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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 15 - March 1973
Signaling at Quainton - Part 2 - "In the beginning..." - by Mike Hanscomb
Since its inception in 1969 the S&T department at Quainton has had a somewhat checkered career and I hope this article will show members how and why the system has evolved to its present state.
I joined the LRPS early in 1969 and decided to start a signalling department for the newly acquired site at Quainton. I enlisted the help of Steve Clark who can often be seen working furiously on the railway control system at Bekonscot Model Village.
In the March 1970 News, Steve wrote, "When I was first approached by the Chairman of the S & T committee with a request to design a signalling system I immediately had heavenly visions of my ideal signal department! I could imagine a team of experts clad in immaculate overalls, with tool bags and test meters, squatting behind mammoth mosaic track diagrams, or kneeling in grateful homage dabbing oil reverently on vast trays of glittering locking. On my first visit to Quainton however, my illusions were rudely shattered; there was no box, no signals, and as it was pouring with rain at the time and the drainage was, to say the least, temperamental, little visible track!"
Early in July 1969 Roy Miller, our Secretary, said to me, "Why not see what you can do for our first Open Days in August?" Roy could not have realised that in one month a signal would have sprouted and that right from the start the control of movements on the site during open days would be carried out according to a strict code of practise (The Rules and Regulations!) That first signal came from Great Missenden; well the post did. The arm was found under the platform and the nuts, bolts, bearings etc., had been collected during the previous months and stored in Steve's garden. Fortunately at the same time we acquired a signal motor and by fixing it to the bottom of the post our first semaphore signal was electrically operated. At that time we had no lever frames!
The August 1969 Open Days were, indeed, most memorable occasions. Compared with later arrangements "System '69" was certainly most weird. The crossing, where there then stood a BR permanent way hut, was the main location. In a cabinet on the platform we had a key instrument from which the key could only be extracted when the crossing signalman had operated an electric release. The extraction of this key, which was put in a pouch and handed to the driver, allowed the signal to be pulled off once only. The driver's possession of the key was his authority to occupy the single line section and proceed up the long siding. After the starter had been returned to danger it could not be cleared again until the key had been replaced in the instrument. This could only be done after the train had returned to the station; therefore only one train could be in the section between the Station and Aylesbury End. This system was modified during the first Open Days for by the Monday we had block working between Crossing and South. This saved time by replacing telephone messages by bell code messages.
In October of the same year we ran a passenger train after dark and Peter Hanscomb (t he "Senior Signalman") recalls, in his article in this issue, the spine chilling sequence of events on that cold and foggy night!
In 1970 common sense prevailed! The crossing was no longer considered as the main location and the block instruments were transferred to the platform. The principle of the operation has remained the same since 1970, that is, the single line section is worked on the free staff and ticket system. The staff gives the driver the same authority to occupy the single line section as the key token did, but the staff is not interlocked with any electrical equipment. As there is only one staff available and there is a signalman at each end of the section it is 110t necessary to have more complicated forms of single line working, such as electric token instruments.
However we have occasionally had cause to consider the one disadvantage of the staff system; its inability to cope with an unexpected movement. If the staff is at the wrong end of the section a staff runner has to fetch it. This limitation, fortunately, does not often cause delays.
Since the purchase of our first signal we have been assisted greatly by the BR Signal Engineers department, formerly based at Watford and now at Willesden. Our next intake of equipment was brought about by pure chance and it happened like this.
On the Tuesday after Easter 1970, several of us were at Quainton dismantling some of the signalling equipment when a BR man approached me and asked what I was doing. He told me that if we were really keen on obtaining signalling equipment we should contact the Grove Training School at Watford where their signalling section had just closed down prior to re-organisation. I immediately donned my first disguise and proceeded post haste to "the place just past the Water Works"
To cut a long story short the result of that chance meeting was that we were able to acquire, in one haul, equipment which we couldn't have hoped to get in one year and certainly not at the modest price we paid. We also helped substantially in clearing the Grove site for their new building. Since then the signalling system has been operated largely using the Grove signals and equipment, with the exception of the two Ground Frames which came from Kings Langley and Aylesbury.
By 1971 the signalling system had developed into quite an efficient form of train control. We had full "Absolute Block Control" from the Station to South; this is the "single line", but it is worth mentioning here that if we should wish to send a train or engine through the section in the SAME direction as the previous train then the system becomes a little involved. In such cases the staff is shown to the driver of the first train who is given a signed ticket instead of the staff. Then the staff is given to the (second) train to follow through the section in the same direction. Unfortunately our signalmen have no shelter from the elements as it has been found impractical to write out tickets especially in wind and rain. In practice we merely show the staff, held upside down, to the driver of the first train and he understands this to mean he has the authority to occupy the single line section and that another train is following as soon as he is clear of the section.
The operation of the system has changed very little since 1970. There have been minor set backs in the last two years which have necessitated certain modifications. For example, the foot plungers on the Station groundframe caused a great deal of trouble until August 1972 , because their design required the current to flow via the spindle and bearing on which the switch rotates. The bearing had rusted which caused an intermittent circuit, and much fist waving by the Ground frame signalman when he found he could not release the lever.
To bring the story up to the present date we must report a complete 'volte face' in regard to point clipping. You will remember that during the winter of 1971/2 we were considering more sophisticated methods of locking a point other than with a point clip. These have ranged from our own crude conception of a boot operated locking bar known as "kick controlled facing point lock" (KCFPL) to a sophisticated installation such as a pneumatic point machine with track circuiting for protection. The Sub-Committee had to consider very carefully the advantages and disadvantages of these various contraptions compared with a point clip. The only disadvantage with a point clip is the time taken to fix it in place. Otherwise it is simple, safe and reliable. We feel that if we were to install more complicated machinery which by its very nature requires sound installation precise setting up, and regular maintenance, we would be committing ourselves to work which is outside the experience of the present members. Their time we think can be better spent on restoration of relics and other equipment not in use, including point machines for possible future use, and in tidying up S & T equipment on the site.
As to the future, System '73' is designed to be "plug in" so that equipment may be removed easily at the end of each Bank Holiday. The platform location is to be moved to be at the ground frame site and this will simplify the wiring considerably. The only difference the engine crews will notice is that the token exchange at the station will take place at the other side of the track.
This rearranged system we hope will be good enough to last several years so that S & T department may be free from time to time to assist the Society with other projects.
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 21 October 2017