Belmont - SignallingWA

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Signal Cabins in WA


WAGR - Eastern Railway (E. R.) - Racecourse Branch

1938 WAGR MAP Mileage = 6

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Quick Facts







9 Levers


Cabin moved from Lawler Street - Fate: Unknown

If horse racing is the sport of Kings, then it is fair to say that, historically, equine Australian Republicans have been a scarce breed. Australians have been among the most enthusiastic of equine monarchists, and to a 19th Century Antipodean, the presence of a racecourse in a town was as much a symbol of civilization as a post office, municipal chambers and a hotel.

Perth was no exception, and the 19th and early twentieth Century saw the capital of the colony (and later the state) of Western Australia being equipped (if that is not an inappropriate expression) with no less than 5 major racecourses, three of which were served by branch lines of varying lengths. Two of these were little more than extended sidings, however, the third – and historically the first to be built – was a mainline in its own right. This line was the Belmont branch, the terminus of which is the subject of this article.

The early history of the Belmont branch is too well known to be repeated here: suffice it to say that it was originally mooted as the first stage of the Bassendean to Busselton Railway, but the line never proceeded any further than the Belmont racecourse. Indeed, the line took several years to reach even that truncated destination: the line originally terminated at the Swan River as the local administration was too impoverished to build a bridge to take the line the final 60 chains to its final destination. However, the coming of the gold rush saw the coffers of the Colony of Western Australia fill to unprecedented levels, and in 1897 a bridge and the final fourths of a mile of track was completed bringing the line, belatedly, to its terminus.

Initially, the line was worked under the rules applicable to the Staff and Ticket system. The sections were Bayswater – Racecourse; or to be more correct, Bayswater - Terminus on the North Side of the River some 60 chains from the Racecourse, however, such an inscription would have been too unwieldy.

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Bayswater was opened as a junction intermittently to allow for race traffic: the 1896 Rule Book and Appendix providing that the Eastern Railway from Perth was normally worked Perth – Guildford, with the sections Perth - Bayswater and Bayswater - Guildford substituted to allow for race trains to travel to and from the branch.

What signalling arrangements graced Belmont in the first half decade of its existence is not entirely clear. The Weekly Notices record that in December 1902, a Down Home signal, , a Down Distant signal and an Up Advanced Starting signal were installed. The installation of an Advanced Starting signal suggests that a Starting signal was already in existence at the time. - however one cannot be too dogmatic in this assumption. Late 19th Century Western Australian Railway signalling practices were at times unusual, and one cannot blithely assume that the existence of an Advanced Starting signal was predicated by the existence of a matching Starter. In any event, the signals were operated from a ground frame at the Perth end of the platform. The station was not interlocked, and this was to be the subject of criticism over the next two decades.

Belmont was never attended on a full time basis. Although Safeworking  Porters were, at various times, appointed to attend  to business trains and work the station on race days and other special occasions, guards were expected to perform the normal safeworking duties which included operating the signals. The 1907 General Appendix, for example, provided that all signals were (when the station was unattended) to be left at ‘Clear’, and on arrival the guard was to set them at ‘Danger’ immediately after arrival, and ‘Clear’ them immediately before departure. The Starting signals were left at ‘Clear’, no doubt, to obviate the need for the train to stop so as to allow the guard to walk back to the frame and restore them to danger once the train had departed.

There only ever was one platform at Belmont which was on the Up road. Trains approaching Belmont on the Down line from Perth negotiated a crossover which took them onto the Up road. This crossover was unusual: rather than both ends of the crossover being operated by one lever, only the facing points were so operated, with the trailing end being spring-loaded. The facing points of the crossover were operated by either a lever or a hand throw, and were normally set for the Platform. The effect of this was that a train approaching Belmont would be automatically routed onto the Platform road. Because the trailing points were spring-loaded, once the train had passed over them the switch (points) would reset for the Up road, and the train could depart without the Guard having to re-set the points.

Staff and Ticket working remained in force until,1899  when double line absolute  block working  was introduced. Presumably, two (position?)wire instruments were  initially provided, for Weekly Notice No 1 of 1903 recorded that, as a result of the introduction of 3 (position?)wire instruments, the blocking back signal would henceforth no longer be used.

