Trivia: Quietest Signal Box Shift

Taunton

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Back in manual signalbox days the Cambrian line on Sundays had just one train, it came Down very early morning with the newspapers and went back Up on Sunday evening.

For this some 20 or more signalboxes all the way to Aberystwyth had to be opened on a Sunday just to pass the Down train and exchange tokens, closing when it had passed, and open again in the evening just for the Up train. Don't know if the same staff did both - the times were about 12 hours apart.
 
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Dai Corner

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Back in manual signalbox days the Cambrian line on Sundays had just one train, it came Down very early morning with the newspapers and went back Up on Sunday evening.

For this some 20 or more signalboxes all the way to Aberystwyth had to be opened on a Sunday just to pass the Down train and exchange tokens, closing when it had passed, and open again in the evening just for the Up train. Don't know if the same staff did both - the times were about 12 hours apart.
Knowing little about signalling, I wonder if they could have operated on a 'one engine in steam' basis on Sundays only?
 

AidWall

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Back in manual signalbox days the Cambrian line on Sundays had just one train, it came Down very early morning with the newspapers and went back Up on Sunday evening.

For this some 20 or more signalboxes all the way to Aberystwyth had to be opened on a Sunday just to pass the Down train and exchange tokens, closing when it had passed, and open again in the evening just for the Up train. Don't know if the same staff did both - the times were about 12 hours apart.
On summer Sunday’s in the 1970s, there was a single train to Barmouth. It originated at Birmingham NS and arrived at Tywyn (or Towyn as then was) around 12. It returned around 6pm and ran through to Euston, arriving (as I recall) at 23.59. It was usually 2x25 plus about 8 Mark 1 coaches. Tywyn box was opened to allow the down train through and then closed until it was time for the evening train (after which the box closed). Not sure what would have happened at Barmouth where the train would gave run round and stabled, so the box may have been kept open continuously over the period. Things occasionally became more complex when reliefs or specials were run on Sundays; certainly the scheduled train was always well filled and I do recall a 24/25 combination appearing (on a rail tour rather than a service available for the general public).
 

Gloster

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If I remember correctly, the arrangement on Sundays was that if you worked up to three hours, you were paid four hours. If you worked from three to eight hours you were paid for eight; over eight you were paid for the actual hours worked. However, for up to eight hours only the hours actually worked were paid at Sunday rate: the make-up hours were only paid at flat rate. This certainly applied to additional shifts. This may appear a waste of money, but with low wage rates in those days, it would hardly be worth many people going to work for an hour or so’s pay.

The best I did was a one hour and fifteen minute shift (07.15-08.30) in which I did nothing because the PW were late handing back and did not do so until after my relief had arrived for the regular turn. I did have to cycle nine miles each way over Devon roads for that.
 

Cheshire Scot

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Back in manual signalbox days the Cambrian line on Sundays had just one train, it came Down very early morning with the newspapers and went back Up on Sunday evening.

For this some 20 or more signalboxes all the way to Aberystwyth had to be opened on a Sunday just to pass the Down train and exchange tokens, closing when it had passed, and open again in the evening just for the Up train. Don't know if the same staff did both - the times were about 12 hours apart.
In a similar vein, although contained within one shift, the Sunday morning newspapers to Lairg (1S03 Sat evening from Euston) required I think 8 boxes north of Inverness to be opened to pass this single northbound train and it's return. In earlier eras it would have been many more than 8 boxes. Latterly it conveyed passengers in both directions but for most of it's life it was papers north (with empty passenger coaches) and passenger southbound.
 

Wilts Wanderer

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Not sure if it's still there but presume it is, Goonbarrow junction on the Newquay line isn't exactly busy especially outside Summer Weekends.

Definitely still there. I think there is also a small amount of China clay traffic on a Mon-Fri basis as well, there are clay dryers at Goonbarrow which is presumably why the loop has survived.
 

Bald Rick

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Park Lane gatebox, just south of a Cheshunt on the Southbury Loop was famously quiet. Although there’s plenty of trains, there was never a need to open the gates, as the road had been closed. However it was still, technically, a bridleway and so needed a crossing keeper for the unlikely event of a horse turning up. I don’t think one ever did.
 

