Thursday, 3 January 2008

Railway Signalling: Mond Gas Company's Sidings

Click for larger version of the diagram

This signal box was on the Stour Valley Line from Birmingham to Wolverhampton. The next box towards Birmingham was Dudleyport (Click for more information) and Watery Lane (Click for more information) was on the Wolverhampton side. In clear weather, all three boxes were in sight of one another, so 'Short Section Working' applied.

Why the odd box name? Ludwig Mond (1839-1909) was born in Germany. He trained as a chemist and moved to England in 1862, helping to found the British chemical industry. He became interested in the manufacture of ammonia, and the Mond Producer Gas Process arose from this interest. In the early 1900s, the Mond Gas plant at Dudleyport was using 3 million tonnes of coal a year, so the private sidings were well justified. By the time I knew the signal box, only a few wagons a week were moving in and out. Shortly afterwards, the plant was demolished to make way for a new gas works making gas from oil. A new connection was laid at Watery Lane to take oil into the plant in bogie oil tankers. Then offshore natural gas was discovered so the gas-from-oil plant was redundant. The whole area is now covered by housing and no trace of the Mond Gas signal box remains.

Mond Gas box was a standard London and North Western Railway pattern, with a Webb frame on the side nearest the running lines. The block shelf carried four Fletcher combined 'Double Needle' instruments. The two in the middle were Absolute Block for the Main Lines and these were flanked by two 'Permissive' instruments (with mechanical reminder for the number of trains in the section) for the Goods Lines. An L.N.W. Block Switch (in a wooden case matching the design of the Block Instruments) was also provided on the block shelf to allow 'switching out'. Signals would be 'pulled off' for through movements on all four lines and the block section would extend from Dudleyport to Watery Lane.

When I knew the box, it was open 'As Required' for only a few hours a week, so I didn't have many opportunities to work the box. It was covered as a 'Porter-Signalman' job at Dudleyport in the day. Most of the time, the rostered man (invariably referred to as the 'Porter-Bobby') would be doing portering duties on Dudleyport Station. When required, he would walk along the line the few hundred yards to the Mond Gas box, open up and perform any required shunting. Then he would close and walk back to Dudleyport.

The box only controlled only one stop signal on each road, because of the proximity of the adjacent boxes. The signals were upper quadrant LMS bracket signals and distant arms were carried underneath the stop signal for the box in advance. Lever 6 was for the Down Goods, lever 3 for the Down Main. On the Up, lever 24 was for the Up Main and lever 21 for the Up Goods. Lever 25 worked distants for the Up Main only. This lever worked a weight bar on Watery Lane's Up Starting and Tipton's Up Starting. Both of these distants were 'slotted' so that the arm did not come off until the stop arm above was 'off'. There was also a further weight bar 'slotting' the distant on Watery Lane's Up Starting which was controlled from Dudleyport. Similarly, there was a further weight bar 'slotting' the distant on Tipton's Up Starting which was controlled from Dudleyport. For the Down Main, lever 2 worked a total of three successive distants on Dudleyport's Down Home 1 (this distant arm was motor operated because of the distance), Down Home 2 (the wooden LMS gantry: again, the distant arm was motor operated) and Down Starting (the LMS 5-arm bracket signal). These distant signals were slotted with the stop arms on the same post and also slotted so as to be controlled by Watery Lane. On the Down Goods, Dudleyport had a Down Starting signal which was 'slotted' by lever 5 at Mond Gas. This sort of signalling complication was common where boxes were close together.

A freight train wishing to attach or detach at Mond Gas would typically stop, draw forward either light or with the required wagons, propel into the sidings, attach or detach, rejoin the rest of its train and then depart. Trains on the Up Goods did not interfere with other movements and there were two connections with the works - crossover 15 or crossover 17. No signals were provided for setting back, so this was authorised by handsignal from the box. Ground disc signals were provided leaving the sidings, signals 16 and 18. Note that signal 16 had a yellow bar. This allowed the signal to be passed at danger for a movement into the Headshunt. Trains on the Down Goods could set back into the Headshunt via a running crossover (levers 12 and 14), blocking all running lines in the process. Trains on the Down Main could set back into the Headshunt via a running crossover (levers 12 and 13), blocking everything except the Down Goods. Again, handsignals were used to authorise the setting back but a 2-arm ground signal was provided for movements leaving the Headshunt - signal 10 read to Down Goods, signal 11 to Down Main.

The box had no track circuits and only one signal was controlled by the Block - signal 24 on the Up Main. It was typical to add Block Control in a piecemeal fashion, dealing with the greatest perceived hazards first. The electric lock on lever 24 could only be released if the Block Indicator from Dudleyport stood at 'Line Clear', minimising the risk of an Up train being allowed to approach Dudleyport in error when Dudleyport was turning a train out from the Dudley branch or from the Up Goods or when the Up Platform was occupied by a stationary train or vehicles.

Although the boxes at Dudleyport and Mond Gas have gone, Watery Lane remains as a shunting frame and there are still goods loops, now controlled remotely from a Power Signal Box. Running Lines are now track circuited throughout and signals are four-aspect colour lights.