Chemin de Fer de l'Etat

by John Hinson

Bifur de Maitre Ecole cabin, Angers
Photograph by Dr. J W F Scrimgeour 2/7/61

This distinctly British-looking signal box was to be found in the French town of Angers, and this view towards Angers St Laud shows the junction controlled. It proudly states its name on the end wall as Bifur de Maitre Ecole (Maitre Ecole Junction) whilst the front wall announces to passengers the distance from Angers station.

The Poste box just controls a simple junction - again very comparable with British practice. Beneath the cameraman's feet is the main line from Le Mans and Paris, whilst joining it from the left is the Paris-Orleans branch from Tours.

The rocket-like structure near the signal cabin steps is believed to be a wartime air-raid shelter.

Inside Maitre Ecole poste
Photograph by Dr. J W F Scrimgeour 2/7/61

The lever frame is exceptionally British in appearance - being very similar to the Saxby & Farmer Rocker type found in the UK. This isn't entirely surprising as John Saxby set up business in France. There are some clear differences, though, in the flat tops to the levers and smaller profile to the catch-handle.

However, there are some interesting accoutrements on the frame, and the lever colours clearly differ from UK principles. The gadgets in the boxes mounted in front of the frame are connected directly to the "rockers" suggesting they may be contact boxes for energising electric locks on the levers.

Just visible to the right of the picture is the handle of a Lartigue block instruments, detailed below.

The track diagram is mounted low, behind the levers and interlocking, and is titled "Maitre Ecole, Poste de la Bifur, which just goes to show it isn't only in the UK that signal box names are sometimes inconsistent.

The instruments above the diagram are repeaters, whilst below the lever functions are described on cast-metal plates .

Lartigue block instruments
Photograph by Dr. J W F Scrimgeour 2/7/61

On the left are the Block Lartigue instruments used on the Paris-Orleans line to Tours, controlling the 6 km section to Trelaze.

These large mechanical handles directly operate the "block signals". No 1 handle is operated when a train departs. It will raise the block semaphore and annonce the train to the block post in ahead. The No2 handle gives the equivalent of Train out of Section and clears the block semaphore at the box in rear.

A typical signal box would be provided with two instruments of each type, but as the Paris-Orleans Railway's line branches off here, there is just one instrument for each line.

On the right are Block Regnault signalling instruments, described below.

Regnault block instruments
Photograph by Dr. J W F Scrimgeour 2/7/61

Built in a style that British signalling enthusiasts will fell more familiar with are the Bock Regnault instruments, used on the Chemin de Fer de l'Etat main line and working to Ecouflant, 6 km away. The indications are given by four miniature signal arms, and communication is by bell.

About the photographs

Additional notes by Keith Barber.

Comments about this article should be addressed to John Hinson