Signal Box History

Walkden High Level signal box in 1988. Walkden High Level signal box in 1988.


Walkden's historic signal box was closed and demolished in 2013 after 135 years of continuous use, when the Walkden line was being converted to colour-light signals under the control of Manchester Signalling Centre.


The signal box, sited 100 yards east of Walkden station, was quite a rarity - dating from the line's opening in 1888 it was one of the few operational signal boxes in the country to survive from the opening date of the line it controls until the 21st century. Signal boxes are usually replaced by newer models when signalling requirements change, or closed when no longer required.

This page presents an historic, technical and pictorial record of this landmark building - important in both its historic role but also as a critical safety control room for the present day operation of the railway line.

Harry Gardner

All of the photographs on this page were taken by Harry Gardner, an ex-BR signalman who assembled this unique pictorial record of scenes and views whilst he worked at Walkden. The pictures are even more interesting for having been taken from locations that only railway employees are authorised to access.

We are doubly grateful to Harry for also providing the technical and historic information presented on this page.

The History of Walkden High Level Signal Box

The Signal Box taken in 1992 from the top of the nearby signal, a viewpoint very few people have access to. The Signal Box taken in 1992 from a viewpoint that very few people have access to - the top of the nearby signal (officially known as signal WN7 - the Up Main Home signal). This is the view Signal & Telecoms (S&T) technicians have of the box whilst servicing the signal.

The signal box was built for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (L&Y) in 1888 by the signalling contractor The Railway Signal Company Ltd. ("RSC") of Fazakerley, Liverpool in connection with the opening of the new quadruple track main line from CROW NEST JUNCTION (near Hindley) to WINDSOR BRIDGE (near the site of today's Salford Crescent station).

The signal box is an all timber box supported on timber piles and still has its original 24-lever RSC tappet interlocked lever frame (7 working levers and 17 spare). Nowadays it controls a simple double track main line with a trailing crossover set of points right outside the signal box (the fast lines were taken out of use on the 21st November 1965).

Walkden signal box has outlived all of the other signal boxes on the "Atherton line" and was in more or less original condition up until 2002 when its appearance was modernised with UPVC cladding and double-glazed windows. Aesthetically this was probably a backward step which removed much of the building's original Edwardian charm apparent in the pictures on this page.

How the line through Walkden is signalled

The signalling staff on the Atherton line operate out of the public eye but do a highly critical job controlling the safe running of dozens of trains, conveying thousands of passengers, daily.

Walkden signal Box and signal WN7 (the Up Main Home signal) from beside
 the up track and looking east toward Manchester. Walkden signal Box and signal WN7 (the Up Main Home signal) from beside the up track and looking east toward Manchester.

The methods of signalling used at Walkden are "Absolute Block" up to Atherton signal box (or Crow Nest Junction signal box if Atherton is ever unmanned or "switched out" as signalmen call it) and "Track Circuit Block" to the boundary of Manchester Piccadilly signalling control centre.

The other signal boxes that control the Wigan to Victoria line via Atherton are located at:

The Crossover Points at Walkden

The signal box at walkden taken in 1990 from the down line looking towards Manchester. The signal box at walkden taken in 1990 from the down line looking towards Manchester. The crossover points are just visible directly in front of the Signal Box.

Incredibly the crossover at walkden (Points 13A and 13B) is the only set of points still in existence on the entire Atherton line between Crow Nest Junction and Windsor Bridge North Junction. Since 2001 when Atherton signal box lost its emergency trailing crossover during relaying works, Walkden is the only place where a train can cross over from one line to the other on the Atherton line.

The crossing is known as a "trailing" crossover because it trails the direction in which trains normally run ... to use the points a train has to reverse over them (or actually be facing the "wrong way" down the track).

The crossover is used during engineering works to crossover engineers trains and to turn back the occasional passenger service in the event of train unit failures or line blockages. As such it's an important feature of the line despite not being required for regular passenger train running. Its value to the railway can be judged from the fact that the rails were replaced and relaid in summer 2008 (the rails then having probably reached about 60 years of age).

In fact, quite a lot of money has been spent on the track and infrastructure of the Atherton line in the last past few years and much of the track has been replaced with brand new, stronger "flat bottom rail" Continuous Welded Rails (CWR) fastened to concrete or steel sleepers to give a better ride.

The Signal Box Illuminated Diagram

This photo taken inside the signal box in 1988 shows the SIGNAL BOX ILLUMINATED DIAGRAM: a panel showing the line, signals and points controlled by Walkden along with all the track circuit indications from Walkden to Pendlebury Tunnel (after which trains appear on the modern panel at Manchester Piccadilly).

The Illuminated Diagram in the interior of the signal box. The Illuminated Diagram in the interior of the signal box.

The diagram also shows information relating to trackside telephone locations, signal post telephones, signal and station locations, mileages and the route's gradient profile (where the track runs up or down hill).

TRACK CIRCUITS are visible on the diagram where it is split into sections and colour-coded. These show the signalman on duty almost exactly where each train is by illuminating two red lights when a train is standing in (or travelling over) that piece of line. Track circuits help protect the train in accordance with electrical interlocking and signalling system safeguards.

Directly beneath the diagram is the PROTOWIRE TELEPHONE CONCENTRATOR, rather like a mini switchboard or internal telephone system. It provides direct communications with telephones located in neighbouring signal boxes, at the trackside or on signal posts and works independantly from the actual signal box telephones.

Below the telephone concentrator are parts of the block shelf and lever frame for the down signals (out of shot). However, the block shelf and lever frame for the up signals are seen in the next picture.

The Signal Frame

Signal Lever Frame inside Walkden signal box, December 1992. Signal Lever Frame inside Walkden signal box, December 1992.

This 1992 photograph of the signal box interior shows part of the "RSC lever frame" which the signalman uses to lift or drop the signal arms controlled by the box.

In this picture levers 6, 7, and 8 control the three Up signals and are reversed, meaning the signals are cleared to "green" to allow a train to proceed from Atherton towards Manchester.

Also visible with a green facia is part of the "block shelf". The various instruments upon it, from left to right, are:

The two circular dials fastened to the face of the Block Shelf are SIGNAL REPEATERS for signals WN6 ("up distant") and WN8 ("up starting"). Signal repeaters are provided to show that a signal which is out of sight of the signal box has responded correctly to the lever.

The signal box also contains another set of levers and repeaters for the down line signals that are not visible in this picture.

And finally ...

We conclude the Signal Box's story with this atmospheric black and white photograph of the signal box taken late at night in 1992.

An atmospheric night-time view of Walkden box in 1992 at about 11pm. An atmospheric night-time view of Walkden box in 1992 at about 11pm.

Our sincere thanks again go to Harry Gardner for the photographs and information on this page. We hope they have given you an insight into the vital work performed by the signal box men and women, and an appreciation for the building's valuable historic legacy.

For an "affectionate look at signal boxes around the North West" including Walkden, we recommend a visit to Harry Gardner's LineClear website.