Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Romsey Signal Box Project

On my way to work every day I pass the Romsey Signal Box Project, and naturally my curiosity was piqued and while I never made a conscious decision to go there, the idea did fester in the back of my head for quite some time. On my visit to Romsey on 16 November I walked past the entrance and decided that it was now or never! 


I originally trained as a Telecommunications Technician with the South African Railways back in the early 1980's and part of our jobs was to maintain the trackside and cabin equipment that involved telecommunications, and to a lesser extent small scale electronics used in the cabins. I was not involved in the signalling side, but as a bit of a train buff I do have an interest in things like this.

I cannot really tell the history and workings of the equipment as their website explains it better than I can. Suffice to say I did not expect to see too much but was fortunate that one of the members was there on that day and he very kindly showed me around.



There is a section of track with a point as well as associated equipment on the site, as well as the frame and all its attendant linkages and rods. Unfortunately a real train is not present but the present railway line runs on the embankment behind the project. 



The operation of the equipment is all done manually, and a controller can sit in the level below and simulate trains in the section while the signalman above can operate the appropriate signals. 



What interested me was the tag block above. I wired many of those while I was a technician, and could probably still wire one up today. Telecommunication is really lots of short lengths of cross connect wire joined by long lengths of cable.  I also spotted a telephone set which was familiar to me, and it was one of the items we had to wire up for trade test. I seem to recall it being called a "Plan 11" and was basically a master incoming phone with extensions. 


I was distracted there for a moment, but all around me was this equipment from the past, and a lot would probably be familiar to South African signalmen as it would be to British ones. And, a few model railroaders would probably understand the inner workings just as well.


I even spotted a set of aerial lines that made me recall the hours spent "up the pole", it was one thing we all dreaded during trade test. I was fortunate enough to not get it when I wrote. 

The one end of the line

The other end of the line
The low brown building also revealed an extensive array of railway memorabilia that was amazing to see, a lot of this equipment is long gone from memory, but lives on in heritage rail and museums. 





I must admit I know nothing about signalling, and semaphores were long gone by the time I was an appy, but in some of the more rural areas of South Africa they survived for many years. Unfortunately a site like this would be a prime target for the scrap metal thieves that exist back home. 


This line extends from Salisbury, through Romsey, Southampton, Southampton Parkway, Eastleigh, Chandlers Ford and back to Romsey with all stations inbetween. It is not electrified, so everything here is diesel powered. The station does not see to much traffic either, but I believe at one point this was a very busy goods line. Of course a lot of traffic was on this line during war time, and a plaque on the station testifies to that. 


The project is a great idea, and has so much potential to be something amazing. Sadly it will be closed for 18 months while development is being done on the area around it, and the last public open day will be the 1st of December. I guess I was very lucky to get to look around here before it closes, and I hope by the time it re-opens it will be an even better experience for the participants and volunteers. 



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