Gloster

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Although it isn’t a Signal Box, isn’t the Gate Box at Llwyn Cadwgan, in one way, one of the quietest locations. If I understand correctly, the crossing keeper merely monitors the use of the crossing: he (or she) doesn’t actually control it.
 

Tomnick

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The best I did was a one hour and fifteen minute shift (07.15-08.30) in which I did nothing because the PW were late handing back and did not do so until after my relief had arrived for the regular turn. I did have to cycle nine miles each way over Devon roads for ththat.
My personal best was 0630-0900 on a Sunday morning to allow a possession to be first shortened back (so that the powerbox next door could play trains) and then given up altogether. Walked in the door at 0625 to find the phone already ringing. It was the PICOP - they'd finished all the work early, so no need to shorten back, just give up the whole lot. Back out of the door at 0635 and back in bed by 0715!
 

TB

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Should be a nice easy shift for the signaller at Wigton in Cumbria this morning.

Line closed between Carlisle and Workington due to raw sewage leaking into the signal box!
 

apinnard

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Should be a nice easy shift for the signaller at Wigton in Cumbria this morning.

Line closed between Carlisle and Workington due to raw sewage leaking into the signal box!
Lets hope the signaller hasn’t left the fan on.
 

Pigeon

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Knowing little about signalling, I wonder if they could have operated on a 'one engine in steam' basis on Sundays only?

Just what I was thinking. After all it was common for boxes to be switched out when there wasn't enough weekend traffic to need the shorter sections, and also to use the "one engine in steam" method for long but barely used branches that only had a train once a week or something. You could regard doing it all the way to Aberystwyth as kind of extending both of those operating methods until they met in the middle.

I suspect the reason for not doing it would have been more than anything down to the rule book, and to this ingrained conviction that once something is written in the rule book it has the immutable status of a law of physics and cannot possibly be modified in the tiniest way no matter how flagrantly inappropriate it is for any exceptional circumstances you may happen to encounter.
 

Gloster

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The ‘ingrained conviction’ is what keeps the railways safe. How would a driver leaving Shrewsbury know that the line is clear all the way to Aberystwyth? Does the signalman at Sutton Bridge Junction tell him, but how does he know? Does the train just head off into the blue without any proof that the line is clear for it? If there are no signalmen, who clears the signals at each loop, or does the driver pass them at Danger? If a driver passes a signal at Danger, how does he know that the points are properly set and secure? What will the train do at the level-crossings at Westbury or Caersws? Who will answer the phones if a farmer wants to cross the line? Et cetera.

There are umpteen different reasons why the train could not run with the boxes closed, all of which could be solved, but only with investment. A similar situation was solved on the Callander & Oban and, on a smaller scale, between Halwill Junction and Launceston, but the scale of investment for the Cambrian would have been substantial.

One point to the railways’ rules was to keep things relatively straight-forward and consistent. Too many small variations can lead to misunderstandings and misunderstandings can lead to accidents
 

MadMac

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Knowing little about signalling, I wonder if they could have operated on a 'one engine in steam' basis on Sundays only?
There’s been something of an “innovation” in this regard in recent years. Stranraer Harbour box is now normally switched out - in that case, the section from Dunragit is worked as “one train” with the key token for the section acting as the “staff”. If the box is open, it functions as a normal key token section.
 

Gloster

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There’s been something of an “innovation” in this regard in recent years. Stranraer Harbour box is now normally switched out - in that case, the section from Dunragit is worked as “one train” with the key token for the section acting as the “staff”. If the box is open, it functions as a normal key token section.
This still involved signalling work to allow the Signaller at Dunragit to withdraw a token without the cooperation of a Signaller at Stranraer. (It may be that the same token normally goes back and forth and never goes through the instrument, but in that case you have to arrange for a release for Dunragit’s Down Section Signal.) The equipment at Stranraer would also need to be altered to allow signals in both directions to be left at Off.
 

