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First U.K. Colourlight signal

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

First U.K. Colourlight signal

Unread postby scarpa » Tue Apr 3, 2018 5:26 am

Various publications report the first 2 aspect colourlight signal was installed on the Liverpool Overhead railway in 1926.. An article on the webb and a recent Active topic request for details on the railway network around Birmingham had an in depth article on the 1910 resignalling of Snow Hill Station. It describes signals in the tunnel controlled by the South Box of being electric light signals. They were 2 aspect red/green controlled by a relay. Were these the first signals apart from the London Underground using signals with a red/green lens plate which moved in front of a lamp.
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Re: First U.K. Colourlight signal

Unread postby kbarber » Tue Apr 3, 2018 8:05 am

At the risk of drifting, the various publications are absolutely wrong given that the LNER/GCR commissioned the first main line daylight (ie not in tunnel) colour light signals between Marylebone and Neasden back in 1923 (and some of us here were still working them into the 1980s).
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Re: First U.K. Colourlight signal

Unread postby Flipper_T_Rox » Tue Apr 3, 2018 11:33 am

Indeed. I have here a copy of the wiring diagram for the “Installation of Automatic 3 Colour Light Signals” between Marylebone and Wembley.

Drawing No 3409/1, from the GCR Signal Superintendent’s Office at Guide Bridge, it is dated 14th May 1923.
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Re: First U.K. Colourlight signal

Unread postby John Webb » Tue Apr 3, 2018 8:49 pm

scarpa wrote:Various publications report the first 2 aspect colourlight signal was installed on the Liverpool Overhead railway in 1926.. An article on the webb and a recent Active topic request for details on the railway network around Birmingham had an in depth article on the 1910 resignalling of Snow Hill Station. It describes signals in the tunnel controlled by the South Box of being electric light signals. They were 2 aspect red/green controlled by a relay. Were these the first signals apart from the London Underground using signals with a red/green lens plate which moved in front of a lamp.

Kitchenside and Williams in "Two Centuries of Railway Signalling" give 1921 as the date of the installation of colour light signalling on the Liverpool Overhead Railway, as does O S Nock's "Fifty Years of Railway Signalling". The Chairman of the IRSE committee set up in 1922 to look at the question of three-position signalling was A F Bound of the LNER who introduced the 1923 installation between Marylebone and Neasden. This was before the IRSE committee published its report in 1924; the report also proposed the use of the double-yellow colour light aspect.
Last edited by John Webb on Wed Apr 4, 2018 9:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: First U.K. Colourlight signal

Unread postby Mike Hodgson » Tue Apr 3, 2018 9:12 pm

scarpa wrote:Were these the first signals apart from the London Underground using signals with a red/green lens plate which moved in front of a lamp.


The trouble with that definition is that it includes not only "mechanical colour lights" (semaphore spectacle plate without an arm attached) but even most semaphores WITH an arm! Is that what you really eman?

The confusion others have described above typically arises because "first" of anything tends to be reported by the media qualified by clauses like "on a main line railway" or "in the UK" or "lit by electricity", then re-reported elsewhere losing such qualifications.
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Re: First U.K. Colourlight signal

Unread postby Andrew Waugh » Thu Apr 5, 2018 2:58 am

The Metropolitan Railway Company was certainly installing light signals at the beginning of 1911 on the underground portions of the Baker St to Neasdon. This used conventional two aspect signals with the red/green lights being switched on or off by relay. Interestingly, the big signalling innovation on this line was the use of two aspect upper quadrant semaphores on the outdoor sections of line. The technology was Westinghouse (i.e. Union Switch and Signal).

The Central London Railway was resignalled in 1914 using light signals - even a couple in the open at Wood Lane with deep hoods to provide the necessary darkness. Only two upper quadrant semaphores were installed (also at Wood Lane). Again this used Westinghouse technology.

On the main line side, three position upper quadrant signalling was the go. The SECR installed this technology at Victoria station in 1919. The contractor was the British Power Railway Signal Coy, but the technology was from GRS. A second installation was on the GWR in 1920 on the Ealing and Sheperd's Bush extension. This was the first three position automatic signalling brought into use in the UK. This used Westinghouse as the contractor.

The new signalling on the Liverpool Overhead Railway was brought into use on 27 August 1921 between Alexandra Docks and Herculaneum Dock. It was noted that they used 44 outdoor daylight colour light signals - the greatest number outside the US. Press reports of the day made great play over the distance the signals could be seen - easily 3000 feet on a bright sunny day. The technology was again Westinghouse.

The resignalling between Marylebone and Wembley on the former GCR was brought into use in 1923. This was noted as being the first use of day colour light signals on main running lines, the first use of three aspect light signals, and the first use in the UK of searchlight signals (although some signals were three aspect colour light signals). Contractors were Westinghouse, who bought in Hall searchlight mechanisms.

It should be emphasised that all of these installations used US technology; the UK was very late in the game. Daylight colour light signals in the US dated from around 1909/10. I'm not even sure how much of the kit was manufactured in the UK. Certainly the Hall searchlight mechanisms would not have been. It's likely that the colour light signals would have been manufactured in the UK (after all, it's mostly just an iron casting), but I'd bet that the important fresnel lens would have been imported.

It's also worth noting why colour light signals took so long to oust power operated semaphores: power consumption. It's easy to forget, these days, the problems of power supply. In the US power operated automatic semaphores were operated from primary cells in rural areas. Special holding coils were used to hold the arm at caution or clear with low current consumption. Lighting usually remained an oil lamp. Proper light signals began to be installed on the underground transit lines. These lights did not need to be bright as they were situated in tunnels, and, of course, reticulated power was easily available. Outdoor colour light signals started to be used on interurban lines - essentially tramway technology applied to rural lines. Sighting distances were not as critical on the railroads as these were all 'lightweight' passenger cars fitted with air brakes. Power, again, was easily available anywhere required from the supply provided for traction. The searchlight signal was essentially an optical mechanism to get a daylight light signal powered from primary cells and hence could easily be applied anywhere on railroads in rural US. Elsewhere the simpler colour light signal was preferred wherever an mains power supply was available.
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