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As someone who doesn’t always get signalling this may be a daft question - but it’s something I’ve noticed about a few Great Western Branchlines. 
 

A lot of the short ones were worked on the One Engine in Steam basis. Yet they still had a signal box and signalling at the terminus. Wallingford is one example I’ve notice, but there are many others. If the branch only had one engine then why the signalling at the terminus? What was the point and would it have been cheaper to do without?

 

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Looking at the Wild Swan book on the Wallingford branch, the only signal I can see evidence of is a ground disc controlling entry to the platform from the goods loop. I'm not quite sure why the loop needed a disc at that end, but not at the other end. However one photo in the book appears to show signal wires running towards the far end of the loop, so perhaps that end was signalled as well. Signals are not just there to tell a driver there isn't another train around but also to tell him he's going the right way. I would therefore at least have expected a signal(s) at the south end of the loop to advise whether the train was going into the loop or the platform.

 

A signalbox of course, does not just control signals, but also points and facing point locks. Looking at the plans in the Wild Swan book, I think there would have been three pairs of points which required facing locks so a small frame would have been required. The question then would have been -(a) should it be undercover and (b) should the lever be operated by someone other than the loco crew. In the case of Wallingford, there was no signalman as such, the 'box was operated either by the head porter or the yard foreman as required.

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41 minutes ago, TomJ said:

As someone who doesn’t always get signalling this may be a daft question - but it’s something I’ve noticed about a few Great Western Branchlines. 
 

A lot of the short ones were worked on the One Engine in Steam basis. Yet they still had a signal box and signalling at the terminus. Wallingford is one example I’ve notice, but there are many others. If the branch only had one engine then why the signalling at the terminus? What was the point and would it have been cheaper to do without?

 

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Then its not one train working (one engine in steam) if there is a signal box!

 

Another train can use the branch once the first one is clear of the single line at the terminus.

 

 

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The Wallingford service timetables reproduced in the Wild Swan book state:

 

"Single line worked by train staff. Only one engine in steam at a time, or two coupled together."

 

If a line is to be more than one engine in steam, either electric token or staff and ticket working is required. Staff working on its own means when the first train goes up the branch, there's no way of getting the staff back to the junction without bringing the train back.

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Just because the box is still there does't mean it's a block post (ie has a signalman controlling a block section). The points at the terminus still need moving, you might as well leave them connected to the frame and downgrade it to a covered ground frame for the guard/shunter to operate. 

 

The Killin branch in Scotland was only ever worked by train staff and Annets key, yet there were signals - proper main running arms, not dollies - at both Killin and Loch Tay worked from the ground frames. Presumably they saved a lot of shouting and arm waving. 

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10 hours ago, RJS1977 said:

Looking at the Wild Swan book on the Wallingford branch, the only signal I can see evidence of is a ground disc controlling entry to the platform from the goods loop. I'm not quite sure why the loop needed a disc at that end, but not at the other end. However one photo in the book appears to show signal wires running towards the far end of the loop, so perhaps that end was signalled as well. Signals are not just there to tell a driver there isn't another train around but also to tell him he's going the right way. I would therefore at least have expected a signal(s) at the south end of the loop to advise whether the train was going into the loop or the platform.

Speculating here, as I don't know anything about the specific case.  

 

But is it possible that the disc is needed because a train taking this route wouldn't have line of sight to whoever was operating the frame, and therefore couldn't see any hand signal?  

 

A frame, when not designated as a signal box, would have to be left with all levers normal until unlocked by the train staff.  So the driver of an approaching train, naturally in possession of the staff, would be confident that the points were set and locked into the platform (assuming that is what happened with all levers normal).  If the train was to run directly into the loop, it would be stopped before reaching the points and the frame unlocked and set accordingly.  

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Thanks everyone. I'm looking at the Wallingford branch because its a good example of the sort of line I'm interested in recreating - short feeder with no intermediate stations. The signal box diagram clearly shows a home and a starter signal, and as it was worked one engine in steam I wondered why? If only one train can be on the branch then couldn't you achieve the same with a ground frame (covered or not) and no signals

 

It seems that almost every GWR branchline terminus had a signal box, yet many hardly (if ever) saw more than one loco at a time so I wondered why go to the expense? 

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19 minutes ago, Mark Saunders said:

Passenger trains need points with facing point locks !

More accurately, points need to be secured for any route bearing passenger traffic and usually that involves a FPL. But it is quite feasible to have a GF working FPLs without any signals, provided that the GF is locked with all the points set and bolted prior to the passage of trains.

