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BLS Bowesfield Area Signal Box Visits
Friday 8th February 2019

Report by by Nick Jones (A summary of a detailed report by John Cowburn)


These visits for eight members were arranged at relatively short notice, as it was realised that Bowesfield and Urlay Nook signal boxes were due to close in March (which they did).

Tees (Yard) Signal Box: This panel box is the former Tees Yard Control Tower, with operating floors facing broadly north and south at a high level, reached by three flights of roughly 20 steps each, surely one of the tallest boxes still in use‽ The 'correct' name of the box is a matter of debate. The Sectional Appendix and the Signal Box Atlas call it 'Tees' but the panel has 'Tees Yard' and signals are plated 'TY'. [A bit of a tease this one.] The south-facing operating floor looking over the yard is the slightly larger of the two and is the still operational Tees signal box, equipped with a long 'NX' (entrance/exit) panel which covers the length of the original Tees Yard and its approaches from east and west. The north-facing operating floor was once the 'Down Panel Room' from where the semi-automatic secondary retarders of the Down hump yard were controlled, now an office. The Down side of the yard, between the control tower and the River Tees, has now completely disappeared and the area is landscaped.

The much reduced remains of the yard are located between the running lines, with the Up Main and Down Main passenger lines and Up Goods No1 passing to the south of the layout and Up Goods No2 and the Down Goods passing around what is now the north side. On the north side of the current layout, 12 lines of the former Up Staging and Departure Roads form the major remaining operational element of the yard. The western half of the former Up Sorting Sidings remain in use mainly for wagon storage, accessible only at the west end. The box works Track Circuit Block (TCB) with single stroke bell on both the Main and Goods lines east to Middlesbrough, with push buttons on the panel for the bells. The line west to Bowesfield is also worked by TCB but with a train describer. The panel has been single-manned for the last few years, although once operated by two signallers. It has the appearance of a small power signal box but train movements are recorded in a traditional train register book.

An interesting selection of local bell codes are in use between Middlesbrough and Tees, primarily indicating the destination of local freight workings, for example:
1-3: stopping passenger for Stockton.
3-1: stopping passenger for Darlington.
4-4: express (Class 1) passenger for Yarm.
5-1-1: freight for Middlesbrough Goods (from Middlesbrough for run-round at Tees Yard).
1-5-1: freight for Lackenby.
5-1-2: freight for Redcar Mineral Terminal.
1-1-2: freight for Redcar Ore Terminal.
1-1-5: freight for Tees Dock.
2-1-1: freight for Skinningrove/Boulby.

Bowesfield Signal Box: This very large box is believed to be a 1905 North Eastern Railway structure. It is located at the junction where the curve around towards Stockton leaves the main Eaglescliffe line. This is what remains of a much more complicated set of junctions (see BLN 1321.165 with maps). Very unusually, access is via an external wooden staircase in the middle of the front of the box, facing the running lines. At the rear there is a small extension at operating floor level. The lever frame had been replaced progressively by IFS (Individual Function Switch) panels and the box partitioned; the eastern end was empty and unheated. The IFS panels were replaced by a Westcad workstation at the western end of the west partition as recently as 2013. The box worked to Tees in the east, Norton South in the north, Tyneside IECC (Integrated Electronic Control Centre) in the west and Low Gates in the south, all TCB. After our visit the area was re-controlled to York Railway Operating Centre from 11 Mar 2019.

Urlay Nook Gate Box: This was a North Eastern Railway type C2a signal box dating from 1896. It was reduced to a gate box in 2013, with line control transferred to Bowesfield and, at the time of our visit, existed only to control the adjacent boom gate level crossing and was then one of the last two on NR. (Cutsyke Junction box is the other - BLN 1323.409.) The frame apparently dates from 1943 but only three of the 41 levers were in use: brown painted Lever 1 - the Gate Release, red painted Lever 12 for the Up Saltburn Slot on Bowesfield signal B965 and similar Lever 22 for the Down Saltburn Slot on Bowesfield signal B964. All of the block shelf equipment, including signal indicators and Automatic Half Barrier emergency controls were out of use and disconnected; an unusual sight in an operational box.

