The Branch Line Society

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Saltmarshe - Hull Signal Box Visits
Wednesday 7th March 2018

Report by John Cowburn


On 7 Mar, the second visit took in the remaining group of three closely spaced mechanical boxes at Brough East, Welton and Melton Lane, along with Hessle Road and Hull Paragon power signal boxes which will both survive the current re-signalling scheme. Starting from the west end of the section again, a slightly larger group assembled by the substantial Brough East Signal Box, a full height North Eastern Railway (NER) Type S2 box dating from 1904 with a brick base and timber upper on the Down side of the line, east of the station by the level crossing. The 52 lever frame is complete, although all but eleven of the levers are either partly or completely white painted ('spare') and, with the crossover out of use until re-signalling, only the six levers which control the mix of colour light and semaphore signals on the Up and Down main lines remain in use. Blue lever 19 is an interlocking lever. The box works absolute block to Crabley Creek in the west and Melton Lane to the east, using two wooden-cased original London North Eastern Railway double track instruments on the block shelf. Block working is normal on the Down line but, in the Up direction, trains are immediately offered on to Crabley to give the signaller there more notice, given the time it takes to open and close the gates for a road vehicle to cross. Brough East directly supervises the adjacent level crossing which has four power-operated barriers and road lights and is operated from a control unit in the corner of the box. There is no barrier release lever in the frame and the signaller needs only to initiate the operating sequence and then monitor events; as soon as the train has passed, the barriers automatically raise.

Less than a mile to the east is Welton Gate Box, on the Up side of the line and another NER Type S2 1904 structure. This supervises the adjacent gate level crossing which is protected by metal, outward-opening, hand operated gates fitted with key locks as at Crabley Creek. The box is provided with a frame of only six levers, standard block repeater indicators and a single repeater block bell on the very short block shelf. Five of the six levers remain in use, four for the (mainly semaphore) signals and the fifth, plated 'KEY LOCK RELEASE', has the lever key lock for the gate keys at its base as at Crabley. The gates are normally maintained in the closed position across the road with the signals cleared. The crossing is operated in much the same way as that at Crabley except that to start the process of opening the gates, the signals need to be put back to danger with their levers in the 'normal' position.

The crossing keeper on duty was a traditional 'resident' who, very unusually these days, still lives in the railway house adjacent to the crossing which comes with the job. Although working from the box for our group's benefit, he normally operates from the house and has repeater block indicators there, with a repeater gate bell on the outside wall which rings when motorists wishing to cross press a plunger adjacent to the crossing gates. The repeater gate bell can be silenced when he is not on duty!

The easternmost of the manual boxes is the slightly younger Melton Lane Signal Box, an NER type S4 structure of 1921 which dates back to the remodelling of the lines in the area on the opening of the former adjacent cement works. The box is less than a mile east of Welton and strangely is located next to a level crossing over Gibson Lane! The crossing is a modern four barrier affair with protecting road lights; in contrast with that at Brough East, its control system is more traditional and there is a barrier release lever but no auto raise function on the barriers. The road crosses three tracks here, the Up slow line still being operational and used by Up trains stopping at Ferriby station (no platform on the Up main line). The disused Melton Halt Up platform also remains extant here. The halt CP 8 Jul 1989 due to low usage and BR claimed that considerable expenditure would be required to keep it open.

The box controls its immediate area and the end of the Up slow line by means of its 34 lever frame which mainly operates semaphores; there is also a small Individual Function Switch panel mounted on the block shelf which controls the divergence of the Up slow line and the colour light signalling in its immediate area. The absolute block section to Brough East is controlled by a wooden-cased LNER instrument but Melton Lane to Hessle is controlled by Track Circuit Block, with a single-stroke bell used to describe trains. The box diagram shows two entrances to the former cement works sidings, both labelled 'OMYA SIDINGS', but some of the lever plates show 'EARLES SIDING' as opposed to 'Earle's Sidings' at Hope, though the G&T Earle company parentage of the two names is no doubt the same. It is worth noting here that the proximity of the three boxes and the straight alignment of the railway between them means that, from any of them, with good eyesight it is possible to see a total of six semaphore signals with both home and distant arms on the same post - is this now unique on NR?

