Signalbox moves again

by Rob Phillips, Gwili Railway

Aberayron signalbox in its Fishguard garden

station garden

Less than a week before Fishguard and Goodwick station re-opened, on Friday 11th May, Aberayron Signalbox was moved from Fishguard to the Gwili Railway. How did it ever come to Fishguard, and how come it’s gone again?

moving team

five teas please

The signalbox was commissioned with the opening of the Lampeter, Aberayron & New Quay Light Railway in 1911 to control access to the small goods yard and engine shed at Aberayron. The station closed to passengers in 1951, and to goods in 1964 when the Aberayron branch was cut back to the milk factory at Felin-fach.

signalbox on rails to move across garden

on track

The station buildings remained in situ following complete site closure in 1965; however, photographic evidence taken in 1967 shows that the signal box had been removed.  It was thought that the signal box had been demolished during the removal of the disused section of the branch but fortunately it had been purchased by the late Mr. William ‘Bill’ Fowler of Aberaeron. He dismantled it into ‘flat-pack’ form and stored at his mother’s house until he moved to Fishguard to take up a teaching post. Then wanting to “take a piece of Aberaeron with him”, he removed the box from storage and loaded it onto a Fishguard Fruit flatbed lorry, and headed south.

crane lifting signalbox

heave

Mr. Fowler and a group of friends from the Fishguard and Goodwick Rugby team, family and neighbours reconstructed the box in his back garden. Although he wasn’t a railway enthusiast, he wanted to preserve this part of Aberaeron’s history. He looked after it until he died in 2002.

In 2011 Aberaeron celebrated the centenary of the opening of the station. Mrs Fowler approached Cymdeithas Aberaeron to see if they would be interested in returning the signalbox to the town. Unfortunately no suitable location could be found. Thomas Spain, a Gwili Railway volunteer from the Fishguard area approached Mrs Fowler with the idea of moving the signalbox to the Gwili Railway. In January 2012 all was agreed.

signalbox towed on trailer

safely on board

So it was that on May 5th, a small group jacked the signalbox up from the garden that had been home for nearly 50 years, and moved it on a temporary railway across Mrs Fowler’s lawn, ready for the crane to lift it onto a lorry for the move to Bronwydd Arms on May 11th.

The move was complicated by the presence of low power and telephone cables, so the box was initially loaded onto a low trailer to move out onto the main road. There it was loaded onto a lorry by crane. At this moment it is on a well wagon at Bronwydd Arms, ready to be tripped to Llwyfan Cerrig for unloading, so some repair work can take place this week.

signalbox ready for departure

where to now?

Our eventual plan is to install it near Llwyfan Cerrig Ground Frame where it will be in the company of the booking office from Felin-fach, also at Llwyfan Cerrig.

An appeal, for funds to transport, repair and permanently install the box has so far raised £1,000 was launched (including generous donations from the Aeron Valley Railway Society and Cymdeithas Aberaeron), and Davies Crane Hire of Carmarthen agreed to provide their services at cost. We do still need to raise additional funds however, so if you’d like to send a donation, we’d be very grateful. Please make a cheque payable to “GRPS”, with ‘Aberayron Signal Box Project’ clearly marked on the back. Send it to Dave Johnson, GRPS Treasurer, 54 Church Road, Gorslas, Llanelli , Carmarthenshire, SA14 7NF.

We’d really like to thank Mrs Fowler for donating the signalbox, and to all those involved in raising funds and organising the move, especially Thomas Spain who acted as project manager.

If you are interested in finding out more, please drop me  line on rob.phillips@phonecoop.coop

Fishguard Trains says: Thrilled at your initiative in rescuing and re-using our railway heritage. Now it’s up to us to put the restored station buildings at Fishguard and Goodwick to good use.

9 Comments

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9 Responses to Signalbox moves again

  1. Rhydgaled

    Last night, after the joy of having a new station opened had subsided, I started to wonder if it was worth it. Almost certainly of course, the much increased publicity (there was an article in the Western Mail also, including a mention on the cover) and improved accessibility for car users and Goodwick residents should all mean the station provides a massive boost to the rail service.

    However, whenever I momentarily forget these huge benefits, I can’t help thinking that we have an almost-soulless modern station, not the one with historic character I had hoped Goodwick would have eventually (eventually being around the end of the trial rail service period, which was the earliest I dared hope they would replace the demolished station building).

