NEWS 2016

(Clicking on photos below will open a full-size version in a new window;
closing that window will bring you back here.)

December - Box Projects shortlisted for Heritage Railway Association award!

In November we submitted both the LED signal installation (see July and before below) and the Midland Railway telegraph 'Pole Route' (see below as well) as entries in the HRA's annual awards scheme.

We learnt that we've been 'shortlisted' for the "Special Meritorious Award" - quite a feather in our cap just to be short-listed when we found out we're up against the Gresley Society, Vintage Trains and the NRM's restoration of Flying Scotsman!

We won't know until February 2017 if we have succeeded or not.

November - a Finial effort for the year

We've been suffering leaks through the base of the roof finials which we have at last got round to sorting out. Led by our Chairman, appropriate ladders were set up and both finials cleaned and painted.
Top - North finial after adding mastic to fully seal the lead flashing, cleaning and starting to paint.
Middle - continuing the painting of the North finial.
Bottom - painting the South finial after applying the mastic and cleaning it.

We are planning a complete repaint of the box exterior during 2017; some areas facing the prevailing wind, rain and sun have weathered significantly since the last repaint in 2013.


November - Extended Garden Railway

The garden railway has been extended to give a better view of the trains and to make running easier for them. The top picture shows from ground level how the line has been extended along the flowerbed, dodging the street light as it goes. The bottom picture, taken from the signal on the lawn, shows how we've formed a 'tunnel' (complete with entrance) on the rear of the railway to protect it from leaves and greenery, due to its nearness to the hedge. It has been made in sections we can lift off for access.

We're wondering at the moment if we need to develop a "Rail Head Treatment Train" to clear the leaves off the track........

November - Pole Route Completed!

The demonstration pole route, showing what was once common alongside the line, has been finished with the installation of the wires, completed on November 13th.

Photo 1 shows our contractor working on fixing the wires in place. Photo 2 is a close-up of the pole he's working on from the signal lamp platform seen in (1); the insulators are of a type developed by William Langdon when he was Telegraph Suprintendent of the Midland Railway. Photo 3 shows the complete four-pole run taken from one of the signals at the North end of the garden. Photo 4 is a view of the link between one of the poles and the signal box.





October/November - Wild Life at the Box

For most of October, the last of the four 1970s colour light signals - the one with a 'Feather' - had not been able to show a green aspect. Tests had shown that the controller in the box was sending out the correct operating voltage, but that it wasn't reaching the signal. Only once the heavy plant growth had been cut back could we access the duct in which the wires ran, and found some small creature with sharp teeth had apparently been sharpening its teeth on our smaller wires - see top picture >

Once out of the duct, it was clear we had one wire cut through, which was why the green aspect wasn't working. The bottom picture is a close-up of the wires after removal from the duct. The damaged wires have been replaced and all is working as it should. There are plans in hand to renovate this demonstration, including remounting and rewiring all four signals, which should prevent any future problems of this nature.


October - 'Pole Route erection' part 1

The Preservation Trust has arranged for the erection of a typical 'Pole Route' - the original way in which electric circuits for communication by the block instruments, and later  by telephone, were connected between signal boxes. They were also for relaying indications from signals about arm positions and that lamps were working properly. The photos show, from left to right, some of the poles being prepared, the first pole shortly after erection and below with the arms added, and the final picture is the second pole put up. Note too the insulators on the corner of the box.


August - September - OFF and CD/RA INDICATORS

We've been given a pair of indicators used on platforms to help the dispatch of trains. 'OFF' is lit when the signal at the end of the platform is showing a proceed (clear) aspect, so that the platform staff know when it is safe to start dispatching the train. 'CD' and 'RA' are at the driver's end of the train - CD (Close Doors) is turned on by platform staff to inform the driver he can close the doors; when that is done, the platform staff then illuminate the RA (Right Away) sign to tell the driver that he can move off if he is satisfied it's alright to do so.

