By Phil Marsh

Century-old railway landmark Banbury signal boxes decommissioned - one immediately demolished, visit the other before its too late.

Published: 31st July 2016

Railway history in the passing at former key junction on the rail network

Britain’s railways are changing. A few years ago, Network Rail (NR) announced that it had embarked on a 30 year strategy to close 99% of its signalboxes to be replaced by around a dozen Regional Operating Centres.

Many people regret the closure and subsequent demolition of these century-old railway landmarks and the era they represent. The next few signal boxes to be closed and reduced to rubble are Banbury South and North boxes. In fact, Banbury South box was demolished over the last weekend in July hours after it was ‘belled out of service’ but its larger compatriot to the north of the station will remain open until the start of October for public visits.

These signal boxes are being superceded by modern signalling in a £72million upgrade in the area by Network Rail which will also see all the old fashioned traditional semaphore signals removed. Some were only installed six years ago for operational reasons and will be returned to their owner, as will some of the signal box equipment which was loaned to Network Rail!

These visits MUST be prebooked and run between Wednesday 10th August to Sunday 2nd October 2016. Each booking is for 90 minutes with one hour allowed in the signal box. This is because it is just beyond the north end of the platform at Banbury and takes time to walk there from the station booking hall.

This will be the final chance to visit the box that has been a significant feature of the Banbury landscape for over 100 years and this large signal box means that it can be used for more or less any occasion perhaps as a groups monthly meeting or even for a business corporate evening for your customers or employees.

How and when to book

First of all, don’t delay as most of the booking slots have been fully subscribed. Bookings are free and individuals and Groups MUST book either a Thursday evening or weekend slot to guarantee your place and if any other slots are requested, these will automatically be declined. Schools, Businesses and Network Rail Employees must ask for a weekday slot between 10.30am and 5.30pm. All bookings should be treated as are tentative until a confirmation email has been received.

Visits by special arrangement

Should you have a specific reason to visit, perhaps a group or party booking at a specific time and date, perhaps for a corporate event or a rail enthusiast photo shoot, email the organisers at banburynorth@gmail.com who will do their best to accommodate you.

What will be going on there?

Working alongside Network Rail, Project Crossover has managed to obtain ten weeks’ access after the signal box has been taken out of use for guided tours which will demonstrate how signal boxes work(ed), inform about railway safety and the dangers of railway trespass and outline Banbury’s former importance as a key UK railway junction for freight and passenger trains. There were huge marshalling yards there which served the coal, iron and steel traffic from across the UK.

The signal box predates World War 1 and has dominated, as with many signal boxes, the local railway landscape. This signal box is large and there was a strong local campaign to get it preserved for use as a visitor centre. This ultimately failed but the group managed to arrange the 10 weeks of tours there.

What’s happening to the equipment from the signal box?

The organisers of the visits will be saving the equipment which will be re-used on two preserved railways.

A larger similar signal box 32 miles south at Princes Risborough has been grade 2 listed and been renovated by volunteers who are also involved at Banbury. This will become a visitor centre in a year or two thus preserving a significant piece of railway history. This is thought to be the largest Great Western Railway signal box in existence with almost 100 levers inside it.

A Midland Railway signal box has also been preserved at St Albans and houses a signalling display.

Travel by rail to Banbury.

There is limited car parking at Banbury and the traffic is horrendous! Travel by train to Banbury which is served by Chiltern Railways on its Marylebone to Birmingham route and by Cross Country Trains from around the UK. Book your tickets on redspottedhanky.com

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