Highlandspring

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There’s been something of an “innovation” in this regard in recent years. Stranraer Harbour box is now normally switched out - in that case, the section from Dunragit is worked as “one train” with the key token for the section acting as the “staff”. If the box is open, it functions as a normal key token section.
The OTW staff at Dunragit is an Annett's key which is released from a lever lock in a similar way to a ScR Tokenless shunt key. The lever with the Annett's key lock is mechanically released by a switching lever, which itself is locked reverse by an electric key token. To release the OTW staff a token must be withdrawn and placed in the reversed switching lever lock, which then allows the Annett's key lever to be reversed and locked to withdraw the staff (if that makes sense).
 

Pigeon

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Et cetera.

You have missed the point: that all those questions have already been answered at other locations, so the same procedures could have been adapted and adopted here. It's not a matter of solving a novel problem, it's simply a matter of recognising that you're only dealing with things that you already know fine how to do.
 

30907

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You have missed the point: that all those questions have already been answered at other locations, so the same procedures could have been adapted and adopted here. It's not a matter of solving a novel problem, it's simply a matter of recognising that you're only dealing with things that you already know fine how to do.
"Long section" token/tablet working was indeed possible, but as Gloster points out it requires signalling alterations at the boxes concerned, and that costs money.
It should probably have been done more than it actually was, but you certainly couldn't have done Oswestry (or later Sutton Bridge Jn) to Aberystwyth as one section, as there were a fair few level crossings which would require the box staffing, not to mention a mixture of single and double track.
 

Gloster

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But we are talking about the 1970s when BR was desperately short of money for investment and what they had went to lines that had a definite future. Spending money on lines that might be closed within a few years - and the Cambrian definitely was in this group - just was not to be contemplated. Additionally, in both the cases I mentioned it worked for one train and one train only in one direction. Before a second train could run, boxes had to open to put things square.
 
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ChiefPlanner

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But we are talking about the 1970s when BR was desperately short of money for investment and what they had went to lines that had a definite future. Spending money on lines that might be closed within a few years - and the Cambrian definitely was in this group - just was not to be contemplated. Additionally, in both the cases I mentioned it worked for one train and one train only in one direction. Before a second train could run, boxes had to open to put things square.

The Cambrian was incredibly lucky to survive the 1970's with the Barmouth Bridge issues and a serious washout twixt Ynyslas and Dovey Junction.

Yes - it took a lot of staff to run a Sunday service , which did not happen in my 1976 to 1979 era as a student at Aberystwyth , the resignalling based on Machynlleth was an absolute game changer - 2 people vice about 20 ! (slighly OT? - but Cemmaes Road or Caersws boxes with at best a 2 hour service must have been pleasant if quiet.
 

MadMac

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The OTW staff at Dunragit is an Annett's key which is released from a lever lock in a similar way to a ScR Tokenless shunt key. The lever with the Annett's key lock is mechanically released by a switching lever, which itself is locked reverse by an electric key token. To release the OTW staff a token must be withdrawn and placed in the reversed switching lever lock, which then allows the Annett's key lever to be reversed and locked to withdraw the staff (if that makes sense).
Got you now
 

Gloster

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The OTW staff at Dunragit is an Annett's key which is released from a lever lock in a similar way to a ScR Tokenless shunt key. The lever with the Annett's key lock is mechanically released by a switching lever, which itself is locked reverse by an electric key token. To release the OTW staff a token must be withdrawn and placed in the reversed switching lever lock, which then allows the Annett's key lever to be reversed and locked to withdraw the staff (if that makes sense).

There is a video of working at Dunragit on the FARSAP pages of the Signalling Record Society’s website’s Archive pages. Considering that the arrangements for the Stranraer section are unusual, it is a bit brief about them.
 

Gathursty

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In my area, Rufford and Rainford are probably the most quiet in the Liverpool/Manchester region unless there's a signal box along the Fiddler's Ferry/UniLever line in Warrington.
 

mac

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How about Noblethorpe crossing on the east coast main line open 24/7 including Christmas day plenty of trains but they can go all week and never open the gate.
 

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