Railway Signalling – Part 1: Introduction to Signalling

Above is an engraving showing an early railway signal and a signalman or “bobby”, named because they were originally called railway policemen and wore uniforms similar to the civil police introduced by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel in 1829. Its likely that signals like this were erected at Woodlesford but its not known precisely where they were located. From the website: http://www.woodlesfordstation.co.uk/Pages/JohnHughMowatt.aspx

Good day readers and fellow bloggers! I must say that, until recently, I hit Writers Block! Thanks to a regular reader (who asked me a few questions about Signalling Systems), I have managed to find an interesting topic to talk about again.

I got really excited because, as I was brain storming, I decided that I should start from the beginning of it all.

Signalling. As passengers, the word Signals can normally mean bad news in the form of delays if hearing announcements about them. As train crew, it is the Highest Authority unless the actual Signaller/CTC Controller/Dispatcher/Train Control Officer has to intervene. Signalling is a system used to safely direct railway traffic in order to prevent trains from colliding.

Most forms of train control involve movement authority being passed from those responsible for each section of a rail network (for example, a Signaller) to the train crew. The set of rules and the physical equipment used to accomplish this determine what is known as the method of working, method of operation or safeworking.
In the Beginning

The earliest railway wagons were hauled by horses or mules. A mounted flagman on a horse preceded some early trains. Hand and arm signals were used to direct the “train drivers”. Foggy and poor-visibility conditions gave rise to flags and lanterns. Wayside signalling dates back as far as 1832, and used elevated flags or balls that could be seen from afar.

Signalling takes many forms – from basic hand signals up to the more advanced ‘Level 3, ETCS’ with ‘Moving Blocks’ which incorporates In-cab Signalling.

There are a number of types of Signalling, the main ones being:

– Timetable and Train Order Operation

– Block Signalling

– Centralized Traffic Control (CTC)

Over the next few blogposts we will look at each in detail.


4 thoughts on “Railway Signalling – Part 1: Introduction to Signalling

  1. Wonderful topic my Safi friend. I look forward to the continuing segments. Somewhere I read an article about a chimpanzee that had been trained as a signalman. Was that in South Africa? I’m sure that your readers would be interested in that sidebar to signaling.
    I hope I haven’t just created a can of worms for you by this suggestion. I can hear you now,
    “Damn You Scooter, there you go making this writer’s thing more like work than fun.”

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