Signal boxes, so long an essential part of the rail network, will be a thing of the past in 20 years time. Network Rail plans to consolidate all signal operation in 14 Control Centres.
The aim is to apply universal operating procedures across the network, boosting service reliability and saving money and manpower.
Network Rail currently has over 800 signal boxes, down from 10,000 a century ago. Many have aging and variable equipment.
The new system will create a high performance railway, reducing delays and increasing capacity as the railway becomes ever busier. Existing Operating Centres include Derby, Gillingham, Cardiff, Saltley, Edinburgh and Ashford with Didcot and Glasgow requiring further upgrade work.
New centres are proposed for Romford, Three Bridges, York, Manchester, Rugby and Basingstoke.
Staff involved in this work will be slowly reduced from today’s complement of 5,500 to around 1,700 over the next 15 years.
However Network Rail believes this can be achieved without compulsory redundancies bearing in mind the rising age profile of those affected.
NR points out that the average age of those involved is 46.
“Over the next 15 years, 2,061 or 41% of operations staff will reach retirement age (65).
“The number over the next 30 years is 4426, 88% of current signalling population. Add in a continuation of our annual turnover rate of 2%, this takes the number of staff potentially leaving the business voluntarily to around 3000 over the next 15 years.
“Because it’s such a long term plan, we’re looking to avoid redundancies wherever possible, instead using retirements, natural turnover and voluntary severance to manage changes in staff numbers,” a spokesman said.
Over time the roles of signallers and controllers are likely to be more closely aligned.