They are as much a part of the British landscape as the red telephone box.
But it has been revealed Lancashire’s last manned rail signal boxes – some of them dating back to the late 1800s – are to be shut down.
The boxes, which at one time were used to control train movements up and down the lines using manual levers, have been declared subject to requirements as more advanced systems are brought in.
Network Rail has announced every signal box along the Preston to Blackpool North line will shut by 2016, including Kirkham and Salwick, which dates back to the late 1880s.
In addition, the signal box at the Bamber Bridge level crossing, at Station Road, will close by 2026 and the main signal box at Preston station, which was introduced in the 1970s and lies on the line to Blackpool, will close the following year.
The boxes are to be replaced with a single purpose-built centre for the whole area. It means several signallers will lose their jobs.
Today, the county’s rail experts said it was a “shame” the boxes were closing, while one expressed concern about safety.
Andrew Fowler, author of the book The Railways of Preston and a director of the Ribble Steam Railway, said: “They are still safe and they are still doing their jobs, Kirkham and Salwick are a shame because they are the last proper manual lever signal boxes.
“With the Bamber Bridge box I think it is quite important to keep that manned because of the safety issues of an unmanned crossing. It is a busy road.”
Also set to be decommissioned as part of the move are the boxes at Clitheroe, Poulton-le-Fylde, Carlton level crossing and the Blackpool North number two box.
Mr Fowler said it is hoped Network Rail will work with preservation societies to protect the defunct signal box buildings, especially as they are now quite rare as many previously decommissioned boxes were destroyed.
An English Heritage review is being carried out to see which are worth preserving.
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “As part of Network Rail’s national operating strategy to modernise the UK’s signalling system over the next 15 years to provide a more reliable, efficient and cost effective railway, the rail infrastructure owner and operator is looking to close all of the signal boxes between Preston to Blackpool North, to be replaced by a new purpose built Rail Operating Centre at Ashbury’s near Manchester.
“Those boxes scheduled for closure in 2016 are Salwick, Kirkham, Poulton-le-Fylde, Carlton level crossing box and Blackpool North Number 2.
“Bamber Bridge level crossing box and Preston power signal box are also scheduled for closure in 2026 and 2027 respectively.
“With regards to those staff affected, Network Rail’s policy is to retrain/redeploy affected staff wherever possible and we will consult closely with those affected and the requisite unions as and when appropriate.”
A Network Rail review of the signal boxes has led to plans for 800 to close nationwide, replacing them with 14 regional control centres.