Weekend Signalling School at the Museum

The National Railway Museum is famous for its collection of locomotives and carriages, but perhaps not so famous for its collection of signalling equipment. Not surprising, really: railway signalling is a complex subject that mystifies most rail enthusiasts, let alone ordinary visitors.

As the new Associate Curator of Railways at the NRM, and a former railway signaller, I was lucky to spend last weekend using the collection to bring railway signalling to life.

Garden railway models give a modern image to the L&Y Layout

The object in question was the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Signalling School layout (L&YSSL). The L&YSSL might look like an Edwardian train set perched on a dining table, but it’s actually a carefully designed railway simulator that was used to train railway signallers for over eighty years. Thanks to the work of a group of dedicated volunteers, it’s still a working demonstration tool.

It is an intense experience for the five signallers – but for me, as a rooky recruit, it was just a confusion of bell signals, lever pulling and passing trains. Luckily – for the visitors and me – the train sequence is explained, nice and slowly, by Phil. Phil is a signalling professional, and well versed in turning complex signalling rules into manageable sound bites.   

The fun begins when we run a hectic half hour schedule of trains. Expresses, locals, freight, empty stock and light engines, plus some shunting and derailments thrown in for good measure. It’s fast-paced action and the visitors love it. As the action unfolds, Phil acts as narrator, explaining the choreographed dance of trains and signals, as well as answering a stream of questions.

After four hours operation, the session is over, the last visitors drift away and the L&YSSL goes back to sleep. Its been a rewarding experience for both operators and visitors, who have enjoyed a glimpse into the complex word of railway signalling.

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2 Responses to Weekend Signalling School at the Museum

  1. Billy says:

    Its a great show, love to have a go.

  2. Peter R Munthe Webster says:

    I have worked on the restoration and maintenance of the L&Y Signalling School with a team of Volunteers since 2001, it has been a rewarding experience and we have found the visitors have also thoroughly enjoyed the demonstrations we give. It is good to hear that our efforts are appreciated.

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