Right on track – inside the Dinting signal box
Tuesday 10th October 2017 19:20 Dinting News Posted by Adam Higgins

There’s a piece of living history that’s been nestling at the side of a once bustling train station for more than 170 years.

It’s doing the same vital around-the-clock job now that it was on the day it first opened in the early 1840s.

Dinting Signal Box, located on the station’s platform one, has long been making sure the tracks are clear for steam trains, diesels and now the electric units which pass through.

Still making that happen today is a piece of equipment whose origins date back more than a century, which signalman Peter Gaskell still relies on.

It’s a telegraphy machine on the box wall, with a bell that sounds at regular intervals to tell Peter when trains on the Glossop, Hadfield to Manchester line are on their way.

He returns the appropriate number of rings to tell the box way down the line that the message has been received…and understood.

These days, however, there’s also computer screens showing details of the network on the Arriva Rail North and Northern operated line and a variety of communication devices in case of emergencies.

All of which are designed to ensure safety remains a number one priority for the travelling public.

It also means Peter can now be in direct contact with any train driver and vice versa.

Functions: Some of the machinery inside the Dinting signal box

Automation, though, is creeping in and it’s that which has signalled the demise of signal boxes all over Britain.

In fact, even Dinting’s is on borrowed time.

Boxes like it have been shutting for years as that automation takes over and there are plans that Dinting’s could close in less than 10 years.

The current closure date is planned for sometime in 2024, when transfer of work will go to the Regional Operating Centre (ROC) at Ashburys.

Eventually, all trains within the North West of England will be controlled from there.

Maybe, like some of the hundred of other boxes that were sold off as surplus to requirements, to be turned into quaint little tea rooms and restaurants.

However, from outside and inside, little seems to have changed in Dinting’s box – climb the stairs and it’s like stepping back in time.

There are still racks of heavy levers that are pushed and pulled to move signals and points.

There are 40 of them at Dinting, a lasting reminder of the time when the station serviced the now closed line to South Yorkshire through Woodhead Tunnel.

On track: The signal box helps to point the current electric trains in the right direction

Steam trains would haul tons of coal in wagons from the Yorkshire pits into Manchester and then pull goods from one of Britain’s biggest industrial cities back the other way.

“There’s no freight now on this line, just passenger traffic, and now we use only 14 levers,” said Peter, 56, who lives in Glossop and is also a volunteer for the local Friends of Glossop Station group.

The signal box still has a desk with a ledger in which signalmen, like Pete, have to record the exact minute details of where trains are on the track he is responsible for.

As signal boxes close, as Glossop’s and Hadfield’s have, the nearest box is way down the line at Ashburys.

Family man Peter, who changed a career in customer service to train as a signalman 14 years ago, works a 12-hour shift and is on his feet every minute, but loves every second.

“It’s the responsibility that I have that motivates me,” he said.

Signal box rules mean mobile phones, radios and TVs are banned and total concentration is implicit.

Pete said: “The job can be repetitive, but we really earn our money whenever things go wrong. Strict safety standards mean we are regularly formally tested to ensure we maintain demanding standards within a very regulated industry.”

But there’s still a kettle for the cups of tea that have kept signalmen going since the 1840s.

Even more pressing for anyone working 12 hours in the same place…there’s a toilet in easy reach!

Location: The signal box is based on Platform One at Dinting train station

 

Main picture:

Hard at work: Peter Gaskell in the Dinting signal box 

 

By David Jones