IT is the end of an era for the signal box at Mill Lane, in Bradford, after a state of the art signalling system takes over the operation from a centre in York.

The signal box, near Bradford Interchange, was closed on Friday by one of two signal men who are now moving on. The site has looked after trains going in and out of the station from Halifax and Leeds since it was built around 1880.

The old lever system was taken out and replaced with a ‘modern’ button and switch system in 1973.

The work of the signal operator is to control the train movements and alter the points which allow trains to move from one line to another.

And while the driver is responsible for stopping and starting the train, it is the signal operator who controls its journey.

On Thursday last week, the day before the last shift, the signal man, who has taken voluntary redundancy, guided his train through a bridge strike where a lorry had hit a railway bridge, near Halifax.

In these instances he has to either slow the train down to five miles per hour or stop it completely depending on the severity of the damage.

He asks the driver to convey information from the bridge and if the lines are sound and there is no evidence of misalignment, trains can generally travel at 20 miles per hour over the bridge until an engineer gives the all clear.

He said strikes are relatively common and all have to be checked by engineers. The main focus on the situation is safety of rail staff and passengers and to reduce any delays caused as much as possible.

Of the two signal men working from the Mill Lane junction box, one is moving to work at York.

The signal box itself is to remain next to the track and be kept as a rest room and toilet facility for Network Rail staff working nearby.

A spokesman for Network Rail said the work is highly skilled with huge responsibilities and it can take up to 18 months to become fully trained.

He likened it to “air traffic control, but on the ground”.

He said the new system will allow more trains to move on the lines and provide a better service for customers.

The work to transfer the operations began on Saturday and will be complete by tomorrow, causing some disruption to travel in and out of the interchange as the changeover is completed.

For Network Rail, which looks after all the rail infrastructure, the work as part of the Great North Rail Project “Access for All” began with work further along the line to improve accessibility at Hebden Bridge station in August.

The work is the latest in a wide range of improvements at the station which are being carried out by Network Rail, Northern and The West Yorkshire Combined Authority and follows on from a project to extend station platforms to allow them to accommodate newer and longer trains. The platform extensions will also see new tactile paving installed.

A spokesman for Network Rail said workers had carried out the final stage of the project to upgrade the signalling system in West Yorkshire over the weekend with bus transport put in place for rail users.

Full service is due to be reinstated by tomorrow.

They said: “The work will see old signalling technology ‘recontrolled’ from local line side signal boxes at Mill Lane (Bradford Interchange), Hebden Bridge, Halifax and Milner Royd (Sowerby Bridge) to the state-of-the-art Rail Operating Centre in York.

“The project will bring benefits to passengers across the north, providing a more modern, reliable and cost-effective railway which will improve journeys,.”

Rob McIntosh, route managing director at Network Rail, said they ensured passengers were given advanced warning of the work.

“There’s never an ideal time to work on the railway and we appreciate that this upgrade would cause some disruption for passengers.

“Once completed, this project will provide a more modern, reliable and cost-effective railway which ensures we can continue to meet the needs of the communities and economies our railway serves.”

Paul Barnfield, Northern’s Regional Director, said: “The re-signalling will pave the way for the modernisation of the railway in a significant part of West Yorkshire.

“Network Rail’s engineering project goes hand-in-hand with our own improvements which will see brand new and improved trains – as well better stations – giving our customers a better journey experience.”

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority is to discuss the recent upgrade work to the signalling system when it meets on Wednesday.

The works in West Yorkshire have included improving rail boundaries, drainage and other assets to ‘harden’ the route and improve resilience and speed of the line.