    Of course even the modern station we have gained is very much better than no station at all. The only concern here really is that the conservation area rules have failed to ensure the character of the area was maintained. We need much more effective regulations for preserving built heritage and the appearance of areas. That is a whole separate issue from public transport services of course, so this probably isn’t the right place for discussing this further (and there are far more important, and relevant, challenges ahead).

    Speaking of more important challenges, Swansea Jack has mentioned on the WNXX forum the Gowerton redoubling works are to be carried out as a 2 week big bang closure over Easter 2013, with West Wales services being diverted via the Swansea District line. That clearly sets the deadline by which we have to ensure the future of the SDL is secured. The other major challenge is integrating the various public transport modes we now have in north Pembs.

    At the reopening on Monday, I thought more about how to use the buildings. I like the idea, posted by Bulleid Pacific on ‘Goodwick Station: The final works’ for the main building to contain a museum. It would appear the public toilets in the Ocean Lab building (and the building next door) are both going to be lost under the marina development, so I suggest relocating these into the main building at FGW also. So the main building would have toilets, and a museum. Having the public toilets relocated there means someone will be coming round every so often to maintain them, and while they are at it they can keep an eye on a basic waiting room inside the brick shed. The brick shed could be locked by the guard on the evening FGH to Carmarthen service, and unlocked by the guard on the first Carmarthen to Fishguard service in the morning.

  2. Swansea Jack

    Well in my view we have a wonderful new station. Heritage, and conservation have their place, but what cannot happen is that the railway and its infrastructure get preserved in aspic for the future. What we need is a modern railway that is fit for the 21st century, not some museum piece that looks quaint and wonderful and is of little use to the travelling public. The general public might find the Titfield Thunderbolt concept great on the Gwili Railway or at Llangollen, but wouldn’t consider it as a valid alternative to the car!

    Over the next few years we will see electrification of the Great western Main line with all those wonderful Brunelian structures like Maidenhead bridge over the Thames , Sydney Gardens in Bath and Box Tunnel. We need to avoid all this grade 1 listed / conservation status stuff which will simply push up costs and delay completion of the electrification project.

    Nice as the replacement building is at Goodwick the cold facts are that there is presently no use for the building, and lack of a suitable use is what condemned the old structure to ruin. I am pleased enough with the structure and really do hope that a suitable use can be found for it as soon as possible, but while we do need to avoid the wanton destruction of structures as witnessed in the 1960s across the UK we also have to be realistic in what is possible. The replacement building had to be entirely on PCC land, it does not form part of the station, although it does provide a wonderful background, and adds something to the station yard! Building regulations have moved on considerably since 1899 so building a replica wasn’t possible, what the contractors have achieved certainly captures the spirit of the original which was the point, although what it would never do is to be an exact replica of a 1950s station building with a roaring waiting room fire, with a parcels office and a ticket office that some seem to crave.

    Could I suggest that anyone who wants to see the railways of this country preserved as a museum piece head off to Bronwydd Arms and the Gwili Railway and help to support those who are trying to show the railways as they were in that era.

    The point about the Swansea District line (SDL) is valid, but again if we are not realistic in our aims we will get nowhere. The aim at present has to be:
    a) maintaining the route as a through passenger line,
    b) getting a morning Eastbound and evening peak Westbound service to use the line as a way of getting a faster Carmarthen (& Pembrokeshire- i.e Milford) to Cardiff commuter service. The days when the SDL’s main use was for London to Fishguard boat trains, Ocean liner specials, and Summer Saturday Holiday trains to Tenby and South Pembrokeshire are long gone, but building up a case for a West Wales version of Von Ieuan’s Express from Holyhead to Cardiff is certainly achievable, although a 175 2 car set is probably more realistic than a loco-hauled set in this case.

    In the medium term, hopefully after the electrification sparks effect increases passenger travel on the South wales Main Line, we could then push for a Morriston Parkway type station to tap the demand for Swansea Valley area to Cardiff journeys, with an hourly or better service, although getting SWWITCH interested in promoting travel opportunities to Cardiff could be difficult.

    Any talk of 2 hourly Fishguard to Cardiff express service at this stage will simply result in the promoters being treated as unrealistic; one of the big lessons learned about the Fishguard trains and Goodwick station campaigns is that we were realistic in our expectations; if we hadn’t been thus we’d still have just the 2 trains a day! Hatti Woakes is correct in what she said to camera on Wales Today on Monday evening – focus on what is achievable, or be condemned to campaign in vain!

