RITES OF PASSAGE FOR A MODEL RAILWAY - 4: Signalling and Superstructure
The truss gantry - signal bridge on the North Eastern - 'platform' for the way ahead
And bracket posts, a way to save on space and material
Signalling and signal cabins featured strongly in the North East as you will see from the photographs in this book by Colin Gifford on the last days of steam in the region. There were signals for each move, resulting often in forests of signals between Northumberland and the Humber.
Steam Finale North
From seeing the sites to signals and scenery
Signalling the layout, researching the location
Assuming you've drilled holes at the side of the trackbed to feed signal operating and point operating wires, it's time to decide how you're going to run this railway model that you're putting together. Is it for yourself, are you a member of a group and do you intend to exhibit at shows. and how big is it?
I went to an exhibition at the weekend, the East London Finescale Exhibition 2011 mounted at a technological college by a local group, the East Ham & District Model Railway Club. The range of model railway layouts exhibited varied between late 19th-earl 20th Century Great Eastern, East Lynn and late 20th Century modern image with diesels and colour light signalling. Also - and perhaps as important - were suppliers of kits and bits, proprietary and ready-to-run model items, and a periodical and book dealer. Without the suppliers and book dealers we don't know what's available and what we can use as inspiration, if we need any to motivate us. What I came away with was something I'd been looking for (the Parkside PC83 Diag. 5 plastic LNER Horsebox kit) , a few things I took a liking to ( Dart Castings loco crew figures and a Shire Scenics etched brass LNER platform luggage barrow) and some insight into what can be achieved by groups or individuals with help from others.
Moreover I saw how other modellers had dealt with semaphore signalling and point control. One layout I looked closely at included point and signal rodding. Although the rodding in this case was 'cosmetic', i.e., non-functional, it conveyed a 'complete image' . In other words you could take a photograph of the layout and take the result as an image of the real thing - you can after all take a colour image and 'tweak' it to look like period sepia black & white image. With modelling we are after all in the business of creating an impression, are we not? You can take it as far as your skills or imagination/observation will let you, and stand back to see what others make of it.
I will take it that the model layout in question will employ semaphore signalling. We have a choice in this respect, of plastic or metal kits. Even with plastic kits there is an element of hardware, i.e., hooks and eyes to direct the wiring from controller to signal. Ratio models produce acceptable semaphore signals for different British railway regions, and they supply control mechanisms to operate them by, with levers. You would need to be careful with them, as fragile as they are. Replacing parts may not be expensive, but could be complicated in repair. Other than Ratio's products are Model Signal Engineering (MSE). This company is based in northern Lincolnshire, and like Ratio have a website and extensive product and price lists. MSE, however, have a much wider range and supply not only more modern semaphore and colour light products, but those to represent earlier and far-flung railway companies such as Great North of Scotland and Midland & Great Northern railway companies that were later incorporated into the London & North Eastern or 'London & Nearly Everywhere' railway (LNER). If you want to model the Taff Vale Railway in Wales they've got them, too, in 4mm, 7mm scale or others.
If you're a dab hand with a soldering iron, MSE presents no problems, as ladders, posts and other non-moving parts are made of etched brass and white metal. Signal arms, cranks and other moving elements are attched, bent and tweaked into shape. Coloured plastic sheet is supplied for for spectacle plates. To help with constructing signals there are two good paper-back publications avaialble: 1) 'Mainline Modelling:1 Constructing & Operating SEMAPHORE SIGNALS published by Challenger ISBN 1-899624-32-5, 2) 'A Scratchbuilder's Guide to SEMAPHORE SIGNALLING CONSTRUCTION' by Peter Squibb, published by Wild Swan, ISBN 978-1-905184-68-2. Both books give many illustrations and line diagrams, mainly b/w and some colour photographs of signals on different regions, of the intermediate stages and the finished modelled results. They also provide ancillary details such as safety rails, how to make them and where to put them. There are signalling diagrams to help you decide what signals go where, and why. Armed with that kind of research, how can you go wrong (- well, I can and have, but that's another story)!
