Industry News

Historic lightboxes restored at Earl’s Court station

TfL has restored four train destination lightboxes from 1905, connecting them to a brand-new signalling system. The lightboxes are now fully operational on the District line platforms at Grade II listed Earl’s Court station.

This comes as a part of the ongoing Four Lines Modernisation programme, which is bringing station technology in-line with modern-day signalling standards.

Engineers took 16 months to carefully restore these historic lightboxes and connect them to the modern signalling system, ensuring these over 100-year-old artefacts can play a role in the daily operation of the station for decades to come.  

Lightboxes, 1905.

The lightboxes show the destinations of the next District line trains on each of the four platforms by using illuminated arrows to point at the destination of the next train. The destination plates have been changed as part of the refurbishment process and are exactly the same specification as the previous ones, made of vitreous enamel, with the same colour and TfL commissioned Johnson font.

The destination plates were designed by Isle of Wight railway sign-maker, AJ Wells, which has been providing London Underground with signage for almost three decades. The original destinations no longer in use have been replaced with the most common final destinations and arranged in a more customer friendly way, making this historic information board useful for the present day.

To carefully bring the lightboxes into the 21st century, all the works were completed on site during overnight engineering hours, including accessing the lightboxes and finding space for cables and other hardware without compromising the sightlines and familiar features on the station. 

The restoration of the Earl’s Court lightboxes is part of the Four Lines Modernisation programme, which is replacing old and unreliable infrastructure on the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines with new, modern automatic train control signalling. Without this vital restoration work, the lightboxes wouldn’t have functioned with the new signalling, leaving customers without the most prominent indication of the destination for the next District line train from the platforms.

The improved lightboxes now illuminate a “first eastbound train this platform” sign for when eastbound trains via Victoria or through central London are expected in both platforms – making it easier for customers to choose the quickest train. 

Edmund Bird, TfL heritage manager, said: “The Earl’s Court’s lightboxes are significant historic features of the District line we have retained and brought into modern-day standards as part of the Four Lines Modernisation project. While we work hard to bring the District line’s signalling to the standards seen on the Victoria, Northern and Jubilee lines, we are constantly considering how to maintain the railway’s heritage that makes London Underground so globally renowned. It was a brilliant experience to be part of the team who restored these historic assets and I’m glad that they will still be functioning for decades to come, helping our customers get around.”  

Earl’s Court station opened in 1871 and was designated a Grade II listed building in 1984, regarded as being of special architectural and historical interest. There is always a focus on maintaining the original heritage features and assets whilst ensuring that they are suitable and compliant to today’s regulations and requirements. Earl’s Court was the first Tube station with escalators, which were added in 1911, and was one of the first stations to have electrified train services on 1 July 1905. This new electric signalling system enabled each train to be identified in advance, and led to the introduction of the lightboxes in the same year.

Image credit: TfL / London Transport Museum

Matt Atkins

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