‘A rail revolution’: £60m scheme marks new era for region’s train network
- Credit: Archant
It has taken years of preparation, planning and engineering works.
And after a 23-day closure as works were carried out to modernise the rail lines locally last month, new signals were switched on for the first time last week as the completion of a computer-based signalling system heralded "a rail revolution" for train users.
At a ceremony in the restored parcels office at Lowestoft Railway Station last Thursday, representatives of Network Rail, Greater Anglia and main contractors Atkins gathered to celebrate the completion of the project to replace the 130-year-old mechanical signalling on the Wherry lines between Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft (NYL).
A modernised computer-based signalling system has been installed in its place, which is now operated from Colchester.
The £60million NYL project has seen Victorian semaphore signals replaced, points and level crossings upgraded, miles and miles of cabling installed, while an "enormous amount of track" has been replaced and work has been carried out on two swing bridges.
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A plaque was unveiled by long serving signaller Bernie Ladd at the special ceremony last week.
Mr Ladd, 68, from Lowestoft, has worked for British Rail/Network Rail for more than 48 years.
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After starting work in the north east for two-and-a-half years from 1971, Mr Ladd became a signaller at Oulton Broad North station in 1973 and then went to work at Somerleyton swing bridge in 1976.
He became a rest day relief signalman working across the Wherry Lines thereafter, before commuting to work in London in the 1980s, as he worked at Kings Cross between 1986 and 1993, and then London Liverpool Street from 1993 to 2016.
Now looking froward to retirement, Mr Ladd said: "I enjoyed my time working in London, but I was asked to come back to assist them in this area again in 2016. I have thoroughly enjoyed coming back here to where it all began, as I ended my career here.
"I never thought I would get the opportunity to come back to where I started my career and be able to see the job shut."
Speaking after the ceremony, he said: "After more than 130-years of the Wherry Lines it is the end of an era, and the dawn of a new one.
"I was honoured to have been asked to unveil the plaque to mark the completion of works alongside Network Rail project manager John Endean.
"All the semaphores have been replaced, the signalboxes at eight locations have been shut and we now have a digital signalling system in place.
"It was a very good, fitting end as we dedicated all those who had worked to keep the trains running while celebrating a new era."
Speaking at the ceremony, Jonathan Fernandez, programme manager for NYL project, said: "We are celebrating the completion of significant rail resignalling scheme.
"Last month we decommissioned 38 miles of old Victorian signalling technology and commissioned the largest modern installation of new signalling technology in the UK - delivering the job on time.
"We also took the opportunity to refresh a massive amount of track and undertook a phenomenal amount of maintenance work including platform work for the new trains and improvements to level crossing safety.
"All of which will create a better railway that is safer and more reliable. There is much history and nostalgia connected with the railway and this project has an impact on people and jobs.
"People from signal boxes have either retired or taken on new jobs. But overall it has been a great achievement thanks to a commitment from everybody."
Speaking on behalf of Greater Anglia, Juliette Maxam, said: "We now have one of the most modern signalling systems in the country.
"The NYL railway has been around for over 150 years when steam trains and semaphore signals were commonplace. But we are now entering a rail revolution. "After decades of underinvestment, hand me down trains from other operators and Victorian signalling equipment we are now entering the 21st century with brand new trains and a modern signalling system putting us in good stead for the rest of the century. It is an exciting time to be using the railway and on behalf of Greater Anglia we extend thanks to Network Rail for bringing an exciting and green future to the railway."
Peter Mayne, chairman of Community Rail Norfolk, said: "175 years ago Samuel Morton Peto incorporated the Lowestoft Harbour and Railway Company so not since those pioneering days have we seen such investment and dedication to this railway as we have over the last few months."
A new plaque was unveiled to mark the completion of the £60m NYL project.
The plaque was commissioned at the ceremony last Thursday, February 27. It states: "Dedicated to all the signallers and crossing keepers of the Wherry Lines, who kept the trains running for over 130 years."
Work started in October 2017, and culminated in 26 new signals being installed as five phases later the "full commissioning" of the works was completed last month.
It meant that six public level crossings - at Brundall, Lingwood, Strumpshaw, Cantley, Oulton Broad North and Victoria Road in Oulton Broad - were modernised, 11 user worked crossings were upgraded with the tracks at Acle, Hassingham, Oulton Broad North and Lowestoft remodelled as maintenance works were carried out to Reedham and Somerleyton swing bridges.
Peter Mayne, chairman of Community Rail Norfolk, said: "It is particularly pleasing that steps have been taken to preserve some of that infrastructure.
"The Reedham signal box is going to North Norfolk railway as part of a living museum and the Brundall box is going to the Mid Norfolk railway with lots of other pieces of equipment and infrastructure also saved."