THE SIGNAL BOX

BLOCK SYSTEM

BELL SIGNAL VARIATIONS

Bell signals in use before 1960

On this page:
[ Before 1923 | 1923 - 1948 ]


Standardisation of bell signals

The 1960 Signalling Regulations were the first to be issued in the name of one nationwide company - British Railways. What isn't always appreciated is that the signalling regulations were broadly in harmony since the early 1900s or before. Under the eye of the Railway Clearing House, each individual railway company was required to comply with the same basic principles when signalling its trains.

Nevertheless, there were minor variations - some to suit local circumstances, and others that simply clung on to past methods. Even in 1960, the Southern Region of BR insisted on continuing to use its own range of Is Line Clear? signals. Those codes are listed on the page covering the 1960 regulations, but this page is devoted to unusual and non-standard bell signals found in pre-grouping and pre-nationalisation regulations.

Nor should it be overlooked that a lot more bell signals were in use than were ever found in the regulation books. Every box had its own local instructions, footnotes, block card, or whatever you like to call it, detailing variations to the standard rules and regulations. In many cases, local circumstances demanded additional bell signals, the most common being codes to identify the destination of trains to simplify the working of junction boxes.

Before the Grouping (up to 1923)

Great Southern & Western Railway (1905)

3 - 3 Release train tablet or staff. Sent after the Is Line Clear bell signal has been acknowledged.
6 Line is not clear. An interesting use of the Obstruction Danger bell code. On single line tablet sections, this bell signal had to be sent to indicate when a train could not be accepted.
4 - 4 Turn telephone switch. The GS&W had three-position switches in some boxes, which switched the block wire to a "block" telephone. The switch could be turned to connect with the box on the Up side, the Down side, or the signalling instruments.

Highland Railway (1920)

1 - 2 Line clear. This bell signal was used in preference to repetition of the Is Line Clear signal for the acceptance of trains.
4 - 3 Repeat signal. Used when a bell signal has not been understood.
4 - 4 Amend signal. Used for same purpose as 5-3 in 1960 regulations.
8 - 2 - 2 Cancel bank engine in rear of train.

Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (1919)

6 - 5 - 5 To what box am I working? Used when switching in when telephone out of order. The bell signal would be acknowledged by a special signal exhibited in the box concerned, which itself would be acknowledged by repetition.
4 - 2 - 2 Cancel "Engine assisting in rear of train".
4 - 3 - 1 Cancelling "Engine and Brake Van assisting in rear of train".

The pre-grouping regulations remained in use until each of the Big Four companies issued their own books, which didn't happen until the 1930s.


After the Grouping, but before Nationalisation (1923-1948)

Great Western Railway (1936)

Any number of beats in rapid succession Emergency Call Attention. Used to precede the sending of an emergency bell signal.
3 - 1 - 3 Is Line Clear for Rail Motor Car, Auto-Train or Streamline Rail Car? Until 1939.
3 - 1 - 3 Is Line Clear for Auto-Train? From 1939.
4 - 1 - 3 Is Line Clear for Express Diesel Car? From 1939.
5 - 1 - 3 Is Line Clear for Ordinary Passenger or Parcels Diesel Car? From 1939.
4 - 4 Is Line Clear for "C" headlamp freight?
2 - 2 - 3 Is Line Clear for "D" headlamp freight?
3 - 4 - 1 Is Line Clear for "H" headlamp freight?
2 - 2 - 2 Line clear to clearing point only. Used where sections are short and inadequate braking distance from distant signal. Most other railways would use Distant Indicator Working in such situations.
1 - 2 - 3 Blocking back outside home signal for train already in section. Used when a train has arrived inside the home signal, and subsequently needs to set back outside the home, similar to Blocking Back Outside Home (3 - 3)
3 - 4 Take slot off, train waiting. Used where a starting signal is also slotted as the outer home of the box in advance. The box in advance might not be able to see that the train has come nearly to a stand for the purposes of Rule 39(a).

