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             introduction to signalling
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When wondering around exhibitions, it become clear to me that many modellers make little attempt to get their signalling correct. This is not at all surprising as it is an extremely complex field. There are indeed some real experts around but they are quite thin on the ground. I have one friend who actually operates his 009 narrow gauge railway with beautiful replica lever frames and miniature electric train staff.

working model of a miniature electric train staff by Bob Barnard

Airliners are the safest way to travel these days. This can be partially attributed to the fact that the industry has learned from its mistakes (crashes). In the same way, the safety requirements of railways have become increasingly sophisticated in order to avoid disasters of the past. Obviously, the worst thing that can happen is a 'cornfield'. This is a head on collision between two trains that have found themselves on the same track. Gradually, the design of railways minimised the chances of this happening.

Just as in models, facing points are a potential danger in real railways. Railway designers try to avoid this situation when possible and require special locking devices in some circumstances.   

In order to stop locos wandering onto the main line from sidings, the siding may well be fitted with catch points. These are interlocked with signals so only an idiot would actually drive across one. Sadly we do have quite a few idiots around! The photo below shows the consequences.

Peco catch point

Rather than tip over locomotives, where possible a head shunt is installed. This also enables trains to shunt without entering the main line.

So signalling is linked to point operation. The levers in a signal cabin mechanically ensure that they are. Model signals are available for some popular scales. Many are very crude and do not operate. Probably the best signalling in several scales is produced by Model Signal Engineering. Obviously, the smaller the scale, the harder the kits are to build. This company will also supply special motors that replicate the prototypical movement for signals.

Some model signals can also be operated by memory wire.

Of course the most wayward railways lines did not bother with any of this and got away with it by operating one engine in steam or ran at such a slow speed that nothing much would happen!

You will either get drawn in to this subject or shy away. Working model signals, whether semaphore or lights does add another dimension to your model railway. Many countries have signals which are unique to themselves.

derelict French signals