The Branch Line Society

Guest



Severn Valley Railway Signalling Weekend
Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th August 2015

The SVR has been running signal experience weekend courses for the past ten years or so and for our 102nd fixture in our 60th year, nine members attended Kidderminster Railway Museum for a programme tailored to our supposed expertise. The signalman (or 'bobby' as they are still known) was from the earliest days employed by the railway police department to control trains when railways were the fastest thing on earth. Every line was deemed 'open' unless blocked in specific places and it was only through learning from a series of disasters, many of them fatal, that the philosophy was reversed so that all track access is blocked then opened temporarily to allow a train to pass, then blocked after as it is today.



[© Derek Wilkin 2015]

We were hosted by Dave Postle (Museum curator), Steve Tull and Dave Grainger who discovered that our skill levels ranged from qualified signalmen on preserved railways down to (in the writer's case), none. A safety briefing was followed by a tour of the yards at Kidderminster and a walk along the line as far as the large new diesel depot (by the turntable) nearing completion and the carriage sheds where the intricacies of compensators, facing-point locking and signal types were explained. A public demonstration signal box, an impressive structure recovered from Wrangaton in Devon, has been equipped with the frame from Bersham near Wrexham to a layout just pre-WW1. Equipped with its own dedicated signals, it gave the group a hands-on impression of just how intense signalling operations could be, even in a small country box. Participants then took a packed lunch in the meeting room while learning that the museum curates some 200,000 photographs and 35,000 colour slides; it handles research enquiries from all over the world.


Sunset at Bewdley South.
[© Derek Wilkin 2015]

Sunset at Bewdley South.
[© Derek Wilkin 2015]

The whole collection of documents, artefacts and pictures is entirely dependent on donations, grants and a modest rent-income. It has outgrown the space available and events like these help to raise funds for much-needed expansion (as did our 2014 AGM there). The first day concluded with a tour of preserved signal equipment from many railways. A fish and chip supper fortified everyone for an evening trip to Bewdley and training from signalmen in both its boxes during the twilight of a glorious sunset… The next day, each participant was assigned one of the seven signal boxes for one-to-one tuition under the experienced eye of its duty signalman. Setting a distant signal more than 1,000yd away requires some pull on the lever! To exchange tokens at the trackside with an enormous steam locomotive trundling past your ear calls for a steady nerve. With a full service operating, even the experienced were tested. The Victorian polished-wood instruments were part of a simple (non electronic!) system to show where trains were; and still effective today. When it was discovered that a tree had fallen across the track, the S&T had to cut the power and revert to batteries whilst broken cables were fixed and six bells (line blocked) were sounded. The staff worked carefully through their procedures to recover lost time. The impressive weekend, complete with these unplanned surprises was hosted by the serious and unfailingly friendly team at the SVR who made us welcome from the outset and made it clear they wanted to see us again.



Hampton Loade box looking south.
[© Derek Wilkin 2015]