Princes Risborough North Signal Box; Recent History (Autumn & Winter 2013/14)

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The Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway Association is a registered charity, number 1016237. It and the railway it owns are operated, managed, developed and maintained entirely by volunteers.

©PRNB 2015                                         Updated: 16/12/2015                                                     E&OE

The Good news

In CPRRA discussions with NR over its line extension project, back in Spring 2013, the box access problem had been raised and an “in principle” view taken that something should be done. Having improved the access route, we then received permission from NR Operations department to resume routine maintenance access to the box. This was excellent news; work could begin again.

We do however need to be cautious. Permission to access the box could be withdrawn at any time; we still have no security of tenure. This last point is important, as it affects funding; a subject to which I shall return.

The Bad news

OK, so we were back in the box. What did we find? The electrical supply had gone. With the box boarded up it was pitch black inside. The low beams, walkways, steelwork etc. together with the general covering of pigeon droppings did not make the interior of the box a good place to work in the dark! If the loss of power had been permanent then that would have been a major setback. We have never known where the supply originated. With help from NR and Chiltern, searches of supply cabinets and switchrooms yielded nothing. However, a chance comment by the station café owner revealed an old wooden electrical cupboard above the cake display! A fuse labelled “Signal Box” was missing. An insulation test of the cable proved that the cable was still good, so we replaced the fuse and “behold there was light”. It is possible that the fuse was “borrowed” to replace one in a more vital circuit, but we then had power back in the box.

The cracks had widened. One had a surveyor’s gauge attached, and revealed a widening of about 1.5mm in 11 months. This crack (front wall, near the North end, where the brick arch above the locking room window had collapsed) must be about 50mm wide overall. This was as predicted: the vibration due to the increased line speed and loco-hauled trains of the Chiltern Evergreen 3 “Mainline” service had been noticed at the lineside. We then installed two steel ties running the entire length of the building to prevent any further widening.

The roof was in a very sorry state, and had worsened considerably since 2012. There were many slates missing or slipped. Slate slivers littered the ground around the box. Wooden battens could be seen from ground level through holes in the slate cover. From inside, pin-pricks of daylight could be seen through the joins in the interior cladding. It was assumed that rain was entering the roof, running down the cladding and therefore rotting it, the battens and the beams running along the top of the walls. This needed urgent attention, but re-roofing has always looked like the one job that we cannot do ourselves. Scaffolding needs licensed scaffolders, and is rented by the week; the work therefore has to be done quickly, by contractors. It is the most expensive part of the whole restoration. However, NR came up with a solution. They organised a work party who, with the aid of ropes and towers, went up on the roof and replaced the damaged and missing slates thus making the roof watertight again. It was not a permanent fix but at least we could work inside without needing to rig tarpaulins and wear waterproof clothing.

Abandoned buildings tend to tolerate neglect pretty well for some years, but then they start to deteriorate rapidly. As we suspected a couple of years ago, this one has gone over the edge of the curve. It has waited too long.