AS the timetable of work to upgrade the Great Western main line continues, it will signal the end for one long-serving icon of the railways which has been helping the trains take the strain for more than 50 years.

The panel box used to control signals along 175 miles of track in and around Swindon is set to reach the end of the line in May, when the system is replaced by a new, hi-tech computer hub in Didcot.

Installed in 1968, the panel was seen as the future of controlling signals on the Great Western main line, itself replacing control boxes which were required at small, regular intervals along the line to be operated manually.

Danny Scroggins, of the Swindon Panel Society, explained: “In the late 50s and early 60s, the railways developed the technology to control signalling safely, from very far away.

“A decade later, there were boxes at all major stations and the system of using buttons and lamps, has been going strong for the last 50 years.

“But in the meantime, now we have a lot more capability with computers, so now we’re going through that process again, replacing electro-mechanical systems with computers.”

But despite being retired and removed from the station, the Swindon panel box will be preserved, said Danny, who worked on it himself between 2005 and 2007.

The Swindon Panel Society purchased the panel from Network Rail for £1 and will move it to the Didcot Railway Centre, where it will be connected to a computer and kept working – just not on real lines.

“We are going to try and recreate the 1980s, when Swindon (station) was at its most interesting, and complex,” Danny said.

“Network Rail have been fantastic, helping us research the old wiring diagrams and things, so we will be able to let people walk up and have a go, which we obviously couldn’t with real railway lines.”

Operated by around nine staff on a shift pattern, current panel box operators are being moved to other boxes, or to the new hub at Didcot.

But Danny said the panel society was planning a reunion for anyone who has worked on the box, at the Great Western Hotel, on April 25 between 4pm and 7pm.