Signalling always means a relatively early start. On a normal Saturday I drive down to the signal box so that I can set up before the first DMU arrives. This ensures that if the works train is required it has as much time as possible to leave Haworth Yard and lock in elsewhere on the branch before the first steam train of the day. On a Sunday I can simply catch the DMU down the hill and open the box when it comes back up. Don’t ever get your days mixed up! First job when arriving is to manually open the steel roller shutters, although I am currently in the process of specifying and procuring electric shutters to make the job significantly easier.
Once into the box the next step is to check the occurrence book for any issues that the previous signaller noted or wished to bring to my attention, and then sign on duty. This is often useful if equipment has been faulty or there is a failure as you can pick up the exact details, for example a points failure. Now I would test all the instruments to ensure there has been no damage to the wires overnight and the block sections are still intact. The electric token block system allows us to run the railway as two single track sections ensuring only one token is out in each section so there can be no head on funny business. If they are not intact then unfortunately the day won’t be as simple as I might have hoped.
Next, it’s time to prepare the lever frame. The lever frame is simply the row of levers you typically find in a mechanical signal box. When the box is closed with only one train on the whole line certain signals are left in the clear position, and when the box is open trains cross at Damems Junction. Once the relevant signals have been placed to the right position I wait for the train to arrive. Usually this is an appropriate moment to stick the kettle on or light the fire.
When the train arrives there are a few busy minutes as you open the box, issue the train a token and set the signals. All this often takes place while someone is ringing you asking for a token from Haworth Yard. Once all the excitement dies down the details must be entered into the occurrence book and then, relax. Under normal operations we operate a 45 minute interval timetable, with trains crossing in the middle. This means that for about 35 minutes there is minimal activity although we remain responsible for the trains whilst they are in section. When works trains are out it may be required to either release or restore tokens from various locations. Fortunately, the box is in a nice setting, a cup of tea in the comfy chair is the perfect addition to a day’s volunteering. I personally often use the time to catch up on paperwork for the Civil Maintenance department and also watch the local wildlife. As a keen wildlife photographer I take great pleasure in combining my hobbies. My particular highlights seen from the box are; Little Owls, Roe Deer, Kingfishers, Kestrels and a Weasel which I have seen from the comfort of the box.
As the day, hopefully, settles into a routine my main responsibility is to safely pass trains at Damems Junction. As trains approach they will activate an audible warning, these are located just North of Haworth Station and just South of Ingrow Tunnel. Using experience gained in training I decide which train I am likely to admit to the loop first. This can be influenced by the length of the train, for example Santa Special trains will not fit in the downhill loop so cannot be admitted first when travelling downhill. During the token exchange the physical tokens are kept in pouches on rings. This allows them to be swapped with one train on the move. The hoops are large enough that even I haven’t missed one at exchange yet (famous last words maybe)! Something else not to be forgotten is ‘belling’ the train on to the adjoining stations. This alerts the crossing keepers at Oakworth or Damems of an approaching train and encourages them to go and attend to the gates.
At the end of a successful day it is time to pack up. After the second to last train has gone it is time to sweep the floor; wash the tea mugs; ensure the fire has died down enough to leave and close the shutters. As the last train approaches I will then only pull the last few levers; restore the tokens; remove the ‘One Train Working Staff’ from the frame and then lock up and go home! On the odd lucky occasion I ride back to Haworth in the cab of the engine.
Of course this article can only go into so much detail. Personally I feel very lucky to be training to be a signaller, pulling the levers and watching points and signals move has a real satisfaction to it.
With the railway running more than ever and a long term project to re-signal Keighley inching ever closer, we are certainly going to need some more signallers! If you this article has at all encouraged you to give it a go then.
If you would like to know more about training to be a Signaller, send an email to the KWVR Volunteer Liaison Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 01535 645214 between 09.30 and 16.30.