IT was the end of an era on Friday night as Chard Junction’s historic signal box saw its final train through the former station.

At 23.53 the last train to be signalled by the signal box passed through on its way to Salisbury.

From Monday, trains between Yeovil and Honiton started to be controlled by a state-of-the-art Signalling Control Centre at Basingstoke.

By April, all remaining signal boxes between Salisbury and Exmouth Junction will have transferred to Basingstoke to end 148 years of manual signalling on the line to Exeter.

There has been a signal box at Chard Junction for 137 years with the current box replacing the original in 1982, but re-using the original stone base.

The last train was passed through by signalman Tim Hoad, who worked on the railway for 23 years, 16 of them at Chard, and Chris Phillimore, managing director of railway consultancy and equipment company TIR, watched it race through at midnight.

“It was definitely the end of an era,” he said.

The £1.75million state-of-the-art control centre at Basingstoke was officially opened in 2007 by Network Rail to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “This will deliver significant long-term benefits for passengers.

“This is an important stretch of railway linking southern and western Eng-land with London, and some of the equipment being replaced dates back to the late 1960s.”

The upgrade means it will now be possible to run Steam Specials west of Yeovil again – the first are on Thursday, May 3, and Sunday, May 13.