The Branch Line Society

Guest



Haltwhistle - Wetheral Signal Box Visits - Part 3
Friday 14th February 2020

Report by Nigel Lyons, Nick Jones & additional material by Charles Allenby


Low Row Signal Box: (BLN 1367.3719) The station CP 5 Jan 1959 but the signal box (46m 19ch from Newcastle) on the Down (south) side of the line before the level crossing is a 2009 modern structure. On the southeast corner of Low Row Level Crossing, it replaced the original 1874 box at the diagonally opposite northwest corner. The box is a Network Rail designed gabled significant structure with a brick base and UPVC clad top with plenty of windows. The downstairs houses the very spacious locking room, electrical using mechanical relays.

Upstairs is accessed by an internal flight of stairs, leading to an extensive floor housing a large NX (Entrance Exit) Panel which has three panel faces, of which only the centre one is used. The reason for its size - totally out of proportion to the area it presently supervises - is that the intention was to control the Newcastle - Carlisle line from two signal boxes, Prudhoe and Low Row. This never happened, on the assumption that York Rail Operating Centre will eventually take over the signalling; it means that Low Row Box will have most likely a 'life' of less than 20 years.

Due to the number of crossings on the line, including Lane Head, and Denton Village, three Automatic Half Barrier Crossings, and various user worked crossings, there is plenty of manual work for the signaller. The Box works Absolute Block to Haltwhistle eastwards and Brampton Fell to the west (Milton, 2½ miles west is only a gate box). It also controls the adjacent full electric Barriered Crossing. The box controls a four aspect signal, unusual for Absolute Block. Block Bells are present in the panel, and are still manually recorded by the signaller. Flags are available to signal trains through the crossing when needed. An annunciator warns of approaching trains on the Down line, towards Carlisle, but the barriers are not lowered immediately as it takes six minutes for a passenger train to reach here.

Low Row box supervises the Automatic Half-Barrier Naworth Crossing (47m 67ch) which also works automatically in the wrong direction. Back in 1926 it was a manned gated crossing with the gates usually closed across the road. There was a ground frame of six levers operating Section, Home and Distant signals in each direction with the signals in the 'off' position, but, crucially, no interlocking between the frame and gates. The block posts on each side of the crossing were Low Row 1m 938yds in the Newcastle direction and Brampton Junction SB 1m 523yds in the Carlisle direction.

Two porters were employed to run Naworth station (CP 5 May 1952) and operate the gates, working separate shifts, supervised by the Brampton Junction Station Master. When a vehicle arrived at the crossing, the task of the porter was to check the 3-position block instruments in the porter's room, and if 'train on line' was showing nothing could be done until the train had passed, when the signals would be returned to danger and the gates opened to road, provided, of course, no train was coming from the other direction. After passage of the vehicle(s) the gates would again be closed to road and the signals pulled 'off'. This minor road links the present A69 with the A689.

On 30 Aug 1926 the porter concerned had previously been a porter-signalman at Edlingham (on the Alnwick - Coldstream branch), then as an acting signalman at Alnwick, before returning to Edlingham from where he had transferred to Naworth on redundancy only seven days previously.

Nevertheless, it was genuinely felt he had been properly instructed in office (selling tickets, keeping accounts etc) and crossing keeper duties. At about 2.35pm a motor coach, conveying 15 passengers and the driver, turned off the (now) A69 road towards Naworth crossing with the gates closed to road, the driver blowing the horn to attract attention. Without looking at his instruments, and not returning his signals to danger, inexplicably the porter opened the gates with disastrous consequences. Just as the coach was clearing the Down line, its rear was hit by the 1.18pm Newcastle to Carlisle express. The porter and seven occupants of the vehicle were killed instantly, one died later, three, including the motor driver, were seriously injured and three received minor injuries, with two escaping unhurt.

The responsibility for the accident rested solely with the porter who, having failed to observe the block instruments, restore the signals to danger, and operate the gates in the prescribed order, paid for his carelessness with his life. The Ministry of Transport Report https://bit.ly/2KCisAb" target="blank">https://bit.ly/2KCisAb was published on 12 Oct 1926 and conducted by Lieut-Colonel Alan Mount, who in 1929 became Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways, a position he held for 20 years.


Low Row Signal Box which dates from 2009.
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Low Row Signal Box Panel
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Low Row Signal Box Denton panel section
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Low Row Signal Box Barron House panel section
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Through Low Row Signal Box window, a DMU from Newcastle heads away towards Carlisle.
[© Nick Jones 2020]


Milton Gate Box: This original 1893 NER type N2 Box survives to control Milton Village Level Crossing, 48m 60ch west of Newcastle on the busy A689 (the former B6292). Travelling northwest, after crossing the railway the road has an immediate sharp bend westwards. The crossing is located on a curve on the line from the Brampton direction (the station is half a mile away) travelling towards Newcastle. A 10-lever Stevens frame remains, extended from the original 6-lever frame installed. However, only five levers are now used: 1 - Up Distant, 2 - Main Up, 7 - Main Down, 8 - Down Distant and 9 - Barrier Release.