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2 minutes ago, TomJ said:

Thanks everyone. I'm looking at the Wallingford branch because its a good example of the sort of line I'm interested in recreating - short feeder with no intermediate stations. The signal box diagram clearly shows a home and a starter signal, and as it was worked one engine in steam I wondered why? If only one train can be on the branch then couldn't you achieve the same with a ground frame (covered or not) and no signals

 

It seems that almost every GWR branchline terminus had a signal box, yet many hardly (if ever) saw more than one loco at a time so I wondered why go to the expense? 

To a large extent, I suspect it was the case that the SBs were built and the signals provided in early days simply in order to protect the points etc and ensure that trains could pass safely, long before someone realised that you could simply lock the lever-frame by a key on the staff and thus dispense with the need for signals.

 

A classic example here would be the Abbotsbury Branch, provided at opening with SBs and signals at Upwey, Portesham and Abbotsbury. There was also Absolute Block working, even though the line was OES from the beginning! Eventually of course the AB working was abandoned,  SBs and signals were abolished and replaced by GFs unlocked by a key on the staff. 

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13 minutes ago, TomJ said:

Thanks everyone. I'm looking at the Wallingford branch because its a good example of the sort of line I'm interested in recreating - short feeder with no intermediate stations. The signal box diagram clearly shows a home and a starter signal, and as it was worked one engine in steam I wondered why? If only one train can be on the branch then couldn't you achieve the same with a ground frame (covered or not) and no signals

 

It seems that almost every GWR branchline terminus had a signal box, yet many hardly (if ever) saw more than one loco at a time so I wondered why go to the expense? 

 

Tom

 

Out of interest, would you be able to post the diagram here? As a volunteer on the C&WR, I'd be interested in seeing it.

 

Richard

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13 minutes ago, RailWest said:

More accurately, points need to be secured for any route bearing passenger traffic and usually that involves a FPL. But it is quite feasible to have a GF working FPLs without any signals, provided that the GF is locked with all the points set and bolted prior to the passage of trains.

 

Indeed, that's how passenger trains on the Wallingford branch are currently worked (not that it's had any this year!)

 

Hopefully we will have some signalling before too long - we have a bracket signal to erect, and a signalbox 'on order' when Network Rail can get round to dismantling it (which hopefully they will do more carefully than they did with our canopy!)

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35 minutes ago, RJS1977 said:

 

Tom

 

Out of interest, would you be able to post the diagram here? As a volunteer on the C&WR, I'd be interested in seeing it.

 

Richard

I think its copyright, and its only the low resolution one. But its easily found on Google Images search of Wallingford Signal Box

 

Here's the link

https://www.s-r-s.org.uk/html/gwa/S174.htm

 

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Was it down-graded at some stage to eliminate the block post and signals?

 

Many branches were after it became clear that the need to have more than one train beyond the junction was a once in a blue moon event.

 

I think West Bay is a GWR example.

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The real question of course is 'what is a signal box and what does it do?'  The GWR seems to have had a penchant for putting 'signal box' nameboards on what were in reality little more than very nicely covered over ground frames using one of it standard small signal box buildings for that purpose and sometimes providing a very limited number of running signals - exactly as at Wallingford.  On the other hand it had what were officially called ground frames, in similar size buildings, which unlike Wallingford Signal Box were permanently manned for at least part of the working day (e.g. Reading High Level GF).

 

Quite why this happened is lost in the mists of time but was possibly a consequence of differences of interpretation between the S&T and Operating depts - even in the 1980s we had one signal box still remaining on the WR where the S&T Dept name for it was different from the operating dept name - not different by very much but still slightly different.

 

At Wallingford, as elsewhere, the critical thing was not was it was called but what its function was and there was no block telegraph on the Wallingford branch and had probably never been one - it didn't have one in 1901 or at any time subsequently as far as I can trace and judging by the 1891 train service it hadn't needed one then.  So no block telegraph = it could not function as a block post hence One Engine In Steam working with a simple train staff.  So what it comes down to is that while it was regarded, and listed, as a signal box it could not carry out the block post function we usually automatically associate with a signal box. 

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Just now, Nearholmer said:

Was it down-graded at some stage to eliminate the block post and signals?

 

Many branches were after it became clear that the need to have more than one train beyond the junction was a once in a blue moon event.

 

I think West Bay is a GWR example.

I've got definite information back to 1901 and the branch was listed in the STT as 'No block telegraph' and it does not list a closing time for a signal box at Wallingfoird.  The 1891 STT makes no mention of the method of working but the train service could have been worked One Engine In Steam because it was perfectly balanced.  the 1901 STT does list the closing times for the signal box at Wallingford.

