Quite rightly, our visitors marvel at, and our excited by, our excellent fleet of well turned-out locomotives and their ‘supporting cast’ of carriages and wagons, all of which help significantly to create the heritage atmosphere and ‘period scene’ which attracts people to the Bodmin & Wenford Railway.
But have you ever given a thought to the important role played by our track, and our signalling, without which we would not be able to run any trains at all!
On the BWR there are 6½ miles of running line to be maintained, together with over a dozen points and the track in the various sidings. There are some 13 miles of fencing and hedging to be maintained. There are also 25 bridges along the line, including one over the River Camel and a viaduct over the River Fowey and many culverts and drainage ditches.
Our small Permanent Way team, led by a Chief Civil Engineer, is responsible for maintaining all this in a safe and reliable manner. Work goes on throughout the year, but major projects – such as relaying a stretch of track – normally take place in the winter when passenger trains do not run.
The railway track upon which our trains travel consist of steel rails held in cast iron chairs fixed to wooden or concrete sleepers. The whole is firmly bedded down in crushed stone called ballast, which supports the track and the load of trains passing over. The ballast also provides drainage. The rails are generally either 45 or 60 feet long and joined together with fishplates and four large bolts.
Our PW team carries out regular inspections of our track, bridges, cuttings and embankments to ensure our permanent way is in a safe condition for the movement of trains.
Trains are unable to stop suddenly or swerve like a motor car. Their movements have to be strictly controlled to avoid collisions and derailments. Signals indicate to a Driver whether to go or to stop. The various points and signals at Bodmin General are in
Signalling has evolved over many years to permit the safe passage of trains. From early times, wire or rods to a central lever frame in a signalbox linked signals, points and other apparatus. This allows one person, the Signalman, to control movements over a fairly large area. Interlocking between the various levers, together with mechanical and electrical locks, prevents conflicting movements.
The BWR uses mechanical signalling. The main ‘running’ signals largely comprise 4ft long arms with a red painted face (with a white stripe), normally held in the horizontal position which denotes ‘stop’. These arms then move down when pulled off to allow a train to pass. You will also see smaller signals, usually at ground level, to control shunting movements. At night, a light will illuminate the spectacle glass attached to the arm to show red (stop) or green (proceed).
An essential feature of train operation on any railway is to prevent two trains being on the same section of track, with the associated risk of collision. On our single track line, a ‘Train Staff’ (sometimes referred to as a ‘Token’), achieves this. The Driver is issued this by the Signalman (usually in a large metal ‘hoop’), which – assuming the relevant signals are also cleared – authorises the train to run over that particular section of track. Only one train staff can be taken from an instrument in the signalbox for any section of line. These instruments are interlocked with the signals to provide further safeguards.
Our small signalling team, led by a Chief Signal & Telegraph Engineer – all of whom are volunteers – is responsible for maintaining the signalling equipment and apparatus in a safe and reliable manner.