SIGNALLING NOTES - Chris. Hall
I didn’t think that I would still be saying that “we are making progress with the problems affecting the track circuit indications and arm repeaters between Bewdley South Down Distant and the signal box” but we have started the change-over and commissioning of the new cable. There quite a few electrical tests we must carry out before the cable can be used and we are steadily working our way through these. It is holiday season, so work has not been as rapid as we had hoped.
Most of our work has been ‘behind the scenes’ preparing for replacement of two signals, Highley’s Down Starting Signal and Bridgnorth’s Headshunt to Yard Disc Signal. Also ‘behind the scenes’ is making some bits for when the P-Way replace the last two sleepers in the running line adjacent to the Boiler Shop at Bridgnorth. These carry our equipment for the spring traps on the Hollybush Road Siding.
We do need to attract one or two slightly younger volunteers to the S&T Department so I thought I would contrast a day with the S&T against a day in a signal box. I was in the bar at Bridgnorth, a place central to a lot of volunteer activity, on 16th June and, lulled into a false sense of security by the convivial presence of other signalman and the good natured bantering from Drivers and Firemen about our propensity to stop trains, listened to the persuasive tones of the Signalmen’s Roster Clerk. He had two turns to cover on Sunday 1st July, Kidderminster and Highley. I said I would look in my diary and fetched it from the car. I borrowed a pen from Tom and wrote in the diary ‘Busy today’ for a fortnight hence. I was then able to show him I could not do the turn.
This, of course, didn’t work and I sought two assurances: I would do the turn if it wasn’t a ridiculously early start and wasn’t a 12 hour shift. He was happy to give me both those assurances. I had planned to be on SVR that day in any case but had expected to be doing some signalling maintenance. When the traffic notice appeared later that week I noticed that I had agreed to do a turn at Kidderminster that started at 7.45 a.m. and finished at 7.30 p.m. and I conceded that this was not a ridiculously early start (so far as locomotive crews would be concerned anyway) and neither was it a 12 hour shift.
I normally use my sleeping accommodation at Bridgnorth before an early start but could not on this occasion as the travel from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster would constitute a business journey and have to be added to the length of the shift (such journeys are also subject to such things as RIDDOR reporting any injuries suffered in a road traffic accident). I therefore got up at 5.45 a.m. and drove up from Bristol, leaving home at 6.30 a.m. as a ‘home to office’ journey would not count towards my shift.
When I arrived at 7.55 a.m. I expected to find the Shunter waiting at the Yard Exit with a rake of coaches and the Bewdley South signalman eager to send me a light engine. The Shunter had booked on at 7.30 a.m. to open up the Carriage Shed and prepare for the shunt to draw the set for the first train into the empty station. The ‘08’ was on the buffer stops in platform 1 so I pulled the disc to see whether it would move. I opened to Bewdley South but he seemed in no hurry. I performed the ‘ritual of the gates’ which is now enshrined in a very useful diagram which makes the written instructions (a few years old) much easier to interpret.
After testing to Bewdley South, all equipment working correctly, he said that he had only two engines for me and therefore had nothing to do for the first ¾ hour of his shift: he had also, separately, driven up from Bristol. The engine for the first train appeared to be my problem. The Shunter (and Duty Officer) Dave Phillips was by now in the Yard and confirmed that there were signs of life around the Warship and he would authorise them to move after going back in to the Yard to attach to the second set. The shunting all went smoothly and the trains all left on time, the first being diesel hauled.
With no other shunting to do, my entertainment would, I thought, be limited to the timetable. It was not just ‘one in, one out’ as the DMU had been added. I noticed as the GW set departed that a door was swinging open, fortunately with no-one standing by it, put back the signals and brought the train to a stand at the Advanced Starter. Within a few minutes the Fireman had rung on the SPT to enquire what was wrong and rung again to confirm that the Guard had secured the door.
