Buckinghamshire Railway Centre Logo

BRC Website Home
Quainton Virtual Stockbook
Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 15 - March 1973

Signaling at Quainton - Part 1 - "In darkness, fog or falling snow..." - by Peter Hanscomb

At a memorable Open Day in October 1969 the Society decided to hold a late evening barbecue, and this of course presented an excellent opportunity to run a few trains after dark! None of us was to know that we should have to deal with fog as well!

In those days our signalling system was somewhat primitive though it succeeded in its objective to protect the public, ourselves, and our rolling stock. The main signalling location was at the crossing and although we had a block system in use there were precious few signals in operation: in fact only two:- the Platform starter to control up trains and a ground disc to control the returning down trains. The latter was located by the old BR hut (since removed) at the crossing and was operated from there by a length of signal wire with a loop on the end. There were two nails on the side of the BR hut; you can guess the rest!

The S & T department too was in its infancy so on that day its total strength comprised its founder members Mike Hanscomb and Steve Clark, with Colin French, Dave Hyde, Peter, Anthea and Elizabeth Hanscomb.

The procedure for controlling trains is worth recalling. When the signalman on the platform became aware, usually by the gesticulations of the guard or energetic blowing up by the driver (this hasn't changed!), that a train wished to move in the up direction he asked the signalman at the crossing to release the key token and gave a release for the platform starter. The crossing signalman first asked for "line clear" from Quainton South, put down the barrier and then gave the platform signalman the token and signal releases.

The platform signalman, having previously assured himself that the road was properly set, then pulled off the platform starter and handed the token to the driver. The train entered the 150 yards or so of single line, passed the crossing and up to Quainton South where another signalman controlled the point for the long and short sidings. The token was handed to him and he displayed a green flag if the line was clear for the train to proceed up the appropriate siding. This signalman was provided with an old bookshelf, resting on concrete point rodding stools, which contained the signalling instruments.

For movements in the down direction the signalman at Quainton South obtained 'line clear' from the crossing on the instruments, and displayed a green flag which the loco crew acknowledged. They then collected the token. For clearance to the platform of yard the driver looked out for the ground disc operated from the crossing. With the ground disc off the train proceeded and on passing the signalman at the platform the key was handed over and replaced in the key instrument S & T could relax for a moment!

With this procedure now clearly in your mind let us return to that auspicious occasion when, for the first time ever, the S & T department signalled trains after dark. It so happened that my last turn at South covered the dying flicker of daylight when we were running passenger trains to the long siding and footplate rides and shunting moves to the short siding - then darkness fell. The signal lamps on the platform starter and ground disc were lit and I proudly lit my hand lamp with its red, yellow and green aspects. The procedure I was to follow was to show a red at all times for down trains except when I could see that the ground disc at the crossing was showing green, then I could similarly display a green - a procedure that would cause most BR steam loco drivers to drop a plug and refuse to go any further, but these were the early days and we had pitifully little equipment. I looked in the direction of the ground disc and tried to detect its tiny light and to my horror I could see nothing. Although the South location is less than 200 yards from the platform I could see nothing at all (not even my own block instruments) but I could hear, as though from a great distance, the fair ground organ that was on the site and realised that with the darkness had come FOG.

My feeling of complete isolation was broken when the bell called attention and I was asked to accept a passenger train for the long siding. With the aid of a torch, the only source of light supplied, I groped my way to the point, set it up for the long siding, clipped it and returned to my instruments to accept the train and to peg line clear.

Nothing happened for what appeared to be an eternity and, feeling rather tired as this was my fourth 2-hour turn that day, my imagination started to play tricks; "Did I really set the point for the long siding and clip it?" "Didn't we just recently have a shunt move - and what happened after that?" "When did I accept an up train?" I had really started to frighten my self so I took my torch and was about to make the trek back to the point when the bell beat out "Train entering section" and almost simultaneously I was called to the phone. "Dad", said a voice that was unmistakably Mike's. "This is our first passenger movement by night - I hope the point is set for the long siding and clipped" (There was quite a lot of stock and dead engines parked in the short siding). By now I could hear the beat of Juno approaching, doubtless with our Chairman and Secretary on the footplate. For a moment I was panic stricken and was about to hold up my lamp displaying a red aspect, or belt out "Obstruction danger" or just run for it, when a voice seemed to say "Look at your instruments". I did, through the fog. They showed that I had pegged line clear for a train to the long siding. Then I started to come to my senses and reminded myself that as "train entering section" had been given this was an authorised movement; no "train running away" bell code so the platform starter must have been pulled off and the token handed over. This could not have occurred until I had pegged "Line clear" and we had so disciplined ourselves that even we, amateur signalmen, automatically checked that the road was set up before accepting a train. I then began to appreciate how the block and bell system of signalling, single line tokens, and the rules and regulations came to be applied in our country's development of its railways - they even provided for some ass of a signalman getting into a panic!!

Having pulled myself together I peered in the direction of the approaching train confidently displaying a green aspect and wondering if I should be able to see the token in time or get it wrapped around my ears. I hoped to that I might even get a word of comfort from the footplate.

I retrieved the token alright but when the loco had passed I discovered that my boots had collected rather a lot of warm water. That was the night I learnt something about injectors too!!

The text in this Quainton Railway Society publication was written in 1973 and so does not reflect events in the 40+ years since publication. The text and photographs are repeated verbatim from the original publication, with only a few minor grammar changes but some clarifying notes are added if deemed necessary. The photos from the original publication are provided as scans in this internet version of this long out of print publication.

Signaling at Quainton - Part 1 - "In darkness, fog or falling snow..." - by Peter Hanscomb - Quainton News No. 15 March 1973

Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Email Webmaster
Page Updated: 21 October 2017