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The London & South Western page 4


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It has a fleet of eighteen vessels of its own, and has a half share in the Ryde boats from Portsmouth and Stokes Bay, the other half being held by the Brighton company. Two of its small boats do the service from Lymington to Yarmouth at the west end of the Isle of Wight, where, at each port, there are special slipways to provide for motor-cars running on and off the boat without being slung; another acts as a tender at Plymouth; the other fifteen plying between Southampton and the Channel Islands, and the northern ports of France from Havre to Roscoff. The amount of fruit and vegetables these Channel boats bring into the country can only be appreciated by those who have waited in them at Guernsey while cartload upon cartload comes pouring into them, or seen the whole cargo unloaded and dealt with at Southampton. It is not only Jersey potatoes that arrive in tons, nor cauliflowers, nor tomatoes, but almost everything, even strawberries, that are shipped in such quantities from Honfleur and St. Malo, that they not only fill the holds but occasionally half the deck. Only one thing seems special to any particular port, and that is those best of onions from Brittany, which come from Roscoff in baskets and are strung on to straw ropes in their last stage of transit. This is a curious little trade, for the men come with them, and after selling them from door to door in the chief cities, keeping a record of the address of every purchaser, meet at Southampton to return together by the same boat.

It was the South Western that gave the first trial to automatic signalling, the section of line being between Andover and Grateley on the main road to Salisbury. On that 61 miles the apparatus began to work on the 20th of April 1902, the first to attract attention of several systems now developing so fast that the old signal-box with its signalmen is evidently doomed.

Who invented signalling is not clear, but it began with the hat and umbrella, and officially with the red necktie. That red neckerchief has done much good work in its time both by day and night, for at night it has been stretched over a lamp and given warning of danger to a train that was running into the scene of an accident.

Once, according to Williams, a red pocket-handkerchief was used for train-stopping purposes by an Irishman trespassing on the Great Western, who seeing an express approaching ran a short distance up the side of a cutting and waved it at the end of a stick. The warning was not disregarded, the brakes were applied, and the train came to a halt. A hundred heads were thrust out of the carriage windows, and the guard had scarcely time to ask what was the matter before the Irishman asked to be given a bit of a ride. So polite a request was not to be denied, and the guard as politely answered, "Oh, certainly; jump in here." The Irishman was soon ensconced in the luggage van, but instead of having the ride for his thanks, the guard handed him over to the magisterial authorities, who taught him that railway companies did not run expresses for giving lifts to practical jokers.

Night signals seem to have begun with the tallow candle stuck in his window by a Stockton & Darlington stationmaster when he had a passenger waiting for the train. When the Liverpool & Manchester opened in 1830 the candle had got into a lamp and the necktie had become a flag. Four years afterwards the flag and lamp had mounted a post 5 ft. high; and in the course of the next three years the post had grown to 12 ft., the flag had become a disk, and the lamp had red glass in one of its panels. These disks, which were adopted because the flag always blew to leeward and the wind did not always blow from one direction, were turned parallel to the line for all clear, as a rule, but in some cases they were hinged at the top so that they could be worked like a lid.

Many of the railway companies have a few of their old signals kept as curiosities. At Gloucester the Great Western has quite a collection. In these the cross-bar appears, and it is at right angles to the disk. The mainline down signal has one disk and the bar with return ends pointing downwards, the up signal having no return ends, the signal at level crossings having ends pointing both up and down. On branch lines there were two disks and two bars, the smaller in each case being at the top, the ups having no return ends, and the downs having the down-pointing ends as on the main line. One signal, from Windsor viaduct, is a large disk with a wide rim; this was known as a tambourine, and it showed as a circle when upright and as a bar when horizontal. Another of the sort that continued in use on the Forest of Dean until 1904, is a plain flat bar with a swallow-tail at one end and a point at the other such as is now used by the platelayers; and another is the capstan worked by a lever which was used at facing points. It was from these that the present disk signals were developed.

In 1841 there was erected at New Cross the first semaphore used on a railway. The only originality was in the application, for close by on Telegraph Hill was one of the series of semaphores communicating with Dover. These were the old telegraphs for which the word - sema a signal, and pharos, bearing - was coined, and they had existed for half a century before Charles Gregory used them for the railway purposes. There is one at Portsmouth dockyard still, and they were on every prominent hill between the Admiralty and the coast for the transmission of messages in the style still used by the navy and army. In short, the semaphore was the telegraph, and we talk of the electric telegraph to distinguish it from the mechanical one from the motions of whose arm it got the beats of the needle and the dots and dashes of the Morse code.

Just as the capstan signal was worked by a lever at the base, so was the semaphore. There were no leading wires, and the man had to be at his post, in both senses, when the arm was raised or lowered. This, however, did not last long, for on the North British a certain porter was given two signals to look after, and to save himself the trouble of walking from one to the other he brought along a pulley and some wire, and hanging a broken chair on to the lever as a counterweight, he fastened one end of the wire to the lever, passed the other through the pulley, and worked the signal comfortably from his hut. It was a simple thing, such as a boy would have thought of, but it started railway signalling as we know it, and that hut at Meadowbank was the first signal-box.

At many junctions the signalman was also pointsman, his duty being to move the sliding guide-rail and fix it into position with an iron pin; but when Sir Charles Fox invented the switch the rods were led into the signal-box, and the man had to look after two sets of levers, those for the signals and those for the points. The next step was the interlocking, which came in about 1843, though nothing much was done with it until 1856, when Saxby concentrated and interlocked the points and signals at Bricklayers Arms. For some time the semaphore arm was worked in three positions; at the horizontal for danger, half-way down for caution, and straight down for safety; but now there are only two positions, the horizontal for stop and the half-right angle for all clear; just as at night the red light showed danger, the green caution, and the white that the road was open, until in 1876 the Great Northern discarded white as a signal colour, and, doing away with the cautionary, used green for all clear, the reason being the confusion between the clear light and the lights of the streets and houses in populous places, which were few and far between, and dreadfully dull, in the days gone by. The principle of the signal is not quite what might be thought. Safety is assured in cases of accident by the levers being weighted so that the arm is normally at danger and remains at it until interfered with. The weight has to be lifted, not released, to clear the road; and if anything goes wrong the arm automatically rises to the horizontal.

