In my time as a volunteer with the museum I’ve noticed that “the signalling team” is always mentioned in hushed tones as a look of awe spreads over the face. Now my personal view of signals has always been “how hard can it be?” It is, after all, some simple short circuits out on the track and a lot of glorified Christmas lights isn’t it? So I thought I ought to catch up with these volunteer keepers of the arcane art: a few hours with the signalling team in their lair at Acton Depot on Thursday 15th November soon put me straight.
The team have just finished a full working restoration of the old (1932) signal panel and control desk (miniature lever frame, to give the proper title) from Marble Arch station, and are now starting on a similar overhaul of the old (1941) panel and desk from Elephant and Castle station. Below you can see the Marble Arch panel in all its glory and below that the current state of “the Elephant” as it’s affectionately known. As you will observe, the latter has most definitely been completely stripped down!
The two photos above amply demonstrate just how much work goes into a restoration; it’s a complete overhaul of all the component parts, and replacement of those that are time-expired. This is very labour intensive work, requiring a high level of skill and knowledge of the design and manufacture of these complicated pieces of electro-mechanical equipment that are now up to eighty years old. Marble Arch took 18 months of hard work from start to finish.
However, this is only half the job. If the full working of a signal box is to be recreated, then the panels need to be fed simulations of the electrical prompts that they would receive from track circuits in real life as trains moved about, points were moved, etc. So, the team has designed, built, tested and connected a whole rack of relay switches (above) and connected it to a bespoke computer programme on a pc, in such a way that between them they mimic all the different types of train movement one might see at Marble Arch station, and feeds the necessary prompts to the signal box. This is no small feat, and results in an impressive exhibit.
Dave Olney, Volunteer