Shropshire Star

Ballot signals the chance to get a look at Birmingham New Street's landmark rail box

A two-week ballot has opened for members of the public to get the chance to be on a rare tour of a railway landmark in the West Midlands.

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Birmingham New Street power signal box

Network Rail is opening the doors to the Grade II-listed Birmingham New Street power signal box (PSB) after it finished 56 years in service last year.

A total of 60 places are on offer on five 45-minute tours starting every hour from midday on Friday, March 31, with chiefs expecting high demand levels.

Staff – with more than 70 years of combined experience working in and around the operational signal box – will lead the tour of three of the iconic building's five floors.

Visitors will be given the chance to learn the basics of railway signalling, how the signal box worked and discover more about plans for the building's future.

Denise Wetton, Network Rail’s Central route director, said: “We were overwhelmed by the response when we announced that the Birmingham power signal box would be closing, so it felt like the right thing to do to open up the doors and show off this local landmark which played a crucial role for six decades at the heart of Britain's railway network.

“I hope that people will enjoy this rare look behind the scenes and that it inspires people not only to learn about the important part this building and the people who worked in it played in the railway’s past – but also discover more about how we're improving the railway for the future, too.”

Tickets will be allocated by a random ballot which will close on March 17, with successful people being contacted afterwards.

At the building’s peak, up to 1,200 trains were directed by its team of dedicated signallers every day – that's tens of millions of trains over its operational life.

But last Christmas the 1960s analogue technology made way for digital when responsibility for all train movements through Britain’s busiest station outside London was passed over to the West Midlands Signalling Centre in east Birmingham.

After the interest generated by the Christmas closure, Network Rail has decided to open up the building for railway enthusiasts and architecture fans alike.

The power signal box is applauded for being one of Birmingham's best surviving examples of Brutalist architecture – defined by imposing facades built from pre-cast concrete. Its insides were also unique too, as the only surviving signal box to use the Westpac Mk 1 signalling system until it closed on Christmas Eve last year..

Built as part of the West Coast main line route modernisation, the Birmingham PSB was one of four power signal boxes in the West Midlands, replacing 64 manually operated signal boxes in the 1960s.

It was given Grade II listed building status in 1995 because of its ‘dramatic and exceptional architectural quality’ and ‘strongly sculptural form’.

After the tours take place, work will start on the next phase of the building’s life to become a training centre for the next generation of railway signallers.

This latest look behind the scenes follows the hugely successful tours of a forgotten underground tunnel linking New Street station to the Mailbox building which took place as part of Birmingham Heritage Week 2021.

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