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”

Sri Lankan railway miscellany

IMG_2400.jpgSri Lanka’s extensive broad gauge (5’ 6”) railway network not only boasts a great deal of classic mechanical signalling (see my earlier “Eye Kandy” post) but also offers some magnificently scenic rail journeys at absurdly cheap fares, and an interesting variety of rolling stock, imported from places as far afield as the US and Japan.

The island’s 937-mile (1,500km) network stretches from Jaffna in the north to Galle and Matara on its southern coast, with a route following the west coast northwards for some 85 miles from Colombo to Puttalam, the “Main Line” heading north-east from the capital to Kandy and on into the Tea Country to a terminus at Badulla, and other branch lines reaching the east coast at Batticaloa and Trincomalee.

Railways on the island were introduced by the British colonial government in the 1860s, and, for those with an interest in British traction, there are a couple of classes of diesel locomotives currently in service amongst the island’s varied fleet. Continue reading “Sri Lankan railway miscellany”

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”

Eye Kandy

IMG_2795Take a three hour train trip from Colombo’s Fort station to Sri Lanka’s second city, Kandy, and there are plenty of reminders of the amazing legacy which Victorian railway pioneers left to this former outpost of the British Empire. While the train itself is likely to be one of the modern Chinese-built S12 diesel units dating from 2012, the bargain priced ticket (190 Rupees second class, or just under £1.00) will be a classic Edmondson card, like all the tickets issued at ticket offices throughout the country.FullSizeRender.jpg

For the first 90 minutes of the 75-mile journey there is nothing too special to see, other than three unidentifiable steam locomotives standing at the depot just east of the capital, but things start to change when you get to Polgahawela Junction, 45.5 miles from Columbo and the place where the northern route towards Jaffna and Mannar diverges, with the first opportunity to see the classic lower quadrant semaphore signals that are a feature of the route from here to Kandy. Continue reading “Eye Kandy”

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”