opened, and which now play a key role is sustaining and developing this remarkable tourist corridor. Continue reading “Mixed traffic on the Settle-Carlisle line”

Paying the price for High Speed folly

 

IMG_4384.jpgCitizens of Nottingham, Leicester and Derby now know the true cost of High Speed Two. After an endless on/off saga they now know that they will not be able to travel on modern high speed electric trains to the capital and that their Midland Main Line will become the only major route from London that is not electrified.

Critics of HS2 always said that the price to be paid for this multi-billion pound vanity project would be a reduction in investment in our classic rail network, and so it has come to pass. Like people living between Cardiff and Swansea and visitors to Windermere, those in the East Midlands will have to make do with a botched compromise, where inefficient new trains that run on both electric and diesel power will work under the wires as far north as Kettering, before switching to diesel power for the onward journey to Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield. Continue reading “Paying the price for High Speed folly”

Bulleid Magic at Medstead

IMG_2352.jpgFifty years ago this week-end – on Sunday, 2 July 1967 – I stood by the line close to Basingstoke station while my father photographed the farewell to Southern steam specials from London Waterloo to Bournemouth, hauled by Merchant Navy Class locos 35008 Orient Line,  35028 Clan Line and West Country Class loco 34025 Whimple.

IMG_2313.jpgHalf a century on there was a fabulous reminder for me of that fateful day, at the Summer Steam Gala on the Mid-Hants Railway (Watercress Line), where in less than two hours at Medstead & Four Marks station – at 652 feet the highest station in southern England – it was possible to see even more Bulleid Pacific action than I had watched from the line-side on that day back in 1967. Continue reading “Bulleid Magic at Medstead”

Favourite photo-spots: Par & St Blazey

IMG_2176 (1).jpgPar is one of four junction stations in Cornwall that is still controlled by manual signalling (along with Liskeard, Truro and St. Erth) but arguably the most important as there are numerous through trains onto the 20 3/4  mile Newquay branch on summer Saturdays, with one on high summer weekdays (The Atlantic Coast Express) and two on Sundays.

With its listed signalbox at the south end of platforms 2 and 3 and numerous semaphores to be seen from the station platform and nearby road bridge, it makes a great spot to spend some time, particularly with the nearest signal box and photo spots being at St Blazey, less than ten minutes’ walk away. Continue reading “Favourite photo-spots: Par & St Blazey”

Chathill: a missed connection

IMG_1257Every morning at around 06.45 an empty two-coach train arrives at the remote, and delightfully preserved, Northumbrian station of Chathill – 11 1/4 miles north of Alnmouth on the East Coast Main Line and the most north-easterly place to be served by Northern Rail. After a brief pause it carries on many miles northwards to cross over onto the up line at a former station called Belford, before returning to become the 07.08 commuter service from Chathill to Newcastle.

This is the only train from Chathill for almost exactly 12 hours, until the return working of an evening commuter service from Newcastle heads south at 19.10. There are no trains in the northbound direction at all, so any passenger for Berwick-on-Tweed or Edinburgh needs to travel south to Alnmouth, then return on a northbound train from there. Continue reading “Chathill: a missed connection”

Favourite photo-spots: Helsby

IMG_1111.jpgCo-acting signals were once a reasonably common feature on the UK rail network – that is signal posts with two arms, one at low level and one located much higher up, so that drivers could always see one or other of the signal arms when there was an obstruction, such as the station footbridge (pictured above), which would obscure the driver’s sight line to a signal at conventional height.

IMG_1157.jpgToday there are only three such signals left on the whole of Network Rail, and having previously had the chance to visit the ones at Cantley, on the Norwich-Lowestoft line in East Anglia and one at Greenloaning, just north of Stirling in Scotland, it was a great pleasure to be able to see and photograph the third of this trio at Helsby, a delightful and unspoiled junction station, roughly midway between Warrington and Chester. Continue reading “Favourite photo-spots: Helsby”

Lone Rider in North Cheshire

IMG_1174.jpgAnyone fed up with fighting for a seat on their daily commute, or their longer distance journey, would be amazed if they were to take a trip by train to a station serving the huge Essar Energy oil refinery at Stanlow on the south bank of the Manchester Ship Canal. Stanlow & Thornton station is officially one of Britain’s least used stations, recording a total of just 88 passengers in 2015/6, or little more than one a week.

Not bad, perhaps, when you consider that there is no public access to the station, which stands within the 1,900-acre refinery complex, but disappointing that it is not better used by those working at, or visiting, the UK’s second largest refinery complex. Continue reading “Lone Rider in North Cheshire”