BALLARAT’S historic railway signal boxes are in need of urgent protection from vandals and the ravages of time, a local heritage expert said yesterday.
The call comes just a day after the burnt shell of an 1880s signal box in Soldiers Hill was demolished following a suspicious fire two weeks ago.
Demolition crews employed by rail authority VicTrack demolished the derelict graffiti-covered C Box at the Macarthur Street railway crossing yesterday morning, after fire crews fought to save it.
Despite much of the Ballarat Railway Station precinct and nearby signal boxes being included on the Victorian Heritage Register, the empty VicTrack-owned buildings have long been targets for vandals.
Historian and heritage campaigner Anne Beggs-Sunter yesterday called for new ideas for rail assets and said Ballarat could learn from the English city of York.
“There is a responsibility for these assets to be looked after by (rail authorities) and I feel they haven’t been doing that very well in recent years,” Ms Beggs-Sunter said.
“The City of Ballarat should be taking a strong role in encouraging V/Line and others to really value these important assets, including the historic signal box on Lydiard Street.”
Ms Beggs-Sunter said this year’s 150th anniversary of the Ballarat rail line was a good opportunity for a community discussion about heritage preservation, and said the National Railway Museum in York could act as a guide.
The museum, opened in 1975, is the most popular British national collection outside London and receives more than 800,000 visitors annually.
“There is the opportunity of having something on a world scale here in Ballarat if we had the vision to create it,” she said.
Long-time advocate for Ballarat’s rail history Hedley Thomson this month used an opinion piece in The Courier to argue for a renewed focus on rail heritage in the city. Mr Thomson and the Ballarat Rail Promotion Group have previously called for a railway-based, activated museum similar to Sovereign Hill to tell the story of the city’s rail heritage.