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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Eleventh hour reprieve for world’s oldest pier railway

It was less than 48 hours before what had been billed as its last ever sailing when things began to look a little brighter for the historic Hythe Ferry, which links the waterside village with Southampton, and the 100-year old narrow gauge railway that takes passengers along the 700-yard Hythe Pier to the ferry.

Mounting losses and withdrawal of council financial support had led operator Blue Funnel Ferries to announce that the ferry would close on New Year’s Eve 2022, when the final sailing would have left Southampton’s Town Quay at 17.30. But on the evening of Thursday, 29th December came a glimmer of hope that the link could be saved.

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Images of 2022

As the blight of COVID-19 gives way to the blight of disruption caused by prolonged industrial action, it is time for some seasonal cheer to lift the gloom, and a look back at some of my railway travel and photographic highlights from around the UK, with a selection of 22 photos from trips on the British railway network during 2022.

My focus has remained on capturing our last outposts of mechanical signalling, so on 19 January I paid a return visit to the wonderful York-Harrogate line, where fine semaphore signalling remains, despite some piecemeal replacement by colour lights since my previous visit. Seen below is 170458 approaching Wilstrop distant signal W5 with 2C36 from Leeds (13.29) to York.

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All change in the Royal Duchy

In less than a year’s time the railway scene at Par will look very different from what it is today, with re-signalling set to have swept away its fine array of lower quadrant semaphores and the absurdly short-lived existence of GWR’s Castle Class 2+4 HST sets ending prematurely by December 2023.

Taking advantage of another fine winter’s day (Friday, 9 December 2022), it seemed like a good moment to pay a return visit to this attractive Cornish junction and capture more views of its doomed signals and the the 40+ year old HSTs that will all have disappeared in 12 months’ time.

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Seaford branch Class 313 swansong

Time is almost up for the remaining 18 Class 313 units, currently our oldest mainline EMUs in passenger service, with a reduction in their use on Southern’s Coastway services on the cards in the 11 December 2022 timetable change and the whole fleet due to be withdrawn by May 2023.

Having not visited the area for almost three years, a forecast of some welcome winter sunshine on 1 December 2022 seemed like the perfect excuse to take a trip on the fascinating nine-mile long Seaford branch, to experience and capture some Class 313 action before it finally disappears.

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Another look at Arbroath

Among the numerous outposts of mechanical signalling along the East Coast Main Line north of Edinburgh, the finest signal box/cabin must surely be the unique 1911-vintage North British Railway box at Arbroath, a listed building which stands some distance north of the railway station and controls a total of seven semaphores, as well as a number of shunting disc signals.

Paying a first return to the town (8 November 2022) since my last visit in June 2021, I was keen to check out a couple of photo-spots to the south of the station and particularly an over-bridge that is close to down outer home signal AH48 and from where there is a panoramic view of the coast looking south and the location, until its closure two years ago, of Scotland’s oldest miniature railway.

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Farewell Ferryside

Less than a year remains before Ferryside Signal Box and its handful of lower quadrant semaphore signals are consigned to history, as a major West Wales resignalling project known as Port Talbot West Re-signalling Phase 2 (PTW2) nears completion.

But all is not lost for the wonderful Grade II-listed Great Western Railway box at picturesque Ferryside, and a preservation group is gaining financial and political support, as I discovered when meeting the man leading efforts to secure its future while paying a return visit on 3 November 2022.

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