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Section 2: Main Signals

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From about 1869, the signal arms on the London Brighton & South Coast Railway were painted red on the front but with a black stripe [2.19 & 2.20].

[2.19] Semaphore Signal ('on').
Area: LB&SCR   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[2.20] Semaphore Signal ('off').
Area: LB&SCR   Usage: High   Status: Historical

The LB&SCR's Outdoor Superintendent, W.J. Williams, had the idea of cutting a 'fishtail' notch into the ends of distant signal arms [2.21 & 2.22] so that drivers could distinguish them from stop signals, albeit during daylight hours only. Fishtailed arms were first introduced at Norwood Junction, in 1872.

[2.21] Semaphore Distant Signal with Fishtailed Arm ('on').
Area: LB&SCR   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[2.22] Semaphore Distant Signal with Fishtailed Arm ('off').
Area: LB&SCR   Usage: High   Status: Historical

From 1876/1877, other railways began to follow the LB&SCR's example and provided fishtails in their distant signals [2.23 - 2.30]. In 1877, this important feature became a requirement of the Board of Trade.

[2.23] Semaphore Distant Signal with Fishtailed Arm ('on').
Area: Various   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[2.24] Semaphore Distant Signal with Fishtailed Arm ('off').
Area: Various   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[2.25] Semaphore Distant Signal with Fishtailed Arm ('on').
Area: SER   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[2.26] Semaphore Distant Signal with Fishtailed Arm ('off').
Area: SER   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[2.27] Semaphore Distant Signal with Fishtailed Arm ('on').
Area: Mid.R   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[2.28] Semaphore Distant Signal with Fishtailed Arm ('off').
Area: Mid.R   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[2.29] Ringed Semaphore Distant Signal with Fishtailed Arm ('on').
Area: LNWR   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[2.30] Ringed Semaphore Distant Signal with Fishtailed Arm ('off').
Area: LNWR   Usage: High   Status: Historical

Another new requirement to come from the Board of Trade in 1877 concerned stop and distant arms placed together on the same post. It was laid down that the stop arm must be the higher of the two [2.31 - 2.33]. The Glasgow & South Western Railway had previously employed the opposite arrangement, placing the distant arm at the top of the post.

[2.31] Stop and Distant arms both 'on'. *
Area: All Areas   Usage: High   Status: Current
[2.32] Stop arm 'off', Distant arm 'on'. *
Area: All Areas   Usage: High   Status: Current
[2.33] Stop and Distant arms both 'off'. *
Area: All Areas   Usage: High   Status: Current
Note: The above illustrations serve only to show the positions of the signal arms. For full details of their appearance, refer to elsewhere in this section.

On 21 January 1876, a double collision occurred at Abbots Ripton on the Great Northern Railway as a consequence of semaphore arms being frozen inside their slotted posts, which prevented them returning to the 'on' position. This prompted one of the GNR's signal fitters, Edward French, to design a new form of semaphore signal in which a centrally balanced arm operated outside of the post. While the 'on' indication was no different in appearance from that of previous semaphores, the arm in the 'off' position remained fully visible in an almost vertical position [2.34 & 2.35] and not obscured within the post. Another improvement was to show a green light at night when the arm was in the 'off' position, to avoid a white light, which might be seen as a result of a broken red lens, being falsely taken as a 'clear' indication while the signal was at 'danger'. Known as 'somersault' signals, the new form of semaphore arm was first used by the GNR in 1877. These were apparently the first semaphore signals to give a positive 'clear' indication.

[2.34] 'Somersault' Stop Signal ('off').
Area: Predominately GNR   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[2.35] 'Somersault' Distant Signal ('off').
Area: Predominately GNR   Usage: High   Status: Historical

From 1877, the Great Northern Railway began to distinguish its signals applying to goods lines or slow lines by fitting rings to their arms [2.36 & 2.37]. In addition to being fitted with rings, the same signals were altered to show a purple light at night in the 'off' position [2.37].

[2.36] Ringed 'Somersault' Stop Signal ('on').
Area: GNR   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[2.37] Ringed 'Somersault' Stop Signal ('off').
Area: GNR   Usage: High   Status: Historical

The Taff Vale Railway was another major user of somersault signals. On the TVR, the Rhymney Railway and the Barry Railway, their arms were painted with two white stripes [2.38]. Given that the arm rotated to a near vertical position, the resulting image of one white rectangle above the other provided drivers with a greater visual clue that the signal was 'off' [2.39].

[2.38] 'Somersault' Stop Signal ('on').
Area: TVR / Rhy.R / Bar.R   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[2.39] 'Somersault' Stop Signal ('off').
Area: TVR / Rhy.R / Bar.R   Usage: High   Status: Historical