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BLS North Wales Coast Signal Boxes Farewell
Thursday 8th March 2018

Report by Nick Jones (With thanks to Dave Plimmer and Malcolm Atherton.)


At 10.00 on Thursday 8 March, a small group of members assembled at Llandudno Junction station and met Mobile Operations Manager Mark Owen for a fascinating tour of signal boxes in their last few weeks of life. The North Wales Coast Phase 1 Signalling Renewal, (which subsequently took place over Easter 2018) would see six block posts and one crossing keeper's hut abolished, with the new signalling controlled from the Wales Railway Operating Centre (W-ROC) in Cardiff (as now named in the Sectional Appendix). Interestingly Phase 2 (to Holyhead) has now been completely cancelled - not just paused - and NR has said that if they had known this earlier Phase 1 control would have been from Llandudno Junction Signal Box instead. The traditional boxes visited were London North Western Railway (LNWR) Type 4 design, but of widely varying sizes. By contrast, Tyn-y-Morfa and Rockcliffe Hall were modern temporary cabin buildings.

Abergele & Pensarn, Grade II listed, was the first port of call. This location formerly had four tracks; main lines in the centre and the platforms served only by the outer two platform loops. Nowadays, in the absence of overtaking moves, only two lines are needed so, in the Up (eastbound) direction, the platform loop survives while the original (centre) Up Main closed 11 Dec 1988. By contrast, on the Down side, it is the former Main line that survives, with the platform extended out over the former Down Loop to serve it from 12 Mar 2017. The large box contained a 60 lever frame but, with various rationalisations, (such as both slow lines to Llandulas closing from 14 Mar 1965 and see later) only 6 levers latterly remained in use: 1, 2, 3 (Distant, Home, Starter on the Down) and similarly 60, 59, 57 on the Up side. All other levers were out of use (OOU), although former facing point lock (FPL) lever 25 had to be kept reversed to release the (no longer required, but still in situ) lever 2 interlocking.

As with all the block-posts visited, standard British Rail (BR) Block Instruments were used for Absolute Block (AB) working in both directions. While most of the group were familiar with lever collars, used to disable levers (temporarily or permanently), the steel oval design of collar - unique to the LNWR design frames, was a first for most of us! We were also introduced to another new concept to some of us: The Pale Green Dot! In general these small stickers are used to indicate equipment that is to be to be salvaged for reuse (or a museum!) when boxes are decommissioned. On 23 Apr 1967 Abergele - Foryd Jn Up Slow closed (some became the Up Platform Loop/siding) and Foryd Jn to Rhyl on 31 May 1970.


Abergele Signal Box instruments, the green dots indicate equipment to be saved for possible future use/spares
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Rather than the railroad going through the middle of the house, the Down Passenger Loop used to go through the middle of Abergele & Pensarn Down platform extension
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Talking of which…
[© Nick Jones 2018]


Rhyl is a very tall box just east of the station commanding a superb view over the railway. It was once known as Rhyl No1; the former No2 box at the West end, taken OOU in 1990, still stands - but in a somewhat forlorn and boarded up condition. Both are Grade II listed. Rhyl retains a relatively complex layout (and more so since Easter 2018 resignalling) with an operational through (Down Main) line and two Regional Civil Engineer sidings which are frequently occupied by track machines. Consequently there were plenty of working levers to keep the signaller busy. The Down Passenger Loop closed 11 Oct 1987 and the Up Fast on 28 Jan 1990. Rhyl No2 to Abergele Down Slow line closed 14 Jan 1973.


Another distinctive feature of Rhyl box was the large 'Train Running Away' bell to alert signallers (loudly!) in case of unauthorised train movements past the Down intermediate block Home signal 14. As can be seen it is complete with a bespoke muffling system. The box is three floors high; the interlocking was on the intermediate level. At least one member present suggested that access to the box might be via the scary looking external ladder, but thankfully it was only an emergency escape route and we climbed the internal wooden staircase! Mark also kindly showed us the distinctive LNWR interlocking in most of the boxes. At locations such as Rhyl, weights are directly attached to the locking - presumably to ensure reliable operation.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Rarely seen by non-signal box aficionados, the mysteries of Rhyl locking room, beneath the signal frame, showing weights directly attached to the locking (see report above).
[© Nick Jones 2018]




View of the line and station from the remarkably narrow balcony of Rhyl signal box. Left to right are the two Engineer's Sidings, Down passenger Loop, Down Main (no platform) and Up Main.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Prestatyn Box is on the Down side (looking towards Rhyl) the Dyserth branch used to trail in left of the box. Prestatyn station is off to the right. In contrast this was a much smaller (two storey) box. Just 6 levers remained in use in the former 44-lever frame. The Up Slow to Rhyl No1 went 16 Feb 1969 and the Down Slow 25 Mar 1990. Latterly no points at all were used and the box just broke up the long Talacre - Rhyl block section. Prestatyn was the only box visited with a mechanically worked semaphore distant.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




The tensioning device for the Up Distant Signal.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




The old and the new at Tyn-y-Morfa gates, note the semaphore (nothing to do with railway operation, of course) by the former Crossing Keeper's house.
[© Nick Jones 2018]


And now for something completely different…

Tyn-y-Morfa Crossing Keepers cabin. This controlled a private level crossing leading to a handful of houses and a footpath into a caravan park. It appeared to be a nondescript single-storey temporary portable building at first glance with little of interest. Nevertheless there were a few hidden gems! Inside, traditional block repeaters in a wooden cabinet showed the crossing keeper the state of the Talacre - Prestatyn block (Clear, Train Approaching or Train In Section). An original block telephone survived, apparently still working, although in practice the more modern equipment was generally used.