  3. Swansea Jack

    Meanwhile back on the thread, it is great to see a proper use being made of Aberaeron signal box after such a long time – a similar period to Goodwick station of course. Billy Fowler was my form teacher in Ysgol Uwchradd Abergwaun back in the 1970s and we need to thank him and his wife for the foresight firstly to preserve the old structure, and secondly to donate it to the Gwili Railway where it will once again have the opportunity to control trains – the job for which it was designed back in 1911.

    It’s great to see part of the old Lampeter, Aberayron and New Quay Light Railway finding a railway use again. Well done all!

  4. Rhydgaled

    You didn’t see my proposed timetable (linked from a comment in REVEALED: the Fishguard & Goodwick timetable) then Swansea Jack? I think that was a realistic aim before the May 14th timetable extended the Pembroke Dock – Swansea train to Cardiff and hence removed the idle unit at Swansea. That change makes my suggested timetable unachievable for now, but wouldn’t you say the SDL component (a single class 158 running a 07:55 Fishguard to Cardiff, followed by an 11am-ish departure from Cardiff back to Fishguard (basicly the current boat train, but timed a little quicker) and the 13:30 Fishguard – Cardiff and finishing off with a 17:54 Cardiff – Fishguard to give passengers an alternative to the 17:39 ‘sardine express’) was a realistic aim?

    However, I think that we may also need to secure an official long-term asperation for a more-frequent service (long term being sometime in the next franchise probably) in order to ensure the SDL is maintained fully to its current standards.

    Is that not realistic?

    P.S. I don’t think I ever suggested we should ask for a ticket office, a parcels office or a fire, at Fishguard & Goodwick station.

  5. Blocking Back

    Sir John Mills staggers into the Raffles Hotel in Alexandria. Almost dying of thirst and covered in Saharan dust, he staggers to the bar and orders an ice cold beer… “What?! Carlsberg?! But I wanted Heineken!”

    Some people are never satisfied.

    Having spoken to drivers, conductors and signallers involved in the operation of the service, I would strongly suggest that you re-direct your efforts from making grandiose plans to encouraging the good burghers of Fishguard and Goodwick to actually use the service they asked for and have been given. Of the five new services, two and frequently three services per day in each direction are normally running empty, while only one service in each direction seems to be well used.

    • Rhydgaled

      Please tell us more Blocking Back, which services are carrying the most passengers, and more importantly roughly how many passengers is that?

      I would susspect no amount of encouraging is going to fill the 07:34 from Clarbeston Road. Who lives in Clarbeston Road and wants to be in Goodwick shortly before 08:00? It is an ECS move plain and simple, and I hope the athorities recognise that when assessing if the trial was a success. The 05:50 from Carmarthen has a bigger catchment area, but with such an early arrival in Fishguard I expect that is another of the quiet services and I doubt there’s much than can be done to boost its useage either.

      On the subject of grandiose plans and not being satisfied, it is very satisfying that we have three additional services into Fishguard (not counting near-ECS-moves) and five additional outward services. The publicity generated by the re-openning of Fishguard & Goodwick is also pleasing.

      What is not satisfying is the near-total lack of bus/rail integration (and existing problems with lack of connections between bus routes) and the fact that rail is not currently competitive with road for journeys to Cardiff and England (which we know is a bigger market for Fishguard travelers than Swansea or Carmarthen). Next year Gowerton’s redoubled, which might be followed by cutbacks on the SDL. If that is allowed to happen it will almost certainly doom rail to be uncompetitive in this part of the world for good.

      The proposed timetable I was refering to above is not my orriginal grandiose idea for a train every two hours between Fishguard and Cardiff. It is a carefully planned improvment, designed to be possible with just one additonal unit. Part of that (the afternoon extra Fishguard – Swansea) is now impractical since the idle unit in Swansea which would have formed it has been put to use elsewhere. Therefore, I have reduced my short-term asperations to only the changes to Swansea District Line services (which happen to allow the existing Fishguards to be extended to Carmarthen so there is no more having to change at Clarbeston Road). If you think adding 1 extra train each way over the SDL with the suggested tweaks to existing Fishguards is an unrealistic proposal, why?).

  6. Swansea Jack

    Connecting buses – the 56 day requirement for licencing bus routes and changes to times has proved a hindrance, but I think you’ll be quite pleased with the bus services from June 6th, when Richards Bros will add to their 410 town services to give a connection from the last arrival, which also gives a later evening service from Goodwick to Fishguard (or further) that was lost when the subsidised services were lost last year.

