THE SIGNAL BOX
On the 19th July, 2002, I strolled up an unmetalled lane in Hindley, Lancashire, to a bridge from where I was able to photograph the intriguingly named Crow Nest Junction signal box.
Photograph 19/7/02, by John Hinson
Today, Crow Nest Junction is a simple junction on the double-track Manchester to Southport route, just east of Wigan. The line curving to the right is the line towards Manchester, whilst the left-hand route is a link with the Manchester - Preston route at Lostock Junction, near Bolton.
Some forty-six years earlier, on 29th April, 1956, Ian Scrimgeour made the same pilgrimage up that lane. Standing on that same bridge he, too, took a panoramic photograph of the signalbox and junction.
Photograph 29/4/56, by Dr. J W F Scrimgeour
But there is hardly anything in this view to compare with the 2002 photograph, the place is transformed! Now totally overtaken by undergrowth, the trackbed no longer appears to have ever had the capacity for this four-track junction, and in the vee of the junction is a huge signal box controlling the layout.
In 1876, Crow Nest Junction was a simple double junction (named after a nearby farm), but this was not the junction seen in the 2002 view. The line curving right did not exist at that time; instead, all Manchester-bound trains ran via Bolton. A further junction curved off to the left to form a large triangle with the Preston line, joining it near Horwich. However, by 1896, the view had become much as seen in 1956 - the direct Manchester route had opened and the this line was four-tracked throughout the junction. The apparent four lines turning away to the left are not quite what they seem - each pair separates in the distance to form the aforementioned triangle, although the right-hand pair immediately spread to four tracks with the provision of goods loops on the outside. This massive layout was controlled from a 92-lever Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway box in the vee of the junction.
By the time that Warrington power box was commissioned in 1972, considerable rationalisation had taken place, and the 92-lever box must have had a high proportion of spare levers. Crow Nest Junction was to become a fringe box to Warrington (in the Wigan direction) but a decision was made to replace the box with something a little more manageable - a 25-lever box of BR design. This was erected in the trackbed of the former Fast lines. Colour-light signals replaced many of the semaphores.
Today, Crow Nest Junction continues to fringe with Warrington PSB, and also fringes with Manchester Piccadilly in the Bolton direction. Absolute Block remains in force on the direct route to Manchester, working with Atherton Goods Yard (which is only open during the rush hours) or Walkden.
Additional notes by David Ingham
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