IT’S a sign of progress that traditional railway signal boxes are to be scrapped, according to a Fylde coast rail enthusiast.
The last manned rail signal boxes seen along the Preston to Blackpool North line are set to go as Network Rail’s electrification of the train tracks means signallers work is centralised to Manchester.
The closure of the boxes, from which train routes are managed, marks the end of the line for one era of rail travel and the beginning of a modern future as 800 signalling locations nationwide are replaced with 14 route operating centres, saving Network Rail £250m a year.
Paul Nettleton, an enthusiast who said he has been lucky enough to visit almost all of the boxes, says the closures are unfortunate but a sign of progress.
Mr Nettleton, chairman of the Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users Association, said: “It’s like being in a different world in there, the boxes at Blackpool North and Kirkham still have their original features, including lever frames.
“There’s a lot of history in them but unfortunately that’s progress for you.”
The closure of the boxes will have an impact on jobs for signallers but Network Rail says it will work to redeploy or retrain all affected staff.
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “As part of Network Rail’s national operating strategy to modernise the UK’s signalling system the rail infrastructure owner and operator is looking to close all of the signal boxes between Preston to Blackpool North, to be replaced by a new purpose built Rail Operating Centre at Ashbury’s near Manchester.
“With regards to those staff affected, Network Rail’s policy is to retrain or redeploy affected staff wherever possible and we will consult closely with those affected and the requisite unions as and when appropriate.”
The boxes at Salwick, Kirkham, Poulton, Carleton level crossing and Blackpool North Number Two are scheduled to be closed in 2016.
Mr Nettleton said he hopes the machinery housed in them, in some cases dating back to the 1880s, will be taken on by preservation societies.
But though an English Heritage review is being carried out across Lancashire to see which boxes could be worth preserving, Mr Nettleton said none are suitable to be granted listed building status due to alteration work carried out on them.