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Semaphore signals

38645 Views 64 Replies 16 Participants Last post by  John Webb
I was very impressed by the working semaphores signals - and spectacle lights on the Bodmin club's Trehayn layout at Ally Pally yesterday. I was wondering how they made them. I tried to mechanise a single post ratio kit many years ago but the operating mechanism was very fragile. Is there a sure fire way to do this or do you need the nimble skills of a brain surgeon (I'm not a brain surgeon).

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Dear dwb,

Can I recommend the following two books:
'Model Railway Signalling' by C J Freezer, PSL, 1991. Not, I think, in print any more but often to be seen for a few pounds on book stalls at model railway exhibitions, swap meets etc.
'Constructing & Operating Semaphore Signals', Mick Nicholson, republished 2004 by Booklaw Publications, Nottingham. Still in print. Refers a lot to MSE bits and pieces.

Hope these will be of help,
John Webb
Thanks for the post too. I have just ordered the 2nd book from Ian Allen publishing for only GBP4.99 which I think is a bargain. The shipping to Australia was more than the book!

Will let you know how it is when it arrives.
The full cover price for the 2nd book is GBP9.99. I picked up mine from a bookseller stand at a local MR exhibition, but for some reason didn't note as I usually do what price I actually paid.

MSE, by the way, is 'Model Signal Engineering', based in Barton upon Humber in the UK - see for information.

John Webb
Thanks for the references John

Well the book arrived and basically appears to be a more detialed version of the instructions provided by MSE in their pdf versions on the website.

The first chapter has been edited for length and so jumps straight into terminology without so mush as an overview.

Classic mistake of making a book for people who already know all the terms.

I want a dummies guide to signalling!!

Good clear instructions with photos of both models and prototypes.

No section on powering up and operating these ie solenoids, tortoises etc I am definitely after that sort of information.
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Dear Lancs F,

Then it's Cyril Freezer's book you want to try and get hold of.

Possibly Peco's booklet 4: Wiring the layout-1st steps and 5: Wiring the layout-for the more advanced.
Also 'Wiring the layout' by Jeff Geary, which also includes a CD with program to help you design and wire up your layout. Cost GB£14.99 and available via Ian Allan or from KRB Publications,, 2, Denewulf Close, BISHOPS WALTHAM, Hants SO32 1GZ (no phone or website) or Cove Models: 119 Lynchford Road, FARNBOROUGH, Hants. 01252 544532, e-mail: [email protected]

The Peco booklets and Geary's book will certainly cover the wiring of the various point motors/solenoids, but have little about signals.

One of the British railway modelling magazines is currently running a series on basic signalling, but I cannot recall which one. Worth having a look on the magazine shelves, perhaps, in your newsagents or model shop if they have UK publications. Also worth looking out for are the Ian Allan books 'Signalling in the age of Steam' by M A Vanns and 'BR Signalling Handbook' by S Hall for prototype information.

Hope the above is of help,

John Webb
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Since my original question I have been busy.

First I came across and bought this book

"British Railway Signalling in Colour" by Robert Hendry published by Midland Publishing.

It covers the history of signalling but in a more pictorial fashion than the O.S. Nock's book from the 70s which I read way back then. I think you will gain a reasonable insight into the terms employed. I have found the explanation of signalling diagrams the most useful.

I am also in the middle of drawing up a signalling diagram for the mainline station which I posted for review in another thread here. It's proving quite a long process but I think it will pay back in the following ways:-

1) Having to place home signals for each route forces me to consider exactly what it is I have designed.

2) Adding track circuits re-inforces point 1 and will serve as the blueprint for when I add DCC section monitoring. I am now thankful that each point and crossing has its own individual isolated electrical feed as it means I can move them circuit to circuit if I find the balance is wrong.

3) I have just made my first print and I have to say that it looks rather good.

4) Once the diagram is completed and I have numbered the points and signals, I will know just how wide my signal box should be.

5) I will have to decide precisely which companies' lines I am modelling and the orientation of the station - ie north / south, east / west etc.

