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Haltwhistle - Wetheral Signal Box visits
Friday 14th February 2020

Report by Nigel Lyons with additional material by Nick Jones


Valentine's Day dawned bright and early for me a few miles south of Haltwhistle with strong cold winds preceding the arrival of Storm Dennis whipping around our rented cottage on a Beef Farm in the snow-covered hills. I thought it would be an idea to make a long weekend of it with the girlfriend as it's nearly a 300 miles journey north from Aylesbury, and I wouldn't have made it back in time for an evening out! [Or risk ending the visits with one to the dog house.] Parking in Haltwhistle station car park, 11 brave windswept souls met at 10.30 anticipating visiting five signal boxes on the Newcastle to Carlisle line, working west. The twelfth party member, on a flying visit, was still en route; making his way by train to Haltwhistle after landing from Ireland that morning at Glasgow Airport.

Mobile Operations Manager, Graham Lamb, due to lead the trip was in a meeting, so his deputy John Race stepped in until Graham was free. Nick Jones, our organiser, explained the day's activities and, as there were four car drivers, including myself, places were allocated to cars for the convoy later on.

Haltwhistle: The station house, footbridge, the grand circa 1901 former North Eastern Railway (NER) restored signal box and water crane are all Grade II listed at this delightful station, as is the nearby viaduct over the River South Tyne (the 'Alston Arches' on the Alston branch). Building the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway and the station here required a diversion of the River and the adjacent turnpike road.

However, the first box to be visited was not listed and only dates from 2009; a portable building west of P1, by the Up line (to Newcastle). It is next to the surviving Goods Shed and is the second box on this site. After the NER box east of the station on the Down side (to Carlisle) closed and before this one opened, another temporary box was used. The current box has an IFS (Individual Function Switch) Panel dating from 1993 (from the previous box). Unlike many IFS panels, the signal control switches are located directly on the mimic diagram, giving a similar appearance to an eNtrance-eXit panel.

Haltwhistle works Absolute Block to Haydon Bridge eastwards, and west to Low Row, with the block instruments and bells contained in the panel itself. The box is responsible for five level crossings of different types and all running signals are two aspect colour lights. Melkridge Siding Loop (35m 10ch to 35m 62ch) east of Haltwhistle, currently clamped OOU, is controlled from here. It originally served a Rapid Loading Bunker for Plenmeller Opencast Site (1½ miles away, the coal arrived by conveyor). The site closed in 2000, but the siding remains. In the past there were thoughts of converting it to a fully signalled Down Goods Loop but, with the significant reduction in coal traffic, this now seems unlikely.

There is a trailing crossover west of the station, allowing access to a still-active P'Way siding in the old goods yard, behind the box. A former second siding, still on Google Maps and Oct 2016 TRACKmaps, had presumably been removed quite recently (and certainly by 5 Feb 2019). This crossover also allows trains which terminate at Haltwhistle (from either direction) to shunt ECS to the other platform to turnback, with a Limit of Shunt (effectively a permanently red signal) provided on the Down Line for such moves. A separate portable building houses the Relay Interlocking for the panel.

Haltwhistle (NER): Our members then returned to the station, and crossed the line via the station footbridge, as the NER Box is accessed from a public footpath leading off the east end of P2, the Carlisle platform, sandwiched between the railway and the River South Tyne. At this point the Alston branch used to diverge south from the former P3 at Haltwhistle Jn (CA 3 May 1976 but part has been reinstated as the 2ft gauge South Tynedale Railway between Alston and Slaggyford).

The south side of Haltwhistle station, the former loop platform (P3); yard, including the turntable pit; the viaduct carrying the Alston branch over the River South Tyne and the trackbed up to the A69 bypass, are now owned by the South Tynedale Railway. Although situated at the foot of the Newcastle end platform ramp, there is no access to the NER signal box that way. The lofty building towers over the footbridge for sighting purposes. Built in the early 20th Century (sources differ as to the exact date, Peter Kay has 1901), the Grade II listed box closed in 1993. Until recently a NR office but is now OOU.

Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership holds occasional public open days. Only the lever frame remains, and has been restored using some imaginative but fictitious colour schemes, and various lever plates in random order… 51, 4, 62 next to each other as an example! The original frame was replaced by this McKenzie & Holland one in 1927 with 85 levers, but was reduced to 61 when the Alston branch closed. The diagram was also something of a mystery, apparently made up of some original sections with what appeared to be hand-sketched replica sections. The brick built base for housing the locking equipment is now empty, and is much narrower than the wooden Box above.


Our readers will know that signal boxes come in all sorts of sizes and shapes - this 'temporary' building (centre) is Haltwhistle; the railway is behind with the platform for Carlisle in the distance. The remains of the Goods Shed is to the left.
[© Nick Jones 2020]




It's a wind up … not some sort of mediaeval torture but tensioning equipment in the ex-NER signal box for long signal wires so that they could be adjusted for temperature changes.
[© Nick Jones 2020]




The one and only Engineer's Siding (the other was far left) looking towards Newcastle - the ex-NER Signal Box is background far right.
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Haltwhistle NX panel, on which Carlisle is to the right and Newcastle left; the trailing crossover and Engineer's Siding can be seen and former open cast coal disposal point (left end). Through the leftmost window can be seen the Carlisle platform at Haltwhistle.
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Haltwhistle NX panel, on which Carlisle is to the right and Newcastle left; the trailing crossover and Engineer's Siding can be seen and former open cast coal disposal point (left end).
[© Nick Jones 2020]




A 'token' selection of our members 'staff' our Society's 14 Feb 2020 signal box visits in Haltwhistle NER box. Organiser and party leader, Nick Jones, is 'in the frame', far right. It was less than six weeks later that social distancing was invented.
[© Nick Jones 2020]




The ex-NER Haltwhistle Signal Box diagram and restored lever frame.
[© Nick Jones 2020]




The ex-NER Haltwhistle Signal Box diagram and restored lever frame.
[© Nick Jones 2020]




From the box, a Newcastle to Carlisle train approaches. The Alston branch ran on a third track to the right, curving sharp right in the distance.
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Looking towards Newcastle from the footbridge, the NER box is right. Again the Alston branch ran along the right side on its own track.
[© Nick Jones 2020]




You've Been Framed… a view we have not had in BLN before; looking down on the frame detail in the NER box.
[© Nick Jones 2020]




View towards Carlisle from inside the box, the platform for Alston was left (no ramp then).
[© Nick Jones 2020]




A distant view towards Carlisle; the current box, Engineer's Sidings & crossover are ahead.
[© Nick Jones 2020]

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