THE SIGNAL BOX

BRANCH LINES

THE CENTRAL WALES LINE - BOTTOM END!

Recollections of one of the LNWR's remotest outposts

by Bob Wright

Perhaps it is uncharitable of me to refer to this former section of the Central Wales line in this way, but, looking at an old map of the line that is exactly where the 12 mile Pontarddulais to Swansea Victoria section was located! However, it was a particular stretch of it from Dunvant through to Swansea Victoria (former LNWR and latterly LMS then BR (WR) but still with a LNW flavour) that I got to know so well.

From the old LMS two platform terminus station of Swansea Victoria, Up (this is one of the few places that I experienced where Up was actually upwards, both in map direction and in increasing elevation) the order of signalboxes was – Swansea Victoria No. 3, Swansea Victoria No. 2, Swansea Victoria No.1, Swansea Bay No. 2, Swansea Bay No. 1, Mumbles Road, (Killay GF), Dunvant, Gowerton South No. 2 and so on to Pontarddulais. There the line from Llanelly joined and the whole continued onwards (and upward) to Craven Arms Junction. Before we go any further however, it was "downwards" (1:72) on the Up line to Gowerton South over the summit at Dunvant and more or less level past Glasbrooks Sidings box to Gorseinon, but I digress.

The first two boxes on the line – Swansea Victoria Nos. 3 and 2 were basically off limits. No.3 was at the station itself and No. 2 connected to the branch to Wind St Jcn and Swansea High street (GW) and the docks a mile away. They were in Inspector country and as one didn’t want to push things too far with the bosses, were only visited once or twice by me to get the track diagrams. Swansea Victoria No. 1 was a little further out and more easily accessible (adjacent to the old Paxton St. loco shed) but it was in the series of boxes from Swansea Bay (Nos. 2 and 1), Mumbles Road and Dunvant where I generally hung out on Saturdays with my school-friends in the early 1960’s.

How did the interest in signalling all start? Well, I suppose it was the complete ease of access to the railway. The line from Victoria station ran along the sand-duned curving shoreline of Swansea Bay past the station so named, before turning inland at Mumbles Road station for the climb through Clyne Valley (1:80 / 70) to Killay and Dunvant. The old Mumbles train (first passenger carrying railway in the world – the Swansea & Mumbles and first powered by sail in c1807 believe it or not - latterly electric) and the main highway ran parallel with the LMS railway to Mumbles Road. So the LMS line was sort of taken for granted by all as just being there. A couple of underbridges along the right of way gave access to the sea, but it was easiest to cross the main line itself to get to the beach at any desired point. HSE - cringe!

The 16 lever box at Mumbles Road station controlled a two siding goods yard (one of the lines had previously been joined with the Mumbles Railway as the means to get trucks of coal to the township of Mumbles further along the coast) and being close to the road just couldn’t be missed. It could be argued that my railway interest started with lamps. First in filling the paraffin Tilley lamps on the station and then gravitating up the ladder (no pun intended) after a bit of portering, to changing the signal lamps once a week – Up and Down Distant, Home and Starter.

Having changed the Mumbles Road Up Distant more times than I care to remember as a 13 year old (HSE – cringe once more) and passing back past the box only to hear the Lamp Indicator buzzer tell me that the flame was out – again, did I get to go to the box more frequently. That and the fact that the "Shunt" would call to drop off and pick up wagons at the sidings soon had me in and working the box. Levers first, Block Indicators next - all good, solid Block Regulations 1 and 4! Ken Jones the Station Master and Trevor the signalman would quiz my friends and me on the rules. Beat that for a faculty and continuing education!

Mr. Warren was the SM at Swansea Bay. Although Ken was SM over the three stations of Mumbles Road, Killay and Dunvant, Swansea Bay had a bigger goods yard (3 roads) and two signalboxes and was slightly above in the pecking order. I suppose that‘s why Ken Jones was Ken and Mr. Warren was Mr. Warren? In writing about this after all these years that has only just now occurred to me! Irrespective, the only reason that I can today write about these things is through their good graces. And that of Harry Roberts at Middleton Junction West of course (but more of Harry and MJW in a later article). All of this was totally against the rules, but what the hell! How was one supposed to learn I would ask?

So, perhaps now is the time to discuss what I learned about practical signalling and some of the operating procedures at the above named signalboxes. Having mentioned the "Shunt", that’s a good place to start.

Shunt, Trip, Local, Stopper the names are interchangeable and otherwise being a local goods train, working at picking up and setting down various types of goods wagons at intermediate stations and sidings. It was all a matter of the placement of the connections (points) to the stations’ sidings that determined the (practical) order of the stopping, dropping-off and shunting along the way.

