Railway signalling discussion

Signalbox Grades

British signalling of the past (UK, excepting Northern Ireland)

Re: Signalbox Grades

Unread postby Fast Line Floyd » Mon Feb 26, 2018 10:30 pm

Chris Rideout wrote:
Fast Line Floyd wrote:If I recall correctly the 'F' grade came into being in 1975 as part of the pay rises that were handed out after the Labour party ousted Ted Heath's government. As I recall a large number of boxes gained a grade (my own going from an 'A' to a 'B' and the box that I went to next went (on the same day) from a 'B' to a 'C'). The grade 'F' was awarded immediately to Clapham A box, Waterloo and Wimbledon A (Wimbledon B and C followed later in the year I believe). Some other big boxes had to fight for the 'F' grade, one such being Euston.

Now I remember more clearly. The signalmen were really fed up with meagre pay rises in 1974 and by that time they were earning just a few more pennies a day more than a porter. They had daily strikes on a Thursday in January/February 1975 and had "Thursday Club" union meetings in hired rooms at nominated pubs. Creating a grade F might have been a way of enticing the top grade signalmen into not striking. I was working the IOW boxes in those days but we had no strikes there. Ryde St John's Road was upgraded to a class B at much the same time. The other boxes were very much lacking in equipment value and remained class A.

Now I passed out for my first box in January 1975 and I have no recollection of any strikes back then because the railway workers had been promised something by the Labour Party if they won the general election which they did. The pay rises and grade rises occurred in the March or April.
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Re: Signalbox Grades

Unread postby Andrew Waugh » Tue Feb 27, 2018 11:11 am

The origin of the marks system is given in The History of North Eastern Railway Signalling p254-257. The scheme was introduced on the NER in 1898, and revised frequently afterwards.

The tale is continued in the 'The Railwaymen' by Philip Bagwell (the official history of the NUR) p430-3 & p556-8, which confirms that the NER was the only company using the marks system, "the other main line companies had varying and cruder methods of classification". In 1918 the NUR proposed to advocate for a uniform marks system, but this was vigorously opposed by the signalmen who preferred payment based on length of service. The companies, in the meantime, were preparing a uniform marks system that they proposed to bring into force on 1 October 1920. This didn't happen because the signalmen wanted to fight for length of service. However, by 5 November 1920 the signalmen had decided that the wisest policy would be to accept the marks system, with six groups. A series of meetings with the companies was held between May and August 1921. The NUR agreed to the proposal in August 1921.

Figures given were that there would only be 811 signalmen in Special class, 976 in Class 1, 1936 in Class 2, 4427 in Class 3, 9910 in Class 4, 6963 in Class 5, and 883 in Class 5.

The book notes that the signalmen were the last major group of employees to have a standardised agreement, and did badly compared with other grades that negotiated in 1919 and 1920. By 1921/2 the 'boom' had ended and there was a depression.

When the companies began to apply the scheme in early 1922, they "quickly found that a great many anomalies were created." The NUR agreed to giving the companies latitude to vary the classification based purely on the marks scheme. This was opposed by many signalmen and was the source of a breakaway union (The Union of Railway Signalmen) being formed in 1923/4.

The situation was revisited in 1931, and was driven by the 'anomalies', and also by technological advancement. Power signalling meant the loss of signalmen's positions, and often those that remained were of lower grade, and often porter/signalmen. By a very narrow vote, the signalmen voted to continue the marks system in late 1932. The main focus of the log of claims in the late '30s was an increase in pay. There was a major tribunal case in 1937/8, but this largely left things as they were due to the financial impact major pay increases would have. The only increases granted were to the top two classifications.

Somewhere in my collection of books is a very curious book written by a NSW (Australian) signalman, a union official. This is almost entirely an account of the disputes over classification of signalboxes in NSW. The NSW signalmen resisted any form of marks system. They preferred a 'relativity' system where a couple of 'typical' boxes were agreed between management and staff, and then the other boxes were graded in comparison. The signalmen completely snookered themselves. There were two basic problems. First, all the typical boxes were suburban boxes, where the work was completely different to country boxes. Second, after a while it was impossible to make any substantial changes as this would mean that many boxes were reduced in grade. (This was because, over time, arguments were advanced that individual boxes were, for one reason or other, harder to work than the typical boxes, so some boxes were increased to a level that couldn't be justified.)
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