The Wherry Lines Community Rail Partnership and Lowestoft Central Project team wanted to offer unique tours of Lowestoft Signal Box, which had overseen the town’s station and goods yard for over 100 years but was due to close in February 2020. The aim of the project was to engage people in railway heritage and the community rail movement, and also incorporate the tours as a major focal point for Lowestoft’s Heritage Open Days Festival.
The closing of the signal box was part of a significant £60million modernisation scheme for the Wherry Lines, including the installation of new signalling and automated crossings, and the tours also offered an opportunity to raise awareness of the ongoing project and the impact the forthcoming works would have upon the town and its rail services.
After liaising with Network Rail throughout 2019, the project team devised a system for running the tours, ensuring they were inclusive for all, including those with mobility issues. A press release was written and circulated widely, coupled with extensive promotion via social media. The team also used the visit of a steam train to Lowestoft in August 2019 as an additional opportunity to promote the tours.
To complement the Heritage Open Days Festival in September last year, the team worked with the East Anglia Transport Museum to arrange a free vintage bus service that called regularly at the station during the festival, enabling visitors to enjoy a wider tour of the town. At Lowestoft Station itself, the Parcels Office hosted a free photographic exhibition showcasing the changing local railway scene over the past five decades, and a series of talks about local history, including the life of Samuel Morton Peto, who first brought the railway to the town and developed much of Victorian Lowestoft.
Successful promotional activity resulted in the tours being oversubscribed, but the local operations team worked hard to organise extra capacity to cope with the demand. Several hundred visitors, ranging from ages five to 89, were able to experience the thrill of seeing a working signal box in its final months of action, and were able to take away a factsheet outlining its important history in Lowestoft’s railway past.
The publicity generated around the signal box tours resulted in wider promotion of the overall Heritage Open Days Festival, which in the end, attracted 15,000 visitors to the town, the most successful festival to date and a key event for promoting tourism and the local economy.