Network Rail to finally end manual Victorian signalling system on the York to Harrogate line that involves train drivers being handed 'tokens'

Network Rail will begin three weeks of upgrades to the line between York, Harrogate and Leeds and finally put an end to an outdated Victorian signalling system.

The railway viaduct on the approach to Knaresborough Station
The railway viaduct on the approach to Knaresborough Station

The Poppleton to Knaresborough section of the line does not have electronic signalling and instead, uses a traditional 'token' system whereby a train driver is handed a token between signal boxes which must be passed back to the signaller before the train can proceed from the section. The idea is that only one train can be in the section, and thus in possession of the token, at one time to ensure safety. It was designed for single-track lines and has mostly been phased out in the UK, with the Poppleton section thought to be the last in Yorkshire that still uses the 19th-century practise.

The upgrades will end the use of tokens on the line and replace them with an electronic signalling system which will improve capacity.

Another significant improvement will be changes to track layout at Cattal Station which will enable trains to pass through at 40mph rather than the current limit of 20mph. Two trains will then be able to arrive at the station at the same time, which is not currently possible.

Equipment at Harrogate Station will also be upgraded to allow more trains to move between tracks and reduce congestion.

The project, which will cost £9.8million and is funded by North Yorkshire County Council and the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, will boost both capacity and reliability on the non-electrified line, allowing more trains to run.

The work will take place over three consecutive weekends beginning from Sunday November 22.

North Yorkshire County Council's Coun Don Mackenzie said: “We are pleased that we are investing in this improvement to the Harrogate line and to be working with Network Rail on this long-awaited scheme which will benefit everybody who uses the route.

“When complete, it will significantly enhance the rail infrastructure in the north. The capacity of services as well as their frequency will be increased, making it much more convenient and reliable for passengers using this line.”

Tony Baxter, regional director for Northern, who run services on the York to Harrogate line, added: "The engineering work will improve reliability and capacity on a busy and popular route.

"We are sorry for any disruption during the improvements and our customers can be assured that both Northern and Network Rail will do everything possible to minimise the impact of the work and deliver alternatives that keep people on the move."

Disruption during the engineering work

Sunday, 22 November - Northern services are replaced with road transport between Horsforth and York. LNER services between London King’s Cross and Harrogate will start or terminate at Leeds.

Saturday, 28 November and Sunday, 29 November - Northern services between Knaresborough and York are replaced by bus services on Saturday, 28 and between Horsforth and York on Sunday, 29.

Saturday, 5 December and Sunday, 6 December - The line between Horsforth and York will be closed from 23:30 on Saturday, 5 with bus replacement services in place. On Sunday, Northern services will be replaced by buses between Horsforth and Harrogate/York. LNER services will start or terminate at Leeds

There will also be road closures at the level crossings at both Hammerton and Cattal stations on the above dates, with diversionary routes in place.