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Signal Boxes – the reality of buying your own

Totnes Signal Box cafe has great ratings on Trip Advisor!

Totnes Signal Box cafe has great ratings on Trip Advisor!

I have elsewhere raised the issue of the gradual but inevitable loss of traditional GWR signal boxes as modernisation continues.  It seems sad that this process will accelerate as Network Rail seek to achieve their aim of centralising control of signalling in a very few massive signalling centres.

I emailed NR to ask about the likely fate of GWR boxes and was sent some very interesting information about the present situation.  Of the 71 boxes on the GWR, one has Grade 1 listing, there are currently 8 that are Grade 2 listed and are considered either by English Heritage or CADW as being ‘of note’ in an historical sense.

Several are in Wales, others on the North Cotswold line and many others are used for all sorts of other purposes.  Some of these may survive in situ but I am guessing that most will disappear in the years to come.

I can imagine that many of us are eyeing up our garden space in anticipation of their local box becoming surplus to requirements and needing a good home but my NR contact advises caution:

I hesitate to encourage people to want to acquire disused signal boxes… a new use may seem attractive (we have no wish to simply pull the buildings down) but sadly the very function of a signal box often places it next to the running line and therefore impossible to maintain without the costs of protection and possessions, and this may make it impossible for the new user to maintain.  With very limited income, there is unlikely to be anything approaching a business case for Network Rail to retain the building and rent it out.  Relocation is far from cheap:  recent experience suggests £1/4m as a starting point, quite possibly significantly more.”

NR has a commitment to reducing the liability of these disused boxes as possible, where they are not listed and not in a conservation area:  it is one of the limited number of ways in which we can reduce the cost of the railway to farepayer and taxpayer.

Where the box is listed, we need to understand the reason for the listing.  If it is because of the value of the box itself then re-location to a heritage railway may be the most appropriate way of making it available for future generations.  Where it is part of an assembly of buildings, retaining it in situ in a new use will probably be preferable. 

Our options are therefore limited if we are to reduce costs and whilst I am happy to consider alternative proposals, these need to be sustainable in the longer term, and not simply defer the problem.  We have had well intentioned schemes in the past which have subsequently gone nowhere, leaving us with a dilapidated building and no funding to remove it.”

So, if you really do want your own GWR signal box, you will need to not only work out the finances but also have a realistic and practical plan for its removal.

Still keen?  In that case, email jerry.swift@networkrail.co.uk. Good luck and let us know how you get on!




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