On the cold and cloudy morning of Saturday 10 February UoB RailSoc gathered at University station heading for Crewe via Birmingham New Street. We had arranged for private tours of the Crewe Railway Heritage Centre and operating sessions in the Exeter West Signal Box. On arrival at the Centre we split into two groups, with one going to the signal box for the morning and the other on a guided tour of the site swapping after lunch.
The aim of the signal box visit was to get hands-on experience with a mechanical signal box in a simulated environment and Exeter West certainly fulfilled that. The signal box itself was moved to Crewe, piece by piece in railway wagons, from Exeter after it closed in 1985. The box now operates as a simulator operating just like it was before it closed even using an accurate timetable in real time, just with slightly different view out the window! Four friendly volunteers from the Exeter West Group very kindly gave their day to operate the box and show us how it worked. Everyone was able to have a go pulling the levers and ringing the bells under instruction, for most this was their first time operating a signal box. For those on the BCRRE undergraduate railway engineering courses this was a great opportunity to reinforce lectures about signalling with a practical experience.
For the private tours of the heritage centre we had a very experienced guide who had worked on the railway based at Crewe for most of his career. He showed us around the restored Crewe ‘North Junction’ Signal box which was excellent to see and compare with the older Exeter West. We also got to have a look inside the preserved British Rail ‘Advanced Passenger Train’ (APT), British Rail’s pioneering but controversial tilting high speed train. Our guide worked as a driving instructor for the APT so being able to see inside the train accompanied by his stories of driving it was a fantastic addition.
After the visit concluded some headed home, and some of us headed to a pub to kill time in the knowledge that in a few hours Pathfinder Tour’s ‘The Blue Boys Ribble Rouser’ rail tour was due to stop at Crewe. We were able to arrange part fares (on the day tickets) to Leamington Spa on the rail tour, what better way to head home even if it did take many hours longer! 88001 and 68004 hauled us to Nuneaton where both locos were swapped for 37609 and 37069 to take us forward to Leamington Spa.