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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wrong Railing Across the Pond

How many Full Time Employees does it take to run a train against the flow of traffic on a section of double track manual block signaled track? Well the answer depends on which side of the Atlantic Ocean one finds themselves on.  In North America the answer is between three and one.  You can have a dispatcher transmit train orders to block operators on either end of the segment or simply use a radio to transmit the orders directly to the train.  However in the United Kingdom the answer starts at 3 and increases from there. 

In mechanically signaled manual block territory you first need to employ signalmen at either end of the track segment.  Then all wrong direction movements need a pilotman to chaperone all trains through the section of single track operation.  Back in the day when stationmasters were still in existence both of them had to be informed so that is a total of five workers.  Then because most block stations were only equipped with non-locked trailing point crossovers you needed another two men to spike and wedge the points prior to a train movement.  Finally where main line spring worked catch points were employed you needed another person to spike and wedge those as well. The total number comes out to between 5 and 9 depending on the circumstances.  Of course the one thing they don't have is a dispatcher.  All authority is worked out between the signalmen and the pilotman.

If this sounds confusing not to worry...British Rail put together an easy to understand training film on how single line working is to be carried out.  Just about the only sensible thing they do us to use both block instruments for the single track...shame they couldn't dream up a procedure to eliminate the 5 or so extra people involved.

If your eyes are spinning here is a bit of North American practice to take the edge off.  Here is video from Viaduct Junction in Cumberland, MD with Amtrak T30 getting some train orders hooped up followed by the operator copying down some train orders.

Ahhhh, modern efficiency.


  1. Best quote: "This straightforward case has demonstrated the basic principles of single line working."

    1. If that was everything that went into "straightforward" I'd hate to see what is required of a complicated case.

    2. No kidding. I kept wondering what would happen if the pilot got stranded on the wrong side accidentally...