CAIRNS area signalling
Queensland Government Railways (QR)

by Peter Richards, photographs taken 11, 13 and 23 October 2005

with additional material from Michael Lee and Frank Tybislawski in Queensland.

Cairns has very little of interest remaining as far as signalling is concerned, with colour light signals controlled by Remote Control Signalling (RCS). First the station was rebuilt in 1995 to allow the construction of a shopping centre on much of the railway land, then Direct Train Control (DTC) was introduced as far as Cairns (Woree) from 26 February 2000. The DTC is based some 350km away in Townsville and controls the North Coast Line to Cairns and then the Atherton Tablelands line north, west and then south again to Mareeba (24 October 1998), and on as far as Mutchilba (22 April 2004) with just one tiny section of mechanical signalling within the station limits at Kuranda. Beyond Mutchilba the line continues using using Staff and Ticket for three long sections, Mutchilba to Almaden, Almaden to Mt Surprise, and Mt Surprise to Forsayth. These sections have some semaphore signals, but they are no longer in use.

Passenger train services are minimal with just the "Sunlander" and "Tilt Train" services from and to Brisbane a total of six times a week in each direction, the "Kuranda Tourist Train" from Cairns to Kuranda twice a day in each direction and the "Savannahlander" from Cairns to Forsayth once a week in each direction. Goods services are more frequent, especially during September to December when a lot of trains run in connection with the sugar harvest. The RCS uses three aspect colour light signals although there is a use for semaphores at intermediate points along the line. The DTC signals are the block limit boards as shown in the Edge Hill photographs below. By exchanging codes over the radio with Control, numbers are entered into a computer and an Authority comes up on the screen. This is normally to a Block Limit Board associated with a station or siding, but in some cases can be a kilometre mark on the track.

Signal at Kuranda end of platform 1 Green signal on platform 2 Red signal on platform 2

RCS signal at Kuranda end of platform 1

Green signal on platform 2 for the departure of the 9:30am to Kuranda

As the train passes the signal goes to red

One such semaphore installation is at Edge Hill, just north of Cairns, where the Kuranda Steam Railway and Savannahlander trains are based. The purpose of the semaphores is purely to protect the level crossings on either side of the depot entrance and are normally kept in the off aspect. Michael Lee, of the Savannahlander Tourist Train operation, has kindly provided the following explanation of the working here:

"The best example is the returning Savannahlander service after it has discharged its passengers at Cairns station. As the train enters Edge Hill (or once a DTC authority is received over the radio) a person on the ground places the up signal at stop. All this does is stop the level crossing lights from flashing. The Savannahlander pulls up past the turnout to the yard (inside the Starting Block Limit board and well inside the Semaphore) and reverses into the yard. Once off the circuit, the signal is cleared.

When starting a movement from the Edge Hill Steam Siding, a DTC authority is issued, which allows us to exit the siding and proceed in the required direction of travel. Again, the up stop semaphore should be placed at stop. If anything more complex than a simple departure needs to take place, a train can be issued a DTC "shunt station" authority which allows movements outside the block limit boards but no further than the limit of shunt boards. These boards are located adjacent to the semaphores at each end of the yard.

Trains returning to the siding are issued with a DTC authority to Edge Hill and then enter the "Kuranda Steam" siding "clear of the main road" - once intact and clear in the siding DTC blocks are returned to the controller."

Kuranda Steam Railway locomotive
The Cairns Kuranda Steam Railway depot, with locomotive not in steam. 
Kuranda train passing semaphore signal Ground frame and notices at Edge Hill

Kuranda train passing the semaphore signal by the level crossing at the south end of Edge Hill

The Block Limit board is the DTC signal and the ground frame contols the semaphore signal. This is slotted with another, intermediate, lever further up the line

Notice Intermediate lever

The notice in the above right photo

The intermediate lever, about two thirds of the way to the north end

Point coming out of the Steam sidings Closer view of the signal ground frame, and the point lever

The point coming out of the Steam sidings, levers, and notices

Closer view of the signal ground frame, and the point lever

Point Point lever


Point lever with padlock

Notice Signal and level crossing

DTC Block Limit board at north end

Signal and level crossing to the north of the sidings

Comments about this article should be addressed to John Hinson