I’ve just been to see Reading’s biggest ever Christmas present. You’ve probably heard about the disruption to rail services  over Christmas, while they transfer operations from the old Reading signal box to a state of the art centre in Didcot and then haul a massive new 1000 ton steel bridge , which they’ve been building next to the station, to it’s final position across the Caversham Road where it will carry extra tracks. They say it’s the biggest operation on the line since the days of Brunel. They’ll be working 24/7 over  Christmas and New Year to make sure everything’s up and running by 4th January.

Bridge works 3.11I’ve been listening to stories about this for the past few months but this morning, it was awesome to stand in the old post office yard, looking up at the massive completed steel structure, clad in scaffolding, having it’s final waterproofing before the the big move begins on 31st December. It will take four days to get to it’s final position and the move has been carefully rehearsed on CAD systems, as there’s just 25cm of clearance between the bridge and the offices it passes on it’s way to Caversham Rd.

They won’t be using a crane , instead it will be moved by a self propelled modular transporter with  72 axles, each axle turning independently to allow for very precise movements.

If you live nearby and fancy a different start to 2011, the best time to watch the move will be from 8am on Jan 1st. They’re building a mini- grandstand for spectators.

photo-26I’ve never been in a signal box before, so it was great to have a final look at the room where they set 3,700 train routes a day. It wasn’t what I expected. The dark, womb -like atmosphere, the sixties equipment and the silent focus. It is the quietest place on the station.

If you’re a rail buff, check out the signal box website.

Back in the day the Reading Panel Signal Box was ‘BR’s widest ranging signal box’. But this will be the last year a Christmas tree lifts the atmospheric twilight, before progress and the new Thames Valley signal box at Didcot sweep it away.

TVSC desk view