The Branch Line Society

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Conwy Valley Signal Box Visits,
Friday 22nd June 2018

Report by Ian Smith


Ten hardy souls met at Llandudno Junction station for 10.00 and were joined by Mark Owen, a local NR Mobile Operations Manager.

Llandudno signal box is the former No2, accessed via the station car park, and is an 1891 built LNWR Type 4 design still with its original frame. (No1 was closer to the Llandudno Junction end of the Down sidings). Once 86 levers long, it is now reduced to 34 levers with two gaps, nine white (spare) levers and one (No2) no longer in use. This released the ground frame for the out of use (OOU) crossover between P1 & 2 but has yet to be repainted white. In the locking room, the numbers no longer in use are painted beneath the operating floor. Of the remaining 22 operational levers, only two have a cut down handle to indicate power operation and one, No12 the Up Siding release, is no longer used. The other cut down lever, No28, operates the clamp lock points that form the double line to single line junction (2m 68ch), even though the points are near the box. The shift pattern here is early and late.


Llandudno box looking towards Llandudno Junction (the track plan in TRACKmaps Vol 4, p36C, (Aug 2013) is out of date - the crossover between P1 and P2 once used for running round has gone too).
[© Nick Jones 2018]


Due to the shortened frame length, the operating floor has been partitioned into two distinct areas; the one closest to the station has the frame etc, while the other area is empty. There are three highly polished brass plungers at the high numbered end of the frame for proving the route into the station; the relevant platform plunger is held down while the Inner Home signal lever is pulled. The route indicator at the Home then displays the platform number set to the approaching train. This is done whether the main arm or 'calling-on' arm is cleared. All three Llandudno platforms are permissive for train Classes 1, 2, & 5 (express, local and ECS). Despite the station throat points all being mechanically operated, the actual detection of the points is electrical. Above the out of use No2 lever there is a single stroke bell, not attached to a block instrument. The Signaller told us that this was formerly for communication with station staff who operated the former frame for the crossover between P1 & P2.

The pull order of signals for trains arriving into Llandudno, when the main arms are to be operated, is Inner Home (No32) then Outer Home (No33). This ensures a train can't approach the Inner Home until the relevant route into the station is set and proved. When entering an occupied platform, the shorter 'calling-on' signal arms are used, Outer Home (No34) is cleared first, then the Inner Home (No31). Lever 29 operates a pair of stacked ground discs on the Up line (reading back towards the station as a wrong direction move on the Up line or into the now OOU Up Sidings). The relevant disc would clear once the required route had been set. This saved having an additional lever in the original frame when space used to be at a premium.


The current Llandudno box diagram shows these ground signals with miniature arms, but the assumption was that on the ground they were disc signals, although our party was not able to investigate and confirm this, or if both signals are still in place on the ground. [Does anyone know?]
[© Nick Jones 2018]




The view of Llandudno station
[© Nick Jones 2018]




When there were 5 platforms, 4 with run round facilities, and carriage sidings (you should see the other 80 Figures too!).
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Taking the plunge.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




In the locking room, beneath the frame, looking up at the roof (which is the lever room floor), the locking mechanism is on the right running down a vertically.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Deganwy Station with an Arriva Wales 158 ready to depart to Llandudno.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Deganwy Signal Box
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Deganwy
[© Nick Jones 2018]


Deganwy Signal Box is on the Down side by the level crossing at the Llandudno end of the station, near the tranquil picturesque harbour. It is an LNWR Type 5 design with a timber top on a stone base, rather than the normal brick base, dating from 1914 with a 1914 dated 18 lever frame. With four spaces and seven white (spare) levers, only seven are in use. No1 is the level crossing release. No5 operates Deganwy's Up Distant signal, a motor operated semaphore. No7 Up Starter also acts as the Llandudno Junction Up Distant - it is a 3-aspect colour light. As well as the station level crossing, the box also controls Deganwy Quay CCTV crossing at the Llandudno Junction end of the station, now only accessing some residential property. No12 (now spare) used to release Deganwy Quay Ground Frame.

The box is staffed on early and late shifts (but not nights). The Signaller mentioned that gusts of wind can cause the crossing barriers to shake so much in their mounts that it activates the barrier failure alarm. On a recent shift he had to go out several dozen times to manually operate the barriers, after the alarm had deactivated them. He had not been happy - the job is certainly not always a breeze!