 

As the line was originally envisaged as continuing to Watlington it is possible that block  telegraph was provided but the company was clearly short of money from day one so it is, i think, more likely, that the Directors relied on the cheapest form of operation'.  The lack of a closing time in the 1891 ST probably proves nothing one way or the other because not all branch line signal boxes were listed.

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5 minutes ago, Nearholmer said:

Might the set-up have facilitated the use of staff and ticket on the odd occasion it was necessary?

I suspect not.  The most important thing was that the line - definitely from 1901 onwards - was listed as One Engine In Steam so that was the method of protecting the integrity of the single line and separation of trains agreed with the Board of Trade and its successors.  And that could only be altered through consultation with and, most importantly agreement by them.  The pattern of train services over the years and the regular use of Mixed Trains (until the cessation of the passenger service) appears to indicate that it was a perfectly satisfactory way of handling the traffic on offer so there was no need to go through bureaucratic hoops and cost of changing it to anything more sophisticated.

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Thanks Stationmaster and everyone else. So it confirms that what looks like a signal box on a lot of GWR termini isn't really one!

And more importantly I can justify a small 'box' and a signal or two on my layout that'll never see more than one engine at a time.

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3 hours ago, TomJ said:

I think its copyright, and its only the low resolution one. But its easily found on Google Images search of Wallingford Signal Box

 

Here's the link

https://www.s-r-s.org.uk/html/gwa/S174.htm

 

 

OK, now I know where I'm looking I can just make out signal 13 in a couple of photos. Somewhat surprising there's no platform starter. Also surprising that the home signal comes after the CWS siding rather than before it.

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9 minutes ago, The Stationmaster said:

I suspect not.  The most important thing was that the line - definitely from 1901 onwards - was listed as One Engine In Steam so that was the method of protecting the integrity of the single line and separation of trains agreed with the Board of Trade and its successors.  And that could only be altered through consultation with and, most importantly agreement by them.  The pattern of train services over the years and the regular use of Mixed Trains (until the cessation of the passenger service) appears to indicate that it was a perfectly satisfactory way of handling the traffic on offer so there was no need to go through bureaucratic hoops and cost of changing it to anything more sophisticated.

 

Though I presume there's always the possibility of a loco breaking down at Wallingford and needing another loco to go and rescue it.

 

I presume that in such circumstances the practice would be to return the staff to Cholsey by some other means (on foot or by some road conveyance) to enable another loco to enter the branch. I'm certainly aware of an incident on the Witney branch where the driver had to catch the bus back to Oxford, show the signalman the token and request another loco from the shed in order to retrieve the first one.

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2 hours ago, RJS1977 said:

 

Also surprising that the home signal comes after the CWS siding rather than before it.

Not really, quite a few examples like that. 

 

The siding had its own GF and was located within the block section (being outside of the Down Home) and the GF was unlocked by the train staff, so that was sufficient protection for any Down train approaching the station. It is possible also - I'm not familiar with the location  - that it was too far away from the SB anyway for the limits of mechanical working as were current at the time that it was installed.

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The presence of the home signal is an almost certain indication that shunting without the use of a locomotive took place at Wallingford. Probably a horse was used, either the railway's own or a trader's, but in later years (typically post-WWII) pinchbars were used - although I doubt whether much such shunting had taken place since the Great War.

 

At one time this was a common practice, although perhaps more at intermediate stations than at termini, and it isn't that unusual to find stations on minor lines that had a signal box and signals even though the box wasn't a block post. It isn't very different to an intermediate level crossing protected by non-block signals.

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7 hours ago, RailWest said:

Not really, quite a few examples like that. 

 

The siding had its own GF and was located within the block section (being outside of the Down Home) and the GF was unlocked by the train staff, so that was sufficient protection for any Down train approaching the station. It is possible also - I'm not familiar with the location  - that it was too far away from the SB anyway for the limits of mechanical working as were current at the time that it was installed.

 

I suspect limits of mechanical working weren't the problem - one of the photos I've seen seems to show the point for the goods loop and the point for the CWS siding pretty much abutting each other so the signal wouldn't have to have been moved far. The signal box diagram also seems to indicate an advance starter also controlled by the box, further up the line.

 

The CWS siding was installed in 1934, some decades after the signalbox so I suspect the reason the signal wasn't resited and the point and FPL controlled from the 'box was that the box wasn't big enough to take any more levers!

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On 30/08/2020 at 10:10, RailWest said:

More accurately, points need to be secured for any route bearing passenger traffic and usually that involves a FPL. But it is quite feasible to have a GF working FPLs without any signals, provided that the GF is locked with all the points set and bolted prior to the passage of trains.

Blaenau Ffestiniog being an example.  Only signal is the fixed distant to denote approach to a terminus.

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