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The Signal Engineers - 1962 - Single Distant Multiple Homes Question


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There is a video on youtube:

The Signal Engineers - 1962  Electrical Engineering on the railway

Very interesting video. At 6.45 minutes there is a picture of a gantry with several dolls each with a number of stop signals which don't look full size - plus on the bottom of each doll a single distant.  Any idea where this might be - and in particular the function of the distants.  I assume the one distant acts with any of the stop signals - although I would have thought these would all be low speed moves and am a bit surprised a distant has been provided.

Thoughts welcome.

Thanks 

 

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Multiple signals on a single doll post like this are intended to be read 'top to bottom left to right'.  In this case the second and third doll posts' signals read to 4 routes, the top board to the left hand route, next to the second left, and so on, as read by an approaching driver.  So, if the 3rd signal down was cleared, he would know that, of the 4 possible routes, the one he is being sent to is the 3rd from the left or 2nd from the right as he sees them.  These were normally used on 'permissive blockk' routes where trains could be cleared into occupied sections under the condition that the driver could only assume the line to be clear ahead to the distance he could visually confirm.  Passeneger carrying trains were not routed over such blocks, and speed was restricted to 15mph; you could 'buffer up' to a stationary train in front of you.

 

The presence of distant boards suggests an absolute block running line, and the fact that they can be cleared instead of being fixed means that the line speed is 40mph or more.  This abnormal arrangement would be catered for under local regulations (all railway rules prove themselves to be real proper rules because they all have exceptions) and traincrew requiring route knowledge (drivers, passed firemen, and guards) that sign this route are expected to be fully cogniscent of them and how to read them.  It is an unusual arrangement, but is probably brought about by there not being sufficient room on the gantry for the normal splitting signals.  There is clearly a complex set of signalled junction routes ahead, at least 4, we are not in bucolic branch line country here, and a deal of concetnration on an apporaching train running at 40+mph, especially a heavy part-fitted one, must have been needed, though these are starters or advanced starters (as proved by the presence of the distants) and practice was probably for the signalman to bring the trains to a stand or near stand before clearing them for any route except straight ahead main line.  The starter boards are full size, same as the distants; there are no shunitng or calling on boards of the type normally associated with this arrangement, or the smaller permissive block boards.  Permissive blocks do not have distants.

 

I have to say that I don't like it.  IMHO as an ex-traincrew professional railwayman is that signalling presented to a driver should ideally be obvious enough in it's reading for him to interpret it correctly at line speed without route knowledge (not that I'm recommending such a thing, but I do think it should be an aspirational standard for sighting and reading of signals, and of course route knowledge is needed for speeds and gradients as well).  Space is no doubt the reason for it's use here, but I am not altogether happy with it!  That said, it was probably used without issue and with complete safety for many years

 

The right hand doll reads to two routes top to bottom right to left on the same basis.  It is an unusual configuration, and one I never encountered on the WR or LMR lines I worked over in the 70s.  Anybody know where they were?  I suspecting the Midland or NER, both railways that seemed to have individual signals for each possible movement.

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I read it as four posts, each applicable to one road below the gantry (although I'm not sure there is room for four roads!). On three posts, stop signals applicable to several different routes, plus a distant applicable to the section signal in advance on whichever route is cleared, although I suspect that it actually only clears for the section signal in advance on the primary route, and remains 'on' as a fixed distant for the rest.

 

I find these stacked signals confusing, because my instinct is to read them top-bottom = right to left, which is 'upside down', not sure why, but I always get it wrong.

 

But, I'm not totally sure, so would be interested to hear what everyone else says!

Edited by Nearholmer
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I think it's like being able to scratch your head and rub your tummy at the same time, Nearholmer. Top to bottom left to right seems natural to me, but I am at a loss as to explaining why this should be, it just is!

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11 minutes ago, The Johnster said:

I think it's like being able to scratch your head and rub your tummy at the same time, Nearholmer. Top to bottom left to right seems natural to me, but I am at a loss as to explaining why this should be, it just is!

When we read a book, newspaper, etc. we read top to bottom, left to right. This just follow the system.

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I'm not at all convinced that how we read a newspaper actually relates to interpreting those signals, except that it provides a way of remembering how to read them, almost like a mnemonic (maybe that's what you meant?).

 

They are an example of "low affordance design", which is a fancy way of saying that, without tuition and/or aides memoire, they are really difficult to interpret, and are easy to misinterpret ......... if you took a hundred people off the street, showed them four diverging routes, then asked them which signal applied to each, you'd get one hundred puzzled looks, followed by a wide variety of answers. Cooker hobs often have knobs arranged in low-affordance ways, which can lead to similar confusion.

