SCRCA Knowledge Base for Blea Moor Signal Box (1941 - present)

Submitted by mark.harvey / Sun, 12/02/2017 - 21:34
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At a glance (key statistics)

Location

OS Grid reference: SD 75773 80596.

Latitude:  54.220491, Longitude: -2.3730889999999363.).

Distance (rail-miles) from London St Pancras: 248 miles, 39 chains.

Distance (rail-miles) from Settle Junction: approximately 14.7 miles.

Date of construction

The current box opened on:

  • 20th September 1941 (Anderson & Fox, 1986), or
  • December 16th, 1941 (Gough, 1989). ?? Which date applies ??
Design type

LMS type 11c signal box, modified in ?? possibly 2002/3 ?? to provide an enclosed toilet at the top of the external steps.

Construction materials Two-bay timber frame on a brick base with slate roof. The original single-glazed timber window frames were replaced with new wooden double-glazed units circa 2002/3.[JH]
Control equipment Mechanical, using a 1941 REC* 30 lever frame with tappet locking.
* REC is an abbreviation for "Railway Executive Committee" (the government-appointed organisation that controlled Britain's railways during the Second World War).[DL]
Protection level Located in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Settle-Carlisle Railway Conservation Area.

Additional information

  • The first signal box at Blea Moor opened on August 2nd, 1875. It was located on the 'Down' side at 248 miles 42 chains (SCRCA Structure 248590). It was replaced twice (on December 4th, 1892 and June 28th, 1914) with new structures located on approximately the same site. However, to facilitate the extension of Blea Moor Sidings during World War 2, the structure had to be demolished. The replacement signal box (the current structure) was constructed the 'Up' side and it opened on either 20th September or December 16th, 1941 (see 'at a glance' above).
  • Blea Moor signal box originally controlled train movements in the Blea Moor Sidings area (see SCRCA Structures 248450 and 248620). Main line train movements were coordinated with Ribblehead signal box to the south and Dent Head signal box to the north. Dent Head signal box closed on 11 April 1965 and Ribblehead signal box closed on 17 August 1969. As a result of these and other signal box closures, Blea Moor signal box now coordinates main line train movements with Settle Junction signal box to the south and Garsdale signal box to the north and directly controls train movements in the following area:
    • In the 'Down' direction: the Ribblehead station area (from the colour light signal at the south end of the 'Down' platform ?? is this correct and what is its proper name ??) to the ?? what is the name of this signal ?? at the north end of Blea Moor Sidings (including the ground frame for Ribblehead Quarry Sidings).[JH]
    • In the 'Up' direction: the Blea Moor area from the repeater signal close to Blea Moor tunnel north portal ?? is this correct and what is its proper name ??, to the recently installed intermediate block home signal just beyond Horton station (including the Ribblehead station area).[JH]
  • The latest signalling alterations were commissioned on October 27th, 2015 in conjunction with the opening of the new sidings at Arcow Quarry. As the siding connection at Arcow faces north and all traffic from the quarry is required in the Manchester and Leeds areas, it was necessary to improve the run-round facilities at Blea Moor. Amongst other changes, this involved the installation of a new 'Down' main line inner home signal at the north end of the single line section over Ribblehead viaduct. This permits direct access to the 'Up' goods loop. Previously access to the loop in the 'Down' direction was only available to trains departing from the sidings at Ribblehead via the ground frame points, a legacy of the 1980s singling work when ballast was still being loaded at Ribblehead and despatched to Healey Mills. All the new and altered signals are of LED colour light type.[JH]
  • The signal box is currently manned 24 hours a day, every day of the year, with one signaller per 12 hour shift (0600 to 1800 and 1800 to 0600).[JH]
  • There is no road access to this site so, prior to starting work, the person operating the signal box must park his or her car at the foot of the viaduct, then walk along the trackside for almost a mile to reach the signal box.
  • For many decades, the first 'Down' (i.e. north-bound) train each day dropped-off fresh water to allow the signalman to brew a cuppa. This procedure changed in 1988 after Blea Moor signalman Ken Harrison was forced to close the signal box for "about an hour and a quarter" while he went to Horton to fetch some drinking water. (You can hear Ken tell this story in his oral history at
    http://www.longprestonheritage.org.uk/oral_history/ken_harrison.htm.)
    Shortly after this incident, a new system was introduced: from time to time, a bowser filled with water would be towed up the bridleway by a quad bike or some other 4x4 vehicle. At some point, the system changed once more: approximately once a month, the morning empty passenger train from Skipton to Ribblehead would stop at Settle Junction to pick up a supply of bottled drinking water, then drop it off at Blea Moor Signal Box during the reversing manoeuvre. The procedure was changed again circa 2010, when the early morning service was altered to run through to Carlisle (rather than reversing at Blea Moor). These days, rainwater is harvested from the roof of the signal box and stored in a tank for toilet flushing and washing, while bottled drinking water is delivered by the Mobile Operations Managers using a Network Rail 4x4 vehicle.[JH]
  • Coal is still used to heat the signal box. The coal is delivered by road vehicle from time to time and is dropped-off somewhere in the station yard. It is then collected by either a rail-mounted crane (if there is a planned engineering possession) or by the Mobile Operations Managers using a Network Rail 4x4 vehicle.[JH]
  • For over a century, the mechanical 'semaphore' signals that helped to ensure the safety of trains between Hellifield and Carlisle relied on paraffin lamps to make their signals visible at night. A lampman would visit each signal at least once a week to tend to these lamps and, if correctly filled and trimmed, they would remain alight for up to ten days, even through the fiercest of storms. In recent times, many of the semaphore signals have either been removed (as the signalling has been simplified) or replaced with the more modern colour light variety. (Most of the latter now use LEDs rather than traditional incandescent bulbs.) The only remaining semaphore signals at Blea Moor are the 'Up' goods loop starting signal and the 'Down' line 'Up' direction starting signal. (The latter is used by passenger trains that terminate at Ribblehead station as these need to run to Blea Moor in order to cross over before returning south.) The two remaining semaphore signals are lit by battery powered LED lamps. (Oil lamps are no longer used on the Settle-Carlisle railway and the last lampman on the line was Peter Akrigg*, who retired from the job in November 2010.)[JH]

* Sadly, Peter died after a short illness on April 12th, 2016. There is a photograph of him (and of one of the signals that he tended) on page 15 of the May 2016 edition of the FoSCL Journal. This can be viewed / downloaded via the following link: /sites/foscl.org.uk/files/FoSCL%20Mag%20May%202016.pdf

  • Blea Moor was the last signal box on the Settle-Carlisle line to retain detonator placers worked from the signal box. These provided additional protection for the single line section and were only removed after the installation of TPWS (Train Protection and Warning System). The detonators in this trackside device were constantly exposed to the elements, so they needed to be replaced every two months to ensure that they remained in working condition. Records show that the last change took place on September 7th, 2009 and that the placers were removed on February 9th, 2010.[JH]
  • On September 19th, 2009 the Guardian newspaper published an interview with Jay Hartley (a Settle-Carlisle Railway signalman). The signal boxes at Garsdale and Blea Moor are mentioned in the article, which is available online at:

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2009/sep/19/railway-signaller-career

Footnotes

[DL]: Some of this information was kindly supplied by David Lowe, a former signalman and regional / area signalling inspector.

[JH]: Some or all of this information was kindly supplied by Jay Hartley, a Network Rail signalman who regularly worked in Blea Moor signal box.

Acknowledgements

Knowledge base compiled by and © Mark R. Harvey. As indicated in the footnotes, some of the information was kindly provided by David Lowe and Jay Hartley.