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Section 10: Special Shunting Signals and Indicators

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As well as the ordinary shunting signals covered in Section 3 of this website, special shunting signals or indicators were developed for specific purposes such as hump shunting, propelling or loading/unloading. In some cases, standard signal types were used, but with special meanings attached to their indications.


At some goods sidings, especially those where private locomotives worked, a signal was provided to intimate that all shunting must cease, to allow a train to enter the sidings from the main line unhindered. On the Midland Railway, this signal took the form of a centrally pivoted crossbar, painted red on both sides. When the crossbar was visible (or a red light shown at night) [10.1], all shunting had to stop. When shunting was allowed, the crossbar was turned edge on and a green light was shown at night [10.2]. On the North Eastern Railway, a board signal was used for the same purpose. The sides of the board were notched [10.3] to indicate that it applied only to sidings. These boards were nicknamed 'cotton bobbins' because of their shape. When shunting was allowed, the board was turned edge on, similar to the crossbar signal [10.2].

[10.1] Crossbar Signal ('on').
Area: Mid.R   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[10.2] Crossbar Signal ('off') / Board Signal ('off').
Area: Mid.R / NER   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[10.3] Board Signal ('on').
Area: NER   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical

'Stop shunting' signals also existed in semaphore form. On the Great Eastern Railway, the signal had the words "stop shunt" written on the arm [10.4]. When the arm was lowered to the 'off' position [10.5], shunting was permitted.

[10.4] "Stop Shunt" Signal ('on').
Area: GER   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[10.5] "Stop Shunt" Signal ('off').
Area: GER   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical

The North Eastern Railway had an extraordinary form of shunting signal with a semaphore arm that operated in four positions. The signal was operated by a shunter. When the arm was in the horizontal position [10.6], the meaning was "stop". The arm was raised through 45° from horizontal [10.7] for "forward", and lowered through 45° [10.8] for "backover" (i.e. "set back"). When the signal was not in use, the arm was hidden inside a slot in the post, and the light was obscured.

[10.6] Four-way Shunting Signal showing 'Stop'.
Area: NER   Usage: Low   Status: Historical
[10.7] Four-way Shunting Signal showing 'Forward'.
Area: NER   Usage: Low   Status: Historical
[10.8] Four-way Shunting Signal showing 'Backover'.
Area: NER   Usage: Low   Status: Historical

In March 1929, the LNER opened Britain's first mechanised marshalling yard at Whitemoor, near March. Wagons were propelled from reception sidings over a hump, and moving along by gravity, they were sorted into the various sorting sidings. A signal at the hump summit indicated to drivers the speed at which wagons should be propelled over the hump. At Whitemoor Up Yard, a conventional four-aspect colour light signal was used for this purpose, but the aspects gave different meanings to drivers. A red aspect [10.9] carried the usual meaning, "stop". A single yellow aspect [10.10] meant "slow shunting speed", while a double yellow aspect [10.11] meant "quicker shunting speed". A green aspect [10.12] instructed the driver to "go forward smartly".

[10.9] Colour Light Hump Signal showing Red Aspect / Loading/Unloading Signal showing Red Aspect.
Area: Various   Usage: Medium   Status: Obsolescent
[10.10] Colour Light Hump Signal showing Yellow Aspect / Loading/Unloading Signal showing Yellow Aspect.
Area: Various   Usage: Medium   Status: Obsolescent
[10.11] Colour Light Hump Signal showing Double Yellow Aspect.
Area: Whitemoor   Usage: Low   Status: Historical
[10.12] Colour Light Hump Signal showing Green Aspect / Loading/Unloading Signal showing Green Aspect.
Area: Various   Usage: Medium   Status: Obsolescent

A hump signal generally had some form of shunting signal associated with it, to allow the train engine to run forward towards the hump and away from the reception sidings, usually onto a line that bypassed the hump.

A colour light signal was not ideally suited for use as a hump signal, because its beam could not be focussed towards every reception siding from which a train may approach. The hump signal at Whitemoor Down Yard, which opened in January 1933, took the form of a three-position lower quadrant semaphore signal. The arm in the horizontal position [10.13] meant "stop". The arm lowered through 45° from horizontal [10.14] was an instruction to drivers to propel towards the hump at normal shunting speed, and through 90° [10.15] meant "go forward smartly".

[10.13] Three-position Semaphore Hump Signal showing 'Stop'.
Area: Whitemoor / Ripple Lane   Usage: Low   Status: Historical
[10.14] Three-position Semaphore Hump Signal showing 'Go Forward at Normal Shunting Speed'.
Area: Whitemoor Down Yard   Usage: Low   Status: Historical
[10.15] Three-position Semaphore Hump Signal showing 'Go Forward Smartly'.
Area: Whitemoor Down Yard   Usage: Low   Status: Historical

The mechanisation of Toton Down Yard by the LMS in May 1939 introduced a new design of hump signal in position light form, which accordingly became known as a 'Toton' signal. The indications "stop humping" [10.16], "hump slow" [10.17] and "hump normal" [10.18] were given by a line of white lights inclined at different angles. To ensure that drivers of the hump locomotive had good visibility of the instructions given by the main hump signal, a series of additional hump signals was installed along each of the arrival lines to repeat its indication, and these were located in such a way that the driver always had a clear view of at least one of them. The hump signals were only illuminated while a humping movement was being made.

[10.16] Position Light Hump Signal showing 'Stop Humping' / Loading/Unloading Indicator showing 'Stop'.
Area: All Areas   Usage: Medium   Status: Historical
[10.17] Position Light Hump Signal showing 'Hump Slow' / Loading/Unloading Indicator showing 'Prepare to Stop'.
Area: All Areas   Usage: High   Status: Current
[10.18] Position Light Hump Signal showing 'Hump Normal' / Loading/Unloading Indicator showing 'Move Slowly in the Normal Direction'.
Area: All Areas   Usage: High   Status: Current

In 1945, the colour light hump signal (see [10.9 - 10.12]) at Whitemoor Up Yard was replaced by two three-position upper quadrant semaphore signals situated on opposite sides of the line. These three-position signals were of the same type normally used as main signals (see [2.82 & 2.83]), but their indications gave different meanings to drivers. The arm in the horizontal position (see [10.13]) conveyed the usual meaning, "stop". The arm raised through 45° from horizontal [10.19] was an instruction to drivers to propel towards the hump at normal shunting speed, and through 90° [10.20] meant "go forward smartly". A similar three-position semaphore hump signal was provided at Ripple Lane in 1961.

[10.19] Three-position Semaphore Hump Signal showing 'Go Forward at Normal Shunting Speed'.
Area: Whitemoor Up Yard / Ripple Lane   Usage: Low   Status: Historical
[10.20] Three-position Semaphore Hump Signal showing 'Go Forward Smartly'.
Area: Whitemoor Up Yard / Ripple Lane   Usage: Low   Status: Historical