Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Wagga Wagga and Bomen Signal boxes

Wagga Wagga, and Bomen Signal boxes
The signal box, as the name suggests, is associated with the signalling.  Its purpose though is to control the operation of trains through the station in a safe manner.  It does that by interlocking the signals, pointwork, and controlling the access of trains onto the mainline and branchline with staffs or tokens
Both Wagga Wagga, and Bomen stations had signal boxes.    These boxes lasted until 1983, when they were removed after the introduction of CTC.

Wagga Wagga signal box

Original Wagga diagram, as displayed by the Wagga Wagga Rail Heritage Museum

The main Wagga box was a standard design skillion roofed structure, although much extended than most on the NSWGR railway system.  Excellent drawings of this general design are on Greg Edwards Data Sheet S3 – Platform signal boxes 1913.  As I have been unable to find the exact dimensions, I have guesstimated the size from photos.  Inside the box, there was a signal diagram, a blockshelf containing the repeater indicators,  a number (3)  staff instruments,  a large  lever frame, phone, plus heater, desk, chair, and other furniture.   It is with much regret that I never managed to look inside the Wagga signal box, as I have only found one inside photo.

Inside the Wagga Wagga signal box.  Note the block shelf and the missing levers.  The signal man is using a cloth to prevent marking the polished lever frame tops. Signalmen were an extremely proud bunch. Framed picture displayed by the Wagga Wagga Rail Heritage Museum

The lever frame at Wagga could accommodate 56 levers – although the reality was by 1983, only 41 levers remained functional.  2 others were painted white (out of use/spare), and the rest had either been removed, or never installed.
.tif diagram of Wagga Wagga in 1941 - on the ARHS Signal Diagram CD ROM

The Bomen signal box was also a skillion roof box, but unlike Wagga, the Bomen box was positioned on the platform.  Again, I have been unable to determine the size, and with far fewer pictures, more of a guess.  What is unusual about the Bomen box, is the window placement on the northern wall.  If the window was  positioned in the middle of the wall (as per normal design), the signalman’s view of the railway would be more obscured by the Bomen station building.  I have drawn a plan showing a double width window in this location, which may not be correct either.  My one photo is not clear one way or the other.

Bomen Station, looking north towards Shepherds Siding.  The signalbox looks like a standard platform box

An enlarged snippet of my slide of Bomen, showing the  signal box taken around 1981. The positioning of the window at the northern end is a lot closer to the front wall than standard - possibly to allow a better view of the mainline.  I cannot determine if this window was this width, or double width.  
Signal box diagram as it appeared inside the signal box.  Picture from the internet
.tif diagram of Bomen dated 1952 (taken from the ARHS Signal diagram CD ROM)
Staff exchange platform at Bomen.  A staff was the authorisation needed by the train driver to access a section of railway line.  A train would pass this point, and the signalman would collect the staff from the earlier section, and exchange it with the staff for the next section.  The staff recovered would then be "planted" inside a staff instrument, which would make the section available for another train.  Read on further for more detail.

Miniature Staff instrument, (incomplete) on a plinth displayed at the Junee Roundhouse museum. Both Wagga and Bomen signal boxes had staff instruments.  The instrument had provision for 40 staffs.  The "hoop" resting on top of the staff was important, as the staff could be secured in it - and it was easier to transfer the staff at speed by capturing the hoop on an outstretched arm.  Unlike a relay baton. 
A miniature "C" pattern staff from my own collection.  Station names were stamped on each side, along with the pattern letter.  This particular staff was previously used in Queensland, but the design was identical to NSW

A selection of block shelf instruments again from my own collection
Lever Frame at Cooma is one of the few complete examples surviving in NSW.  The blockshelf has one instrument on it.  Note the levers have a descriptive name, as well as the number.  The colours are red for signals, blue for locks and keys, and black for pointwork
Another trinket in my collection. The lever frame plate is solid brass, and often polished. 

Inside Harden North signal box, during an ARHS tour in the 1990s.  The white levers indicates that the levers have been taken out of service
A very sad display at the Thirlmere Railway Museum.  Not only was it awkwardly placed in the main hall, the levers and the number plates were obviously wrong – eg. with a red lever (#5) with description :”Key for..”  A Key lever would be blue.  The interlocking was mostly missing, and non-functional.  There were NO signal box accessories, and I would suggest that a far better display could have been made by copying the interior of the Cooma signal box, and placing it up against a wall.

The lever frame at Wagga could accommodate 56 levers – although the reality was by 1983, only 41 levers remained functional.  2 others were painted white (out of use/spare), and the rest had either been removed, or never installed.

note: the model is scaled approximately 1:10 scale, although the spacing between the levers is greater than the prototypes approx 5” spacing to accommodate the 1:1 scale operators hands.

The first model constructed specific for my Wagga layout was a 56 lever cam and tappet frame.  This was built over a few years when I was living in Queanbeyan, with guidance from Tony Kociuba (Mackenzie in H.O.Lland) .  http://www.mckenzies.net.au/index.htm  My frame is not yet completed.  It has provision for mechanical interlocking just like the prototype (and I will spare you the details – it is not for the faint hearted.  If you are interested, the “links” from the H.O.Lland web site has some excellent examples).  At the rear of the frame, I also need to install electrical slide switches, which will activate the servo motors for the signals and pointwork. Tony recommended that I install all levers, just in case I needed some extra functions later.

The Bomen frame was a more modest 20 levers, and whilst I do not have a frame built, I may commission Dale Richards to build it for me.   The other aspect of interest is the “staff exchange platform” – which was used by the signalman to exchange staffs giving permission to the train driver to enter the next section of line.  In my operation, I hope to employ staff working over the Murrumbidgee River bridge

I have made a start on constructing the Bomen signal box.  More details in a future blog post.  But here is a teaser picture

The 4 walls for Bomen Signal Box, and some scratchbuilt windows

If you have read this far, and are wanting far more information on signal boxes, may I recommend that you contact Bob Taaffe.  Bob Taaffe has done a number of presentations at the Modelling the Railways of NSW, and is extremely knowledgeable about NSW signal boxes, and workings.  Bob is currently about to publish (in 4 volumes) a comprehensive guide to signal boxes throughout NSW.  He is presently taking orders for the first volume, but you will need to be quick, as the cutoff is July 1st 2019. Bob is self publishing the book, so  it is unlikely that the book will be re-run.  Price including postage was $110.  Contact Bob at    signalboxbook@gmail.com

Whilst on many home layouts, the signal box is an interesting piece of architecture, I am hoping to use them in a very prototypical manner.


  1. Hi Rob, as a very young boy I spent many afternoons inside Wagga Wagga Signal Box with my Uncle, ASM Bob Bevan. I remember it was bloody cold in winter and very hot in summer 😊 I also remember being told not to touch anything as I certainly wasn't allowed to be there!

    1. Yes, Wagga can be a city of extremes. I even remember snow in the 1960s. In summer, most of the photos I have of the box had the windows open, but there was a wall mounted oscillating fan in the 1970s as a concession to stay cool. Railway workers were a very hardy bunch. I hope that my small articles are bringing back some great memories. Thank you for sharing your story.