The Branch Line Society


Wolverhampton & Saltley PSBs
Wednesday 30th July and Wednesday 19th November 2014

After Stafford signal boxes the parties travelled by train to Wolverhampton PSB, staffed by two signallers, opened in 1965 and more or less complete in terms of its control area (see BLN 1208.746). In smaller groups they visited the operating floor, which is relatively small, but bright and airy with picture windows at the front looking out on to the south end of the adjacent station platforms. The 'NX' entrance-exit panel controls the Stafford line as far as Penkridge (fringing with Stafford No4 box) and the Birmingham line to Dudley Port (fringing with New Street PSB). On the Shrewsbury line, it controls to just beyond Oxley Jct. where the Oxley Chord converges, fringing with the Oxley workstation of the West Midlands Signalling Centre (WMSC). Finally, on the 'Grand Junction' line towards Bescot, the box now fringes with the WMSC Bescot workstation beyond Portobello Jct. level crossing. Wolverhampton area re-signalling is now programmed for the 2015 May Day bank holiday weekend (2nd to 4th). Whilst it controls a small area in comparison to later powerboxes, this is densely trafficked with busy junctions at Bushbury and at each end of Wolverhampton station. During one visit, the challenge of fitting in a light engine movement to the steel terminal, without delaying passenger services, was clearly demonstrated.

The 19 November party also went on to Saltley PSB. This is well positioned at the rail exit of Lawley Street Container Terminal, adjacent to the Landor St. Jct. on the Water Orton line, and is a typical power signalling structure of the late sixties / early seventies, in this case 1969. The large operating floor has a 'NX' entrance-exit panel curving around the rear in flat sections. There are relatively small windows in each aspect of both front corners, which give an excellent view of passing trains, but without the picture windows provided in earlier power boxes such as Wolverhampton. The original control area stretched from Kings Heath (Camp Hill Line) and Church Road Jct. (near Five Ways) to Blackwell (the former BR Western / London Midland regional boundary on the Birmingham to Bromsgrove line) including the Redditch branch. It also reached Tamworth (high level), Nuneaton Abbey Jct., Sutton Park, Birmingham Moor Street (later the reopened Snow Hill), Leamington Spa/Bearley Jct. and Hall Green (later Shirley) on the North Warwickshire line. In its heyday, the box was manned by four signallers, a meal break relief and a signalling manager, but it is now a shadow of its former self and no longer even controls the trains which pass its windows! Only a small part of the left hand end of the panel actually remains in use, the rest being blank which, coupled with the lack of natural light from the small windows, gives the operating floor a slightly ghostly feel.

Saltley now controls Blackwell (fringe with Gloucester PSB) to Five Ways (fringe with Birmingham New Street PSB) the third side of the Lifford Triangle, and a little way along the Camp Hill line to Kings Heath, where it fringes with the Washwood Heath workstation of the WMSC. This signalling is mostly more recent for Cross City electrification and is not yet 'life expired'. Finally, by way of a small Atkins panel tacked on to the left hand end of the main panel recently, (since 1 September 2014) Saltley PSB has control of the new signals on the Redditch branch, including its new lengthy dynamic loop. The box is now covered by one signaller from the WMSC in rotation. Although the control area is now small, it is busy and regulating decisions are made more complex by the fact that only the slow lines between Kings Norton and Longbridge are electrified. Trains are only actively controlled through each of the junctions, with the plain lines in between them provided with fully automatic signalling; even so the afternoon shift signaller, who has worked the box since 1991, was kept almost continuously on his feet at the panel throughout the visit. Indeed, a 'meal break relief' signaller is still provided for Saltley from the WMSC.

Blackwell is located just over the top of the 1 in 37 Lickey incline; freights over 1,000 tonnes are still banked up the incline and apparently now generally auto-uncouple on the move. If the banking loco has to return down the bank, it is able to cross over under the supervision of Gloucester PSB but if continuing towards Birmingham will come to a stand at the first of Saltley’s signals. If the banker fails to detach, the train has to be 'put inside' and brought to a stand on the slow lines, for the train loco driver to be made aware and arrangements made to detach the banker. Over the past six years control areas have been progressively transferred to the WMSC, beginning with the Snow Hill area in February 2008, Water Orton in November 2013 and Washwood Heath in April 2014. On current plans, the final area will transfer across to WMSC as the Kings Norton workstation in October/ November 2015 after which the lights will be turned out for the last time. Participants were interested to see a rare nuclear flask train from Berkeley to Crewe (for Sellafield) signalled through Saltley's area, Up slow line through Northfield (they try to keep them moving) and in due course ran past the box heading off for Sutton Park hauled by a pair of DRS Class 37s. Also interesting to observe was a completely fully loaded very lengthy intermodal train joining up its two sections then departing from Lawley Street terminal right outside the box - very impressive!