The Branch Line Society


Welsh Marches Signal Box Visits
Friday 26th July 2019

Report by Peter Humphries & Nick Jones

During the journey to Leominster station Radio Hereford & Worcester was warning of delays to Transport for Wales services at Craven Arms. Nevertheless all 10 members for this fixture, kindly organised by our member Barney Clark, met on time although one did arrive on a service that was an hour late! After handing over our charity donations, we all set off by car to meet our NR guide for the day, local relief signaller Geoff Loynes. A railway enthusiast himself, Geoff's knowledge of the operating characteristics of the signal boxes and the history of the boxes and railway in the area was much appreciated.

We met him at Woofferton where, on our arrival, the signaller was calling to two track workers to request they give up their line blockage for the passage of a train. Woofferton Junction, as it is still named on the box diagram, dates from around 1875 and had a 75-lever frame but this has been reduced to 39. The space created has been partitioned off for the signaller's welfare facilities, also used by the track workers. After 'train out of section' was received from Bromfield box the bell code '2 pause 2 pause 2' (Block line for protection purposes) was exchanged and the block instrument pegged to 'train on line' so that the track workers could return to their work outside in safety.

Like all six of the boxes visited, Woofferton Junction has a GWR lever frame and Western Region (WR) style block instruments in wooden cases. Spares of the accompanying block bells are running out so two of the boxes visited had the same tone of bell for both directions with a wooden clothes peg attached to one to distinguish between them! At Woofferton, as well as a trailing crossover and the Up Goods Loop there is a facing crossover to speed up single line working, with one lever to operate the points and two separate levers for the facing point locks. No signals are provided for this crossover as it should only be used on the authority of the single line pilotman. This signal box still has its omnibus telephones on the back wall, with the small glass fronted wooden case showing the codes for the neighbouring signal boxes that were on the circuit. When other boxes were having theirs taken out the Woofferton signallers made a charity donation to keep theirs. North of the box, the trackbed of the former Tenbury Wells branch (this section CA 31 Jul 1961) could clearly be seen curving round to the east. Beyond Tenbury it once ran through the Wyre Forest to Bewdley. Inside the box old photos and signalling diagrams were displayed from the days when the Woofferton was indeed a junction.

Our next visit was back at Leominster, also dating from around 1875, originally 'Leominster South End' signal box and, like Woofferton, a joint LNWR and GWR building. Although the Bromyard branch used to diverge from the main line there south of the station on the Down (to Hereford) side, it merely ran behind the box with no signals; the junction was further north. Consequently Leominster is much smaller than Woofferton with a 30-lever frame. Again there is an unsignalled facing crossover - now temporarily out of use - for single line working but with one lever controlling both facing point locks.

Unusually, because of the small size of the box, this lever is 'normal' in the frame when the points are locked so that the signaller does not constantly have to walk around it! North of Leominster station is an automatic half barrier level crossing and its timing is different for stopping and non-stop Up trains.

There are two buttons on the block shelf and when the 'stopping' one is selected the crossing closure is delayed and the approaching train has a yellow at the three aspect colour light signal before the station. Like almost all signal boxes now it has an illuminated diagram with a train shown by red lights.
At Leominster station, at first the diagram it appears to cover the whole layout, but the Up P1 section was split after the last resignalling, so a British Rail WR track circuit indicator is provided for the extra circuit. During our visit a rail grinding train from Craven Arms to Port Talbot passed the box.

We moved on to Moreton-on-Lugg,a 1943 built Grade 3 GWR signal box. It has a 44-lever frame and the usual equipment for operating the full barrier level crossing outside. Up trains are signalled from Hereford by absolute block regulations but Down trains to Hereford are signalled by track circuit block regulations. This is because the single line to Ledbury from Shelwick Jn is controlled by WR Tokenless Block. Trains are described to Hereford by bell code and acknowledged by repetition back.

