THE SIGNAL BOX
Index to pages
Australian mechanical signalling practice bears great similarity with British signalling, indeed McKenzie & Holland established a factory there which produced almost all of the signalling needs for that part of the globe. McKenzie & Holland even manufactured block instruments (a product never entered into in the UK) which were mostly to Sykes and Tyer's designs and produced under licence. Nearly all frames were of McKenzie & Holland design, apart from in New South Wales where their own design was in use. Conventional lower quadrant signals were utilised there, too, as opposed to the McKenzie & Holland somersaults found elsewhere.
The vast majority of railways were single line, owing to the less intense traffic in such a large, spacious country with low-density of population. Nevertheless, important locations in cities justified the construction of large boxes on a par with anything in Britain.
Sone single lines were signalled using Winter's block instruments without any form of Train Staff, but the Electric Train Staff was widely adopted and the Winter's blocks were abandoned (in South Australia, at least) in 1911. Some branch lines were never interlocked, being provided only with basic signals (usually worked from an open frame on the platform) and the points were hand-operated. However, most lines were provided with interlocked signalling installations following British practice.
Almost all NSWGR country stations were interlocked using the Key Interlocking System - a small central lever frame controlled the signals and released Annetts Keys which could be carried to nearby ground frames to release points giving access to sidings etc. On main interstate lines, the NSWGR usually provided a platform level cabin controlling crossing loop points (or crossovers on double track) and reguge siding points, but other sidings were generally still worked from key-released ground frames. Only a handful of locations on the NSWGR had elevated signalboxes as found on other railways' lines.
The first Wig Wag in South Australia was installed on the Port Road Level Crossing in 1910 and then a later modified version was installed at Pym Street in 1924. This model was eventually installed throughout the State.
When power signalling reared its head around the turn of the century, Australia was quick to make use of it. Much of this was introduced under the influence of three important signal engineers who, between them, changed the focus of signalling in Australia through until the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Details of these signal engineers is given at the foot of this page.
Most of the power frames and signals came from the USA. Most obvious in this respect is the extensive use of speed signalling and Centralised Traffic Control. Locomotives and rolling stock are today very much American in style.
In Western Australia there is now no mechanical signalling to be found at all. In Queensland, very little remians and the various forms of CTC and other remote control are generically known as RCS (Remote Controlled Signalling). It is perceived to not be a concern of a Train Driver what goes on "behind" the signal to control its aspect. To a Driver all Colour Light signals are covered in the same rules regardless of what system an employee uses to change the aspect.
Semaphore signalling in Queensland is almost a thing of the past. Manually operated signalling survives in use at just two locations, both single track - Ascot where it is normally not in use with signals normally at clear in both directions, and Kuranda, where it is used every day, controlled from a free standing signal cabin on the island platform by station staff. Entry to the section beyond the Starter signals is by the authority of the Direct Traffic Control system [QR's version of Train Order].
QR [as the one-time Queensland Railways now prefer to be known] have decided to call CTC and other similar systems by the generic name of RCS - Remote Controlled Signalling. RCS is provided on most track between Harristown or Willowburn [Toowoomba suburbs] and Purono, north of Townsville except some branch lines from that track. Effectively these are the busy lines. It is also provided on all Central Queensland coal lines and between Abbot Point and Collinsville on the Newlands line. The signalling is controlled from two locations - Edward Street and Mayne (Brisbane), while there are a few local operations controlling one yard, such as Mayne, Acacia Ridge, Fisherman Islands, Rockhampton. Those controlling the RCS are not "signalmen", rather they are Control Clerks and they work with computers to change routes, signals, etc.
However, where mechanical signalling has survived it has remained
quaintly nineteenth century. Somersault signals, revolving discs and pre-tappet
interlocking have never been superseded, and such equipment will still be
installed today where changes are made. Signalling can be seen in abundance
here that became history in the UK many years ago.
Additional notes by Ralph Byles, Mike Brotzman, Graham Harper, Noel Reed, Bob Taaffe, Brian Webber and West Torrens Railway Signal Telegraph & Aviation Museum.