London & North Eastern Railway (1939)

The booklet for the working of Single Lines suggests that there were no bell signal variations. However, on Permissive Goods lines, the procedure was to acknowledge the 2 - 4 - 2 acceptance signal with 1 beat rather than repetition.

London, Midland & Scottish Railway (1934)

2 - 1 - 4 Is Line Clear for Motor Trolley?
4 - 2 - 2 Cancel "Engine assisting in rear of train"
4 - 3 - 1 Cancelling "Engine and Brake Van assisting in rear of train".
7 - 2 Train passed with side light out or improper side light exhibited.
3 - 1 - 4 Cancelling "Train or vehicles running away".

London, Midland & Scottish Railway (1947)

3 - 1 - 2 Is Line Clear for Rail Motor, Motor train or Electric Train? Until 1950.
2 - 2 - 1 - 1 Is Line Clear for Empty Rail Motor, Empty Motor train or Empty Electric Train? Until 1950.
4 - 1 - 1
4 - 2 - 5
4 - 4 - 5
Is Line Clear for train conveying out-of-gauge load? The different codes were used for different categories of restrictions.
2 - 1 --4 Is Line Clear for Motor Trolley?
1 - 5 - 2 Is Line Clear for Freight Trains coupled together?
4 - 2 - 2 Cancel "Engine assisting in rear of train"
4 - 3 - 1 Cancel "Engine and Brake Van assisting in rear of train".
1 - 3 - 5 Ballast, freight or inspection train shunted at intermediate siding clear of the running line, or withdrawn from section, or trolley removed from line or withdrawn from section. Used by box in rear in lieu of Cancelling bell signal.
3 - 3 - 1 Train being stopped for examination. Sent to the box in rear, when sending "Stop and Examine Train" to the box in advance, to indicate the line may be obstructed or damaged.
5 - 2 - 3 Train incomplete. Used as an alternative to "Train passed without tail lamp" to the box in rear, defining a difference between a missing tail lamp and a divided train.
3 - 1 - 4 Cancelling "Train or vehicles running away on right line".
3 - 3 - 3 Line Clear required for closing or testing. Used when starting signal is locked by the block, when switching box out, or for testing purposes.
4 - 1 - 3 Signal cleared, testing complete, replace block indicator to Normal.
5 - 1 Train in advance section. Used where a box requires to switch out and the section ahead is occupied
1 - 5 Blocking back for section ahead. Used where a box requires to switch out, and the "Blocking Back inside home signal" has been received.
3 - 2 - 1 Testing sections switched through. Like 16 beats.

Southern Railway (1930)

4 - 2 Is Line Clear for Shunt Movement on Down Line? Used for shunting between signal boxes within Station Limits* in normal direction of travel.
4 - 3 Is Line Clear for Shunting Movement on Up Line? Used for shunting between signal boxes within Station Limits* in normal direction of travel.
2 - 1 - 2 Release slot for shunting. Used for shunting between signal boxes within Station Limits* in normal direction of travel.
3 Replace slot, shunting completed. Used for shunting between signal boxes within Station Limits* in normal direction of travel.
3 - 5 - 1 cancelling "Is Line Clear for Shunt Movement?" signal. Used for shunting between signal boxes within Station Limits* in normal direction of travel.
1 - 2 May shunt movement be made on wrong line? Used for shunting between signal boxes within Station Limits* in reverse direction.
2 - 3 - 2 Wrong line shunt movement clear of section at box in rear. Used for shunting between signal boxes within Station Limits* in reverse direction.

* - note that the SR's definition of Station Limits referred to a station area rather than BR's definition, which was the area within signals controlled by a single signal box.

The Southern Railway also, of course, had its own range of Is Line Clear? signals, as perpetuated in the BR 1960 Regulations.

The pre-nationalisation regulations remained in use until British Railways issued their own books.


I don't have access to all old signalling regulation books. Can you provide details for any company not mentioned here?

Additional notes by Mike Hodgson