The Signal Box on Swanage Railway

The Signal Box

The damp and grey Wednesday morning drive towards Corfe Castle Station on Swanage Railway did nothing to dampen my excitement. I was lucky enough to be visiting The Signal Box, Corfe Castle Station. The signal box is only five years old with the opening being shown on BBC South West Today in 2012. Geoff Truscott, a volunteer signalman, had invited me to join him for a couple of hours to see how the signalling works on this lovely little railway (and also to see the trains).

As I arrived there were a number of different bells ringing, these are a simple but effective form of communication between signal boxes. The bell from Harmans Cross rang three times then once, to which Geoff replied with three rings and one ring. He explained this was to confirm that the signal boxes were both open and ready for business. A similar sequence of ringing went ahead between Geoff (at Corfe Castle) and the signalman at Swanage Station.

The signal boxes were now OPEN and the railway was ready for the first train of the morning.

Everything is focused on safety. This ensures that the line is clear and there is no risk of a collision.

Changing the points

Now to make sure that the points were set correctly for the first train to come through. All the levers are on an interlock which means that you cannot pull one without another being in the correct position.

The levers are colour coded which helps to identify what they do – the blue levers are the interlocks, the black ones are for the points and the red ones for the signals. The red levers also have a timed interlock so that you are not able to change the signal from safe to danger and back to safe again too quickly.


Tokens in the signal box

Now to be sure that there is only one train on the line at any one time there is a token system – which pass from signal man to driver of the train at each signal box. Only one of these tokens can be on the section of track at any one time as this also forms part of the interlocking system. These token systems were introduced on single track railways to avoid two trains colliding from using the same section of track at the same time.



Signals to Stop

Changing the signals is another duty, if the signal is set to Stop (horizontal) then no train should pass the signal, if it is set to Clear (pointing up at about 45 degrees) then the track in front is clear and the trains can proceed. Recently the line was opened up to join the mainline in Wareham and the diesel trains can run through to this station. At present the steam trains only go as far as the park and ride at Norden due to the amount of additional equipment that would be needed for them to go to the mainline stations. Everything that happens in the signal box is recorded with date, time and signature — this is a legal document and would be used as evidence if an incident were to occur.


Train arriving at Platform 1

The first train of the morning to arrive at Platform 1 was the steam train from Swanage to Norden. This is known as the “Upline” as it heads up towards London. On pulling into the station Geoff went down to the track to exchange tokens to clear the line from Harmans Cross to Corfe Castle and also to allow the onward journey to Norden.

The second train to arrive at Corfe Castle again on the “upline” was a diesel train – this train was destined for Wareham and connection to the mainline railway. Geoff again exchanged tokens, but also had to inform Basingstoke that the train would be leaving for Wareham using a preset script transferring “ownership” of the signalling through to the mainline signalmen.

After a few minutes the steam train returned to Corfe Castle on the “downline” — lines heading away from London — as there are two sets of track at Corfe Castle station this the place for the trains to cross over and continue their onward journeys – this time Geoff transferred the tokens between him and the train while the train was in motion to save time and ensure an efficient and timely service.

It was a fantastic couple of hours and the work done by all the volunteers keeping this wonderful little branch line operational is just amazing. Thank you to Geoff and Swanage Railway for letting me come and visit for the morning.

Next time you are down in the Corfe Castle / Swanage area take a visit to Swanage railway it is great fun for all the family, informative for the youngsters and a bit of nostalgia for the rest of us. Don’t forget to wave to the signalmen as they do their job and keep you all safe on your journey.

Browse cottages in the Swanage/Purbeck area.