Signal box moves 100 metres overnight

Lowdham signal box hangs from a crane during its short move from one side of the tracks to the other,

The signal box at Lowdham in Nottinghamshire recently crossed the tracks to a new location just 100 metres away from where it has stood for over 120 years.

It controlled train movements on the busy Nottingham-Lincoln line until 2016, when signalling control was centralised and the Lowdham box was retired

The redundant timber building, complete with its original lever frame, was gifted by Network Rail to the Lowdham Railway Heritage charity, which wanted to move it to a new location, close to the now privately-owned Lowdham station building, where it could be restored by a team of volunteers and eventually opened to the public. 

David Moore, founder of Lowdham Railway Heritage, spent three years planning the move with Network Rail, movement specialist Railway Support Services (RSS) and consultant engineers Howard Ward Associates. 

Andrew Goodman, RSS.

Andrew Goodman, managing director of RSS, commented: “Key to the move was getting possession of the line overnight, as well as closure of the road over the level crossing.  But before the possession was granted, a full risk assessment and detailed plans – in total running to some 130 pages – of how the move was to take place had to be approved by Network Rail.

“The logistics of the task were such that it didn’t matter whether the move was 200 yards or 200 miles – the challenges were much the same!”

The move was scheduled to take place between 00:30 and 07:30 on Sunday 25 October. That was the night the clocks went back at 02:00, so it was actually an eight-hour possession.

The building was estimated to weigh 7.5 tonnes and would be lifted using a specially made steel frame to ensure the stability of the structure during the move.  Old wooden signal boxes are notoriously fragile, with large windows, doors and old, dry wood, and they usually need wooden or steel frames to be fastened inside the building, bracing the corners, to stop the whole thing from folding up when lifted.

As it happened, the building was lighter than the estimate. The windows, part of the lever frame and other components had been removed before the move, but otherwise it was a complete building. 

Despite the short distance, the box still had to be lifted from its original locations, placed on an articulated lorry, secured, driven over the tracks, lifted off the lorry and carefully placed in position.

One of the challenges, was getting it between the level crossing lights and a nearby building – careful measurement showed that there was only a few centimetres of clearance.

“These things are really nail-biting as until the job is actually completed,” Goodman continued. “You are always wondering ‘what could possibly go wrong?’

“And, of course, if there are any time-consuming snags, the end of the possession looms – if the line doesn’t reopen to traffic on time, there are considerable compensation costs payable to Network Rail.”

In the event, the move went very well thanks to detailed planning.  The signal box didn’t even lose a single slate from its roof. 

By morning, the box was standing in its new position, adjacent to Lowdham station, looking for all the world as if it has always been there. 

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