It is doubtful that it was ever a block post. The Up Distant is motor operated and, due to the difficulty in sighting it (because of Brampton station footbridge), the signal was moved in 2003. Previously it was the former Brampton Junction signal box Up Section signal with Milton Gate Box's Distant beneath. The Down Distant is a Colour Light. Both Homes are traditional mechanical signals with arms. In addition Brampton Fell signal box's Up Starting signal (a four-aspect colour light) is restricted to show double yellow when Milton's Up Distant, (at the east end of Brampton station), is at caution. This unusual arrangement is due to the very short distance between Brampton Fell and Milton (to avoid drivers seeing a green on a 4-aspect signal followed almost immediately by a semaphore caution).

Milton Gate Box is not a Block Post but the bells and block instruments between Low Row and Brampton Fell boxes are repeated here to warn the crossing keeper of approaching trains. Closing the barriers is slightly different to most boxes, as there are warning lights but no warning sirens. The signaller has to keep his finger on the barrier close button and look out for traffic, to close them. The barriers close the road completely. Here 158851 went past on the Down and 158860 on the Up.

Brampton Fell: 50m 10ch west of Newcastle is this NER type N4 Box, dating from 1918, with a traditional box and frame layout. The original McKenzie & Holland frame exists, but only four levers are used, 3 - Down Main Distant, 4 - Down Main Home, 17 - Up Main Starting and 19 - Up Main Home. The Up Main Distant (20) has a Replacement Switch on the block shelf. The box controls a Level Crossing on the adjacent B6413, and all the signals are colour light. Situated on the windowsill behind the frame is the original painted board showing the function of each lever (and correct for the levers still in use). The board has been superseded by lever plates for the 20 lever frame, numbered 2 to 21. The trailing crossover (Oct 2016 TRACKmaps 2 p43A) was taken OOU in Mar 1994 and has gone - per Sep 2020 edition. Six trains were signalled by the box in the hour we were there, the highlight being 66429 hauling the 11.28 6M10 MWFO (as required) Redcar to Carlisle loaded ballast train at 16.08.

Brampton (Cumbria): This station had 15,850 passengers in 2019-2020; it OP 1836 as Milton, was renamed Brampton in 1870; Brampton Junction 1885; Brampton 1891; Brampton Junction 1913; Brampton (Cumberland) 1971 but was just Brampton again in the body of the passenger timetable by 1976, and finally became Brampton (Cumbria) in 1984 (Quick 5.02). It is wondered if any remnants of Brampton Junction box still stand (in the 'V' of the junction for Lambley - see below) and when did it close? Brampton Junction station CG 5 Jul 1965, so presumably the box closed shortly after? It would likely have been 'switched out' for most of the time before then. Google pictures suggests that it stood until 2009 at least. The other Brampton (Suffolk) station is on the Ipswich - Lowestoft East Suffolk line.

Thomas Edmondson (1792-1851) was the first stationmaster at Milton (later Brampton) when he joined the railways in 1836 at the age of 44. There he introduced cardboard tickets for passengers, and later the ticket dating machine. The mile long Brampton Town branch was taken over by the North Eastern Railway using its coaches and locos for passenger services from 1 Aug 1913; CA 1 Mar 1917; ROA 1 Mar 1920 then CA 29 Oct 1923. A full account of this fascinating line (dating back to 1775) and its mineral railways is in April (Part 1) and May (Part 2) 2020 editions of 'Back Track' magazine.

Four lines once radiated from Brampton Junction, as well as to Newcastle, Carlisle and Brampton Town, Lord Carlisle's Railway, a mineral line, ran to Lambley on the Alston branch. Brampton Jn - Lambley Colliery CG/A 1953; Lambley - Lambley Colliery CG/A May 1960. On 3 Oct 1970 a member walked the line leaving Lambley (which still had passenger trains then) 12.07. The line ran via Halton-le-Gate (1¾ miles), Midgeholme (2¾), Tindale (4¼), Hallbankgate (6½), Kirkhouse (7¼) to Brampton Jn (8½) reached 14.58.


A DMU passing Milton Gate Box
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Milton Gate Box diagram and instruments
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Milton Gate Box diagram
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Milton Gate Box
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Milton Gate Box Up instrument
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Milton Gate Box crossing controls
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Brampton Fell Signal Box
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Brampton Fell crossing
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Brampton Fell Signal Box
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Brampton Fell Signal Box panel
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Brampton Fell Signal Box
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Brampton Fell Signal Box crossing controls
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Through the signal box window, 66429 hauling the 11.28 6M10 MWFO (as required) Redcar to Carlisle loaded ballast train at 16.08.
[© Nick Jones 2020]




Brampton Fell Signal Box
[© Nick Jones 2020]

Back To Top