    As far as the loading of the trains are concerned I have noticed an increase in passenger numbers since Goodwick opened – 20 got off there on Monday this week from the 14:35 ex Gloucester, while there was 11 cars in the car park and a taxi that picked up passengers. The following service dropped off 9 or 10 passengers so that is doing better too. The 08:04 ans 09:56 in the up direction both seem to be reasonably well patronised, while on Monday there were a handful of services on the 19:00 East too. The two inbound services in the morning are likely to be fairly quiet, as is the last eastbound departure – although I use it every week or so and have seen others use it too. The 06:56 in the morning always seems to have 5 or 6 on it when I’ve been there (not often I admit), so in summary there are 3 trains that carry few passengers, but that will be the same as for Milford and Pembroke too.

    You also have to add in the passengers to / from Clarby Road and Clunderwen who use the additional services – the 14:35 from Gloucester always drops at least 5 or 6 off at Clunderwen, sometimes more, while 2 or 3 get off at Clarbeston road too. If we remember that it was forecast that Ebbw Vale would get 38,000 per annum with an hourly service, then surely the less frequent service to Fishguard would be projected nearer 18,000 to 20,000 (which gives 58 to 64 per day).

    I agree completely that the present focus must be on increasing the ridership, and as locals realise they now have the option to go to Carmarthen to work or college, as well as for shopping trips, then the use of the services should increase. Rhydgaled – before you harp on about arrival times etc into Carmarthen remember many office based staff work more flexible shift patterns than you give credit for, although I think it would be a benefit if the 08:04 from the Harbour was an 07:55 for example.

    The idea of a morning Carmarthen to Cardiff via the Swansea District line is a great idea – especially if connections from Pembrokeshire are available into it, and similarly an 18:00 ish from Cardiff to Carmarthen via the SDL line, that catches up with the 17:39 Cardiff to Milford at Carmarthen would be a superb idea, although I don’t believe these extra trains would be extended to / from Fishguard, and we need to focus on the main issue here rather than distractions around the Swansea Area. The SDL is not slated for closure, only partial singling, which would still allow it to provide for the option of trains avoiding Swansea, and considering the drop off in freight traffic along there over the last 20 years would not be a major issue.

  7. Rhydgaled

    Fishguard rail usa projected at around 18,000 to 20,000 (which gives 58 to 64 per day)? That sounds like it might a bit of a tall order.

    Unfortunatly the only Pembrokeshire town I can find that has a population even vaugely similar to Fishguard & Goodwick (combined) is Tenby (pop 4,933), which seems to have a bug in its station usage figures (0.105m). For comparison, Haverfordwest (pop 10,812) has usage of 0.144m. Either the usage figures are wrong, or DfT need to take a very serious look at Tenby’s figures and ask themselves if it is really a good idea to remove it from the Intercity network. Anyway, back to the topic of Fishguard, I can’t find a decent comparision station. Whitland, with a third of the population of Fishguard & Goodwick but a much more frequent service (and probably a large car-catchment area) takes around 52,000 passengers per anum, Narberth (pop 2,150) takes 15,000-17,000. I know the population of Narberth is much smaller than that of Fishguard & Goodwick but given the latter has fewer trains per day can we achieve similar passenger numbers?

    That said 64 passengers a day divided by six or eight services is around 10.7 or 8 passengers per train, which sounds a bit more achivable.

    Have you any idea if the passengers you see on the 06:56 are regular commuter-types, or just one-off trips? If commuters, have you any idea how far they are going? I’m still not sure I understand why that one is timetabled when it is. I suppose ATW and WAG had a purpose in mind for it when planning the timetable, but what is the intended target market for that train?

    On the 08:50 Carmarthen to Cardiff and 17:54 return via the Swansea District Line, my suggestion was for the morning run to replace the current 08:04 from Fishguard and the evening run would replace the 20:05 Clarbeston Road – Fishguard. Extending the two extra SDL services would hence not be running any more trains to Fishguard, just removing the changes at Clarbeston Road (and hence making all the extra trains run at least between Fishguard and Carmarthen, as promised in the orriginal anouncment). The 17:54 Cardiff – Fishguard I proposed solves three problems all at once:

    1. It allows passengers for Haverfordwest and Milford to leave Cardiff later, avoiding the sardine express (change at Carmarthen), and still reach their destonation at the same time.
    2. It grants passengers for Fishguard the same benifit
    3. It eliminates the change at Clarbeston Road

