As much a part of the landscape as the familiar red telephone boxes once were, our traditional railway signal boxes are also set to become a memory.
With Network Rail embarking on a major resignalling programme to abolish signal boxes and move control to Rail Operating Centres, signalman Dafydd Whyles has set out to preserve memories of the local and national scenery.
People were up in arms when the closure plans were first announced with campaigns set up to save landmarks such as the boxes at Winsover Road in Spalding and in Deeping St James where the box dated back to the Victorian era.
While the Winsover Road box could not be saved, local protestors celebrated a small victory when it was agreed the Deeping St James box would be preserved, taken down brick by brick and stored in the hope a new home can be found and it can be rebuilt for prosterity.
Dafydd (46), who has been a signalman for 18 years, has captured pictures of remaining signal boxes across the county and produced them in his book ‘Lincolnshire Signal Boxes.’
From his home in North Leverton, Gainsborough, he said: “The boxes in Lincolnshire really are the last bastions. The one in Deeping St James, or ‘St James Deeping’ as it was known, hadn’t changed in about 200 years. What I’ve tried to do is preserve history.”
The work of the signalmen is described in the book as having always been somewhat mysterious, with signalmen praticising these ‘dark arts’ with their bells and levers.
Dafydd said: “It was classed as a safety critical job and we still used telegraph ‘tapping’ to tap out what kind of train was coming and then that it was through safely.
“You had a large lever frame box, semaphore signals, and wires to pull, like pulling a large switch.
“You worked on your own and could be signalling to another person in a box sometimes just five miles away. You could know everything about that other person from talking to them on the phone – what breed of person they were, everything about their life – but if you passed them on the street you would not recognise them.”
The book is available from Amberley Publishing via its website www.amberley-books.com and online at Amazon at £14.99.
How new signalling system should work
The major re-control programme by Network Rail will see the closure of all traditional signal boxes and crossing cabins across the country. Train control will be directed to one of 12 central Rail Operating Centres.
The loss of the familiar boxes is described as bringing to an end a way of life stretching back over 250 years.
It’s hoped the box at Deeping St James can now be rebuilt as a heritage centre after a successful campaign to preserve it with it being ‘sympathetically deconstructed’ last October.
Dafydd Whyles’ book captures in pictures signal boxes on the Stamford to Peterborough line, Newark to Lincoln and Grantham to Boston, among many other popular routes.
With the old fashioned semaphore signals and wooden level crossing gates swept away, all control will be done from computer workstations with signallers overseeing the operation.