The lack of interlocking was to become a source of concern to the traffic branch, for in November 1914 the acting Chief Traffic manager wrote to the chief engineer of existing lines, expressing the desirability of interlocking the crossovers. A scheme was submitted, however, this did not eventuate as falling traffic (no doubt due to wartime economies) did not justify the costs involved.

However, the Traffic Branch were not to be denied, and in Novemeber1923 the Chief Traffic Manager wrote to the Chief Engineer of Existing Lines, pointing out that the existing safeworking cabin was too small, and the signals were worked by an outside frame. He suggested that the recently superseded Subiaco box could be removed and relocated to Belmont so as to enable the frame and instruments be worked together. It is possible that the C.T.M.'s views were influenced by the 1921 Abermule collision in the UK, due in part to Abermule's frame and instruments being separated, although we probably will never know if this was the case. In any event, in January 1924 the proposal was accepted, however, as Subaico's cabin was considered too large a facility for the likes of Belmont, it was decided that the smaller Lawler Street (superceded by West Subiaco - today's Daglish) would be used instead.

A flurry of activity then ensued. The sighting committee investigated the site and made a number of recommendations, including the installation of an Automatic Home signal, although the latter was dismissed as too expensive. Departmental  quotes for the relocation were rapidly obtained, however, the matter then fell into abeyance for a few months, with the Lawler Street cabin not being relocated to Belmont until the end of August 1924.

There does not appear to have been any significant interlocking changes associated with the cabin's installation: the surviving documentation does not mention any new signalling arrangements. The changes were not enough to justify a new entry in the newly (1922) issued General Appendix: the relevant section reading:

This place is opened as a Block Signal Box during certain hours (see current time table) and when required.
Down Home and Distant signals and Up Staring and Advance Starting Signals are provided.
The Up home is provided with a facing point detector and the Up Starter is also provided with a detector on race days.
When there is no one in charge of Belmont the signals will be at "All Clear". On arrival of a train the Guard must immediately place the Down Home and Distant signals at danger and they must not be lowered until the train is ready to proceed on its journey.
The key of the Signal Box is in the possession of the Station master Bayswater.
A train may be considered as having arrived when it has passed the Signal Box, and the Signalman has seen the tail lamp or disc on the last vehicle, and a following train may be accepted if the line is clear to the Home signal.
The facing points are normally set for the platform road, which in this instance is treated as the Main Line. The trailing end of Cross over points are normally set against down traffic. Engine  Drivers must not pass over such points in the Up direction unless the Guard (or other competent person) is in attendance. Guards of all trains will, unless special instructions are issued to the contrary, be held responsible for seeing that they are properly set, in addition to re-locking points at opposite end of crossover.

A point detector was a device which was connected to both the throw bar of the points and the wire for the appropriate signal, and worked such that the signal could not be cleared unless the points were correctly set. Ironically, given the Chief Traffic Manager’s concerns, the points were not interlocked with the signals, hence the injunction about drivers not passing over the crossover points in the Up direction without the Guard etc., being in attendance. This arrangement appears to have never changed: as late as 1953 there is a reference in the interlocking file to the balance point lever (a weighted lever) on the crossover requiring attention. The method of trains automatically being routed onto the platform road as described in the 1907 General Appendix seems to have prevailed until Belmont's closure.

The reference to a Signal Box at Belmont is something of a mystery. The survivng Belmont interlocking file makes it clear- indeed, beyond reasonable doubt- that prior to August 1924 no signal box existed at Belmont. Unless the authors of the Appendix were clairvoyant, the most likely explanation for the use of the phrase "Signal Box" was a looseness of language, in which "Signal Box" was used in place of  "Traffic Office", the term the WAGR used for cabins that housed safeworking instruments or staff boxes, but no lever frames. Such infelicious use had a precedent: the 1900 WAGR Annual Report referred to the "signal cabin" at Albany being reclad when, in fact, the building in question could not have been anything other than a Staff Room.

