A visitor's view

by John Hinson

In the spring of 2000, my wife and I took a holiday in Australia - spring over here being autumn on the opposite side of the equator, of course.

A holiday was exactly what it was, and whilst I could have spent the entire time looking at signalling installations that was not the plan. Nevertheless, through the kindness of two friends who I have only got to know through the existence of this web site, we were able to spend a couple of days sampling the delights of local signalling practice.

Signalling in Australia, as is well known, owes plenty to British principles as McKenzie & Holland set up a branch to manufacture equipment out there. But there is Amercian influence too, particularly in the power installations. This group of aricles is not intended to delve deeply into the whys and wherefores, but to give a "snapshot view" of what we saw with simple explanations of the applicable signalling principles.

Our visit started in Western Australia, where we were met at Perth Airport by Chris. Chris is the "main man" (and, I suspect, more or less the only man) for the preserved Claremont signal box project. This was something not to be missed, and we had already asked for a visit there. Chris has written a web page about the project which can be found on this web site, so I shan't duplicate the information myself. All I will say is that the amount of work that has put into it is tremendous, and it puts to shame the preservation of signalling here in the UK.

But even before we called in there, Chris sprung a surprise on us by having arranged a visit to the last operational mechanical signal box in Western Australia at Kwinana.

The following few days were spent away from railways, but our next brush with signalling was in Melbourne, Victoria, where we met up with Andrew during several day's stay. The first thing that happened was that I got totally confused between Victorian Railways (railways in the state of Victoria) and Victorian railways (railways built during the reign of Queen Victoria)!

Knowing from email contact that there was a lot of "proper" signalling in Victoria, I had asked Andrew in advance whether it would be possible to visit both a traditionally signalled installation and also a large mechanical box. Andrew selected some fine examples - Spencer Street and Bacchus Marsh. Andrew even arranged for a track-walking pass for us all to allow unhampered photography, and allocated us a whole day of his time which allowed brief visits to one or two tother locations such as the tram/road/railway level crossing at Kooyong.

Whilst in Melbourne we saw plenty of three-position Speed Signalling signalling, much of which is very much as installed in the early 1900s. Brighton Beach had some fine examples, together with an early power signal box.

From Melbourne, we backtracked to Adelaide, in order to sample the pleasures of riding on the Indian Pacific luxury train to Sydney. This pleasurable journey did not reveal much in the way of signalling initially as dusk fell before we reached the "interesting bit". However, by the time we awoke we were in the middle of an area that seemed to be controlled by many mechanical boxes. Signalling on the running lines appeared to be colour light, but everything else seemed to be mechanical. Alas, there was no opportunity to photograph some of the splendid signals. Our sole signalling photograph from this journey was taken at Broken Hill, and is included here purely for amusement value.

The remainder of the holiday had little signalling interest, although I spent some time studying some old Rule and Regulation books which Andrew donated. We came back with plenty of strong and happy memories, and a rather heavy suitcase!

The series of articles here give a snapshot view of the installations I saw, and include a comparison with British practice which is of course the way I found myself looking at them. Without the patience and help of Chris and Andrew in explaining both the history and signalling principles little worthwhile could have been written here, but any errors you may find will be my own.

Much of the background information has been by Chris French, Bob Taaffe and Andrew Waugh

Comments about this article should be addressed to John Hinson