Castlerock: Final stop for train signal box

Signaller Kevin Brown operates the frame at Castlerock to set the route and signals. Photo courtesy of Chris Playfair. INCR 46-707-CON
Signaller Kevin Brown operates the frame at Castlerock to set the route and signals. Photo courtesy of Chris Playfair. INCR 46-707-CON

It has been used as a signalling station for nearly 150 years, but now the last railway box in Northern Ireland is set to be demolished.

Staff at Castlerock used bells, levers and mechanical frames to keep trains on track between Londonderry and Coleraine.

Computerised signalling technology will replace the Victorian model.

Once there were thousands of signal boxes at stations across the UK but now the future looks very different.

Kevin Brown, who worked in the signal box in Castlerock for more than 20 years, said it was a sad farewell.

“It’s the end of an era and it’s going to be very emotional to go. For 20-odd years she’s been my life, she’s been my baby, my cabin,” he said.

“Each lever operates a signal or a set of points and this is the exact same way it would have been done in Victorian times.”

Kevin had the privilege of being the last man out to lock up the signal cabins for the final time on Wednesday of last week.

The station itself and a railway signal box has been in existence since 1874, although the original signal cabin was replaced in the 1970s.

The Victorian buildings, including the original signal box, were designed by the famous architect John Lanyon. While the wrought iron footbridge has moved around over the years, it remains a part of the landscape.

“The signal cabin’s role is to safely move trains between Londonderry and Coleraine. It does that via semaphore signals, which you can see up on poles, and also via token exchange which are metal tokens handed out to trains to allow them to move into the sections,” said Richard Knox, head of network operations for NI railways.

“It is very much the old school way - the gentleman in the signal cabin, through a process of levers and token machines, allows the trains to travel through the station - so he physically pulls levers.

“What’s going to change that is the major capital project to re-signal the whole line between Coleraine and Londonderry.”

The entire rail network in the north west is being modernised with new signalling and a new passing loop for trains at a cost of £46m.