A Lesson in Tower Preservation
By William A. Burke, Jr.
An acquaintance from Great Britain once accompanied me to a well known preservation society, and was interested to see a signal tower and semaphore signals at lineside. A look inside the tower revealed that it had been stripped of its interlocking apparatus preparatory to becoming a museum, and the semaphores outside were non-operational cosmetics. Train movements were governed by the crews using walkie-talkies. What happened to real railroading?
Thankfully the metallic sound of 'armstrong' levers is not a thing of the past, and the price of an airline ticket is worth the investment to see railroading as God intended.. Great Britain, a pioneer in interlocking and signaling devices, has an abundance of 'traditional' towers, some even still in operation on main lines. But where the preservation societies are concerned, things are much different than in the USA. In this country the focus is principally on the train. Where more than one train is operated, 2-way radios govern movements. There appears to be no interest in preserving the entire atmosphere of yesteryear's railroading.
Britain is just the reverse.. Signal towers are manned by volunteers, stations are staffed by uniformed personnel, and the trains are governed by semaphore signals. On lines where societies took over abandoned railways, the towers have been reactivated, and in other locations where new trackage has been laid down, 'new' towers were built, complete with levers, bell-telegraphs, and semaphores. The Severn Valley Railway recently constructed a brand new brick tower at its Kidderminster terminus. Armstrong levers are in place and lower-quadrant semaphores are operational. What is the matter with the USA? Why can't we do likewise? Signaling was a tradition in this country as well, yet little, if anything, is done by way of preservation in an active mode. We certainly have a lot to learn..
The author at the frame of Hedington Box on the Colne Valley Railway, Castle Hedington, Essex, U.K.
Hedington Box controls movements in the immediate vicinity of Castle Hedington Station on the Colne Valley Railway, a preservation society in East Anglia.
Traditional semaphores govern movements on most preservation railways in the U.K.. This Colne Valley train has the signal to depart Castle Hedington Station.
The signalman at Chappel North signalbox passes the 'token' to the driver of a passenger train, giving permission to occupy the block ahead.
The signalman at Chappel North observes the passage of a steam locomotive on the Stour Valley Railway at Chappel & Wakes Colne, an East Anglian preservation railway.
[Photos by William A. Burke, Jr.]