Step-by-step instructions are given - the first book was written in conjunction with MSE's products, and give a very detailed idea of your progress. They also tell of pitfalls and how to avoid them. The second book is particularly helpful on Great Western (GW) and London Midland & Scottish (LMSR) constituent signalling. Some LNER constituent signalling is included. I would read these publications and take photographs on location where possible before tackling the scale versions, it could save a lot of headaches!
Assuming you've passed the stage of selecting, modelling and positioning of your signals, the next stage is signal boxes (or 'cabins' in Northeastern parlance). Choosing the signal control structures is as important as getting the signalling itself right. Right? OK, just checking.
Each company, each region on British railways is different, within their constituent areas and even down the same branches. Within the North Eastern originally there were the Northern, Central and Southern Divisions with their own signalling engineers and architects. Later the Central division was dropped, leaving the other two overlapping, In LNER days new, blander concrete and brick structures on the York-Newcastle stretch replaced the more ornate period types due to bomb damage after WWII. Pressures of time, money and convenience. If you're prepared to depict, say, Northallerton, Darlington or other modern structures such as Stratford (London East) and Croydon (Southern) on your line study the buildings. While there are obvious similarities there are also nuances.
Then there are the station buildings. When modelling a particular location you are well served with taking photographs on site if the stations have changed little. With lines that have been denuded of stations or have been closed and lifted there may be structures still available where they were originally. In some instances buildings have been moved and sited out of the way, or partly demolished. Take pictures, and look for period images in old magazines, society periodicals (the North Eastern Railway Association has an archive and library of images online and at Darlington North Road Museum. Approach the Chairman John Addyman: firstname.lastname@example.org for access permission). There are books in the series 'Lost Lines...' and Railway Memories...' that show buildings in photographs. There are also track and station diagrams available online. These show where the pointwork fitted, with distances between sections and lengths of sidings (including 'standage', and where the coal depots, goods sheds and weigh offices stood.
How much of yourself you put into the models will show in the final result, obviously. As you go on you get better. If you've got the patience to deal with difficulties along the way, 'good on yer!' otherwise you've got to learn to deal with it in your own way.
There are many other factors, such as lineside buildings (platelayers' huts, fogmen's huts, gangers' shelters, decommissioned signal boxes, cattle-creeps, footbridges, farm and other buildings. You can find kits, if the actual structure you want is for a layout of your own invention, or build 'from scratch' if you're looking for a particular type of architecture - as in a region of the railways not covered by kits available - or a definite building in THAT particular location. Again, consult drawings, old photographs or images you have taken yourself. Somebody is bound to have a picture, even if it's a local newspaper.
Next: Modelling locomotives
Signal kits - NER vintage from Model Signal Engineering (part of Wizard Models)
British Railway Signalling Development
Railway Signalling and Track Plans
How far you want to take your hobby. how realistic you want your layout to be:
Whatever level you take it to, get the basics of signalling right. Some railways went further than others in their signalling development. The North Eastern was famed for the level they took it to. There are three books advertised on this page that specialise in this field, each as informative as the other and that will give you some good pictorial guidance on the subject.
The one on the right by Robert Hendry gives you a detailed look at British Railways signalling for modeller and historian alike, the whys and wherefores of signals and signalling equipment and where they belong. Take your time, not everybody understands how they work. Some take to the subject matter like ducks to water.
The one below, 'Railway Signalling and Track Plans' by Bob Essery also helps with understanding what goes where and why. These authors are among the best in the field on the subject of railways and help modellers - advanced or beginner - achieve the best results through careful study and observation..Enjoy the read, buy and study diagrams and photographs - you might even meet someone who worked with semaphore signalling on the railway, ask them.
