Are the Semaphore signals in Cornwall due for replacement?

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AL1875

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Hello everyone! This is my first post on the forum so be nice to my 21 year old self. Anyway, I thought I would start this thread on the above topic as I have always been curious about the old fashioned semaphore signals still found throughout Cornwall where I currently live. I understand the urge to modernise the railway for the 21st century and in light of this can anybody indicate if any plans are in place to remove these signals in favour of the more modern electronic alternative either in the short or long term. Would there be any resistance to doing so? I wonder if anyone could shed some light on this. Alex :)
 
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zwk500

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Welcome!

I'm sure somebody will have more details, but the short answer to your question is that the Semaphores will eventually go, but Cornwall is a long way down the list for replacement. Cornwall may well not get colour lights at all, and jump straight to in-cab displays by the time NR get around to it.

Objections will likely come from enthusiasts and preservationists relating to changing the historic character of many of the stations if 'boxes get demolished; if any stations are listed this may well be an issue.
A more substantial resistance will be from the accountants who will be comparing the cost-benefit of replacement (high initial cost, cheaper to run overall). This 2nd point is largely why the semaphores have remained for so long.
 

rower40

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I think I can say with confidence that the semaphore signals at Bodmin General will remain in situ for some time to come.
And it's quite likely that the signalman in the box at the end of the platform will be only too happy to have someone to talk to explain how it all works. (But he may ask you to leave if things get too busy.)
 

John Webb

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The 2010 Network Rail masterplan for resignalling the country into various 'ROCs' (Regional Operating Centres) had no firm date for the Cornwall area, which might have been transferred to the Thames Valley ROC at Didcot on resignalling. But in the past year there have been moves away from centralising into the dozen or so ROCs originally planned for. There are several reasons for this, including problems found as a result of the Covid pandemic. So the Cornwall signals will be around for an unknown time to come. Enjoy them while you may!

And welcome to the Forum!
 

MarkyT

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There are also a fair number of colour light signals in Cornwall, some, more remote from the surviving boxes, directly switched from the same mechanical lever frames that operate the local semaphores. As major station layouts were simplified, spare levers in large frames were freed up which allowed neighbouring boxes to be closed and new facilities added using the spares and spaces. This happened at Truro, where the new Penryn passing loop points and colour lights were cleverly added to the existing, relocked frame. Other colour lights are operated by switch panels installed supplementarily alongside, or completely replacing, the old levers in the same box. Penzance has been totally colour light for decades, but is still all controlled by levers. So, it's a real mixed bag of technology ranging from the original buildings and frames to the latest digital techniques, including axle counters and additional LED colour light signals of the latest types, installed recently to improve capacity. The semaphore and mechanical elements are of course very much a 'Triggers Broom' affair (or 'Ship of Theseus' if you prefer your references more classical), with the majority of parts renewed many times over the decades, either like for like, or modified and configurations modernised, as layouts were altered, standards changed, and certain components become obsolete or difficult to obtain. All remaining semaphores are now electrically illuminated using LEDs today for example, saving the frequent filling and trimming of the oil lamps of old. I could envisage some more piecemeal small-scale control centralisation taking place in the coming years to make incremental operational cost savings, rather than wholesale transfer to a major control centre, wheresoever located.
 
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DaveHarries

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I think I can say with confidence that the semaphore signals at Bodmin General will remain in situ for some time to come.
And it's quite likely that the signalman in the box at the end of the platform will be only too happy to have someone to talk to explain how it all works. (But he may ask you to leave if things get too busy.)
I have a few photos from that box after a signalman let me in a few years back: didn't realise that at least some of it (the frame, IIRC) had come from my neck of the woods until he told me. Very nice box.

Dave
 

zwk500

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Sorry to hijack but I suppose there is no date to replace those at Littlehampton and Bognor Regis?
There was a list on the Network Rail website but it's almost certainly out of date right now. Certainly not imminent, as the bigger focus is on the Victoria Resignalling for Three Bridges ROC, but they will go at some point.
 

swt_passenger

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[…]

Objections will likely come from enthusiasts and preservationists relating to changing the historic character of many of the stations if 'boxes get demolished; if any stations are listed this may well be an issue...
Have any preservationists ever succesfully had semaphores retained for “historic character” reasons? Don’t they usually concentrate their objections on the signal boxes, rather than signals themselves. I really dont think it’s a factor in the development of resignalling schemes.
 

