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”

Railways and the 2017 General Election

IMG_6585.jpgTransport has hardly captured headlines in an election campaign dominated by Brexit, dementia tax and NHS funding, yet there are some interesting comments and pledges within the partly manifestoes, notably the Labour Party’s proposal to renationalise the railway network by progressively resuming control of passenger services through not re-letting franchises as they expire. This is a theme echoed by the Green Party, which simply pledges a return of the railways to public ownership, without any detail whatsoever about how this might happen, or what it might cost.

HS2 gets a mention in the manifestoes of all the English-based parties, with all the three main parties remaining steadfastly behind the project, but UKIP and the Green Party both pledging to have it scrapped. While the Green Party simply describe it as “wasting money”, UKIP is rather more strident: “Spending £75 billion [wonder where that figure came from?] just to save a few minutes between London and Leeds is ludicrous and, we think, unethical” the party asserts. Continue reading “Railways and the 2017 General Election”

Favourite photo-spots: Droitwich Spa

IMG_6885.jpgDroitwich Spa is the northern end of an oasis of semaphore signalling in the Worcester area, where there are a total of eight boxes with at least some mechanical signalling, as far south as Norton Junction and south west as far as Ledbury on the route to Hereford.

IMG_6928.jpgLike Shrewsbury and also Worcester Shrub Hill, Droitwich Spa has its celebrity signals – in this case it is the pair of down starting signals (DS8) which are of the centre pivot type (pictured above) similar to those on platform 7 at Shrewsbury.

The Great Western box, dating from 1907 and sadly without a name plate on its front side, stands 300 yards north of the station between the Kidderminster route diverging to the left and the single line to Bromsgrove to the right. Continue reading “Favourite photo-spots: Droitwich Spa”

Ghost train to Newhaven Marine

IMG_0625During the long hot summer of 1976 I arrived at Newhaven Marine on a boat train from London Victoria on my first teenage visit to Paris, boarding a Sealink ferry to Dieppe, where a connecting train whisked me off to Gare St. Lazare in the French capital.

IMG_0651Paying a return visit to Newhaven 41 years later it is sad to see that Newhaven Marine station appears to have just been demolished, albeit more than a decade after it saw its last passengers. It effectively closed in 2006, due to safety concerns, and would be passengers were re-directed to the nearby Harbour station. Continue reading “Ghost train to Newhaven Marine”

Favourite photo-spots: Shrewsbury

IMG_9963.jpgAnyone with an interest in our signalling heritage simply must pay a visit to Shrewsbury, home to the world’s largest working mechanical signal box, Severn Bridge Junction. This is one of three boxes that can be seen from the station platforms, along with more than two dozen working mechanical signals.

IMG_0210Amongst these, the real gem is SBJ11, a pair of extremely rare lower quadrant centre pivot signals controlling the southern end of platform 7. Severn Bridge Junction is one of two listed boxes at Shrewsbury, the other being the almost equally impressive Crewe Junction box at the north end of the station, where the route to Crewe diverges from the line to Chester. Continue reading “Favourite photo-spots: Shrewsbury”

Railway Renaissance

RR_CoverGareth’s first book – published September 2017

 Pen & Sword Books Ltd

ISBN: 9781473862005

Order at Waterstones or Amazon

When a 35 mile stretch of the former Waverley route from Edinburgh to Carlisle reopened on 6 September 2015, it became the most significant reopening of any UK railway since the infamous Beeching Report, ‘The re-shaping of British Railways’, was published in March 1963.
   In his report, Dr Richard Beeching recommended sweeping closures of lines across the UK to improve the financial performance of British railways, which led to wholesale closures over the following decade and a reduction in the UK rail network from 18,000 miles in 1963, to some 11,000 miles a decade later.

Continue reading “Railway Renaissance”