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Is Lostwithiel's Up Home mechanical - must be quite a pull c.half a mile from the 'box (years since I was in the 'box so I can't remember although I think it probably was mechanical back then?


Aye - it's one of the worst in the County Mike along with Par's down home over 1000 yards away.

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I wrote an account of a day shift in St Erth - I hope you dont mind me sharing it here...



The Wild West weekend 24th & 25th November 2012

For many people in the South West, the weekend of 24th & 25th November 2012 will be one they wont forget in a hurry. The severest storms for over a decade wreaked havoc with torrential rain, high winds and flooding. Cornwall was particularly hard hit, with the South coast bearing the brunt of the foul conditions.

On the railway, the main line route was flooded in the Culm valley between Exeter St Davids and Tiverton Parkway, with Cowley Bridge Jn spectacularly submerged in water, along with Hele & Bradninch. There were landslips and washouts galore for the engineers to contend with. The Cornish main & branches were affected by flooding, bank slips and trees down at various locations causing chaos to the travelling public, with road transport having immense problems negotiating the road system between rail hubs.

The railway in Cornwall came to a cautious dawn on Sun 25th November with the first trains of the day route proving the branch lines, and a rare blanket speed restriction across the network of 50mph. The overnight rainfall of 40mm had caused flooding at many coastal towns and villages, and even the main A390 / A30 routes looked battered as I drove down to St Erth for my day shift starting at 11.32.

I enjoy switching in St Erth and later switching it out again – it feels like a proper days work done. The last day Sunday shift I had done was in September – and it was strange to see how barren everything looked around the landscape just a few months later. St Erth is the remaining box on the Cornwall main line with a Block switch these days. It allows the box to be switched out of circuit, and for the section to be controlled by the adjacent boxes of Penzance & Roskear Jn. There are strict regulations on switching in & switching out, and I will explain that later.

On arrival, the block switch will be in the “out” position, and all mainline running signals in the clear position.




The Signalman calls the box either side to get a traffic report on any trains in the area or signalled. St Erth may only switch in with the block at Train on Line, or normal. He must not switch in with a line clear on the block, as this may give another release to the signalman either side, and worst case get two trains in a section. The situation was a train 2Z43 on the down and a normal (clear of signalled movements) on the Up main. I placed the Up main signals back to danger and put the commutator for the down main to Train on line. I then turned the block switch and sent 5-5-5 to Roskear & Penzance and opened the box. The box was now in business. The down signals were left clear for the down train, which was between Roskear & Penzance. I could see from the timings that is was due at St Erth shortly – so sat back and waited for it to appear. On the branch line to St Ives, there had been an overnight T3 possession with the Engineers. The person in charge had the Train Staff as his protection. This staff is a wooden truncheon with a brass plaque on it, which all trains must carry once on the branch line. The staff had been left in a lockable cupboard, which I retrieved and filled in the paperwork. The staff was now available for the first branch train of the day.

The first branch service arrived at 11.50 – running as an empty stock (class 5), and the Driver, Ian had been told to proceed cautiously along the line to check for any flooding or debris etc. I explained that the Permanent Way had just patrolled the line, but to “take it steady” anyway and report in as usual at St Ives with any infrastructure problems. I handed Ian the staff, and 150130 grumbled away on its pioneer journey. On arrival at St Ives, all was well, apart from some standing water along the cess (line side)near the viaduct at St Ives. This was not a problem to train running. The branch train then settled into its half hourly pattern a - very generous service given the sparse folk travelling.

On the main line – Cornwall had been cut-off from the network due to engineering work at Liskeard (plus the weather headaches). This resulted in a Penzance to Liskeard shuttle service using an eclectic range of motive power. A voyager, a dmu set, plus three FGW HSTs made up the timetable, all running a non-descript class 2 services. This gave no clue as the whether it was a 5 car, three car or full HST due.





The only break from this set of trains was the RHTT train with class 66’s 66094 & 011 giving some welcome respite after lunchtime. The down trains are “offered” to St Erth (can you accept a train) from Roskear when the service leaves Truro. St Erth gives a line clear which unlocks the Roskear Section signal at Penponds. Some time later, Roskear passes it on (Train on line) as it passes the box and we offer the train on to Penzance. Provided Penzance gives a line clear to St Erth, we can then clear our signals for the down line. Penzance giving a line clear in return releases St Erths section signal by the Lamb & flag pub at Rospeath. The signals involved are SE2 (outside the box), SE6 the short starting signal on the platform, and SE7 the down section signal. Once these are clear the down distant SE1 (yellow & Green) can be cleared to indicate all is well through St Erth to an approaching down train. Once the train has passed by the train out of section signal (2-1) may be given to Roskear, and the block returned to Normal for the next train. The Train on line signal (2) is sent to Penzance and so on.

