I am a railway enthusiast but railways are not just about lovely locos. Locos can weigh upwards of 100 tons. These days, trains can run into thousands of tons. It is absolutely vital that trains are kept apart. From quite early days railway lines were in sections called blocks and it was the responsibility of signalmen to ensure that only one train was occupying a block.

It was important that signalmen in adjacent boxes – they could be 10 miles apart – could communicate with one another so they were very early users of an electric telegraph system which sounded bells. Signalmen had a bell code to enable them to send a good variety of messages. It was also crucial to make sure signalmen couldn’t set points on a route that clashed with signals. In those all mechanical days a complex frame was needed and signals couldn’t be set until the proper route was. The pulling of levers had to be done in the right order.

Signalmen also had to make sure the train that passed them was complete. All trains carried a red tail lamp and if a signalman saw a train without one he could not accept another train into his block.

Oh, and for the record, everything had to be entered in the book!

On rural lines, without too many trains, it was not too onerous a task. Signal boxes could be cosy, comfortable places. And here is one at Llanuwchllyn which was once on the Ruabon to Barmouth line in Wales and is now on the Bala Lake Railway.

The box is on the platform.

image002Photos taken on a rather drizzly August 25th 2015.

Inside we can see quite an array of levers to control signals and points.


Different coloured levers had different functions.

The line between stations here was always single track and that meant extra precautions were needed. A driver was not allowed to enter a block section unless he held the line token. Sometimes there was just one token and that meant trains had to alternate – one down train, then an up train to bring the token back. If that wasn’t possible, then special machines were installed to house tokens. The two machines at adjacent signals were interlocked and only one token could ever be removed. Llanuwchllyn has such a machine.


Here we have the comfort end of this box. There’s a stove with a kettle to go on it and a couple of easy chairs. I can see why I fancied the job! No – I never actually worked on the railways.


Of course, the box had a good view of the line – essential for seeing those tail lamps.





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