The "Shunt" started out of Swansea Eastern Depot usually with about 15 on, passed over the Wind Street Viaduct with its connection to the GW and Swansea High Street and joined the line on the LMS at Swansea Victoria No. 2 by the old South dock. First order of business was at Swansea Bay. This was so because the sidings there were connected off a single-slip crossing from the Up line over the Down line to the down side-facing yard. It would not have been possible, other than from the Up line, to shunt the yard (on the Down side), as there was no facing connection if you follow!

Trevor, the signalman there at Swansea Bay No. 1 (22 levers), opened the box at about 06:00 passed a couple of trains both ways and stayed to handle the "Shunt". When finished at Swansea Bay the train continued on and passed by Mumbles Road, Killay and Dunvant as the sidings, whilst on the same side as Swansea Bay, all had trailing connections on to the Down line. These stations were attended to on the return journey. Trevor closed the box (Bay No. 1) and caught a bus (or the old Mumbles train before they destroyed that too!) to open Mumbles Road box at about 09:30. "Shunt" goes Up, "Shunt " comes Down!

This modest train was a class 9 (former class K) freight, stopping at intermediate stations and was signalled as 3 beats on the Block Bell. This was the case going Up and on the return Down was signalled thus from Gowerton South to Dunvant, however, this is where the pattern changed.

Up until 1938, Killay had its own signalbox. When it was removed it was replaced with a Ground Frame to control the two siding yard with a trailing connection onto the Down line. The GF was released from Dunvant’s lever 39 (Dunvant sported a 45-lever frame most of which were painted white or just gaps!). After finishing at Dunvant the Shunt was warned on to Mumbles Road as a 2-2-3 freight train requiring to stop in section under Block Regulation 8. All quite proper so far. Where things differed, practice from rule, was the fact that it was not accepted by Mumbles Road under the Warning Arrangement Regulation 5 as it should have been, but as a straight Regulation 4 acceptance. In other words Dunvant sent a 2-2-3 on the Block and instead of a 3-5-5 in return, got the 2-2-3 repeated as a full line clear. No caution, no green flag, no toot on the whistle, just over the hill and away to Killay!

Now, the purpose of a Regulation 5 acceptance for this type of train so signalled, isn’t that it had to be accepted in this manner because the advance section is not clear to the clearing point, it is so that the advance box may foul the clearing point if required to do so on the basis that the train will stop in the section and be a long time - which otherwise could cause delays or hamper operations at the advance box. Regulation 5 provides for this.

The advance box would then have no alternative, under a Regulation 4 acceptance, than to keep the clearing point clear for the usual ¼ mile in advance of the Home signal (no outer Home). I do not know and can only conjecture what the reason was for a full Regulation 4 acceptance by Mumbles Road for a train signalled under Regulation 8 - because there was no operational reason to want to foul the clearing point at Mumbles Road? Who knows? Not perhaps the best of answers, but I can think of no other and the box’s specific regulations (no doubt legislating for this change) are long gone.

Upon arrival at Mumbles Road to shunt the yard there – on the same Down side as at Killay and Dunvant it was sometimes necessary, if the train had been delayed, to cross it to the other line (the Up) for a following Down passenger train to pass. This would be the case if it were too long, or the sidings full, to have it put inside at Killay or Mumbles Road. In order to do this the Mumbles Road signalman would have to advise the Swansea Bay No. 2 signalman (Bay No.1 is switched out now remember) that he intends to occupy this advance section ¼ mile clearing point within station limits, in the process of crossing the train from one running line to another.

Mumbles Road achieved this under Block Regulation 7 - Blocking Back Inside the Home Signal - by sending 2-4 on the bell and placing the Up line Block Instrument to Train On Line. Once the train was crossed, and clear of the Down line with the crossover reversed normal, the Train Out of Section bell signal (2-1) could then be sent to Dunvant and the following train accepted under Regulation 4. On the other line, the Swansea Bay No. 2 signalman could not warn on another train to Mumbles Road until the Obstruction Removed (also 2-1) bell signal had been received from there (train re-crossed or sent on) and the Block Instrument again returned to show Normal. Or Line Blocked - which wasn’t the case as the line was now clear again! Such are the mysteries of signalling. This and others can be discussed another time and it’s really not that complicated!

One other item (rule) of signalling interest that I had exposure to at this time was Regulation 31 - Shunting Into Forward section (3-3-2 on the Block bell) at Swansea Bay No. 2 (18 levers) from Swansea Victoria No. 1 on the Up line. This latter signalbox controlled access to Paxton Street locomotive depot (87K) – then closed, but was still used for its turntable and access to Swansea Beach sidings. It was for the latter’s tracks that Swansea Victoria No. 1 Starter had a subsidiary "Shunt Ahead" signal underneath it (and Swansea Bay No. 2 Up Distant which was also Bay No. 1’s Up Outer distant, as if you’d really wished to know!).

