Thursday, 22 December 2016

Adieu, Banbury North

A few months ago, Banbury North Signal Box was a crucial part of the railway network as well as a landmark for train passengers. Now, it's boarded up and awaiting demolition. However, I was fortunate enough to visit on 2 October, the last day before its contents were removed and preparations for demolition began. 

A flight of steps led up to a large, window-lined room overlooking the tracks. The long row of levers were the heart of the operation, moving wires and rods via the frame relay below to reach semaphore signals and points up to 350 yards away. 

The red-handled ones moved the signals; the blue ones locked and unlocked the points, while the black levers moved the points. 

We can read a story of decline in the white handles: these indicated levers no longer in use. 

That limited physical range meant a significant number of boxes had to be scattered around the system: here, there was one the other side of the station at Banbury South. The two boxes could communicate by sending signals using bells. 

Despite the size of the box and number of levers - not to mention the complexity of the network - it was designed to be operated by one person. 

This was busy and demanding work; but in quieter moments, there was a stove, armchair and later even a kitchen area to provide some comfort. These amenities are as varied in age and style as the machinery alongside them.

The manual, lever-operated signal system has been replaced by an automated system controlled from a Regional Operating Centre. The semaphore signals are gone, with LED signals in their place. The century-old signal boxes (Banbury North was built in 1901) are obsolete.

The Banbury South box is already gone - it was demolished within hours of going out of service. The controversy this caused informed how Network Rail dealt with its sibling. Calls for preservation were unsuccessful, and there is little choice but to remove the old signal box: it is too close to the tracks for public access to be an option in future. 

However, equipment was removed for spares, for heritage sites, and for the local museum; timbers will be recycled and window frames saved. And for eight weeks, the signal box was opened for tours: a chance for the public (over 3,500 of us) to say a final farewell.

1 comment:

Hels said...

Destroyers make me so peeved :( That the signal box was opened for a few farewell tours is not going to be of much comfort to our children.

At least, as you said, the equipment was removed for spares, for heritage sites, and for the local museum. Thank goodness!