Next door was the original crossing-keeper's house, with an old semaphore signal arm in the garden. Unlike many crossings converted to Manually Controlled Barrier with Obstruction Detection, here CCTV cameras were being installed so that the crossing could be operated remotely from the W-ROC.


Tyn-y-Morfa crossing gate box. They don't make phones like that anymore! Maybe that is why it is sporting a green spot (the mobile phone on top doesn't have one).
[© Nick Jones 2018]




A pre-resignalling sign at the crossing and, despite appearances, the natives are friendly.
[© Nick Jones 2018]


Talacre Box controlled the former connection to the Point of Ayr Colliery (mining ceased 23 Aug 1996) at the most northerly point of the Welsh mainland. At the time of the Society visit the track was in situ, right to the end of the former colliery branch, but very overgrown, and the connection remained (long out of use, of course). This has since been plain lined with the resignalling.

The last coal train left on 17 Sep 1996 but signallers here could formerly reminisce with a lovely picture, on the box wall, of a pair of Class 20s propelling wagons into the colliery. Interestingly, the box and frame were originally located a few miles to the west, at Gronant, but were moved here for the branch opening in 1903. The frame originally had 24 levers, seven of which had been removed, leaving 17 (and 15 nominally in use).


Talacre Signal Box on the Up side.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




The interior.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




The closed Grade II listed Mostyn Signal Box, the former level crossing (right) is now a NR access point, the new bidirectional Up Mostyn Goods Loop (replacing the Up and Down Loops at Holywell Junction) is the track furthest from the camera. Note the buoy lower centre far left.
[© Nick Jones 2018]


Mostyn (No1) box closed 9 Jan 2017 (and had been mostly switched out since 14 Nov 2008). Sadly, safety concerns (and lack of a key!) meant the group was unable to enter the Grade II listed box. However, a pause was made by the road side to take pictures and Mark kindly supplied some interior photos. This is another very impressive looking three storey structure, but with the base narrower than the operating floor, to fit between the Up and Down lines. It is also, of course, the junction for the Mostyn Docks exchange sidings which last saw freight (steel) trains in Nov 2008. Perhaps surprisingly, the resignalled layout retains the Docks connection (but it is currently OOU due to poor track), controlled of course from the W-ROC. It remains to be seen if there will ever be any more commercial traffic. This must also be the only TRACKmaps location that shows a ship! (TRACKmaps Vol 4 p36A, Aug 2013.) Between Mostyn and Prestatyn, the Down Slow closed 19 Mar 1967 (part was retained as a 645yd siding) to a new Fast to Slow crossover 180yd east of Prestatyn, where a Down Passenger Loop was created (itself closed on 25 Oct 1992). The Up Slow closed 26 Mar 1967 but with parts at each end retained as sidings; at the Mostyn end designated No1 siding with the previous 1-4 renumbered 2-5.


A colourful scene at Holywell Junction, right is the Up Siding (a through siding), near left is the very elusive Up Goods Loop then the Up Main and a significant gap (with the signal box) before the Down Main and Down Goods Loop. Far centre left is the end slope of the disused Down platform.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Holywell Junction
[© Nick Jones 2018]




A Victorian computer - Holywell Junction box mechanical interlocking beneath the frame.
[© Nick Jones 2018]


Holywell Junction: The Grade II listed box provided a glimpse of former glory days with four running lines then still in situ (and a through Up Siding). From Bagillt to Holywell Junction, the Down Slow closed 14 Mar 1965 and the Up Slow 7 May 1967 (part was retained as an Up Goods line and for connections into Courtaulds). To Mostyn the Down Slow closed 27 Oct 1966 (with part retained as a siding from Holywell) and Up Slow 29 Mar 1967. In theory until Easter 2018 Holywell Junction Up and Down Goods loops were available but in practice nothing actually used them. Our 22 Apr 2017 'Y Triongl Gogledd Cymru' tour traversed the Down Goods Loop (DGL) but - despite the best efforts of NR - the UGL eluded us. Both went with the recent Easter resignalling.

The eagle eyed can spot a derelict Down passenger platform (CP 14 Feb 1966). Very notable here was the number of ground discs - 22 on the diagram - a reminder of when it was once a busy freight location. Nominally 47 of the 54 levers were in use but several had A4 laminated sheets hung on them indicating the dates that the various sidings had been taken OOU (some over 12 years ago). The sidings (near the box at least) seemed to be intact at the time of the visit and signalled but went over Easter.

Rockcliffe Hall: This double height temporary style/portable building housed a small One-ControlSwitch (OCS) panel, opened in 1995, replacing the previous box which had been demolished to make way for the new Connah's Quay road bridge. It had fringed with Chester Power Signal Box since Mold Jn and Sandycroft boxes closed in 2005. This means that Rockcliffe Hall then worked Track Circuit Block to Chester, with a VDU-style Train Describer. To the west, Rockcliffe Hall worked Absolute Block to Holywell Jn; the block Instrument consisted of modern buttons and lamps built into the panel itself.

It only remains to thank our generous and knowledgeable host Mark Owen, as well as Operations Manager Alvan Jones who gave permission for the visits. Special mention must also be made of our member Barney Clark who fixed up the visit but sadly was unable to join us on the day. [Way beyond the call of duty - Ed.] These were enjoyable visits to since decommissioned boxes which raised £275 for NR's charity partner Barnardo's. Useful Links: https://goo.gl/ZzNrH9 (a 5 min video about Rhyl No2 Signal Box) and http://www.2d53.co.uk

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