The Branch Line Society


Saltmarshe - Hull Signal Box Visits
Tuesday 13th February 2018

Report by John Cowburn

At the time of writing, the railway between Goole and Melton Lane, west of Ferriby remains a haven of manual and primarily mechanical signalling, with 12 staffed installations in a distance of about 15 miles! While Goole signal box and that at its nearby swing bridge will be retained for now, a scheme to abolish all but one of the other ten is now approaching completion, although the expected commissioning date of Apr 2018 was deferred and is now being planned for late Nov/early Dec 2018. Responsibility for the patch is split between two Local Operations Managers, so separate visits were arranged with relatively small groups of members on each. For the first, six met at Saltmarshe station for 09.30; some had already observed the overhead signal box on Goole swing bridge from the east bank of the River Ouse.

Saltmarshe Signal Box is located at the Goole end of the Up platform of the station of the same name. This has a sparse service (eight Up trains SuX, eight Down SSuX, seven Down SO and nothing on Sundays) so all of the participants arrived by road. The station still only has a foot crossing to access the Down platform, though ongoing works appeared likely to change this. It is actually at the small village of Laxton; Saltmarshe itself is about a mile away on the north bank of the River Ouse. The Signalling Atlas and Signal Box Directory (Third Edition) by Peter Kay, published by the Signalling Record Society in 2010, records the box as a 1905 North Eastern Railway (NER) type S2 box. This definitive work is the source of all other box classifications in this report. It has a brick base and timber upper and is now fitted with a modern 'Entrance-Exit' (NX) panel, at which the signaller sits. Signals are colour lights and control is by track circuit block (TCB) with a single stroke bell to Goole Swing Bridge and absolute block to Gilberdyke. The box supervises the adjacent level crossing and has an interesting 'splay corner', an angled cut away section at the rear, to give the signaller a better view along the road which crosses the railway at a sharp angle. The crossing is one of two on the line unusually with power operated barriers but no road lights; in this case the two full barriers each cover both road lanes.

Although not on our programme, some of the group went via Green Oak Goit Gate Box, a couple of miles towards Gilberdyke, to observe it from the public road. It is staffed by a crossing keeper based in a modern portable style building who manually operates single lane width white-painted tubular metal gates with red targets. These open outwards away from the railway and the gates are normally kept closed to the road unless vehicles need to cross.

Gilberdyke Junction Signal Box is also a NER type S2 box, though much larger than Saltmarshe and dating from 1903. Most of the boxes between here and Brough date from the 1901-04 period when the railway was quadrupled to deal with increasing traffic levels. Originally 'Staddlethorpe West', the box acquired its current name from 5 Aug 1974 (and not 7 Jan 1974/75!) along with the station. It is on the Down side of the line, just to the east of the double junction where the Selby (main) and Goole (branch) routes converge. It works absolute block to Saltmarshe and Broomfleet and track circuit block with single-stroke bell to the former Selby West signal box, now referred to simply as 'Selby'.

The layout was rationalised in the late 1980s, when the four-track section between Gilberdyke and Broomfleet was reduced to two tracks and new platforms were built adjacent to the former main lines, in the centre of the formation, at both stations. The signalling was rationalised but not modernised and the result is eight manual signalling installations in nine miles and one of the greatest remaining concentrations of slotted home and distant signals in the UK. The box still has a full frameand this, with the lack of false ceiling and two wooden cased London & North Eastern Railway double track block instruments on the block shelf, all combine to give the box a very traditional ambience. Although there is less activity than in years gone by, it is still a very busy box with typically nine or ten movements per hour. This includes reasonable levels of freight and two such workings were witnessed during the visit. The box is open on two shifts of approximately nine hours, as are all on the line.

The frame has 55 levers, but 30 are now out of use, and signals are primarily semaphores; the points of the double junction (which include a single slip rather than diamond crossing to provide a trailing crossover) are mechanically worked. Normal bell codes are used with the exception of Down trains not booked to stop at Gilberdyke and for which a 'line clear' has been given by Broomfleet. For these, the Gilberdyke signaller waits 90 seconds after receiving 'train entering section' from Saltmarshe and then sends the unusual 'train approaching' bell code (1-2-1) to Broomfleet; this gives the Oxmardyke crossing keeper, less than a mile ahead, time to lower the barriers and clear the signals.

Heading east, Oxmardyke Gate Box is a brick built NER type S1a structure dating from 1901 located on the Down side of the line. It is now much larger than is needed for its role, but with sympathetic replacement windows, a high ceiling and good views, it remains a very agreeable box internally. Downgraded from a one-time signal box, it contains a reconditioned frame of only 16 levers, of which seven are still in use; four of these are for the mechanically-worked semaphore home signals and motor-worked semaphore distant signals in each direction. There are also semaphore distant repeaters under each of Gilberdyke's two Down second home signals which protect the junction.

However, the adjacent level crossing has the most interest here and accounts for the remaining three (brown) levers in the frame, which operate the wicket gates and barrier release. An undated black and white photograph on the wall shows the remarkable former arrangement of ten wheel-operated gates here. These were arranged in three groups and in the photograph are all being swung simultaneously across the four-track railway of the time. Roll on several decades and the crossing is now a rare example of 'wheel-operated barriers', a type of control found only on the former North Eastern Region of British Railways, whereby a traditional gate-wheel (on the right hand end of the frame) controls mechanically-operated lifting barriers. As at Saltmarshe, there are no warning lights for road traffic.