Llandudno Junction: The box is just off the Holyhead end of the station, before the actual junction for the Llandudno branchIt is a BR (London Midland Region) Type 15 flat roofed design commissioned in 1985. The lower section dates from 1980, constructed then as a relay room for the previous box, with the operating floor added about 1983 from second hand Type 15 components (BR were very good at recycling). Inside is a 1983 'stand up' style 'N-X' Entrance/Exit Panel with buttons on the panel but no train headcode displays. These are gleaned from computer screens dotted about the floor. The box is open continuously under three shifts. Since the Easter partial resignalling of the North Wales Coast line, the Junction works to Cardiff ROC at the eastern end and to Penmaenmawr (or when switched out - usually overnight - Bangor) to the west. The Junction box took control from Colwyn Bay in 1991.


Llandudno Junction Signal Box
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Llandudno Junction
[© Nick Jones 2018]


On the Up line from Penmaenmawr train detection is by axle counters, due to problems encountered with sea water affecting track circuits at Penmaenbach. There is also a 'Clear/Occupied' indicator for Penmaenbach Tunnel for the Up Line, but the duty Signaller said this was of no real use since axle counters had been installed, even though they were installed first! On the Down line there is no indication in either Llandudno Junction or Penmaenmawr boxes for trains beyond signal LJ71, which protects Conwy tubular bridge and Penmaenmawr's Home signal, some four miles distant.

On the west end of the panel is a 'Complete With Tail Lamp' button for the Up Main, pressed for each Up service to confirm it is complete with tail lamp and out of section. There used to be one for the Down Main from Colwyn Bay but it was removed when Cardiff ROC took that over. [They would need exceptional eyesight!] Bi-directional signalling is available on the Up Line between Junction station and Conwy, originally installed for a prospective Conwy shuttle service that failed to materialise.

The Conwy Valley branch to Blaenau Ffestiniog is token operated to Llanrwst. As Junction box is at the wrong end of the station to issue tokens to drivers, the token machine is in the station building; station staff withdraw and replace tokens. 'Requesting' and 'accepting' on the signalling equipment is still carried out by the Signallers, with confirmation to the station staff via walkie-talkie radios.

All Junction station platforms are bidirectional and can be used for attaching and detaching. However, only P1 (Up & Down Passenger Loop) is permissive for Class 1, 2 & 5 trains but in the Up direction only. An interesting discovery was that although electronic systems show that some trains are booked to use P4 seven days a week, this only normally happens if a special train runs or there are problems. There is no automatic online recording of platform use afterwards. Trains mostly serve the island platform for obvious ease of passenger interchange and this saves a member of staff being on duty (or at least staff going backwards and forwards). Services to Blaenau actually use P1 and from Blaenau P3.


Llandudno Junction
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Llandudno Junction
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Llandudno Junction
[© Nick Jones 2018]


Tal-Y-Cafn: The unstaffed platform has a set of metal gates for the minor road crossing the single line. The former Up platform has a 'TAL-Y-CAFN & EGLWYSBACH' reproduction running-in board. The Crossing Keeper's accommodation is part of the former station house and has photographs showing there used to be signals. They were operated from a small frame in the covered passenger waiting area (still with a public telephone - the mobile reception can't be too good in those parts, but branch trains have very good WiFi!). Now the Keeper just has a set of flags to signal each train.


TAL-Y-CAFN & EGLWYSBACH reproduction running-in board.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Tal-Y-Cafn repeater
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Not many people know this, but signal box visiting is surprisingly hungry work. On the left is the well travelled Angus McDougall and to the right is the fixture organiser, Barney Clark, both flagging a bit and signalling time for lunch.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Tal-Y-Cafn
[© Nick Jones 2018]


The Crossing Keeper's accommodation has a repeater that indicates when a token has been removed, but does not show from which end of the single line. The keeper needs to remember the direction of the last train to know when to open the gates, although there can still be additional workings, such as a recent weed spray train. The system is safe as trains cannot proceed without the keeper giving the appropriate flag. There is a second repeater on the platform (attached to a location cabinet), although the face of this repeater has long since faded from exposure to North Wales sunlight.


