It’s been quite a number of years since I visited the Blyth & Tyne rail network. In fact, apart from the odd shuttle between the aluminium smelter and Cambois, I have had little luck photographing trains in the area. Today, the smelter at Lynemouth is closed, the colliery gone and the mining complex at Ashington just a memory, although the power station at Lynemouth remains and takes coal by train. There’s no coal export from Port of Blyth, the coal staithes have gone too and Cambois depot has gone the way of the majority of its Class 56s. Even when I last dropped in on the area in the early 1990s, the network was a shadow of its former self, with virtually all of the collieries and rail served industries, together with their branches closed, disconnected, mothballed or removed.
So, why revisit the area? Well, I was curious to see if the network had changed at all in the last 20-odd years. After all that time together with the speed of rationalisation of the rail network under Network Rail, the semaphore signals should have gone the way of the collieries. The signal boxes may have been long removed in favour of a much rationalised single track railway with nothing of note to photograph at all.
What I did find was encouraging. Despite the loss of key online industries (did I mention the huge Cambois power station, now derelict industrial land?), I found semaphores, mechanical signal boxes and was able to photograph a handful of coal trains (Freightliner and GBRf) working to and from Battleship Wharf. I saw more whilst driving between locations including one heading towards Lynemouth power station north of Seaton.
Examples of photographically interesting locations includes a manually worked level crossing on a public road at Cambois. The line leads to the alumina loading terminal which still sees trains to and from Fort William and Battleship Wharf.
The crew of GBRf Class 66 No. 66 720 receive instruction following coal loading at Battleship Wharf. There is talk of a biomass power station to replace Cambois power station and a biomass loading terminal at this location.
Freemans Signal box which controlled at lot of track at one time. It guards the level crossing and controls the entry and exit from the single track north Blyth line. Gone are the connections to Cambois power station, the coal staithes and Cambois depot.
At the north end of the triangular Junction is Marcheys House signal box. It interfaces with Winning and Bedlington North box at the opposite ends of the junction together with North Seaton gate box to the north on the line to Ashington.
Bedlington North Signal box which links into Bedlington South, Winning and Marcheys House. It controls the junction at Bedlington North where the line to Morpeth diverges from the Bedlington – Ashington line.
Unfortunately, limited time prevented me from looking in on Ashington signal box together with the remains of the Butterwell line, which is now closed, together with Newsham South (still active). Needless to say, the modelling potential of this area is not insignificant and I will visit the area again in the future to see how things progress! If signal boxes and semaphores are your thing, given the pace of change on the rail network, don’t let too much time pass before visiting the area. It may all disappear in a matter of days in favour of LED signals – efficient but sterile!