Castlerock: Final stop for NI Railways train signal box

The bridge connecting the platforms was built by the Victorians
Image caption The bridge connecting the platforms was built by the Victorians

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 this week.

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

Image copyright John Moore
Image caption Castlerock Station where many would make their trip to Belfast

Kevin Brown worked in the signal box in Castlerock for more than 20 years.

He said it would be 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.

"It's very emotional because I've got the privilege of being the last man out to lock up. I walk away from the cabin and that's me finished as a signaller for Castlerock."

Image caption Bells, levers and mechanical frames have kept trains on the right tracks

The railway signal box has been in existence since the late 19th century, although the original signal box was replaced in the 1970s.

The Victorian station buildings were designed by the famous architect John Lanyon in 1874.

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.

Image copyright John Moore
Image caption View onto Castlerock from the Tunnel Brae a century ago

"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 is that is the major capital project to re-signal the whole line between Coleraine and Londonderry," Mr Knox added.

Image caption Railway signalling has been part of Kevin Brown's life for 22 years

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.

Mr Brown said he accepts that times are changing and he will retire at the end of his shift on Thursday night.

"I've had so many good times in the cabin," he said. "One of my highlights is when I first arrived here and I started training with a very old signal man called Neville McCorkell."

Image copyright John Moore
Image caption This 20th century picture shows Lanyon's original signal box
Image copyright John Moore
Image caption The heyday of steam, Downhill Station in the 1930s

"The first time I walked in here, he told me: "Son, whatever you do, no matter where you go, always treat the frame with respect. Love her, because she will kick back at ya."

"Life moves on and we've got to move forward and we've got to come into the 21st century," Mr Brown added.

Image caption The small cabin holds technology that mainly belongs to the 19th-century

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