The Western Region of British Railways installed a number of large ‘Integra’-patent signalling control panels in the 1960s and early 1970s as part of their modernisation plan to remove mechanical signalling installations and concentrate control into panels. In 2013 there were seven original panels of this type left in main-line operation, and Network Rail had plans to close most, if not all, of them within the next few years. A small group was convened with the aim of preventing this panel design passing into history unpreserved.
The group grew quickly and has, so far, produced the following results:
- Swindon Panel was selected as the example to preserve. It was in relatively good condition and had a good number of interesting and varied infrastructure features on it.
- The Panel was purchased from Network Rail for £1, securing the group’s possession of it when it was taken out of use.
- The panel has been removed from the its Swindon Panel building (which has now been demolished) and rehoused at Didcot Railway Centre – the home of the Great Western Society, where a new, purpose-built building has been constructed for it.
- Purpose-built signalling simulation software has been built as back-end for the Panel. This enables it to function and be operated realistically, for the interest and education of those interested in railway signalling and MAS technology.
The panel is now used as an educational demonstration for visitors to the Railway Centre to understand and experience how railway signalling has been controlled by this method for the last 60 years, via a programme of demonstration days.
In many cases we have started ‘winding the clock back’ and reinstating some long-gone infrastructure on the panel fascia, back to a period in about 1982-84, when the layout was at its most interesting and most complex!
There are also further educational opportunities for Society members in the form of using the panel to simulate a more detailed or historically important period or timetable. Our members are drawn from former and current signalmen and railwaymen from other departments, those with interests in railway signalling or railways in general, and those interested in electronics and control systems. The simulation equipment will be capable of simulating all manner of panel behaviour and potentially failures to keep the keenest and most interested signalmen on their toes!
Our final, long-term, plan is 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.