Trains running in East Sussex on the route from Lewes to Seaford, via Newhaven, on Monday 2 December marked the completion of major piece of work to resignal the line, replacing a system controlled from three signal boxes dating back to 1879.
While the resignalling work was going on, track in the area could also be renewed and station refurbishment carried out safely as trains weren’t running.
The final line closure of the programme took place between Thursday 28 November and Sunday 1 December 2019. All routes via Lewes were affected, with rail replacement buses operating instead of trains to keep passengers moving during the four days.
The same weekend also saw the final closure of the line between Barham and Havant, via Chichester, where a programme of station refurbishment and track replacement had been underway since late October, with over 2km of track laid in that time.
As a result of this work, the signal boxes at Lewes, Newhaven Town and Newhaven Harbour have been closed and one set of points removed and replaced with 40 metres of plain line track.
The Lewes signal box is Grade II listed, as is Lewes station. It is a Saxby and Farmer box built in 1888 by London Brighton and South Coast Railway, a year before the station itself in 1889. The Saxby and Farmer Type 5 signal box was the stylish culmination of the LBSCR designs.
Both Newhaven Town and Harbour signal boxes are also Saxby and Farmer boxes, built in 1879.
The new signalling technology at Lewes is now controlled from the rail operating centre (ROC) at Three Bridges. As a result, three times as many trains and passengers can now use the diversionary route for London to Brighton services via Lewes during disruption on the Brighton main line, helping to keep passengers on the move.
Track and points at Southerham junction, where trains switch track for Lewes, Eastbourne or Seaford had previously been renewed as part of the project.
While the railway was closed anyway for this work, Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) worked together to carry out a series of improvements at Seaford, Bishopstone, Newhaven Town, Southease and Glynde stations, including platform and canopy repairs, repainting, deep-cleaning and general maintenance.
Once the railway reopened on Monday, there was a brief interruption in services when a cable failed at a level crossing. The problem was fixed within the hour.
John Halsall, Network Rail’s managing director of its Southern region, thanked passengers who had been disrupted by the work to modernise the signalling system.
“I am extremely grateful that so many changed their plans for the four days to enable us to concentrate the work in this way,” he said. “The alternative would have meant many more weekend closures for our engineers to achieve the same thing, so this has been much more effective for them as well as for us.
“The work means we can provide a more reliable service that passengers deserve and can depend on.”
Steve White, Govia Thameslink Railway chief operating officer Steve White added: “We’re pleased to welcome back passengers on the Lewes to Seaford line and I apologise to anyone that has been inconvenienced during these essential works. I am grateful for their patience throughout this project.
“Colleagues from Network Rail, Southern and our suppliers have been a credit to the rail industry completing a significant amount of work whilst the line was closed. Customers will now benefit for years to come as ageing assets have been replaced with a modern alternative.”