Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Train Register Book

For well over a century, the Train Register Book has been a feature of railway signal boxes following British practice. When I started visiting signalboxes, the standard Train Register Book produced by British railways (B.R. 24847) had 49 double pages (DOWN/UP pairs) bound with card covers. In each signal box, this book lay open on a writing desk with the left hand page headed 'DOWN' and the right hand 'UP'. Printed rows and columns (rather like an accounting cash book) provided a framework in which every activity was faithfully recorded with the corresponding time.

The signal box wall clock would be mounted adjacent to the desk so that the time of each entry could be readily determined. Although the wind-up clocks were of good quality, they were manually synchronised each day with a Time Signal. At the boxes I visited, the Time Signal came from the local Traffic Control Office as a series of rings on the omnibus 'Control' telephone circuit at 9.00 a.m. On occasion, this Time Signal would not be sent at nine o'clock but it might then be sent at 10.00 a.m.!

The Train Register Book had various functions. Firstly, it served as an aide-memoire to the signalman. Provided the book was kept up-to-date, the signalman could refer to it at any time to remind himself of the current situation and it reduced the chance of signalman becoming confused and a train being 'forgotten'. What was then 'Rule 55' required the fireman of a detained train to actually walk to the signalbox to remind the signalman of the position of the train and ascertain that any 'protection devices' (like lever collars) were in use. Before returning to his train, the fireman would sign the Train Register Book as evidence of his visit. As electrical devices like Fireman's Call Plungers and Track Circuits were adopted, the need for these visits was reduced, although fireman might still appear at the box to beg hot water for a 'brew'. Secondly, the Train Register recorded the comings and goings as signalmen changed shifts or visitors like the supervising Station Master called. Thirdly, in the event of any serious incident, the Train Register Book (and those from adjacent signal boxes) would be taken away for analysis. By looking at the recent entries in the Train Register (Down trains on the left hand page, Up trains on the right hand page), anybody could gain a picture of what was going on at the time and this was a powerful tool in re-creating the circumstances leading to an incident.

Some signalman were assiduous in entering each event as it occurred - others would rely upon their memory to remember the timings for a number of trains before entering those timings in 'The Book'. At very busy boxes, a separate 'Booking Lad' would be responsible for maintaining the Train Register and he would usually deal with telephone calls as well.

The signal boxes I was familiar with in the '50s and '60s were more modest affairs where a solitary signalman carried out all the tasks. I obtained a blank Train Register Book to enable me to make my own record of my visits. Watery Lane was a typical example and my pages for 23rd November 1963 are reproduced below. (Click on either image to enlarge)

Of course, 'Down' and 'Up' pages should be side by side. My record stops at 1.00 p.m. when my friend Tom was relieved by the 'Late Turn' signalman but, of course, the actual box register would continue, shift after shift, day after day.

'Down' and 'Up' pages have an identical layout. Each horizontal row represents a train or event. Vertical columns are divided into five groups: 'Description of Train', 'REAR SECTION', 'Line', 'ADVANCE SECTION' and 'Remarks'.

Where manual block signalling is in use, the first column records the 'Is Line clear' bell code used - '3 pause 1' for an ordinary passenger train, '2 pause 3' for a light engine and so on. Alternately, where Track Circuit Block and Train Describers are in use, the first column shows the 4-character headcode for the train.

The second group of columns 'REAR SECTION' records the passage of a train from the box in the rear for a train coming towards us. There are three possible responses to an 'Is Line Clear' - accept the train normally under 'Regulation 4', accept the train conditionally under 'Warning' or 'Permissive' regulations (where authorised) or refuse the train ('Received but not accepted'). Three columns allow the response to be clearly recorded. The next columns allow the 'Train Approach' signal (authorised where there are 'short sections') to be recorded then 'Train Entering Section' (always sent by the box in rear as the train enters our block section) and finally 'Train out of section' (allowing the box in rear to offer a further train). The final three colums in the 'REAR SECTION' group allow the times to be shown for when a description is received, when a train arrives (if it stops) and when a train departs or passes.

Where there are additional lines in addition to 'Up' and 'Down' or where there are junctions to other routes, the 'Line' column is used to clarify the line over which a train runs.

The fourth group of columns 'ADVANCE SECTION' records the passage of a train to the box in advance for a train leaving us.

The final 'Remarks' column is used to identify a particular train, such as 'T73' for a freight trip or '1Z64' for a special.

Of course, the Train Register (which recorded what actually happened) was supplemented by separate Working Time Tables for passenger and freight trains which showed what was supposed to happen. Then there were Freight Train Trip Notices and Special Traffic Notices so it was no wonder that confusion sometimes occurred. The railways became users of the Telegraph and then the Telephone quite early so that information could be disseminated and collected in a timely manner but railway telecommunications and the function of the Traffic Control Office is another story.