Unlike the other non-block-post level crossings in the area, Oxmardyke is normally maintained with the barriers open to the road and the protecting signals at danger. The crossing keeper has Up and Down line indicators, which are mounted on the front of the block shelf and a single stroke repeater block bell is also provided above the indicators on the block shelf. With only the single bell, it is often not possible to establish whether it is Gilberdyke or Broomfleet offering a train; the bells simply call the crossing keeper's attention and he/she will then determine which way the train is approaching from the block indicators. However the crossing keeper must listen to the bells; if the 1-2-1 'train approaching' bell-code is heard, it indicates that it is time to start lowering the barriers. Otherwise the sequence is started when the two beats of the 'train entering section' bell code are heard and the indicator for one or other of the lines flicks across to 'Train in Section'.

After Oxmardyke Gate Box there is a two mile gap then three more boxes follow each other in quick succession, leading to aspects of short-section working being employed.

Broomfleet Signal Box, a Grade 2 - signaller scale of 1-9 (9 = highest) - block post with adjacent level crossing, is the first of these. It is on the Up side and is another NER Type S2 box, dating from 1904. The box has evidently suffered from subsidence and now appears to be held up by two very large vertical girders positioned at the east end corners; no two of the replacement windows appeared to be mounted at exactly the same angle. The adjacent Broomfleet station is a remarkable survivor, being located in the middle of windswept fields and a good half mile from the small but isolated village that it serves. It consists of replacement wooden platforms adjacent to the former main lines, but with only eight trains per day calling, 1,426 passengers in 2016-17 and apparently only two regular users.

The box is very spacious, but has only seven working levers in three remaining 'islands' of the 60 lever frame. There are still 'station limits' here, with a home and starter plus a distant in each direction. All signals are semaphore except the Down main starter, which is a three aspect colour light controlled by lever 14, which can only be reversed when Cave's lever 14 has been cleared. This illuminates a white light on Broomfleet's block shelf (see below); this signal also acts as the distant for Crabley Creek.

The adjacent Broomfleet level crossing is also non-standard; having 4 powered barriers operated from a control unit in the corner of the box but no road lights, possibly now a unique combination on NR.

The absolute block instruments controlling the sections to the east and west are wooden-cased LNER double-track examples and, because of the short sections and the presence of Oxmardyke and Cave crossings, non-standard block working arrangements are used on both lines. In the Up direction, when trains are accepted from Crabley Creek, for the benefit of Oxmardyke they are offered straight on to Gilberdyke. In the Down direction, any train for which a 1-2-1 'train approaching' bell code is received from Gilberdyke is offered on at this point to give Cave crossing keeper more notice of its arrival.

Two thirds of a mile down the line on the Down side, Cave Gate Box is a further 1904 NER Type S2 structure. It is much smaller than other similar boxes on the line, with an operating floor only a few feet above track-level. As would be expected, it is staffed by a crossing keeper. The crossing here, as at Oxmardyke, is controlled by manually worked barriers without road lights, again from the box by a gate-wheel. In contrast to Oxmardyke however, the normal method of working here is for the barriers to be kept closed to road traffic with the signals cleared, unless a vehicle wishes to cross; this explains the presence of the 'RING FOR GATES' (sic) sign and accompanying plunger mounted on the fence adjacent to the wicket gates. However, the road appears to have reasonable levels of traffic meaning that the crossing keeper can be very busy; repeater block indicators and bell are again provided.

The 16 lever frame has only six working levers remaining; others are white (spare) and some are missing. The gate-wheel is at the left hand end of the frame with, immediately next to it, the short-handled blue and brown painted barrier release lever. Three levers are for the signals, including red and yellow painted number 14 mentioned above; this carries a plate reading 'DOWN MAIN CONTROL ON BROOMFLEET No.14 SIGNAL AND DISTANT'. Unless this is reversed, Broomfleet's three aspect colour-light starter (located just short of Cave Crossing) and consequently its distant cannot be cleared. The remaining two levers are brown painted and lock the wicket gates which remain here.

The last location visited on the first day, at the edge of the Goole Local Operations Manager's patch, was Crabley Creek Signal Box, at the end of a minor road serving only a farm on the banks of the River Humber. Visually quite similar to Oxmardyke, the 'Signalling Atlas' advises this to be a NER type S1b structure dating from 1891 and extended in 1904. However it has been less sympathetically modernised, now having large single pane replacement windows and a false ceiling, the only box on the line to have been so treated. The frame has 14 levers, of which only five remain in use. The Grade 2 box remains as a block post, though at the most basic level with no station limits and only one home and distant signal in each direction, meaning that a train has not cleared the section in the rear until it is well into the section in advance. For working absolute block in each direction to Broomfleet and Brough East, there are two black and white BR standard block instruments. The mechanical Down home semaphore is mounted on a very nice bracket, no doubt a legacy of four-track days.

The fifth working lever, number 12, carries a plate reading 'RELEASE TO GATE KEY LOCKS' and provides the interlocking for the adjacent hand-worked gate level crossing, which gives access to the farm on the south side of the line. The single lane width wooden gates, which open out onto the line when required, are normally maintained locked across the road with lever 12 sitting normal in the frame. In this position, the two 'key lock keys' used to release the gates to be opened to the road are securely retained in a 'lever key lock' at the base of lever 12. To open the gates for a road vehicle, the signals have to be replaced at danger and lever 12 partially reversed. This locks the signals and releases the keys which can then be used to unlock the gates. There are also uncontrolled wicket gates for pedestrians on the public footpath which crosses the line here; 'Stop Look Listen' signs are provided.

The gates will survive re-signalling, with the box retained but downgraded to a gate box under the supervision of York ROC. BLN 1299.400 reports that this is only because the original Railway Act specified that a 'manned' crossing was to be retained for the landowner's access.

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