The visit had to finish by lunchtime so time in the remaining two boxes in the programme for the day was necessarily short. First was Hessle Road Power Signal Box, a BR (NER) pattern structure dating from 1962, although its area of control has expanded over the intervening years; its current Entrance Exit (NX) panel, at which the signaller stands, was installed in 2008.

Positioned on the Down side of the line by the A1166 Hessle Road overbridge and just south of Hessle Road Jn, it controls the main line from Hessle station to Anlaby Road Jn, plus most of the other lines in the Hull suburban area but not Paragon station itself or the two sides of the triangle giving access to it.

Its control area includes a short section of the Beverley line with Walton Street level crossing, where the eponymous dual carriageway crosses the line by means of two separate CCTV controlled full barrier level crossings referred to as 'North' and 'South'. The controls for these, including the 'crossing clear' buttons, are positioned on the main panel below the representation of the level crossing.

The box also controls most of the eight mile single track goods line around the northern suburbs of the city to King George Dock which includes Hull (swing) Bridge that is staffed as required by a relief crossing keeper when it needs to be swung. Hessle Road can route trains in and out of Hull Paragon via the bi-directional spur from Springbank Road Jn (on the dock line) to Walton Street Jn on the Beverley branch. However it is classified as a goods line and as such does not have full signal overlaps. To use it, signallers need special permission from control and any trains in the immediate area have to be held a signal earlier than usual to compensate for the lack of overlaps. Consequently it is only used for passenger trains when absolutely necessary (including some previous engineering diversions).

Signals are in general a mixture of three and four aspect colour lights, with the latter primarily on the main line and many being automatic. As explained earlier, Melton Lane and Hessle Road describe trains to each other using single-stroke bells and the same system applies to communications with Beverley and Paragon station boxes. Note that because Hessle Road controls two separate routes towards Paragon station there are two block bells to Hull Paragon box giving a total of four push buttons for sending bell codes; these are also positioned on the panel and are labelled (left to right): 'HULL PARAGON SCARBOROUGH BRANCH', 'HULL PARAGON', 'BEVERLEY' and 'MELTON LANE'. A train register is completed by the signaller, recording the train descriptions, the times the train descriptions are received and sent, the line they relate to (M = Main and B = Beverley) and the train headcode. An unusual feature of the layout is that trains from Paragon station are Up trains on the main line but Down trains on the Beverley line; to simplify recording however, trains to Paragon on both lines are recorded on the DOWN pages of the train register and trains from Paragon on the UP pages.

The final visit of the day was to Hull Paragon Power Signal Box, a LNER structure described as being in the 'Streamline Moderne' style (a late type of Art Deco style from the end of the 1930s) and of a very distinctive appearance, with relay rooms either side of the small but airy operating floor. The box dates back to 1938 and, 80 years later, it controls only the station area, its immediate approaches and access to Botanic Gardens depot, by means of a small NX panel at which the signaller sits. Peter Kay's 'Signalling Atlas' suggests that the panel dates back only to 1984. This is only used for route-setting purposes, with the main display of signal aspects and track circuits being provided on a much larger illuminated panel above it. The box is located on the Up side of the line immediately to the west of the Park Street overbridge at the station throat; had the venetian blinds been open, the signaller would have had a very good view of the entire layout. Two separate push buttons operate the block bells for describing trains to Hessle Road on the main and Scarborough lines.

All too soon this last visit was over. Reflecting on the two days, this was a remarkable and privileged insight into the operation of a very busy main line railway using a huge variety of primarily traditional signalling. Various members commented that it has been rare for Society box visits to witness so many instances where as soon as 'train out of section' was sent, the next train was immediately offered.

Although we didn't see trains crawling from signal to signal, there were one or two that were past the distant before it could be cleared and study of 'Realtime Trains' shows trains regularly booked to follow each other at seven minute intervals or less; the most extreme pair are booked to pass Broomfleet a mere four minutes apart. There can be few manually signalled railways left in the world with this frequency of service. Sadly this will all soon be over, but in the remaining time, there is much of interest still to be seen at the roadside as all but one of the boxes are located next to level crossings.

Sincere thanks are due to Nick Jones for organising the visits, Chris Gee, Connor Breen, Ashley Jackson and Bethanie Hayton of NR for facilitating them and all of the signallers and crossing keepers for making us very welcome in their boxes. £575 was donated to Barnardo's, NR's nominated charity.

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