After last operating on 8 Mar, the whole structure was demolished the next day as it was in the way of the new obstacle detection lasers for the replacement modern Manually Controlled Barriers with Obstacle Detection. Although the level crossing was still operational the road was closed on both sides with a heavy presence of orange-clad engineers and their vehicles during our 8 Feb visit engaged in the early stages of reconstructing the road and crossing. (The road itself was later closed for 3 weeks.)

Heighington Signal Box: According to the Signalling Atlas, this is a circa 1872 North Eastern Railway type C1 box, so a very old one, although the inside is now unrecognisable from that time. It is on the Down side of the line on the north side of the road. Inside, the box has been heavily upgraded and the original lever frame is now boxed in behind the replacement NX panel as the listed status precludes its removal. The box works absolute block to Shildon in the north and track circuit block to Tyneside IECC, via the single line to Darlington North Road. A train describer - identical to that at Bowesfield - was in use. The single line is controlled by Tyneside IECC, who have a slot which has to be cleared before Heighington is able to send a train south. The block controls, indications and bell-push for Shildon are built into the end of the panel. The box controls the signals which protect the level crossing and also Merchant Park Jn for the Hitachi assembly plant. An amusing element of the panel was demonstrated by the signaller who opened the front to reveal an ancient block bell in the void behind it.

Shildon Signal Box: The box is a brick built North Eastern C2a structure of 1887 and retains a 42 lever frame of which 16 are in use. It operates a mix of semaphore and colour light main and subsidiary signals, and controls the single line to Bishop Auckland, the junction for 'Locomotion' (the NRM annex at Shildon) and the connection with the Weardale Railway at Bishop Auckland. The line works Absolute Block to Heighington with a wooden cased double line LNER block instrument; the short connecting line to the Weardale Railway has a train staff which is kept in the box at Shildon.

Thanks to our member Nick Jones, Local Operations Manager Gordon Armes, the local signallers and to the MOMs who escorted us. A donation of £200 was made to Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind.


View from Tees (Yard) Box.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




The remains of Tees Yard looking east towards Middlesbrough, the box is left.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Tees (Yard) Box.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Looking down the stairs from the top floor (the things people photograph) - it's a long way up.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Tees Yard diagram. Sadly it's shrunk a bit over the years.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Tees Yard panel.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




A close up of the panel.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Tees Yard - the south facing operating room high up in the box.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Containers for Merseyside's rubbish on the move (incinerated at Wilton down the line).
[© Nick Jones 2019]




View of the jutting out top floor from ground level…
[© Nick Jones 2019]




A newspaper cutting with an aerial photo including Tees Yard in 1960 (top right




View west from Bowesfield box; Eaglescliffe is straight on and Stockton is round to the
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Bowesfield Signal Box
[© Nick Jones 2019]




View east from Bowesfield Signal Box towards Tees Yard and Middlesbrough.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




This signaller's workstation could be anywhere on the planet really (York ROC for example).
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Bowesfield workstation.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




An Orange Platoon at work in the area during our visit.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Urlay Nook boom level crossing gates were on their 'last wheels' during our visit (and yes it was quite 'urlay' in the day too). Note the Ministry of Defence security fencing in the background.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Despite appearances, this was not Urlay Nook Gate Box museum but active equipment!
[© Nick Jones 2019]




The Orange Army is hard at work on the crossing approach road …
[© Nick Jones 2019]




…and the BLS Signal Corps is hard at work inside the box.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




On the diagram the famous Tees-Side Airport station is right and Eaglescliffe station is far left.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




'Switching' to the Bishop Auckland branch this is Heighington with its staggered platforms.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




The view from Heighington signal Box.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




An enlargement of the plaque on Up (to Darlington) P1 seen above.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Heighington level crossing controls.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




A rear view of Heighington Signal Box.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Heighington diagram.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




You never know what might be lurking behind a signal panel (Heighington).
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Heighington panel.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




A close up of Heighington panel.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Shildon Signal Box.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Shildon diagram and instruments,
[© Nick Jones 2019]




In case you were wondering why this picture was taken at such a strange angle the sign is covered in clear plastic so a full frontal would lead to considerable flashing.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




The train staff for the short connecting line to the Weardale Railway.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




Shildon panel.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




An insiders view of Shildon Signal Box.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




The red device is to adjust for variations in tension due to the weather on a long signal wire pull.
[© Nick Jones 2019]




A wooden cased double line LNER block instrument in Shildon Signal Box.
[© Nick Jones 2019]

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