PHOTO GALLERY: NORTH BRITISH RAILWAY
OPENED: 1894 CLOSED: —-
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When the West Highland line opened in 1894, two new designs of signal box were introduced – one for “proper” free-standing signal boxes and another for platform boxes intended to be managed by the station staff. Mallaig Junction is one of the free-standing variety – the platform type is illustrated at Arrochar & Tarbet.
Of course, it wasn’t called Mallaig Junction until the West Highland Extension line opened in 1901, but there was a short branch from here to serve Banavie Pier station and it originally carried the name Banavie Junction. Things got complicated when the WHE opened because it diverged from this branch at a box they chose to call Banavie Junction, re-naming this box Mallaig Junction at the same time.
In the above picture, the straight route is towards Glasgow whilst the branch passes behind the box to the left. The apparent double track is simply a passing loop (a luxury that did not exist on the main line) and the line soon becomes single. Fort William station is about a mile behind the photographer – trains bound for Mallaig have always had to reverse at Fort William.
Looking closer at the signal box, we can see there were no sash windows here – the glazed area was divided with an upper section comprising six small panes of glass. The box has received a short extension to the operating floor supported by brick legs – this change was probably made during the Second World War when a 30-lever frame replaced the original 20-lever one. A further lever frame replacement was carried out in 1973, and a panel was added to control the Fort William station area when the station moved down the line a bit and the signal box there closed in 1975.
A grand lattice-post signal controlled the junction, it was built to this height to give a clear view of the arms above the bridge to trains approaching from Fort William. Remarkably, this signal has been renewed in the 21st century by a tubular steel-post semaphore signal of similar configuration.
In 1988, the Radio Electronic Token Block system was introduced in the area. Following an incident where a light engine entered the wrong token section following confusion between Mallaig and Mallaig Junction, this signal box was renamed (again) to Fort William Junction.
At the time of writing (2020) the signal box lives on as the only operational mechanical signal box on the West Highland route.