Experiments have started to see if the 55watt car headlamp bulb that illuminates each sign through fibre-optics can be replaced by a much lower wattage LED bulb, with promising results. Top: Indicator lit by 55w bulb; Centre: The interior showing the lamp on the left and the optic fibres running to the face of the indicator; Lower photo: indicator lit by a 3.5watt LED bulb - probably needs to be a 5w one.


Heritage Open Days - September 10th/11th

Our usual busiest days of the year - 562 visitors over the two days, slightly less than usual as the Saturday was rather wet. But on Sunday we enjoyed warm sunshine. Demonstrations ran virtually non-stop upstairs, while on Saturday a minature railway gave rides outside and on Sunday we had a model steam traction engine instead.

Entrance:                                Sales:                                  Levers & Marquee:                 Model Railway:                


   Model signals:                 Ground floor Museum - unusually empty!

September 3rd

We were invited to attend the Harpenden Methodist Church's "Railway Fun Day" and have a display about the signal box (see the top picture). The largest of the layouts present was this toy railway, in which small battery-powered locos pulled short trains - there was also a road section and even an aircraft 'taking-off' and 'landing'!


August 24th

Our 1970s colour light signals have been erected for some 5 years, and were last painted some 4 years ago. They were looking a little shabby, and we decided to paint them up in time for the Heritage Open Days due shortly in September. One has been done, and work will continue for a week or two on the other three.


A bit faded!


August 20th

Two of our members visited Banbury North signal box for the day to act as guides to visitors, following it's closure at the start of August. A group had tried to preserve it, but money and other practical considerations has prevented this happening. But Network Rail agreed to delay demolition for ten weeks, and invited peopel to visit. Expecting 200-300 people, they got over 2,500 requests!  During the time our members were there they helped escort nearly 80 visitors, in four groups, to and from the box. Once in the box Network Rail people described the workings of the box, and during the half hour or so people had after the talk to look round and work the levers, our two members helped explain the equipment on show and talk about signalling matters - and of course, to invite people to St Albans South!

Exterior view of the 1905 GWR signal box before track works took place

Interior view from the entrance end.


July 6th - LED Signals work for the first time!

The three pictures show several stages in the operation of our new LED Signal demonstration, which became live today following the concerted efforts of a number of our volunteers to mount them and connect them up.

Picture 1: Three-aspect signal (3-A) at yellow, four-aspect (4-A) at double yellow, ground position light (GPL) signal at clear. (Theatre display hidden by foliage!)

Picture 2: Junction Indicator (JI) 4 lit, 3-A at green, 4-A at Red, GPL at red.

Picture 3: JI 5 lit, the 3-A at Green, 4-A at Red.

Picture 1: Picture 2: Picture 3:
The signals are controlled by a purpose-designed controller developed on-site. A set of relays are turned on and off in a defined pattern to light the signals in the required sequence.

Location of contoller

Partly wired-up

Wired-up and working.

June - LED Signals being wired up

The wiring up of the LED signals continues. The left-hand photo shows a general view of the back of the 3-aspect signal, the right-hand photo is a close-up view of the terminals of the 4-aspect signal. The wires are carefully marked to assist the wiring-up and in case any faults develop.

It is expected the demonstration will become 'Live' during July.

June - Second Pole goes up.

The last working party day of June saw the second pole erected for the provision of a light on the area by our 'Lamp Hut'. Besides giving us light to clear up after work in the Winter months, it will also give light on exhibits for party visits at night.

New Attraction on site

Earlier this year, before the plants started springing up, some civil engineering took place in one of our flower beds. The base was prepared and track laid and ballasted. The result, now that plant life has sprouted up around the works, is that the train now appears and disappears as it makes its circuits. A signal box has been installed to control the one point; the only signal so far is hidden in the overgrowth!

