Twenty-six of the "rarest" signal boxes in England have been granted Grade II listed status by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Culture minister Ed Vaizey said interest in trains and railways was one of the country's "most endearing and enduring national preoccupations".
The joint venture, between English Heritage and Network Rail, is part of a 30-year plan to modernise the railways.
A number of mechanical boxes are being replaced by regional operating centres.
"These are very special buildings, at one time a familiar sight on our railway system," said English Heritage's senior investigator John Minnis.
The preservation of 26 "highly distinctive" signal boxes would provide a "window into how railways were operated in the past," he added.
Hebden Bridge signal box, which was built in 1891, will be preserved as it has a "time warp quality" and has retained its original 1914 signage.
English Heritage said some of the listed buildings could be "rejuvenated" as cafes or museums, such as the 1923 signal box in Totnes, Devon.
In the 1940s there were more than 10,000 signal boxes in the UK. Now fewer than 500 mechanical signal boxes are still in use, according to Network Rail.
The "difficult and expensive" operating buildings limit the "potential of the rail network", it said.
Network Rail said modernisation plans were aimed at improving railway technology so there are fewer delays and higher capacity.
Signal platforms were first introduced in the 1840s, but British engineer John Saxby first created a building housing levers in 1857.
They were designed by private contractors and railway companies, such as Great Western Railway, leading to a huge variety of designs.
The new designations are as follows:
- Hebden Bridge, Calderdale, West Yorkshire
- Hensall, Selby, North Yorkshire
- Bournemouth West Junction, Poole, Dorset
- Lostwithiel, Restormel, Cornwall
- Marsh Brook, Shropshire
- Par, Restormel, Cornwall
- Totnes, S Hams, Devon
- Brundall, Broadland, Norfolk
- Bury St Edmunds Yard, St Edmundsbury, Suffolk
- Downham Market, Kings Lynn and West Norfolk, Norfolk
- Skegness, East Lindsey, Lincolnshire
- Thetford, Breckland, Norfolk
- Wainfleet, East Lindsey, Lincolnshire
- Wymondham South Junction, South Norfolk, Norfolk
- Aylesford, Tonbridge and Malling, Kent
- Canterbury East, Kent
- Cuxton, Medway, Kent
- Eastbourne, East Sussex
- Grain Crossing, Medway, Kent
- Littlehampton, West Sussex
- Liverpool Street, City of London
- Maidstone West, Maidstone, Kent
- Rye, Rother, East Sussex
- Shepherdswell, Dover, Kent
- Snodland, Tonbridge and Malling, Kent
- Wateringbury, Maidstone, Kent
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