The similar applies on the Up main, with the section signal SE65 being unlocked by a line clear from Roskear. Signals SE68 (by the Lamb & Flag), SE67 the tall signal on the Up prior to the platform, SE66 (The iconic junction signal on the up Platform) and SE65 a two aspect colour-light can be operated. Once done SE69 the Up distant signal about a mile away can be given a green. SE65 is an interesting signal. It is a unique colour light in the County, as it is the only stop signal colour light not return to danger once a train has passed. This is due to the box switching out at night of course. The signal was a three aspect signal until 1982 when Hayle box closed. The yellow signal doubled up as Hayle’s up distant. This was removed when Hayle closed.

The weather continued battering the Duchy all day – though we faired better down west than mid Cornwall which saw some huge downpours. Dusk came early and the surroundings looked bleak and battleworn as the lights came on. St Erth during the darker hours has a charm if its own. It feels isoltated from everyone, and the box is cosy and safe regardless of the conditions outside. The wind buffeted the box, and the rain blew in side-wards , but all was well inside.

The shift passed with no further drama weather wise, and when the last branch train had departed St Ives bound for Penzance, it was time to start planning switching out the box. To switch out the box, it is vital to have no trains signalled, and have a normal block in either direction. This can be awkward to achieve with late running or disruption though Sundays shuttle timetable had behaved well by and large. I had a down train accepted from Roskear – so this would need to be in Penzance before I could switch out. The train departed Roskear but the St Ives – Penzance service was scheduled first. The branch surrendered the staff and swung over on the main line. The train departed towards Penzance and the points moved back to the main line position. Shortly afterwards, the headlights of the down main train came into view, and almost stopped at my home signal. The signals were cleared one by one as the HST pulled up near to them to indicate the section ahead was occupied. Once the station work was complete, Penzance gave train out of section for the branch train, and I immediately offered the down train leaving the platform. The down train now had the signals cleared for it and I gave train entering section straight away. So I was now waiting for train out of section for this service, and I have the conditions to switch out the box. While I tidied up, I checked all windows were locked, kettle filled with water etc... Soon Penzance gave train out of section and I gave the switching out signal to Penzance & Roskear (5-5-7). They in return gave one beat on the bell and gave me a line clear for me to clear all my main line signals. Once all the signals were cleared and the distant signals collared, I gave one beat and got 5-5-7 in return. I could then throw the box switch to Out, and call Penzance to see that the communications were properly through to Roskear & Penzance. Once done – the box becomes quite eerie. I always check and double check all is well before I leave. Block switch, communications, signals off, door locked!









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Thanks for an interesting post Craig, it reminds me of what I've missed when I'm sat in my IECC - including the time I switched out Birkenhead North No.1 one evening.

I went back to my cleaning up which I hadn't quite finished.


I had the nagging feeling that something wasn't quite right.......


Turning round I noticed that I hadn't cleared the signals for the up line!


A quick word with Birkenhead Park signalman (the next box on the up), the quick flick of the block switch, a (very) quick clearing of the up line signals and another flick of the block switch prevented me from getting into an embarrassing situation :blush:

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Hello chaps - many thanks. I'm always mindful of getting too in depth - so tried to write in such a way that my Aunt could get her head around it. I always use the pass-the -parcel concept for absolute block where possible. Can you take this? - here you go then - have you got it - thanks!


The switch in - switch out made it a complete tale too - a rarity these days. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

A Sunday shift at St Blazey and a stroll around to Pars Up branch home P53 as it was showing wrong in the box. It was a good "on" in fact - faulty indicator. Took some photos of the signals in the lovely sunshine.


PR53 the up branch home as well as 44 disc to up Up Through and PR46 the last remaining semaphore calling on arm in the Duchy.



SB40 the down home - only 300 yards from Pars down branch section signal! 



The double stack discs at St Blazey



The ballast siding - out of use for some time.



Array of signals at St Blazey. The most concentrated gathering in Cornwall I think...


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  • 2 weeks later...

A special visitor at Par today, Tiddles the railway cat. Tiddles has been roaming around Par traincrew messroom, box & S&T department for sometime now. He is a cool cat indeed, very friendly and displays all the aloof characteristics of a territorial moggy. He's got a big appetite and knows where he will get treated well.


We all think the world of him, just hope his 9 lives dont run out one day in the four foot!





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