The Signalman Has Always To Be On The Alert


The Signalman Has Always To Be On The Alert

by John Hinson

Persistent complaints from the signalmen at Dalston Road box, on the Carlisle Goods lines, resulted in the National Union of Railwaymen writing to the Board of Trade requesting action. The BoT would not normally be involved in any way with the signalling on Goods lines; however they courteously forwarded the correspondence to the railway company responsible and in doing so resolved an issue with ease that the staff and the union had been unsuccessful with.

Perhaps the correspondence from the signalmen and their union to the railway company were written as badly as this letter. The first paragraph attempts to set the scene, whilst the remaining three are outright demands for revised methods of working. Apart from some strange grammar, there are several inaccuracies that suggest the writer does not really know what he is talking about! But beware of too many condemnations, as some railway terminology has altered over the years.

22-OCT-1915 – Letter from the National Union of Railwaymen to the Board of Trade

The system at present in operation at this cabin makes the signalman to always be on the alert as he has a busy street crossing attached to the box with the gates interlocked to the signals, and between him and the Canal box NB it is worked on the permissive block system. (Not strictly true – it was worked on what was later known as the no block system as sidings) The Canal box NB is at the other end of the NB Goods Yard and when the trains from the main north road arrive at this yard they are signalled on by bell signal to Dalston Road notwithstanding it might be from 5 to 55 minutes before it proceeds in the direction of Dalston Road cabin, or they might not go any further. If it does leave, he gradually approaches the Dalston Road Intermediate House (sic) signal which is interlocked with the crossing gates, and if the signalman is ready when he sees him coming towards his box he then signals him on to Rome Street, and in many cases do guesswork in the direction signal to be forwarded to Rome Street for either the Midland or the M&C line. Recording block instruments to be placed in the Dalston Road and NB cabin Canal box the same as between Rome Street and Dalston Road.

The intermediate house signal to be unlocked from the crossing gates (the latter to be locked with the crossover and coal sidings as at present) failing which a "calling on" signal to be placed on the same post to enable the men to draw the train down without interfering with the road traffic.To introduce direction bell signalling between the Canal box NB and Dalston Road, the same as in operation between Dalston road and Rome Street.

12-NOV-1915 – The above paragraphs were put to the North Eastern Railway by the Board of Trade for consideration

18-APR-1916 – The North Eastern Railway replied to the Board of Trade

As regards the provision of recording block instruments in the Dalston Road and NB Canal boxes, it has been necessary to communicate with the NB Company on this matter, and in view of the fact that trains can join the main line from sidings south of the Canal box without being seen by the signalman at Canal box, it is not considered that it would be desirable to provide recording instruments in this section. Arrangements are being made to provide a calling-on signal on the intermediate home signal post referred to. Arrangements are being made for a code of direction bell signals to be introduced between the two boxes referred to.

28-APR-1916 The Board of Trade passed details to the National Union of Railwaymen

And that, as they say, was that. There is no further correspondence on file, so one must assume that all parties were happy with the result.


Track layout diagram for Dalston Road
showing the additional calling on signal 14-1 provided at the request of the NUR.

Modern parlance would describe this as a “Warning” signal. The signal was worked in accordance with NE practice of the period, where calling-on signals were cleared prior to the clearing of the main arm. The NE had an ingenious economical way to achieve this – the two signals were worked by one lever which would be pulled to half-way to clear the calling on signal, and right over in the frame to clear both.

This would have made this a cheap alteration to make, because no locking alterations were necessary when the new signal was provided.

But why, when it was stated by the union that trains entering that section sometimes never leave it, and the NB said that trains sometimes enter it out of sight of the Canal signalman, were bells in use at all? To enhance them with direction codes is just a bodge. Whilst the BoT had no power to interfere, one can’t help but wonder why they didn’t suggest the removal of the bells and introduce distinct whistle codes to be given by the drivers.

That being said, there was one factor that was never raised at any point in the correspondence. There was a small intermediate cabin in the section at the south end of the NB yards by the name of Cauldcots. It was only worked as a ground frame, being manned only when needed to shunt traffic. No doubt the railway companies did not want to mention it for fear of its being required to be manned properly as a signal box, with all the associated costs, but the proper way to signal the line would surely to have been to do so.

Given the lack of mention of that box, the suggestion of replacement of the bells by proper permissive block working had not been thought out by the NUR, and the railway company was remarkably polite in the way it told them so.

However, the remaining suggestions were adopted and the staff and the union should both have been pleased with the result.

And for the rest of the life of the box, the signalmen were able to not always be on the alert, and instead put their feet up and read the paper.


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