Thursday, 14 February 2008

Sedgeley Junction

A simplified signalling diagram for Sedgeley Jn. without lever numbers. Click on the diagram to enlarge.

So far, I've introduced some of the mechanical signal boxes I was familiar with on the Stour Valley main line from Birmingham to Wolverhampton. But there was one box I always enjoyed visiting which was on a secondary line - Sedgeley Junction. This was situated on the South Stafford line, which extended from Walsall, crossing the Stour Valley at right angles at Dudleyport and joining the Great Western Line at Dudley. The Great Western Line at Dudley was part of the line built by the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway (ominously known as the 'Old Worse and Worse').

Sedgeley Junction box was a standard London & North Western Railway design with a brick base and 40-lever Webb Tumbler Interlocking Frame. The next box to the west was Dudley East, also an L & N W design but, by the time I knew it, administered and staffed by Western Region men. The next box to the east was Horsley Fields Junction. This was another L & N W box, of the early pattern, which controlled a branch to Swan Village, allowing access to the Western Region main line from Wolverhampton to Birmingham (Snow Hill). At Sedgeley Junction, a short branch diverged to Dudleyport Junction.

All the points were mechanically operated over U-channel rodding, all the running signals were upper-quadrant semaphore, wire-operated. Only home signals were provided, with worked distant signals for all three directions. There were no new-fangled colour light signals!

Most passenger workings were handled by Diesel Multiple Units. There was a fairly regular service during the day from Walsall to Dudley, usually operated by a two-car DMU. The Western Region operated a Dudley - Birmingham (Snow Hill) service during the day. This ran from Dudley to Horsley Fields Junction where it took the Swan Village branch, continuing along the main line to Snow Hill. In addition, from time to time, a DMU ran from Dudley to Sedgeley Junction then via the branch to Dudleyport. After a short sojourn in the bay platform at Dudleyport, the DMU would return to Dudley. This Dudleyport service was often a single-car DMU, always called the 'Bubble Car'. All of the passenger services were normally fairly lightly loaded when I knew them.

The South Stafford line had become an important freight artery and much of the interest at Sedgeley Junction came from the frequent goods trains. From Great Bridge (the next box beyond Horsley Fields Junction towards Walsall) right through to Dudley, trains faced a fairly steep bank, producing impressive sound effects. Only lighter trains attempted the climb single-handed. To assist heavier trains, a bank engine was stationed at Great Bridge, usually a 'Super D' ex-L & N W 0-8-0 (power classification '7F') or a Stanier 2-8-0 (power classification '8F'). The banker would assist the train to Dudley and then return light engine, ready to assist another train. There was a lot of coal traffic in the uphill direction (also the 'Up' line), much of it destined for Stourport power station. Mineral trains frequently originated at Wichnor Junction (then a re-marshalling yard on the Midland line from Birmingham to Derby) and often were destined for Hartlebury Junction (on the Western region). In the 'Up' direction, these trains would be up to about 45 wagons, mainly comprised of the British Railways all-steel 16-ton mineral wagons and, of course, loose-coupled. Returning trains of empties (often called 'Pools') would load up to 60 or 70 wagons. At night there was no need to preserve paths for the passenger service and even more freights would be run. There were also long-distance express freights at night - one diagram was a block train of petrol tanks from the refinery at Milford Haven to the Birmingham distribution depot at Soho Pool. This train was loaded in the downhill direction and empty uphill. It was normally worked by a British Railways Standard 2-10-0 (power classification '9F').

'Up' trains could not always be found an immediate path at Dudley onto the Western Region and so, in addition to the 'Up Main' and 'Down Main', there was an 'Up Goods' between Sedgeley Junction and Dudley East, to avoid blocking the main line with a waiting freight. This goods line was invariably called the 'Third Line'. The main lines were worked under 'Absolute Block' regulations, but the 'Third Line' was signalled as a goods 'Permissive', allowing freight trains to queue up, one behind the other, clear of the main line. When I knew the box, it was rare to have more than one train at a time on the 'Third Line', and I don't think I ever saw more than two in the section.

If a train which Dudley wanted up the Third Line was being banked, once the train and banker had passed Sedgeley Junction, the banker was 'trapped' until the train being banked had been released onto the Western Region at Dudley. It sometimes happened that, with a freight and banker on the Third Line, Dudley had a 'path' for a following freight on the main. The driver of the following freight then had to decide whether to risk leaving Great Bridge without assistance or to get on the telephone to Control to try to find another banker. If there was any other motive power around, this might be pressed into service as a banker for one trip, even if this meant shunting that engine's train into sidings until the banking turn was done. Freight working was always far more flexible than passenger. If no bank engine was available, a debate might ensue between the driver and Control about whether the load could be taken by one engine unaided. Since the gross load was calculated by the train Guard for his Journal, significant variations occurred. Many times, drivers who agreed to "have a go" would approach the box at Sedgeley Junction going slower and slower and, as often as not, would grind to an ignominious stop outside the box.

Palethorpes Sausage factory was only a short distance away from Sedgeley Junction and, depending upon the direction of the wind, this was sometimes obvious, just by sniffing the air. In 1896 the factory was the largest sausage producer in the world! Their private siding joined the Third Line at Sedgeley Junction. Even in the late 1950s, every afternoon, most of their production was loaded into their own railway vans at their private siding and a couple of main-line steam locomotives would fuss about making up at least two trains which would then be taken away for distribution. One train went the short distance to Dudleyport where individual vehicles were attached to various expresses which stopped at Dudleyport for the purpose. In the morning, the process would be reversed when the empties would be returned and taken back to the Palethorpes siding.

In between Dudley and Sedgeley Junction, there was an iron foundry called Conygree Foundry. This was served by a trailing connection in the Down Line which crossed both Up Main and Up Goods to reach the foundry. The points were controlled by Conygree Siding Ground Frame, which was provided with both a single-stroke bell and a telephone to Sedgeley Junction signal box. The Ground Frame was released by a 'Midway Release'. This comprised a lever in Sedgeley Junction which could only be pulled if no Up signals had been cleared. The lever operated conventional point rodding which terminated in a locking box halfway to the siding Ground Frame. Another set of point rodding extended from the locking box to the Ground Frame release lever, which could only be pulled (releasing the siding points lever) if Sedgeley Junction had first pulled his release lever. Once the Ground Frame had pulled the release lever, the locking box prevented Sedgeley Junction from replacing his lever before the Ground Frame had finished work and put the release lever back to lock the frame.

One final oddity was the carriage sidings between Dudleyport and Sedgeley Junction. There was a connection from the sidings to the Up Branch fairly close to Sedgeley Junction box but it was released by an Annett's Key at Dudleyport Junction. This arrangement ensured that, once the Annett's Key had been released, the appropriate signals would be locked at Dudleyport to prevent a second movement on the Up Branch.

I spent many happy hours working this box (unofficially, of course).

More on Sedgeley Junction.

[Minor corrections 6-Oct-2010]