A big question mark now hangs over plans to convert Polegate’s redundant signal box into a railway museum.
Network Rail’s pledge to give the iconic Victorian structure to the town now looks in doubt.
It has changed its stance, saying the signal box can’t remain in its current location for “health and safety reasons”.
Only last month campaigners from Save Our Signal Box were celebrating after a meeting with Network Rail bosses took place to confirm plans for the transfer to the group.
But Chairman and Polegate Mayor Michael Clewett has now been told by company representatives that it can’t have the building, which stands on railway land. It was not practical on health and safety grounds because high voltage cables are buried beneath the signal box.
“It did not seem to bother them when their own staff were in there or even us when we met in the building,” said Mr Clewett.
Polegate’s MP Norman Baker said he was “surprised and disappointed” to learn from Polegate Town Council that the signal box is once again under threat as a community resource. The MP is now asking Network Rail to think again and commit to its original promise.
Network Rail had offered the structure to the town after a decision was made to automate the signals, thus making the box redundant. Now has come the change of heart.
Mr Baker said, “This is particularly disappointing given the fact that nothing about this was mentioned in any previous correspondence.
“I am now told that Network Rail is willing to pay for the dismantling costs. However, the costs of reassembly in a new location to be arranged will have to either be borne by Polegate Town Council, or other parties.”
He continued, “I find it difficult to understand how these ‘health and safety’ matters can only have arisen at this late stage. Moreover, the signalmen who have been operating the box appear to have been able to work with this hazard.
“The Polegate signal box is very important to the town and clear undertakings have been given, and a great deal of time expended.”
Mr Baker has written to Network Rail to urge bosses to find a way to deal with “this alleged health and safety problem, if it exists, and which allows the signal box to remain in situ as previously agreed”.
Mr Clewett said, “In February 2014 I met some Network Rail managers. We went through our ideas to use the box as a small railway museum and all seemed to be basically agreed to the extent that solicitors would be appointed to deal with the conveyance and I was to meet with someone who would agree the equipment we could have.
“We did not want any of the modern computerised kit but certainly the lovely Victorian and Edwardian instruments. There appeared to be no problem.”