It was a very hot day, which was causing some difficulties, with quite a few messages on the S&T fault line: some of which had been listened to and some which had not (we record the faults on our fault sheet at Bewdley as we listen to them). Arley was having difficulty with the switching out lever jamming at ‘notch 2’ so that it was unable to switch out. Hampton Loade was having problems with the Up Home when switched out and the S&T had been diverted there to adjust the detection. Although hot, it only became oppressive around 4 p.m. which was when the organisers had decided that a shed should be set on fire and the S&T arrived and had decided that a floor plate bolt in the tread between 44 and 45 should be removed (the nut had fallen off earlier when they poked it) and renewed. I asked for how long they would need 45 points lever reverse (the motor points in platform 2, to give them access to the nut) and Tony replied ‘hours’ so we compromised on 18 minutes as the next train (after the 4.0 p.m. had left) would also require platform two.
I had brought plenty of milk so was able to provide tea to the S&T (and the events organiser), an indispensable requirement, and had managed to answer the question ‘how many S&T personnel does it take to change a bolt’. Two of the three (Tony and James) departed on the 4.50 p.m. leaving John Smith to finish off and drink more tea. By 5.30 p.m. the DMU put in a brief appearance and the entertainment appeared to be over, the fire was out and the spectators dispersed. I thought that the last two hours of the shift (in which the last two trains would arrive and stable and their engines depart) might be event-free and thus boring. It was not to be.
The DMU was taking a suspiciously long time to get to Bewdley and Bewdley South rang at 5.53 p.m. to say that it had arrived but left ‘AA’ track circuit occupied behind it. John immediately went downstairs to confirm that ‘AA3’ track circuit was ‘up’ and Bewdley South confirmed that the tunnel track (AA2) was showing clear. This proved that the culprit was the track circuit (AA1) between Bewdley South’s Down Main Distant and Down Main Home berth track. It was unfortunate that the Electrical Section of the S&T had just sat down in the Great Western with pints of beer and so could not attend.
Ian Hollis, the DSM at Bewdley, had spotted the problem and offered his services as Pilotman. We exchanged the necessary emergency bell signals and by 6.0 p.m. had instituted Pilotman working to examine the line. We had discussed whether the passenger train should be sent on a ticket to avoid delay to the train behind but the safety requirement for the Pilotman to accompany the train as Competent Person examining the line prevailed (as it should) over any commercial issues.
The engine returned to Bewdley after shunting its set to CS1, with the Pilotman (who had finished off my supplies of milk for tea) and the last Up passenger left Bewdley about 30 minutes late. My shift finished at 7.40 p.m. as we withdrew working by Pilotman, leaving the single track showing occupied. The Roster Clerk’s assurance that the shift was not a 12 hour shift was left intact as the finish time was a mere 11 hours and 55 minutes after its rostered start time. I adjourned to the Seven Stars for a Pizza and we were joined by Dave who explained how unfortunate it was that they had started drinking their pint just as we called them. Arrangements had been made to call out the paid S&T staff for a 7.30 a.m. start to investigate the problems at Bewdley and Arley.
In comparison the previous weekend’s day on the S&T had started at a more comfortable 9.30 a.m. with breakfast at Bewdley where we received our regular briefing on the various occurrences on SVR and Network Rail from our Department Head. By 10.30 we were ready to start work and a little light machining at Bewdley was completed in time to get to Kidderminster for lunch where we were working on the new signal for Highley. I was inveigled onto the footplate of Taw Valley to do some ‘signal sighting’ and was able to report that undergrowth (a misnomer as the plants concerned were growing well up the bank, over eighteen feet above the track) was obscuring the running disc at the motor points and sighting of the Up Inner Homes at Bewdley North. After a return trip from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth in convivial company I got off at Bewdley at 5p.m. and joined my S&T colleagues in the Great Western for some more convivial company.
I have to say that I enjoyed both shifts equally and can thoroughly recommend the S&T Department to any budding Volunteer who has the necessary self discipline and is prepared to be taught the technical issues that they need to know. We normally meet at Bewdley each Sunday in the buffet for breakfast so come along and have a chat.
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