The lamp is clear glass, the so-called spectacles of one green and one red glass fixed to the short end of the arm working in front of the lamp and giving the colour; both colours, it is worth noting, being obtained from oxides of copper. The front of the arm, the side facing the approaching train, is red or red with a white bar, the white side, with or without a black bar, is the back, and, like the clear light of the lamp, is only of use as showing that the signal is in working order. The rule of the railroad is the rule of the road, the trains on a double track passing each other to the left, but the Greenwich line was laid out for the trains to pass each other to the right, and this was the practice adopted on the Newcastle & Carlisle up to June 1863, the year after it was absorbed by the North Eastern.

The ordinary signals are the home and the distant, the home having a square end, the distant having a swallowtail. The distant is cautionary only. A driver must not pass a home signal which is at danger, but when a distant is against him it means he must get his engine well in hand so as to be able to stop at the home if required. Another swallow-tail signal is the precaution; this generally has a ring round it, and when at danger it means that the platform at the station is already half occupied and that the incoming train must be pulled up within the space left vacant. The precaution is always near the station, while the distant may be a thousand yards away on a level, though nearer on rising gradients and in places where caution is necessary. All signals giving admission to a section of the line are square-enders, hence the starting signals at the stations have square ends. When there are two signals on the post at the end of a platform, one of which has a swallow-tail, they are worked from two different boxes; but when both have square ends they are frequently worked from the same box. When one of the arms on the post is larger than the other, the smaller arm is the caller-on; this allows the train or engine to pass with caution a short distance past the ordinary signal as far as the road is clear. Some signals away from stations are 75 ft. high and have a 5-ft. arm, but whenever a signal is over 45 ft. from the ground the Board of Trade require it to have an arm lower down so as to be readily discernible; the miniature arms close to the rail level are for the guidance of the fogmen.

The South Western suffers more than most lines from fog, owing to its large suburban traffic in the Thames valley. In one year it has exploded nearly 120,000 fog-signals. These cost less than a pound a gross, but as the food of a fogger is supplied at the company's expense, a fog of a day or two's duration may mean to a company a loss of 1000. What the total annual cost may be to the many British companies may be guessed from the fact that one firm alone, Kynochs, supply nearly two millions of fog-signals a year. Cowper's detonating fog signal, then a novelty, was introduced on the London & Birmingham in January 1845, "to be placed on the rail to be passed over by the expected engine at about sixty yards distance in rear of the red signal," as the general order had it.

Foggers are platelayers disguised in a thick overcoat. As their ordinary work cannot be carried on with safety in foggy weather, for in clear weather they are always busy examining the track or keeping it in repair, a man to every mile of single line, they go home, which is generally in electrical communication with the nearest signal-box, and come out in their turn for twelve hours at a stretch if necessary, half the men resting while the others are on duty.

When the arm of the signal rises to danger the fogman clips a detonator on to the rail so that the engine wheel will explode it by pressure. When the arm falls the detonator is picked up and the train passes without a report. Usually there are two detonators in case one should miss fire; but the code differs on different lines, though

on all the danger lies in silence and not in the report which shows that the fogger is awake and doing his duty.

The signal itself is a large button built up of four parts, a dome of sheet iron, a base of tinplate, an anvil of malleable iron, and a clip of lead. The dome is stamped out of a 2¼ in. disk, which is pressed into the shape of a shallow basin, the base is stamped out and pressed into a lid with the rim the right size for the basin to fit into, the anvil is cast in the form of a triangle with a nipple at each corner and tinned, the lead is a strip soldered on to the back of the tinplate base. A percussion cap is fixed on each nipple, the anvil is placed nipples downward in the dome filled with gunpowder, the base is fitted on, and the whole is squeezed together firmly and judiciously, so that there can be no shifting or leakage, and it is given two coats of paint to ensure its being watertight. A fog-signal is an explosive of which the railway companies keep as few as they can get along with, but the makers undertake to be equal to all demands at an hour's notice, and at the works the number of paper cylinders, in which the signals are packed like chocolate biscuits, is enormous during the winter months.

Automatic signalling may be said to have begun in the fog, the fogging system being evidently too primitive to last for ever. First came inventions for lessening the danger of the fogman's occupation when he has to look after several roads and the fog is so thick as to make it difficult to make sure of the number of lines stepped over; for in many cases signals are exploded uselessly owing to the danger in attempting to pick them off when they are not wanted. One of these inventions, Woodhead's, came into use in 1891; in this, by means of a lever and connecting layers, two signals are placed ten yards apart on the lines, and withdrawn if the semaphore arm is down when the train approaches.

Other inventors tried to solve the difficulty on the principle of the bell instead of the knocker. In the old days the noise was made at the gate to call the attention of the servants, in fact to give the summons where they were required; and all the neighbourhood heard. In these days we ring an electric bell, and give the summons where the servants are waiting to receive it; and only those hear whose business it is to hear. So with regard to signals in fogs. Why not inform those on the engine instead of every one in the train? Why not do away with the explosion on the line and give the signal on the engine? This led to giving the signal on the engine at all times, whether foggy or not; in other words, to audible signalling; and audible signalling, as the phrase is understood, is necessarily automatic.

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