    Have you details on the planned ‘rationalisation’ of the SDL then? Is it confirmed to be partial singling? If so, it must be stopped. It may not be a major issue to the rational first step outlined above of one extra SDL express service each way, but (while you will quite rightly say we can’t ask for everything we want or we’ll get nothing) it would prevent what has to be the long term goal of making rail competetive for journeys to, and even more importantly beyond, Cardiff. Little steps, first we ask for the infrastructure to be preserved and for one extra train each way operated by a class 158 that also runs the current boat train (that set of improvments could be introduced Sept/Dec 2013 if we are lucky). Anything more would come much later, but if the SDL’s capablity is reduced now it’ll make that fight very much harder when the time comes. You only have to look at Gowerton to see that it costs alot to undo cuts of the past, when the re-double was confirmed a thread on Rail UK fourms received quite a few posts saying it costs alot more to reinstate than the amount saved while the infrastructure was missing.

  8. Swansea Jack

    The Swansea District line was built to serve 1 main purpose – to speed passengers to/ from Fishguard for the ferry and at the time of it’s gestation the Liner traffic – remember several liners called each month prior to WW1 on their way from New York to Liverpool. It also served the heavy freight traffic serving the collieries of South West Wales and associated Iron and Tinplate industries, and in later years the Oil traffic from the Milford Haven area. For general passenger traffic it avoids the major settlement West of Cardiff which is a bit of an issue. Yes there is a place for passenger traffic on the SDL, but realistically it is not going to warrant a regular, more frequent hourly or better service, certainly not for the foreseeable future.

    The single line through Gowerton should never have been singled in the first place – something I have argued from before the time of the singling in the late 1980s, but if say a 5 mile section of the SDL was singled it would help preserve the route into the future, while being very unlikely to compromise any future passenger service frequency along there.

    I completely agree about the financial savings – singling through Gowerton which involved the expense of additional signalling and pointwork was never going to pay back its costs by savings, except with regard to deferring the rebuilding of Louchor viaduct – in the late 1980s the money just wasn’t there to replace that structure, and singling helped to extend the useful life of that structure. Extending the singling over the extended length was extremely short-sighted and have been proved to be a great mistake. some of us at the time could see the folly of singling 5 miles of route along which trains to and from Swansea always passed each other, and while passenger loadings were increasing network wide.

    A single section on the SDL would still allow at least an hourly frequency of passenger trains along the route as well as preserving sufficient paths for freight traffic, well above tonnages presently carried.

    The key is to ensuring the integrity of the through route in the first instance, I agree that a morning Eastbound and evening Westbound service should be added into the route, but I feel the priority now must be to build on the success of gaining our 5 extra trains and the reopening of Goodwick station. We need to ensure at the very least that we break past the 20 000 p.a. figure and then some to ensure that we have a comprehensive train service from 3 years time (2.5 years now of course!!). Comparisons with Tenby will get you nowhere as the population of that town triples during the Summer months, and while tourism is important for North Pembrokeshire we do not have the same history of attracting tourists to Fishguard by train as happens at Tenby. It is also recognised that changing travel patterns takes time – that is why we have 3 years to do this. I think it is far too easy to think that the hard work is over – it certainly isn’t, and requires everyone who wishes to see our train service being a success needs to continually remind potential passengers of what we have, and to highlight the positives in terms of APEX advance fares, the advantages of the Pembrokeshire railcard etc etc etc. Too many negative stories about bus connections, overcrowded services out of Cardiff will simply make those contemplating a journey from Goodwick to remain in their cars. One negative story can dissuade quite a few potential customers – the truth is that the overwhelming majority of rail journeys are a positive experience, are competitive time wise if you travel during busy periods, where you do have a seat, and where you can have a pleasant journey and get some work / reading done and in comparison with true motoring costs are actually very competitive pricewise – it’s far cheaper to travel Goodwick to Carmarthen and back by train even if you only count fuel price and car parking in Carmarthen for the road option, especially with a Pembrokeshire Railcard. There are some things that are great to discuss on rail forums and which are probably best avoided on a more general forum such as this. The numbers on our trains are increasing, but we need to increase them more, and quicker – lets be positive about what we’ve achieved so far, and realistic about what we can achieve in the future – I’d say maintaining 7 return trains a day would be a good focus / challenge for now!

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