The Branch Line Society


Borderline Signalbox visits,
Friday 4th May 2018

Report by Ian Mitchell.

The first and northern most stop was Shotwick Ground Switch Panel (11m 74ch), the electrically operated equivalent of a ground frame, released from Dee Marsh Junction Signalbox on the Wrexham to Bidston line. Installed in 1985, it controls the access to Shotton Paper Mill. There has been no rail traffic for 15-20 years, but the crossover on the main line is occasionally used when engineering works are taking place. The switch panel itself is of a type manufactured in-house by British Rail London Midland Region (LMR) at Crewe Gresty Lane workshops and is housed in a small room at one end of the relay room.

Shotwick Ground Switch Panel
[© Ian Mitchell 2018]

Dee Marsh Junction Signal Box.
[© Ian Mitchell 2018]

State of the art technology mid-1990s style, a slightly battered Vaughan computer train describer.
[© Ian Mitchell 2018]

Next was Dee Marsh Junction Signalbox itself (13m 77ch), just north of Hawarden Bridge station on the Down side. Access involved driving through the Tata steelworks where the group had to sign in at the security gatehouse and receive a safety briefing. The box dates from 1930, but even at this late date it was built to a pre-grouping Great Central Railway design. The lever frame is the London & North Eastern Railway standard type, now with 25 levers, though it must once have been longer. All but one of the signals are colour light, and the one remaining semaphore is electrically operated, as are all the points. The box, refurbished in 2006, controls the connection to Shotton Steel Works, known as the 'Birkenhead Siding' on the west side of the line, and the disused 'Tube Works Siding' on the east side. The steel works has an internal railway network with its own locos; one was heard but not seen (unlike well behaved children) during the visit. Track circuit block working applies on the line northwards to Merseyrail IECC (interfacing at 11m 00ch) using axle counters and a rather antique Vaughan computer train describer (circa 1994), with absolute block working southwards to Penyffordd, the next stop.

A fine selection of 'borderline' BLS Members. Top of the stairs is our roving photographer Nick Jones from Fort William with your BLN Wales Regional Editor Chris Parker (left hand on handrail - as good a place as any). Front row second from the left leaning on the handrail is the one and only Angus McDougall and the other side of the handrail is Society electronic message guru Nick Garnham. Third from the right is the fixture organiser Barney Clark with report author Ian Mitchell second from right. Looking north, the link to the Mold/Denbigh line diverged left behind the box.
[© Barney Clark, 2018]

Penyffordd signalbox (7m 41ch) is located at the north end of the station of the same name. It is an LMR standard design built in 1972 with 25 levers. There was a trailing crossover and a connection to sidings on the course of the line to Mold and Denbigh, both OOU since 5 Jul 2015, they were removed from 28 May 2016. The box now only controls signals and a release for the ground frame controlling access to Padeswood Cement Works half a mile to the north. All the signals are semaphore, except for the southbound distant colour light. The levers controlling the removed points and signals have not yet been disconnected and painted white, much to the disgust of the signallers as it means a facing point lock lever is permanently in the reverse position and gets in their way! There has not been any rail traffic to the cement works since the last coal train arrived from Killoch on 17 May 2017, but Hanson are planning expansion and it is anticipated that rail traffic will eventually revive. The box works absolute block northwards to Dee Marsh Junction and southwards to Croes Newydd North Fork. It switches out in the evenings when the service drops back from hourly to every two hours. In the new Wales and the Borders Rail Franchise a half-hourly service is planned with converted ex-LUL D78 stock.

Croes Newydd North Fork Signalbox (201m 43ch) is at a level crossing on the Shrewsbury - Chester line south of Wrexham General. It is of Great Western Railway design, built in 1905 and extended in 1940. A modern 'NX' panel was installed with refurbishment in 2009, controlling a relay interlocking. As well as the main line, the box controls the south end of the Bidston - Wrexham line, including the single track Wrexham Central line. There is absolute block working to Gobowen and Penyffordd, and track circuit block working to Chester PSB with a modern train describer. The interface with Chester is on the remaining stretch of single line, over which Chester has control of the direction of traffic, but the train describer gives the signaller good advance warning of approaching trains as soon as they have left Chester. An unusual feature of the absolute block working on the Bidston line is that the trains are never in sight of the signaller and so the conductor of an arriving train has to telephone to report that the train is complete before the signaller can give 'train out of section' to Penyffordd. The Kronospan siding at Chirk is in the absolute block section to Gobowen, so an incoming loaded timber train has to be offered to Gobowen and then cancelled once it has set back into the siding.

Croes Newydd North Fork Signal Box
[© Ian Mitchell 2018]

[© Ian Mitchell 2018]

The final visit was to Gobowen North (189m 56ch), the oldest signalbox visited, a Mackenzie and Holland design of 1884, with a 16 lever GWR stud frame of 1906. Most of the signals are semaphores, with an interesting electrically worked example with the motor above the arm at the end of the northbound platform. There are some colour lights in the area formerly controlled by Gobowen South, and a ground switch panel for the connection to the Oswestry line which is still used for access to a tamper siding. There is absolute block working to Croes Newydd North Fork and track circuit block to Crewe Junction box at Shrewsbury (but with block bells rather than a train describer).

Another excellent day of BLS signalbox visits! Thanks to Barney Clark for the organisation and to our NR host Mark Owen; £210 from 11 participants was donated to NR's nominated charity, Barnardo's.

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