June - LED Signal Works continue

Three volunteers spent a Wednesday afternoon prefabricating the  cable runs for the signals. The picture on the left shows the flexible conduit runs with the cable drawn in from near the entrance. Middle picture shows how wiring up the Junction Indicators ('Feathers') has just started. The conduit runs will be buried, with suitable protection, in the flower bed. The picture on the right shows the controller parts being laid out in their box and their positions being marked prior to mounting.

(By the way - note how in the left photo the 'Theatre Display' is mostly hidden by greenery - see photo in "More LED Signal works" below!)

June - Up with the pole!

Not all of the five telegraph posts will be used for our 'pole route' as they are not quite tall enough. But we won't throw them away! We have just erected one of the small poles near to the stairs to the first floor of the box; it will be fitted with a 'yard lamp' to improve the lighting at that end of the box.

June - More LED Signal works

More of the LED signals are now mounted; the photo shows the 'Ground Position Light' and 'Theatre Display'.

Work goes on to get them connected up. Note the slab in the top photo under our Finial display - it's covering a hole where a duct ends through which we plan to run the power supply to the signals and their controller. The lower picture shows the hole - the blue ropes will be used for pulling cables through.


June - Full Steam Ahead - we make a showing at the show

Over the weekend of the 4th/5th of June we attended the St Albans Steam Fair, held in the grounds of Oaklands College off Hatfield Road. We were next to our friends from the North London Society of Model Engineers, who were running their passenger carrying track - a train is just leaving on the left of the photo. We still found people from St Albans who hadn't heard of us! So many leaflets were given out and quite a reasonable amount of sales made as well.

May - LED Signals display progresses

By late May we had got three major components of the new signal display into place. These were the three and four aspect signals and above the three aspect head was the Positions 4 and 5 Junction Indicators. 'Behind the scenes' work included sorting out the demonstration sequence and obtaining the necessary equipment to control the signals.

May - Ramp replaced

A major job in 2008 before we started regular public openings was to pave the path in front of the box. This included a wood ramp going over the wire running from lever 32 in the box to the signal at the far end of the garden. That was nearly 8 years ago, and we realised recently that the wood had become rotten. So it has been completely renewed.

May - Midland Railway Bench Restored

We were given two Midland Railway bench ends with many years of paint on them. By the skills of two of our volunteers, the ends were stripped of all paint, and repainted. New wood was prepared and we now have a nice new MR bench on which volunteers can rest and our visitors can try out and watch the trains pass.

April - Four ways of looking at it?

Another recent acquisition was the four-way lamp recently donated to us - see the picture on the right - enquiries of other signalling experts provided the information that it was a GWR level crossing gate light.

April - Compounded Present

The Trustees were pleasantly surprised to receive a delightful model of one of the last LMS 4-4-0 'Compound' locomotives from Mr Terry Worrall, MVO, FIRO. Mr Worrall made the presentation in recognition of the efforts of the Trust and its volunteers in restoring the box; he started working on the railway at St Albans in 1963 and was allowed to operate the box. He reckons this made a significant contribution towards his successful 53 year career on the railways.

The model is of locomotive 936. This was one of the last batch of five to be built by the LMS in August 1932. It is in the LMS 'Crimson Lake' livery. The locomotive was renumbered 40936 by British Railways, and withdrawn from service in 1961. The model was built in 2002 by Ian Cherry and is to a scale of 10mm to the foot scale (Gauge 1). It is powered by a 12volt motor, although we shall be displaying it as a static exhibit in the ground floor of the box.





April - Pole Party

For some while we've been considering getting several telegraph poles to create a 'Pole Route' along the garden to show how the telegraph system worked before the use of lineside cables and mobile telephones took place. A member came across some old poles and the owner of them said we could have them if we could provide a working party to load them onto his lorry at his premises and unload them at the box. So one lovely sunny day in April the pole-gathering expedition set forth!

We loaded up five poles onto the lorry and got them back to the box without incident. They've since been stripped of all fittings and tided up into a stacked group to give us room to move.