 

All of which probably explains why this sort of thing was restricted in use and went out of fashion - even an experienced driver could get tripped-up by that little lot if under pressure, and maybe proceed at a speed too fast for the route concerned. I never cease to be amazed by how difficult some signalling in dense areas was to read "in the old days"; drivers needed memories like elephants, eyes like hawks, and reactions like cats.

 

 

Edited by Nearholmer
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43 minutes ago, Nearholmer said:

Its not somewhere like Newcastle, and possibly a set of starters, is it?

They are definitely starters, or advance starters, whatever eles they are, as they would not have distants on the same dolls otherwise.  They read, possibly for only one of the routes, to a section which is too short for the next box's distant to be mounted on it's own post, which infers 440 yards or less, with a line speed of at least 40mph or the distants would be fixed.  I thought of Newcastle as well, but only one route is straight enough for such speed coming out of Newcastle station, the Carlisle road (that said, I never signed route knowledge up there!).  Maybe the Gateshead area, maybe coming off one of the bridges.  There is a definite NER feel to things (cue provenanced photo of it being Miles Platting or Croydon or somewhere). 

 

I will stick my head over the parapet and state that it is not on the GW...

Edited by The Johnster
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Semaphores: one distant and several stop signals,  - one of the situations which causes trouble to trainee drivers.

 

The Distant will only be pulled OFF if ALL ( each and every)one)  of the  associated STOP signals ahead in sequence are OFF,  meaning to driver clear to run at linespeed.

If ANY  of the stop signals are at danger( the next or the one after in sequence)  then the distant cannot  be ON,  meaning to driver proceed at caution being prepared to stop at any signal at Danger  ahead

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16 minutes ago, Nearholmer said:

I never cease to be amazed by how difficult some signalling in dense areas was to read "in the old days"; drivers needed memories like elephants, eyes like hawks, and reactions like cats.

As I intimated, a good presentation of signals could be interpreted by experienced men fairly easily, though the complicated gantries needed close attention.  Problems arose, even with fairly simple layouts such as Norton Fitzwarren or Milton, when drivers mistook the actual track they were on and read signals for another track thinking they applied to them.

 

The film, with it's demonstration of interlocking dogs and the relays that replaced them, minded me of the head on colllision at Hull Paragon in 1928 which resulted in several fatalities.  Both drivers had read the very complex signalling perfectly correctly, but a 7 second delay in the operation of a relay had resulted in the signalman incorrectly and inadvertantly clearing a signal for one of them.  The locking would not then allow him to return it to danger without derailing a train already traversing pointwork.

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There’s a film around called something like ‘with the motorman’ taken in the 1920s/30s from the cab on a run from East Croydon to Victoria, sometime before conversion to colour lights, and even making allowance for the grainy film quality, a lot of the signals are really hard to read. Many of them only pop into view from behind a host of obstructions very late, then pop behind other obstructions, a really cluttered ‘visual field’. I would have wanted to move only at walking pace to avoid mid-reading something!

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Drivers, btw, still need memories like elephants, eyes like hawks, and the reactions of cats; they layouts may be simpler but they go faster.  If you doubt this, just watch one scoffing sticky buns, nibbling at bird seed, or playing with a ball of wool and affectionately wanting it's tummy scratched...

 

Don't forget that signals had to be sighted at night as well, sometimes from considerable distances at high speeds, the very time that your specatcle plate windows were most likely to be dirty and the wind was most likely to mess about with your eyes if you Casey Jonesed it out of the cab window.  Add the view blocking qualities of modern big boilered locos, and that the more complex gantries were usually in cities or large towns where there was a busier background of non-railway lights which of course could be any colour the owners wanted them without any regard to the railways' sesnibilities, and you can see how the tension could get notched up...

 

These big urban, gantries tended to feature brighter electric lamps in semaphores, though, as keeping a large number of oil signal lamps all reliably lit, including calling on and shunting signals, was enough of a problem to warrant the expense.  Of course, somebody still had to change the bulbs.

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It all looks a bit complicated without knowledge of where it is, which is Finsbury Park. It is the No3 box down homes for the lines, from the left, Dn Goods No2, Dn Goods No 1, Dn Carriage Line, Dn Canonbury. Forward routes from there are Dn Goods, Dn Carriage Line, Dn Slow No 2, Dn Slow No 1, the distants are for Finsbury Park No 5 on those four lines. The middle two dolls can access all four routes, the left hand one the Dn goods only and the right hand one everything except the Dn Goods. Here is a link to the diagram,

http://www.lymmobservatory.net/railways/sbdiagrams/finsbury_park_no_3.jpg

 

I think/suspect the distant arms are fixed otherwise the slotting becomes a tangled web

 

 

Regards

Martin

Edited by Martin Shaw
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This used to be outside my first 'box at Huddersfield Junction, long abolished by the time I got there. Four aspect with a feather, positon light and a subsidiary yellow on a bracket, possibly two subsidiary yellows at one point. It didn't quite match any of the old track diagrams I could find and it took me ages to pin it down.

