Oil-lit semaphores

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Colin1501

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As far as I was aware, most - if not all - semaphores on Network Rail lines are now electrically lit. However, on a recent visit to the Wherry lines, I noticed that the up platform starter at Somerleyton (and apologies if this nomenclature is wrong) has an original LNER lamp case behind the spectacle plate - see image. Now, it could be that this case contains an electric lamp, but given that standard electric lamps are in almost universal use elsewhere, why would anyone bother to carry out such a conversion? There does appear to be an electric cable going into the case, but this could presumably be for the lamp repeater in the box.

Can anyone with local knowledge shed any light (no pun intended) - is this signal still oil-lit, as it appears to be?

ColinIMGP9260(1).JPG
 
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Tio Terry

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Not sure about Somerleyton but years ago, in BR days, when I was on what was the Norwich Division we converted a load of oil lit signals to electric. The lamp fittings were intended to fit in the existing housing to save costs. The cable could be one of two things, a supply cable for the lamp or a bi-metallic contact in the lamp top that would detect if the oil lamp had gone out.
 

John Webb

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I assume this is the signal in question:
Somerleyton Station and signal

© Copyright roger geach and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
It may be still oil-lit, but it is possible it's been converted to electric light by a drop-in unit with an LED and is powered remotely. Only way of being certain is to go to the far end of the platform at dusk and see if it is a steady light or if it flickers a little! Bearing in mind the proximity of the swing-bridge and its signal box, I would expect this signal to be electrically lit.
 

8stewartt

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Think I’ve read somewhere before there are no oil lamps left on the national network. We don’t have any on the GCR. All of ours are electrically lit
 

NorthernSpirit

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Serious question, are there any oil lit semaphores remaining on the network in 2019?
What's the chance that some obscure goods only branchline has the odd one left?

I'm sure there's a semaphore on the former Lincolnshire Coast Line at Utterby / Fotherby that may still have an original oil lit lantern, although disused. Maybe when the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway extend northwards the semaphore and associated oil lit lantern are retained.
 

John Webb

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12v electrically lit incandescent lamp fed from location on down side.
Many thanks.

At St Albans South signal box, we display a number of lit oil lamps, including signal lamps, hand lamps and tail lamps, during our open afternoons. The kids in particular are fascinated that you can get useful light from flames......
 

MarkyT

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Asking the next logical question
Are there any on heritage lines?
On the South Devon Railway, we replaced the last of our oil lamps recently. Many of the main signals have been electric lit for decades with various different types of lamps: SL35s, small automotive filament lamps etc, but we've now standardised on a modern LED module that drops neatly into a WR lamp case and even the ground discs have all been converted, so we have no oil at all now. The LED unit has been designed to produce a very similar light output to a typical oil flame and is extremely reliable. The particular LED chosen produces light all round so the back light can be observed for signals close to the box. For signals that are on the lamp indicator circuits, we also have a small solid state light detection unit based on a light dependent resistor circuit in place of the old bimetallic strip devices.
 

MichaelWells

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Asking the next logical question

Are there any on heritage lines?
We have 4 M&GN Somersaults that are lit by oil once a year at Barton House Railway Wroxham Norfolk, Evening running is the 21st September from 7-10PM, only Electric Lamps in use are the Colour Light Signals, even staff must use Oil Lamps
 

thenorthern

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One thing to remember is the electricity supply in some rural areas didn't come until very late meaning it wasn't always economical to supply electricity just to power a single signal.

I know electronic telegraphs came to interlocking towers in the 1840s however it was just to communicate with each other and not to power the signals. Also you will be aware that interlocking towers with lever frames just use a mechanical cable not an electric one to control the signal. I know the last mechanical interlocking tower built in England (although not the UK) was Uttoxeter which opened in 1981. I know Uttoxeter got its first electricity supply in 1928 however it would have at first only powered the town and not necessarily the rural areas around it so the signals outside the town would have been converted much later.
 

krus_aragon

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What's the chance that some obscure goods only branchline has the odd one left?