The box was located at the Up end of Belmont's platform. It housed a small, 9 lever frame. Unfortunately, no definitive plan of the box appears to have survived. However, in all probability the box was a weatherboard structure identical to the small boxes at locations such as Maddington and Queens Park, to name but a few.

Belmont worked with Bayswater and, when they were switched in, Whatley and River Bridge Boxes. These two boxes were probably only switched in during race days, so as to provide shorter headways between trains. River Box was unique, being the only signal box on the WAGR that did not have fixed signals, using flagmen instead! The 1924 General Appendix provided that when opened, 4 flagmen, acting as Up and Down Homes and Distants, were to work under the River Box signalman's direction, although how this was to be achieved is not recorded.

When Belmont was unattended only one train in each direction was allowed between Belmont and Bayswater. Given the relatively low frequencies of services on the branch, this probably created few operational headaches. The branch only really became busy on race meetings days, when Whatley, River Bridge and Belmont were all switched in, creating a closely spaced sequence of boxes that would have done a main line proud.

Belmont soon settled in to a routine, indeed, mundane existence. The Belmont interlocking file is notable for its lack of any interesting correspondence after the box was opened: indeed the only interlocking change of note after the Box's opening was in 1930, when the Annett's key controlling the switching in and out of the Block instruments was removed and replaced by a master lever. A temporary siding was built into the racecourse in 1934, however, this seems to have had no impact on the safeworking or interlocking arrangements, other than the relocation of a few telephone poles at a cost of some seven  pounds. Even allowing for inflation the WAGR seems to have received a bargain.

The Second World War saw the imposition of economies which impacted on the branch (and the box) in several ways. The first was a restriction in race meetings: the second was a shortage in Red and Green spectacle plates for the semapahore signals. In September 1947, the Deputy Chief Traffic Manager wrote to the Electrical and Signal engineer pointing out that the spectacles on the Belmont home had been damaged by small missiles (probably destroyed by young boys with shanghais, such petty vandalism by juvenile males being common in the 1940s and 50s) and requesting their replacement. The Electrical and Signal Engineer replied with the retort that coloured glass was unavailable in the state, which in turn led to sharp reply to the effect that the said engineer was mistaken in his understanding. From the viewpoint of an observer in 2016 it is hard to comprehend the impact that Wartime shortages had on everyday life and commerce (and perhaps even civility!) even some 2 years after the conflict had ended.

Race meetings did not resume in earnest until well after the war, however, by the time they resumed the writing was on the wall for the branch. Post war prosperity saw a phenomenal rise in car ownership, which was to doom the WAGR's racecourse branches. With only a very limited passenger catchment area the Belmont branch generated few passengers for its services, and no doubt the Government maintained an eagle eye  for any excuse to close the branch, as was the case with Maddington (closed 1949) and Helena Vale (which was to close in 1963). Such an opportunity presented itself in 1956, when the branch's bridge across the Swan was damaged by fire. Services on the branch were suspended and never resumed, and the track past the bridge was soon lifted, although the Bayswater end of the branch was to linger for a few more years as a storage siding. Belmont box was closed and probably demolished. The era of the traditional gabled weatherborad signal box was passing into history, and with the WAGR settling on a utilitarian (read hideously ugly) style of cabin as exemplified by Koojedda, Cottesloe, North Fremantle, the final West Perth cabin and Narrogin there was no room for ageing, if stylish, small cabins.

Today there is no evidence of the box or the station, and only a few, rapidly vanishing, remnants of the branch. At the time of writing (2016), a new railway line heading eastwards from Bassendean is in the preliminary stages of construction. While it will run along some of the original Belmont Branch alignment, it will avoid the racecourse and, in any event will be signalled by technologies that no guard working the frame at Belmont could have envisaged, and for the benefit of operators far less skilled that even the humblest safeworking porter.

Any additional information on this signal cabin would be most welcome - please use the e-mail form provided on this page.

Article researched and interpreted by Justin Smith © 2016

Hosted on SignallingWA by Chris. J. E. French

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BELMONT Employees

This list may not be complete and does not yet include employees who worked here without being appointed.
Where an appointment date is unknown, the Weekly Notice (WN) date advising of the appointment or other official documentation, i.e. Certificate of Competency (CC) will be used.




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