Swansea Beach Sidings, in its day, was the final stabling point for Central Wales line trains proceeding North to Shrewsbury and the Midlands. In the process of marshalling these trains and in order to set them back into the sidings (some were too long just to draw forward to the Up Starter and then reverse), they had to go beyond the Starter and into the next section (Bay No.2) for a short distance. The Block Regulations (31) provided for just that kind of a situation.

A train, for example, would arrive from Eastern Depot via Wind Street and Swansea Victoria No. 2 and proceed to Victoria No.1. At this juncture it is of no interest to the workings at Swansea Bay No. 2. However, if it was too long and in order for it to set back over the trailing (now facing) connection into Beach sidings, it had to pass the Victoria No. 1 Up Starter and enter the section to Bay No. 2. Victoria No. 1 would send 3-3-2 to Bay No. 2 to request permission to forward-shunt past it. After repetition of this bell signal by Bay No. 2, and that signalman turning the Up line Block Instrument to Train on Line (TOL), Swansea Victoria No. 1 would clear the "Shunt Ahead" subsidiary (lever 27 in that frame) and the train would proceed forward – it being clearly understood by the driver for only as far as it was necessary beyond the trailing points for the reverse movement to be made.

Once set back inside the Starter, Swansea Victoria No. 1 would reverse the Shunt subsidiary signal to normal and send Shunt Withdrawn (8 beats on the block bell) to Bay No.2, who would then repeat it and return the Block Indicator to Normal. This was a neat way of nipping in and nipping out of an advance block section without the rigmarole of otherwise obtaining a full line clear and subsequently having to send the cancelling signal 3-5 for a train which had had no intention of proceeding through the section anyway. Very subtle those early rule-makers!

The key issue here being that the line in the first instance had to be clear to the advance sections (Bay No. 2) Outermost Home. There are a couple of variations to this theme, depending on whether the Block was locked or not and whether it was at TOL at the time of the forward shunt, but, since that was not the case at Swansea Bay No.2 (there were no Track Circuits) and there was little traffic anyway, this was the usual procedure.

As mentioned before, Swansea Bay No.1 switched out after the morning "Shunt" went Up. Mumbles Road closed about 2pm and Dunvant about 4pm. Therefore, from this time until about 10pm, the Block Section was from Swansea Bay No. 2 to Gowerton South No.2, some 6 miles or so. This leads in to the last of the signalling procedures in this article, namely the Switching Out of a signal box. Block Regulation 24 (7-5-5 on the bells).

For a box to be switched out (let’s take Mumbles Road) as long as the signalman was ambidextrous, it wasn’t a problem. At the appointed time, with no trains in the sections (and B I’s at Normal) he sent 7-5-5 simultaneously to the boxes on either side (try that with both hands!) - getting the same in reply he turned his Closing Switch in order to connect the Block Indicator and Bells through to the adjacent boxes. After confirming on the ‘phone that both sides were in communication, he signed the train register, put the cat out, locked up and went home. Oh, by the way, he didn't forget to clear both road's signals before leaving. There's probably a signalman or two reading this who knows exactly the effect of forgetting to do just that!!

At the boxes on either side it was a noisy affair though. First it’s Call Attention (1 beat) then 7-5-5. After a pause another CA (1) then 16 beats was sent (to test the bells and the Block moved to LC, TOL and back to N) – a total of 34 beats on the bell sent and received! If you work the procedure through you will see that the signalman closing in the middle box has to send his 7-5-5 to both sides simultaneously in order for the 16 to go through without a break. If you do it every day it’s easy – but having to reach up to the block at the height I was in those days, it took a bit of practice. I was usually at the Swansea Bay No.2 end of the section or Dunvant anyway and not in the middle at Mumbles Road. Great fun banging out 34 beats on the bell though!

I’ll stop here now and if you are interested in the finer points (!) of railway signalling – the real, traditional, proper kind, then call Russell Ashmore (Signalling Inspector) at the Midland Railway Trust at Butterley. He has just the practical course for you!

In future articles I shall move back to the Manchester area and the Calder Valley line and write about Middleton Junction West Signal Box and Rochdale East Junction (and a couple of others) where I was to experience fast, heavy traffic working in those busy boxes. Very important to obtain in the continuing signalling education of a 13 / 14 year old in the early ‘60’s!

Comments about this article should be addressed to Bob Wright