Railway World

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Have any preservationists ever succesfully had semaphores retained for “historic character” reasons? Don’t they usually concentrate their objections on the signal boxes, rather than signals themselves. I really dont think it’s a factor in the development of resignalling schemes.
I was once told that the famous Midland Railway lower quadrant signal at Ketton was listed, but have never seen that confirmed.
 

swt_passenger

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I was once told that the famous Midland Railway lower quadrant signal at Ketton was listed, but have never seen that confirmed.
Even when listed NR still gets them removed, eg at Scarborough (Falsgrave) where the famous gantry was relocated to the local heritage railway and then re-listed at its new location in an altered configuration.
 

MarkyT

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Even when listed NR still gets them removed, eg at Scarborough (Falsgrave) where the famous gantry was relocated to the local heritage railway and then re-listed at its new location in an altered configuration.
And listed signal box buildings have been moved too, sometimes to a location further from tracks nearby for a new use, or alternatively to a heritage railway, sometimes in a completely different part of the country, for further signalling use. For example, the SDRs Bishops Bridge box at Staverton was removed from Athelney in Somerset. The wooden operations floor and roof were attached to a specially constructed steel framework, separated, and lifted in one piece from the badly rotted lower part of the structure, then transported on a flatbed truck to Devon, where it was re-erected, after a period of storage, on a new brick base incorporating the salvaged lever frame.
 

zwk500

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Have any preservationists ever succesfully had semaphores retained for “historic character” reasons? Don’t they usually concentrate their objections on the signal boxes, rather than signals themselves. I really dont think it’s a factor in the development of resignalling schemes.
Semaphores would not be permitted to be retained to prevent possible confusion of it still applying to the line. Usually the objection is about giving time to organise recovery of useful assets, such as salvaging the lever frame. Sometimes it's as simple as turning up after the ROC has taken over and having a chat with the person on site, but if a possession of the line is required (e.g. recovering rods and pulleys on track, or the 'box itself) it increases costs.

If NR wants to resignal an area, it will be done. But NR are very aware of the press that comes from saying 'yes' or 'no' to heritage groups, and the cost savings (to both sides) of sending material for reuse rather than scrap. Also a lot of people in NR & TOCs are happy and eager to work with the heritage sector, as it gives mutual benefits.
 

jyte

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Whilst the plan to re-signal the whole of Cornwall and control it from Exeter PSB has been officially ‘paused’

A revised proposal was investigated to completely re-signal the route with track circuit block, colour light signals and a single control centre. Whilst perfectly possible, it would have been an expensive project and the business case did not stack up. Could there be a more pragmatic solution?

Plymouth Power Signal Box is really quite old now. Initially the plan was to close that and resignal all of the Plymouth box and the entirety of Cornwall into a new box at Exeter using the newer 'modular' colour light signals. I believe the belief in NR was the benefits of more regular train services + lower staff costs from closing (I think 9 boxes) would pay for itself, but the CBR didn't quite stack up and they went for an 'upgrade' instead, installing more intermediate blocks.

The second of the two rail-engineer articles is very good, and the one word answer is 'no'. NR has no immediate upgrade plans for the line now, and semaphore replacement is currently unlikely.
 

Annetts key

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The NR in house engineering section is continuing a programme to replace existing filament lamp signals with LED signals to reduce the maintenance costs. If it is identified that replacing a semaphore signal with a LED colour light signal will reduce maintenance costs and the cost of the alterations is within their criteria (cost/benefit calculations), then yes, some semaphore signals will be replaced.

There is a greater likelihood of this if the proposed new signal can be reused in the same proposed location for a future resignalling scheme. Or if repair of the existing semaphore signal is difficult for any reason.

The Worcester area (where there are also numerous mechanical signal boxes and lots of semaphore signals) is about to be transferred to North West and Central from Wales and Western. At some point in the future, NW&C will be looking to re-signal this area. But for the time being, the existing infrastructure will continue.

I suspect money for big schemes will not be forthcoming due to present day events. Unless external funding is found. NR will only consider renewal schemes if the cost/benefit calculations show it will be financially worthwhile.

The other consideration is that unless a scheme is already in the next control period plan, it is very unlikely that any re-signalling scheme will take place until the following control period, and even then, it’s not likely within the first half of that control period.

I suspect Plymouth Panel will fall into the same situation as the remaining part of Bristol Panel. So expect both to live on for at least until the mid point of the next control period.
 
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