An excellent, extensive source of kits and information:
Model Signal Engineering
- Wizard Models, the specialists in railway modelling
The entry point to Wizard Models' website - the specialists in supplying the dfiscerning finescale british railway modeller
More inspiration - or is it intimidation? A few interesting signal cabins to consider
Aspects of Modelling - Signalling by Nigel Digby
Here's a bonus, you can never get too much advice on the subject, Nigel Digby's book on model railway signalling in the Aspects of Modelling series (time to buy another bookcase?) gives another specialist overview of the subject for those who wish to replicate their particular chosen era on a personal level. Positioning, types, eras and regions of signals at junctions or along a route (starter, distant, home). Remember even within one large company there were divisional and branch differences. On the North Eastern, for instances, there were originally Northern, Central and Southern Divisions, later Northern and Southern. Signal cabin types varied also from north to south between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and York..
There are three titles I can recommend this time:
A Scratchbuilder's Guide to SEMAPHORE SIGNAL CONSTRUCTION by Peter Squibb, publ Wild Swan Publications Ltd., 2010, ISBN 978-1-905184-68-2 :- colour and black & white images, 'how to' guidance, diagrams and close-ups of moving parts, details on materials used and painting guides;
MAINLINE MODELLING 1: Contructing and operating SEMAPHORE SIGNALS by Mick Nicholson, publ. Challenger Publications 1999, ISBN 1-899624-32-5 :- Using parts from ModelSignal Engineering (MSE), Mick Nicholson takes you stage by stage through assembling and operating signalling on model railways with drawings, photographs and signalling diagrams over various British railway systems. Can be used as a workshop manual, as can also Peter Squibb's book;
SIMPLY SCENERY - An Insight into the Art of Landscape Modelling by Tony Hill, publ. Irwell Press ISBN 1-871608-36-8 :- Black & White and colour images and diagrams, 'how to' processes and techniques on strata, trees, vegetation, walls and hedges. There is a list of tools at the beginning of the book. These are options, not 'must haves'. Unless you're a professional scenic modelbuilder you don't need to buy in many of the tools. All very well if you have them as a DIY-er, you're halfway there already.
Each railway company had its own practices, its own signal cabin architecture - some even had divers types of cabin within one area or one company. The North Eastern Railway was divided originally into Northern, Central and Southern divisions, later reduced to Northern and Southern. Where space did not allow on one side or the other of the main line signal cabins were built on gantries, about 16 feet high. All the wires and controls were guided down to the ground in pipework, cranks taking the wires from the horizontal, to the vertical and back to horizontal for point control, and back to the vertical again for semaphore signal control! When signalling was converted to electronic many cabins were made redundant and the doors/windows blocked. Some ground cabins were reduced to one window, controls operated remotely with the help of cameras some distance away. If you're modelling the early days you'll have small cabins, bigger ones and yet bigger ones (like at York or Darlington) that were at least four times the length of local station cabins. Some went the other way, being only one window wide by one window long with a door let in at the back for operator access. Many branch line crossing cabins or station platform cabins were very basic with perhaps only ten levers, one to release the gate catch. A large wheel was turned to open/close the gates, and looking outward the signalman would have a shelf at head height with the block instruments, bells and so on. Now you have mostly lifting barriers, but with some crossings having modified long gates on wheels (such as at Redcar, east of Middlesbrough) You can buy signal cabin interior kits, the inside was fairly uniform. By law certain practices had to be followed no matter what company the 'bobby' worked for (originally 'signalling' was just a policeman waving on rail traffic, called 'bobbies' after Sir Robert Peel). The intermediary in signal technology was gas powered signalling, such as on the East Coast Main Line between York and Darlington, where the signalman only had to press a button or pull a small hand lever on a panel to change the 'aspect'. When colour light signalling came in, power boxes were retained, but with reduced field of vision because cctv told them what was going on. With the introduction of IECC (integrated electronic control circuit) the number of control points between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh was reduced to four: KX, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh. Modelling skills make way for observational skills and blanked out windows on branchline cabins. Steel boxes at the rail side hold circuits and so on, the scene being much simplified. it's like back to square one without the visible 'bobbies' at the railside.
Enjoy your hobby!
Single post signal installations
More by this Author
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