Control of colour lights by traditional lever frame is a reasonably common feature of Britain’s signalling infrastructure, but few signal boxes can surely match Haslemere, where 2018 marks 81 years since replacement of its semaphore signals by colour lights in 1937, to coincide with electrification of the Portsmouth Direct Line.
Haslemere is one of only three surviving signal boxes on the route, the others being at Farncombe and at Petersfield, with the latter also being Grade II Listed. What makes Haslemere unique among this trio, however, is in retaining its complete and original 47-lever frame, controlling signals and points between Liphook and Witley.
The signal box on platform 1 at Haslemere was built by the London & South Western Railway (L&SWR) in 1895 and its lever frame also dates from opening of the box. A total of 19 red and black painted levers remain in use, the disused white levers having once controlled points and signals in the goods yards that stood on each side of the railway.
It gained a Grade II Listing in September 2013, with the citation in support giving three principal reasons. Firstly, apart from the uPVC windows, which are sympathetic to the original design, the exterior is unaltered, while it retains its original Stevens (Railway Signalling Co.) lever frame and associated block instruments.
Secondly, it is a rarity, being the only remaining L&SWR Type 4 six-window bay design to survive and only of only two platform-mounted Type 4 signal boxes. Finally, there is what is known as group value, since it forms part of a group of un-designated station buildings that includes the booking hall (1858), waiting rooms and lattice-girder footbridge.
The box is manned on a three-shift basis for 24 hours a day and controls a heavy passenger traffic, with a basic weekday pattern of four trains an hour from Waterloo, currently formed by a mix of blue Class 450 and white Class 444 units, with two fast and one stopping services each hour continuing on to Portsmouth.
Haslemere diagrams from 1900 and 1938 – copyright George Pryer and taken from volume 21 of his railway signalling diagrams series
After cessation of the Holybourne to Fawley oil tanks in 2016 there is no regular freight traffic on the route, the only other trains passing being occasional empty stock movements and a once daily XC Class 221 unit working from and to Eastleigh.
Haslemere’s multiple aspect colour lights were replaced by single aspect LED heads a couple of years ago, while a significant change earlier this year saw replacement of an electro-mechanical banner repeater signal (EW6 BR) on platform 2 with a new digital signal, as seen in these before (above) and after (below) photos.
Communication with Farncombe and Petersfield boxes is predominantly by computer and automated train describer equipment, but the traditional block bells remain operational and are tested every day at 10.00 am, for use in an emergency when modern technology fails, as it did a number of times during this summer’s heatwave.
Along with Farncombe and Petersfield, Haslemere Signal Box had been slated for closure this year, with control passing to the Railway Operating Centre (ROC) at Basingstoke. However, as local commuters will testify, things often move slowly on the network, and the latest guesses suggest that this trio will still be controlling trains until well into Network Rail’s Control Period 6 (2019-24).
I am very grateful to Network Rail’s Local Operations Manager, Jason Greenfield, for organising my visit to the box, and to signaller Christopher Vowles for hosting my visit and ably fielding my questions.