On the subject of the signal box, I am toying with the idea of putting one of the rectangular loco sound speakers in the locking room and having it ring bell codes under control via DCC, most probably from a PC.

For signal control I have stumbled across the idea of using memory wire. On the face of it, this appears to be a much simpler way of activating signals than using solenoids. There is a good site on memory wire here:-

Using memory wire

I found the site via the scalefour society links page here : ScaleFour society links page. You can get to Lisa's site from here too

Model Signal Engineering are scheduled to attend the Railex exhibition in Aylesbury (details here: Railex 2006) so I hope to visit and gather a lot more data and hopefully see some signals in the "flesh".

Once I have completed the first draft of the signal diagram, I will be posting here for comment, but don't hold your breath!

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>the O.S. Nock's book from the 70s which I read way back then
That should have been "British Railway Signalling" by G.M.Kitchenside & Alan Williams published by Ian Allen. I found it in my archive when I went rummaging for diesel data. I also turned up some Eric Plans for railway buildings, so there was something in it for me too!

As far as I can make out, the Vann's book and Hall's book are replacements for the Kitchenside & Williams book - I've got a copy of that from 1975 - the third edition.

There's also 'A Pictorial Survey of Railway Signalling' by D Allen and C J Woolstenholmes published 1991 by Haynes/Oxford Publishing Co. They also do one on LMS signals.

John Webb
I assume that when the lever count for a signal box gets up into the 80s before shunting signals have been added - could be as many as 30 or 40, it is probably time to consider splitting the station into a box at each end. Is that reasonable?

Locomotive Yard box, York, had 295 levers in one long run - so it wasn't the number of levers that necessarily counted - I think it was more the distance they could work the points that determined the location of signal boxes. The Board of Trade or the Ministry of Transport originally limited mechanical operation of points to 120yards in the 1870s but by 1925 this had been increased to 350yards. Power operation and track-circuits allowed points to be worked over any distance.
Clearly any station that could accomodate a loco or two with 15 coaches was well over 350 yards long and would therefore need at least two mechanical boxes.

John Webb
has anyone tried using the ratio point/signal levers? i had a play with it many years ago without much luck. they look cool but i never did make it work reliably.

I've not tried the Ratio system. In the past they used threads which were affected by damp and temperature, but I think they now use modern materials less susceptible to our climate.

Another possible source of point levers and accessories is who have the 'Mercontrol' system of wire in tubing. Their lever-frames are metal, and mount on top of the baseboard, unlke Ratio's plastic levers.

And if you want mechanical interlocking levers for your layout there is in Australia.

John Webb
i'v gone off the idea now anyway. i saw the ration oned in a box at an exhibition going for about £4. when i saw them i had these visions of clapham signal box... i use seep motors now and the old electric pencil method. there was another firm at warley selling lever frames. they actually designed them spacifically for your layout. the price was horrendous but they looked and worked great. mabye one day!..

I think it was the Modratec you may have seen at Warley; I recall someone saying that they would be there. Yes, they are rather expensive. My late father was always designing tappet locking frames for various potential layouts - beautifully drawn as he was a draughtsman but none ever got constructed. But he enjoyed himself.

John Webb
I must admit to cheating a bit with kit signals. I used a combination of ratio kits (BR Western Region) and brass tubing for strength. I use the finials and other specialised pieces from the MSE range. The plastic poles supplied with ratio are useless, particularly if you want them to operate. I have some samples of my kits on -

the modellers benchwork section. They look quite good. I would say that each signal does take about 3-5 hours to do, but the results are great if a bit fiddly.

Best of luck
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So the ratio ones would be no good say linked up with a tortoise for operating then?

I am very keen to have operating semaphores on my layout so any help / guidance most appreciated
According to the latest (June) Railway Modeller (Page 403), MSE have just introduced a signal motor by Viessmann to their range. This looks a lot smaller than a Tortoise point motor but at £11.25 is around the same price. The motor is a 'damped' twin solenoid with adjustable speed.

John Webb
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