Friday, 18 May 2012


(Click on sketch for a larger version).

Albion - No, not this Blessed Country of ours nor a certain football club but a long-gone station and signal box on the Stour Valley Line in the West Midlands. In the days of manual block signalling, the signal box at Albion was flanked by Dudley Port Junction on the Wolverhampton side and, originally, West Bromwich Gas Works Siding box on the Birmingham side. As far as I remember, West Bromwich Gas Works Siding was only opened 'As Required' and it was finally abolished in 1961, so that Oldbury became the next box to Albion in the Birmingham direction.

Sadly, I only visited Albion box once, in the early '60s. The visit was arranged by my friend Tommy Evans at Tipton box. Tommy had been a regular signalman at Albion for some time before taking the post at Tipton.

I was able to catch the 'Up Local' from Tipton to Albion station. The line through Albion was on a curve (with the Up line on the outside of the curve). Like Tipton, Albion had wooden platforms, but Albion featured distinctive round-topped canopies on both platforms. At the Birmingham end of the platform, there was a level crossing. This crossed the Up and Down main lines and also a siding which ran "back o' the box". Like Watery Lane, the gates were normally left open for rail traffic. I think there was just a single gate on either side so, when opened for road traffic, the roadway was not closed off from the railway, as is usually the case. There were wicket gates for pedestrians, plus a footbridge so that foot traffic was not interrupted when the wickets were locked. The footbridge also gave access to the two platforms.

I didn't make notes on my visit (or, if I did, they are lost) so the sketch above is made from memory, combined with information from the John Swift diagrams. I've deliberately shown the arrangement of signals before West Bromwich Gas Works Siding box was abolished.

The signal box itself stood on the Up platform, on the Dudley Port side of the station buildings. It was based on the usual L.N.W.R. design with a 40-lever Webb tumbler interlocking frame. The structure was pitched low so that the operating floor was only a couple of feet above platform level. This was presumably so that the signalman's view was not obstructed by either the Up platform canopy or the footbridge. There were two block instruments of the Fletcher Double Needle Absolute pattern, mounted on the substantial L.N.W.R. pattern block shelf.

Most running signals were upper quadrant on tubular posts but some of the shunting signals had miniature arms on wooden posts. I think most of the ground signals were L.M.S. disc signals.

Down Signals: There were two distants, both mounted under stop arms. The outer distant was mounted under Oldbury's last stop signal. The distant also served as the distant for West Bromwich Gas Works Siding so was slotted so that the arm came off only when both West Bromwich Gas Works Siding and Albion had cleared their distants. Albion's inner distant was mounted under the down home for West Bromwich Gas Works Siding. This inner distant was only about 260 yards from Albion's home, hence the need for an outer distant to ensure that approaching drivers had adequate warning. Albion's down home protected the level crossing, the connection to the down sidings and the crossover on the Birmingham side of the station. The final down signal was the Starter. By the time of my visit, this had been converted to a colour light signal situated a quarter of a mile from the box. This signal also served as the Down Distant for Dudley Port. Albion cleared the signal from red to yellow and Dudleyport then changed it from Yellow to green. The John Swift diagram shows the colour light as 4-aspect but I think the additional yellow was unused.

Up Signals: The Up Distant (lever 39) was semaphore and independent (that is, not on the same post as a stop signal). The Up Home (lever 38) was bracketed for sighting. The doll carried an Up outer distant for West Bromwich Gas Works Siding and a subsidiary arm (Shunt Ahead, I imagine). Lever 37 was a stop signal protecting the level crossing. The L.N.W.R. normally called such signals 'Home 2' (for instance, see Deepfields). The signal post was unusually short, presumably to prevent the station canopies or the footbridge from impairing the sighting of the signal from an approaching train. The post also carried an Up inner distant for West Bromwich Gas Works Siding. At the foot of the running signal there was also a 2-arm ground signal reading from the Up Main into the goods yard. Such facing connections into sidings had become quite unusual. Finally, there was the Up Starting Signal (lever 36). This was slotted by West Bromwich Gas Works Siding box so that it acted as Up Starter for Albion and Up Home for West Bromwich Gas Works Siding. A distant arm for Oldbury was mounted under the stop signal.

Green Lever: I was fascinated by a green lever in Albion, which I'd not seen before. It operated a shunters' gong over a signal wire up by Roway Crossing.

Sidings: The Down Sidings had once given access to a number of factories but, by the time I visited Albion, I don't think there was much traffic. The facing connection on the Up Main led to elaborate sidings leading to Albion Basin and a Coal Yard. Another level crossing, Roway Crossing, crossed these goods sidings. Near Roway Crossing, a through siding branched off which went behind the Up Platform. Two signals on the through siding protected the main level crossing. The through siding then served the Up Traffic Sidings. The Up Traffic Sidings could also be reached by setting back off the Up Main through a trailing connection on the Up Main (lever 31). The through siding then formed a headshunt. A separate connection formed a parallel road which eventually split into a fan of tip sidings. I was always amazed how far towards Dudley Port these sidings extended. John Swift shows 5 sidings. I suspect the ones furthest away from the main line had got fairly overgrown because, viewing from passing trains, I thought there were fewer sidings. In the late '50s, there were always wagons there, but they looked fairly abandoned. As far as I remember, once the Electrification Project started, the tip sidings seemed to regain importance.

Birmingham Power Signal Box: Albion ceased to be a Block Post on 9th January, 1966 with the commissioning of the Stour Valley Stage of Birmingham P.S.B. I believe Albion was retained as a Shunting Frame for a time but today there is very little evidence of what was once an important freight yard.