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Thomas and the Orton Mere Signal Box Grand Opening

Travel Behind Thomas on the 9th March as we officially open Orton Mere Signal Box 

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Sat 9th Mar 2024
09:30

TRAVEL BEHIND THOMAS TO THE ORTON MERE SIGNAL BOX GRAND OPENING 

On the morning of Monday 13th March 2023 staff and volunteers from Nene Valley Railway near Peterborough were woken to the news that the signal box at Orton Mere Station had fallen victim to being part of a spate of overnight arson attacks in the area. The fire had burnt through the back wall and floor of the signal box and destroyed all the heritage signalling equipment within the box, making it both unsafe to enter and unuseable. After subsequent arson attacks elsewhere in Peterborough, the police apprehended who they believed to be the culprits but the NVR is unaware of the outcome of any court cases.

After the fire had been extinguished, the damage was assessed and the structure of the building and roof was found to be needing major repairs. Furthermore, most of the signalling equipment inside the signal box, which had been donated or purchased over the years to give a period look, has been destroyed. Luckily the actual lever frame had escaped largely intact and this is testimony to the robust construction of the type.

The actual signal box had been brought from Maxey Crossing north of Peterborough and fitted with part of the lever from another Peterborough signal box which had become redundant in the 1970s. Both were of a Midland Railway design.

SATURDAY 9TH MARCH 2024

Board this special service, hauled by Thomas, which will depart from Wansford at 09:30 to Orton Mere. On arrival at Orton, guests and passengers will be invited to a short opening ceremony. We expect this ceremony to begin at around 10.00, and it will be led by our President, Miranda Rock DL. The Railway is inviting members of the public and local dignitaries, as well as the two young teenage volunteers who undertook a fundraising walk, along with their parents, plus the firemen who helped deal with the fire almost a year ago. We expect Thomas to arrive back at Wansford at approximately 11:46.

  • Tickets are now on sale for this opening event hauled by Thomas: £10 per person inclusive of a celebration drink
  • Ride behind Thomas to Orton Mere and return 
  • Wansford Miniature Railway open 10am to 3pm
  • Thomas will then haul two Branch Line trains from Wansford to Yarwell at 13:30 and 15:00 - tickets £5 each (if you have a ticket for the opening event, a further ticket must be purchased to travel on the Branch Line Trains)
  • On Train Buffet Car
  • Wansford Cafe and Shop open 

                           

The signal box has been lovingly restored to its former glory and is now ready to signal trains once again. To celebrate this success and mark the achievement within a year of the fire, as well as recognising the many hours of volunteer labour that have gone into the restoration, NVR is holding a special reopening event on Saturday 9th March 2024, when its own Thomas locomotive will transport passenger carriages to Orton Mere. 

After securing the signal box, NVR staff and volunteers started a recovery plan. This plan was no use without money, but NVR soon started to see donations coming in from well-wishers, including from other countries, and set up a dedicated restoration fund. Admittedly this was boosted by an insurance claim, but the kindest and one of the largest sources of money was a sponsored walk along the whole 7 miles of the railway led by two local teenage railway enthusiasts who had literally cried at the sight of the wrecked signal box.

After specialist contractors had completed the basic roof and building repairs, NVR volunteers set about completely re-fitting the signal box interior. The lever frame was cleaned and repainted and then both the domestic electric circuits for power, light and heating and the specialist signalling systems were completely reinstalled from scratch. While the building repairs were ongoing, replacement heritage equipment had been sourced, serviced and tested, and then prepared for installation item by item. 

Towards the end of the year, visible progress had been made and basic testing was under way. This continued and, by the end of January 2024, the railway signalling equipment manager felt able to hand the signal box back to the Operating Department for normal use from the beginning of February 2024.

Booking information

Please ensure you bring your tickets either on your smartphone or printed off to present on arrival at our Stations or to a Travelling Ticket Inspector on the train.

All children are to be accompanied by a paying adult.

If you would prefer a shorter trip, we offer single and return tickets which can be purchased on the day at Wansford or Overton Stations or on the train from our Travelling Ticket Inspectors.