During our visit the signaller had a telephone call requesting the use of a user worked level crossing but no such crossings are on the signal box diagram. They are not shown in this area unlike elsewhere. One thing you learn from these signal box visits is that there is less standardisation in railway signalling and practices than might be expected! The box also controls access to the nearby busy stone terminal branch on the Up side, familiar to Society members from our many comprehensive trips there over the years. The stone comes in by road, 23 miles from Strinds and Dolyhir quarries, near New Radnor.

The highest staff grade box visited was Grade 5 at Hereford (named 'Ayleston Hill' until 9 Jun 1973 -this is not another BLN typing error, the nearby Hill had an 'e' on the end of its name but the box did not!). Here access to the 60-lever signal box, another joint LNWR and GWR building opened in 1884, is separated by a fence from the rest of the railway. Points near the signal box are still mechanically worked as are some of the ground signals. Main line signals are now all colour lights. At the end of the lever frame stands a tall cabinet that houses a Kearns-Barker one control Individual Function Switch panel for Shelwick Jn. The box there was closed on 11 Nov 1984 with singling of the line to Ledbury (from 21 Oct 1984) and associated junction simplification when traffic was in decline. Hereford works WR tokenless block to and from Ledbury (visited by the society on 24 Nov 2012), absolute block to and from Tram Inn and to Moreton-on-Lugg with track circuit block from Moreton-on-Lugg.

A 9-car IET from Paddington terminated punctually in P1 and, although it could be seen from the box that it hadn't stopped short of the signal, it was still occupying the track circuit of the facing points behind it. The usable length of Hereford P1 is 205m (and P2 is 204m) but Class 800 coaches are 25m so the train was 225m long. TfW services were still disrupted so a late running DMU was held at Signal 58 north of the trailing crossover. Even when the IET started off for the diesel (turnback) siding that DMU could only reach Signal 60 protecting the facing points to both platforms as the interlocking prevents No60 being cleared until the points at the other end are set. This added 5 minutes to the DMU's delay.

Tram Inn is an 1894 built GWR signal box said to be on the base of the previous 1880 box and has 23 levers and the usual controls for the barriers of the level crossing outside. There is an enunciator to prompt the signaller to lower the barriers without delaying the trains. The signallers have recently been promoted from Grade 2 to Grade 3, because when Pontrilas is switched out (quite often), they supervise a total of 18 user worked level crossings. As usual there is an illuminated diagram but there is no track circuit on the Down main for just over 250yd immediately outside the box from Signal 21 to just beyond the level crossing. Therefore Down trains less than 250yd long disappear from the diagram as they pass outside and reappear beyond the level crossing! There is also a trailing crossover here.

Our final visit was to Pontrilas signal box, a McKenzie & Holland structure built for the GWR in 1882 and refurbished in 2009. There is a 42-lever GWR frame in this (signaller) Grade 2 box. In the centre of the block shelf it was nice to see a pair of original GWR switches still used when the box needs to be switched out. The layout includes an Up Goods Loop and trailing crossover and years ago it was the junction for the Golden Valley line, latterly a short branch to nearby Moss MoD until 10 Jun 1969.

The £305 raised from participants' donations was split 50/50 between St Peter's Hereford Shelter and Hereford Open Door two homeless charities. In line with the current NR policy, these were selected by the local staff.

Wooferton Junction, a rear view.
[© Peter Humphries 2019]

Wooferton Junction Western Region (WR) style block instruments in wooden cases
[© Andrew Gardiner 2019]

The view from Wooferton Junction box, looking towards the Up Goods loop.
[© Andrew Gardiner 2019]

Wooferton Junction diagram
[© Andrew Gardiner 2019]

Moreton-on-Lugg from the crossing; some participants are on the right.
[© Peter Humphries 2019]

Southbound train at Moreton-on-Lugg, the crossover is for the stone terminal branch.
[© Andrew Gardiner 2019]

Moreton-on-Lugg crossing and the former station building - CP 9 Jun 1958.
[© Peter Humphries 2019]

[© Andrew Gardiner 2019]

[© Andrew Gardiner 2019]

Moreton-on-Lugg Crossing Controls.
[© Andrew Gardiner 2019]

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