March sees the 30th birthday of Carlisle’s power signal box and Network Rail invited Eric Martlew MP to do the honours with a special cake. On hand to help Eric was Eddie Foster who recently retired from the railway after more than 40 years service and was the only person in the power signal box who had also worked in old style signal boxes in Carlisle.
Opened in 1973, the power signal box replaced approximately 30 lever boxes on the busy west coast main line so that it now safely controls all the train movements from just north of Carnforth, right up to Kirkpatrick Flemming, twelve miles north of Carlisle. Not only does it look after the main line it also controls several lines radiating from Carlisle:-
· North to Annan on the ‘Glasgow & South West’ line
· East to Corby Gates on the Newcastle line
· West to Wigton on the Cumbria coast line
· South to Cotehill on the Settle-Carlisle line
As well as the main line and its “branches” the power signal box is also responsible for both Kingmoor and Upperby goods yards.
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Carlisle – 2
Such is the versatility of the Carlisle box that all trains, both passenger and freight, can safely be looked after by just three Network Rail signallers and a team leader. Also sat in the power box with the signallers is the Virgin Trains station announcer for Carlisle, which puts them in the ideal situation for giving up-to-the-minute information to passengers waiting on the station or to anyone meeting people off a particular train.
At the time that the power signal box opened in 1973, all freight trains were routed over the ‘avoiding lines’ to the west of the station so that they did not go through Carlisle station itself. However, that all changed in the mid 1980s when the signaller looking after the southern end of the patch realised that a freightliner train approaching the station had divided in two. The train driver was unaware of the problem until the quick-thinking signaller brought the front portion of the train safely to a stop in Carlisle station, while directing the runaway rear part over the avoiding lines.
By this time the runaway freight wagons were going considerably faster than the 20 mph speed limit in force on the avoiding lines, resulting in the wagons derailing as they passed over the River Caldew and ending up in the river, taking the bridge with them. To this day, the bridge has never been replaced and although the land is still in railway ownership, the track and signals have long since been removed. All trains now pass through Carlisle station.
At the ceremony, Network Rail’s Assistant Area Production Manager in Carlisle Ken Harper said: “I am delighted to welcome both Mr Martlew and Eddie Foster to the power signal box to help celebrate its birthday. I know that our MP takes a keen interest in the rail network so it is good to be able to take him ‘behind the scenes’ and Eddie has devoted so many years of his life to the railway that this is a fitting tribute to his service.”
Mr Martlew added: “I am delighted to be invited to this momentous event. I am very conscious of the positive role that the railways have had in developing Carlisle and without a signal box, the railways don't work!”