I'm sure there's a semaphore on the former Lincolnshire Coast Line at Utterby / Fotherby that may still have an original oil lit lantern, although disused. Maybe when the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway extend northwards the semaphore and associated oil lit lantern are retained.
Surely if any semaphore still has an oil lantern fitted, it would need a member of staff to be lighting it on a daily basis. Unless local rules forbid any running after sundown, the lantern would need to be lit.

I can't see how an obscure branch line could still have an active oil lantern semaphore without local management questioning it.
 

MarkyT

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Much of the mechanically signalled railway in rural areas remained battery powered even into the 1980s. Out in lineside equipment cabinets, primary cells had to be changed periodically although could last a fairly long time under low current use feeding simple indicator and relay circuits. Many signalboxes got mains supplies quite early where that was easy but it could be a low quality domestic type supply, maybe a spur from a nearby station. Rechargeable battery backup was neccesary for reliability so all the equipment ran at low dc voltages. Adding filament lamps to light every signal in an area would have been a considerable extra constant load to draw on these early rather limited power supplies which could help to explain why oil lighting survived in places even after many other electric signalling devices had been introduced.
 

RichA

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Surely if any semaphore still has an oil lantern fitted, it would need a member of staff to be lighting it on a daily basis. Unless local rules forbid any running after sundown, the lantern would need to be lit.

I can't see how an obscure branch line could still have an active oil lantern semaphore without local management questioning it.
The lamp will burn for at least 7 days so are attended to each week. Spotted a lampman attending to the signals at Garsdale on the Settle - Carlisle line a year or so ago.
 

edwin_m

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Much of the mechanically signalled railway in rural areas remained battery powered even into the 1980s. Out in lineside equipment cabinets, primary cells had to be changed periodically although could last a fairly long time under low current use feeding simple indicator and relay circuits. Many signalboxes got mains supplies quite early where that was easy but it could be a low quality domestic type supply, maybe a spur from a nearby station. Rechargeable battery backup was neccesary for reliability so all the equipment ran at low dc voltages. Adding filament lamps to light every signal in an area would have been a considerable extra constant load to draw on these early rather limited power supplies which could help to explain why oil lighting survived in places even after many other electric signalling devices had been introduced.
The LMS introduced a lot of colour light distant signals in the 1930s, to make them more visible and allow greater braking distance for higher speed by putting them at distances where mechanical operation would be difficult. I imagine the power supply issues for these would have been quite challenging in places. Other early colour light signalling, such as on the Great Central in LNER days, used approach lit signals which I think was also to save power.
 

thenorthern

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Given that electric supplies across the country weren't standardized until 1928 (I think) it would be annoying for rail companies to know the correct voltage/frequency for each area as some areas in the 1920s still had DC power supplies.
 

John Webb

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The LMS introduced a lot of colour light distant signals in the 1930s, to make them more visible and allow greater braking distance for higher speed by putting them at distances where mechanical operation would be difficult. I imagine the power supply issues for these would have been quite challenging in places. Other early colour light signalling, such as on the Great Central in LNER days, used approach lit signals which I think was also to save power.
The LMS introduction of colour light distants also saved on maintaining long lengths of wire runs and eliminated the need for Fogmen to be ordered out to the distant signals in fog or snow. Power could be supplied at 100v via the telegraph pole routes - the insulators for the power lines were coloured red, and usually on extended arms so if a power wire broke it would drop down clear of the other wires on the pole route. Photos I've seen of the 1930s signals seem to indicate there wasn't room for transformers in the signal heads as was the custom later, so I assume it would be transformed down to 12v near to the signal. I also assume a relay, also located near the signal, was operated to change the caution aspect to a clear aspect. If anyone can clarify, I'd be obliged.
 

Foggycorner

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Power was supplied to the mechanical signal lights by either 110v to a 110v lamp in the signal lamp casing or 12v to a 12v lamp or as later a battery fed LED unit that fit in the Lamp casing or later still a LED fed from a battery at the bottom of the signal
Early Colour light signals are a different ball game
 

Elecman

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Settle Junction and Blea Moor signalboxes didn’t get domestic electric supplies until the early 1980s. Indeed Settle was fed from a 40 amp DNO distant signal supply nearly 3/4 of a mile away so was very restricted until finally replaced with a new DNO opposite the box.
 
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