Screenshot_20210119-190940.jpg.01a06f79ddc66eb5ac4f329077b3e59b.jpg

Years later I realised that a driver colleague used to sign Woodhead so I asked him what all the aspects meant and how they were interpteted. 

 

"Green - go. Red - stop. Owt else, go right slowly."

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2 hours ago, Nearholmer said:

I'm not at all convinced that how we read a newspaper actually relates to interpreting those signals, except that it provides a way of remembering how to read them, almost like a mnemonic (maybe that's what you meant?).

No. I meant that that was the way we normally read things and signal engineers might have followed the same logic.

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I think the distant arms simply mean "caution" for all lines (to which the stop arms apply) and for all routes reading from them

 

Looking at the diagram for the next box (No.5) I'm fairly confident in my statement

Edited by beast66606
Added info after check FP No.5
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2 hours ago, Nearholmer said:

There’s a film around called something like ‘with the motorman’ taken in the 1920s/30s from the cab on a run from East Croydon to Victoria, sometime before conversion to colour lights, and even making allowance for the grainy film quality, a lot of the signals are really hard to read. Many of them only pop into view from behind a host of obstructions very late, then pop behind other obstructions, a really cluttered ‘visual field’. I would have wanted to move only at walking pace to avoid mid-reading something!

 

Aye

 

Quite a contrast to the section south of Coulsdon which received colour lights upon electrification in 1932.

 

IIRC the Southern railway was aware of this undesirable situation (the far busier suburban area still having hard to read semaphores) and by the late 1930s was preparing plans to resignal the inner area too. Unfortunately a certain Austrians territorial ambitions put a stop to it and the programme wasn't restarted till the early 1950s

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Thank you to all who replied and to Martin who identified the location. I see that the distants were worked by number 5 box - the diagram shows levers 28 and 39 - so would have been interesting slotting. I hadn't seen a picture of one distant covering multiple homes in this configuration so something new learnt. 

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3 hours ago, Nearholmer said:

I'm not at all convinced that how we read a newspaper actually relates to interpreting those signals, except that it provides a way of remembering how to read them, almost like a mnemonic (maybe that's what you meant?).

 

They are an example of "low affordance design", which is a fancy way of saying that, without tuition and/or aides memoire, they are really difficult to interpret, and are easy to misinterpret ......... if you took a hundred people off the street, showed them four diverging routes, then asked them which signal applied to each, you'd get one hundred puzzled looks, followed by a wide variety of answers. Cooker hobs often have knobs arranged in low-affordance ways, which can lead to similar confusion.

 

 

Quite straightforward in principle, they simply read the same as you read a book (or any writing really), top to bottom and left to right. Our instructors did actually use this 'read them like a book maxim during training.

 

Remember though,  people off the street wouldn't need to interpret them, first of all drivers are trained in how to read signals and their meanings, and then as part of route learning would learn the routes they applied to.

Then, for sighting signals and particularly semaphores at night, a major part of route knowledge was where exactly to look for them

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2 minutes ago, Ken.W said:

Quite straightforward in principle, they simply read the same as you read a book (or any writing really), top to bottom and left to right.

 

See my previous comment on that point; it's a good way of remembering it, but otherwise I truly cannot see a link ......... nobody reads a book with a view to turning left on the basis of what the first paragraph says, a bit less left on the basis of the second paragraph etc.

 

And, I do understand that drivers are trained to read signals, while people off the street aren't, but in a way that is the point: a person needs to be trained, and to have memory-jogger, to react appropriately to the stacking of signals, whereas in a truly good design, the meaning would be far more intuitive, as it is with a more typical splitting signal, or a feather, or a route indicator.

 

Spectacular bit of engineering anyway.

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1 hour ago, Wheatley said:

"Green - go. Red - stop. Owt else, go right slowly."


And this ladies and gentlemen is why I moved to Yorkshire to do my engineering degree.

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Having now seen a diagram for FP No 5 I realise that the distants were worked, although whether for all routes I'm not certain. None of the layout was high speed so they could be, but you would need to see the dog chart to be completely certain.

Regards

Martin

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