Why are you doing this? What’s the point?
This project is for the significant, and growing, following of the “dark art” of Western Region signalling and MAS technology. The Society has preserved Swindon Panel, one of eleven original large WR panels, before they all disappear forever in the next few years. The panel is displayed at Didcot Railway Centre for visitors to come and have a go, enjoy, and learn about the job of the signalman in the panel box era.
Isn’t Swindon Panel a bit ‘modern’ for preservation?
Swindon Panel was opened in 1968, over 50 years ago, at the tail end of steam on the BR network. Whilst Swindon Panel is relatively modern compared to steam locomotives such as City of Truro, it is only 8 years younger than Evening Star, the last steam locomotive produced by BR.
Panels have been around since 1907, NX since 1937 and E10k interlockings since 1955, all much older than a lot of steam locomotives running today. This particular design of panel will otherwise be extinct in the next few years, so the time is right now to preserve an example, to prevent it passing into history unpreserved.
What have you done with the panel now that you’ve got it?
The panel has been moved from its building in Swindon.
The panel has now been re-housed at the Didcot Railway Centre.
The panel controls and indications have been wired up to a purpose-built simulator back end so that it works realistically in response to the panel being operated.
We ultimately intend to supplement the exhibit of the panel with other explanatory items such as examples and explanations of relay interlockings, colour light signals, junction sequences, remote controls, etc. That’s all a little way off though.
Where is the panel kept?
We are based at Didcot Railway Centre.
Can I be able to come and play with it?
Yes! Most definitely. See our Visit Us page.
How can I get involved?
There are lots of ways to get involved. See our ‘Get Involved‘ page for more details.
Can I become a Member?
Yes. We have membership available for all levels of interest and sizes of pocket. See our Membership information for more details.
Will you be doing anything to preserve the relay interlocking?
Yes. Our first objective is the preservation of the panel itself, but after that we intend to support it with other items by connecting the panel to a small example of a relay interlocking driving some full-size colour-light demonstration signals showing aspect sequences, etc.
Why Swindon? Why not Oxford or Bristol or Plymouth?
We considered all the WR panels that existed at the time of the creation of the project. We considered their suitability based on size, complexity, interest of operation, accessibility, availability (timescales, etc), current condition, location, etc, and Swindon scored the most points overall.
Will you be doing anything to preserve the other WR panels?
Our main objective concentrates on Swindon, but we intend to facilitate the recording, collation of documents and research resources for other items of WR MAS interest, including the other panels. It isn’t our intention to preserve any more full-size panels.
Was Network Rail in agreement with this scheme?
Yes. Network Rail made a formal agreement to the Project obtaining the panel and a £1 hand-over was held on 23 August 2013, as reported in the News section of this site.
Why did the panel move to Didcot?
Why did it move at all?
We enquired about the possibility of preserving the entire Swindon panel building, but this was unfortunately not possible. The original panel building has now been demolished.
We approached six heritage centres within a range of Swindon, of which one didn’t respond, two responded but were not in a position to discuss further for one reason or another, and three responded positively.
We visited the three that responded positively and had some informal discussions with their management, and Didcot emerged as our single preferred option. In our check-list of factors to consider Didcot was able to tick:
* Ease of access for visitors and members, being well served by rail and in a well-patronised heritage centre;
* Enthusiasm of the company to accept us;
* Willingness to provide excellent quality accommodation;
* Provision of services such as electricity;
* Proximity to other facilities such as toilets, cafe, shop;
* Security, being ‘landlocked’ by railway.
We also identified that when people visit a railway, whether they’re enthusiasts or families with children, etc, the primary purpose of their visit is to ride on the train, and any additional museum-type attractions can be perceived as less significant secondary-objectives of the visit.
With Didcot being a heritage centre, visitors are primarily looking to see things, to learn about things and to take some education away with them. We feel that the nature of Swindon Panel as a working exhibit is far more suited to this type of attraction.
Will you be co-ordinating with the other signalling exhibits at Didcot Railway Centre?
Yes, we certainly work with Didcot Railway Centre as much as possible to make the entire signalling collection work together as a cohesive experience. It will be one of very few places where such as wide range of history of railway signalling is exhibited and actively demonstrated so comprehensively.
Can I make a Donation to the fund?
The activities of the Society, and how it uses your donation, are Charitable and governed by our constitution (governing document).