Britain’s oldest signal boxes

After 150 years of faithful service, the 1870-vintage North Eastern Railway signal box at Norton South signalled its last service on Friday (5 February 2021), and the network’s oldest working signal box closed to await its fate and likely demolition.

The final up service to pass the doomed box was Northern Rail 156475 at 22.47 with 2N58 from Carlisle to Middlesbrough, while an hour later the very last service to be signalled by Norton South was Class 60 60085 passing at 23.53 with 6N55, empty coal wagons from Drax Power Station to Tyne Coal Terminal.

Yet a century and a half after they were built there are still a number of signal boxes dating from the early 1870s that control 21st century rail services, including Bootle featured above and below, so this is a look at nine remarkable survivors that are all believed to date from 1871 and 1872.

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The final week of Teesside semaphores

Later this month a significant part of our signalling heritage will be lost when the handful of historic signal boxes around Norton-on-Tees close for the last time, as control of the Durham Coast line between Stockton and Billingham passes to the Railway Operating Centre (ROC) at York.

As I wrote following my second visit to the area last September, this short section of route includes the UK’s joint oldest working signal boxes, along with what is probably the finest collection of main line semaphores to survive anywhere on the national network.

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