Tal-Y-Cafn
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Tal-Y-Cafn
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Tal-Y-Cafn
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Tal-Y-Cafn
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Tal-Y-Cafn
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Tal-Y-Cafn
[© Nick Jones 2018]


Llanrwst, at the northern end of North Llanrwst, was the final box visited and is where tokens are exchanged. This station name is unusual in having a compass point prefix and has the only loop on the 27½ mile Conwy Valley line. The box is another LNWR 1880 vintage Type 4 design, with a second hand 20 lever frame from Brunditts (quarry) Sidings (1909 there) at Penmaenmawr, and was installed at Llanrwst in about 1954. There are only four working levers, Home and Starter signals in each direction with reflective boards used for the Distant signals. Of the nine white (spare) levers still in the frame, most were for the former Up Yard which used to run behind the signal box and into what is now an access road with light industrial buildings. The points at either end of the loop are hydraulic 'spring' points; the normal lie is for facing moves with left hand running. The party were shown the point mechanisms with the covers removed and how the points can be pumped over manually if necessary.

There are no track circuits for the station area which means that, when crossing trains the Signaller needs to observe which one arrives first, to clear the correct Home signal into the loop and avoid delaying the first arrival. The first has to be stationary before the signal is cleared for the second in case the first overruns - an example of a 'non-dynamic' loop. However, crossing only happens when additional trains are running and is not required for the normal service. There are two Tyer's Electric Token Key machines, one for the section from Llandudno Junction (round hole tokens) and the other from Blaenau Ffestiniog (triangular hole tokens). A quaint and uncommon feature was that Llanrwst box still has an outside toilet, a metal one which is an ice box in winter and an oven in summer!


Llanrwst Signal Box
[© Nick Jones 2018]




The Llandudno Junction - Llanrwst token machine uses tokens with round holes; it is Llandudno end of the box in the corner.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




The Llanrwst - Blaenau Ffestiniog machine has tokens with triangular holes and is at the Blaenau end of the box in the corner.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Llanrwst
[© Nick Jones 2018]


Blaenau Ffestiniog: An unexpected bonus was a visit to this station to examine the ground frames. The single platform station dates from 1982, provided to interchange with the Ffestiniog Railway's extension to the town then. There are two Ground Frames: No2 (27m 33ch) at the Llanrwst end of the station siding loop and No3 (27m 51ch) at its other end. The siding (loop) is used by special trains requiring to run round and for stabling. Unauthorised movements to the main line at the north end are prevented by a 'splayed' trap point with two switches, both normally open. This design may be due to having passenger lines on both sides; (one the 'Festiniog Railway' - with one 'f' per frame diagram!); the normal type of trap points would divert unauthorised movements towards one passenger line or the other. When a train arrives at Blaenau, the Llanrwst token is not usually placed in a token machine and the driver retains it back to Llanrwst. However, if the train is to be 'locked in' the siding, the token is placed in the station platform token machine to allow another token to be withdrawn at Llanrwst.

Beyond No3 GF the line ends at buffer stops, where a very short (approx 6") section of rail has been cut out before a fence at the start of the disused Trawsfynydd branch. The OOU No4 ground frame (27m 53ch - 25m 25ch from Bala Junction!) was inspected. It once gave access to the branch which is intact (but heavily overgrown); The Blaenau Ffestiniog &Trawsfynydd Railway Society hopes to restore it https://goo.gl/cWYsGM as a heritage line. Blaenau Ffestiniog former No1 GF (27m 07ch), on the Down side, north of the pre-1982 station, was used to access sidings including a domestic coal depot.

Thanks to Barney Clark for arranging and leading the very enjoyable visits (particularly for the glorious weather) and to Mark Owen for being so helpful. Also thanks to the duty Signallers who were courteous and interesting, with little gems of information and anecdotes to help us understand and appreciate the workings of each location. Final thanks to Nick Jones for the Blaenau Ffestiniog details.


Blaenau Ffestiniog
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Detail of No3 Ground Frame at the south end of the station controlling the point there accessing the siding/run round loop.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




The vital six inch gap in the rails severing the Trawsfynydd branch from the national network.
[© Nick Jones 2018]




Looking south from Blaenau Ffestiniog station, along the very inviting disused branch to Trawsfynydd, showing the trap point. The two very rusty levers of Blaenau Ffestiniog No4 Ground Frame that controlled it poke out of the vegetation middle left.
[© Nick Jones 2018]

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