March - Colour Contrast

This photograph shows one of the new 'Gatwick' trains that are currently being 'run-in' on the adjacent line. Shame they didn't chose a colour that better matched the box!

February - Lighting the stairs

During the Winter months and when we have party visits in the evening for much of the year, it has been difficult lighting the bottom of the stairs. But we've now deployed one of the new Junction Indicators ('Feather') onto the 4-aspect lamp that was on static display by the stairs to the first floor of the box. Turning the signal around so it backs onto the railway line, the feather now provides light to the bottom of the stairs!

We've not used the usual 12 volt 24Watt signal lamps in the feather or the signal for the green aspect, but modern 3.5Watt 12v LED reflector lamps, the feather being modified to accomodate them.

February - More on the Train Describer unit

Working on Wednesday afternoons, the unit has been opened up. The picture (top) shows the interior. It has taken two of our volunteers some hours to work out the existing wiring, which, as you can see, is rather untidy.

The unit has been powered up - the picture (centre) shows how it looks in the first stage of the demonstration. Unfortunately it seems there are wrong and missing connections, and the unit's second stage does not work.

The picture (bottom) shows the third stage of the demonstration - note the train has moved from the describer on the lower right to the describer on the left of the panel.







February - Train Describer unit from the National Railway Museum

A train describer unit has been obtained from the National Railway Museum. as surplus to their requirements.

The first image shows the overall unit with the "eNtrance-eXit" (N-X) panel on the left, two signal relays and a model stop signal.The second image is a close-up of the N-X panel. Buttons on the panel enable the route to be set up from either of the two tracks on the right to the single track on the left.

The unit was made by the Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company around 1970, originally, we are told, for the Science Museum at South Kensington. The third picture shows the label put on the unit by them.




February - 15,000th Visitor

On Sunday 14th February, 3 year old Eddy Palmer of Dunstable became the 15,000th visitor to St Albans South Signal Box since October 2008. With members of his family he tried his hand at ringing the bells and pulling the levers. Signal Box Trust Chairman, Tony Furse, commented: "We are proud to have reached this milestone in the recent history of our 124 year old signal box. We are delighted to welcome the many families and children who come to visit this hidden gem and to learn about the City's transport past and view the modern railway at the same time."

In the picture Eddy is practising his signalling skills no doubt inherited from his Great Grandfather Eddie Williams who was a signalman at St Albans South in the 1960s.

January - Open days and the Alban Arena

The weekend of the 16th/17th January saw the box open for extended days during the Chiltern Model Railway Association (CMRA)'s annual exhibition at the Alban Arena. Besides the box being open, we also had a stand at the show. About 190 people visited the box over the two days. And two members manning the stand were featured in a Herts Advertiser article about the show, which was the last CMRA exhibition to be held in St Albans. (From 2017 the exhibition will be held at Stevenage Leisure Centre with better facilities, particularly being on one level for disabled people, a larger display area and free parking.)

January - New signals on demonstration

Following delivery of the signals shown below, we were able to try several out during the following week.

Left: ground position light (GPL) signal at 'stop'.

Centre: the GPL at 'clear' and the theatre indicator showing "R".

Right: the three-aspect showing "Yellow".




January - New signalling acquisitions

2016 got off to a flying start - late last year a visitor offered us some surplus items from his company in the Midlands.

They were brought down in a hired van by two of our members on Tuesday 12th January and by Weds 13th the signals were on temporary display.



We have the following:

  • LED GPL and 'R' display Theatre Indicator:
  • Three and Four-aspect LED signals:
  • LED Positions 4 and 5 Junction Indicators:

All the signals bear manufacturing dates from 2004-2008

Plans are now underway on mounting the signals for permanent display. One problem may be the brightness of the LED signals at the short viewing range - but we'll sort that out once we've a better idea of how to position them!

LED GPL and 'R' display Theatre Indicator: