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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Goodbye to the Signalman

A century old and more feature of train travel has been the iconic signalbox which portends a junction or level crossing or some feature on the railway tracks which requires human oversight and control. The Fylde has retained several classic signal boxes to a traditional Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway design or appearance. One of these controls the important (and busy) level crossing at Carleton which brings traffic across the main line between Blackpool North Station and Preston. (Below)

Along with the traditional signal box are the varied distant and near signal gantrys which still are a feature on the Fylde's railway lines (but not for much longer). Looming overhead electrification work now well underway from Preston station to Blackpool North means elimination of gantrys, signalboxes and with them - the specialist Network Rail signalmen whose jobs are now imperilled by electronic controls from a centralised unit - presumably at Preston or Manchester, with computer systems watching over the entire northwest network (or much of it).

Along with Guards, Porters, Buffet Cars, Ticket Collectors and much of the human element once deemed essential to a safe and convenient railway, the passenger (sorry customer) is now more or less the only human factor on today's train, apart that is from the driver who esconced in his cab is kept distant from those he has responsibility for.

I believe that the signal boxes and their signalmen we have all taken for granted over the past 150 years - will soon become a thing of the past and the classic structures which still stand proud in lineside locations at Blackpool North, Carleton, Poulton-le-Fylde, Kirkham and Wesham, are all to go the way of the dodo, A few, possibly, may end up as treasured and conserved features in railway museums elsewhere - but the assuring presence of a signalman controlled level crossing, such as the one at Carleton, is to be replaced by an anonymous computer processer somewhere in an equally anonymous building in a hard to find location in the northwest. If something goes wrong on the level crossing, an animal trespasses on the line, a car stalls or the gates fail to open (or close) correctly - don't hold your breath for help. Deaths on railway crossings are a notable feature of Britain's train network, a brief headline, a grieving family somewhere else in the country and we all move on. Removing a human oversight, however limited, does little to reassure anyone but helps the bottom line of efficiency savings on someone's spreadsheet. Every little helps it seems.

PS : A dreaded 'Pacer' hurtles along en route to Blackpool North. Hopefully this too will soon by a distant memory - consigned to the scrapheap where it rightfully belongs.

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