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Electric Railway Power Control Centres

Picture: NRM/SSPL

NRM has images of Woking Electrical Control Room taken in 2007 and surely one of the very last surviving ‘Art Deco’ control rooms of a kind which would have been once common within the electrical supply industry. With most of the large coal fired power stations of that era now gone, Woking must be something of a rarity. One of those, ‘if you preserved it, what would you do with it’ places.

© National Railway Museum/Science & Society Picture Library. Workers using Hollerith key punches in the tabulating room of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in May 1917, this was by then an established part of railway work

Actually electrical supply is little written about but essential to how things work. Consider that this message is just one of the many interactions you will have during the course of a day with electrically driven devices, most of which have no proper history written about them, unlike nearly all steam powered machines.

Railways were actually the first commercial users of electricity starting with the Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph in 1837, long before electrical devices of any kind were commonplace. This and other links are highlighted in my recently published article..

Picture: courtesy Robert Gwynne

For an overview of the links see my recently published article which is an attempt to get people to realise just how technically complex the railway is and always was, and treat it with a little more respect than hitherto – see Science Museum Group Journal - A long engagement – railways, data and the information age

© Robert Gwynne / Network Rail Total Operations Processing System (TOPS), which went live in 1975, running in a Network Rail. ‘Rail Operations Centre’ in 2019

Robert Gwynne

About the author: Robert Gynne is an Associate Curator at the National Railway Museum in York. He has written books, articles and blogs covering a wide range of railway subjects, everything from an attempt at a definitive history of Mallard’s record breaking run of 1938 (using all known sources) to the unusual links to be had from the story of locomotive KF No.7 a.k.a. ‘The Chinese Engine’.

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In 2013 Network Rail announced their strategy of concentrating all railway signalling activity into just a handful of Regional Operating Centres (ROCs). Implementation would, of course, not happen over night but would progress steadily and see the eventual demise of all remaining mechanical signal boxes, including those that had been equipped with panels, power signal boxes and most of the signalling centres that were still coming on stream at this time. The order of change would be influenced by the life expectancy of existing equipment and need to increase line capacity, and it is relevant to mention that some mechanical signal boxes outlived their power signal box neighbours that were several decades their junior.

The Friends of the National Railway Museum contacted various bodies with a view to recording railway signalling as it stood in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century and before it was consigned to history. Thus FARSAP was born. In this there was a parallel to the driving force behind the formation of this Society in 1969 - the desire to record matters before they were lost for ever in the rush to introduce ever larger power signal boxes.

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