Steam locos and signal sighting

Discussion in 'UK Railway Discussion' started by Meerkat, 27 Jun 2019.

  1. Cowley

    Cowley Established Member

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    That is an amazing film...
    It’s often struck me when reading reports about crashes in steam days that SPADS sometimes happened because drivers had passed through the same set of signals time after time when they’d always had a clear road, and a momentary lapse of concentration the one time in a hundred that it’d been different had ended up costing them dearly...
    There were occasions that drifting steam would have caused problems, but there were also occasions when drifting steam was blamed by a driver that might have just as easily lost concentration due to the loco steaming badly, being under time pressure, or being heavily fatigued due to some of the extremely arduous shift work that was put in back then in very difficult conditions.

    There were of course plenty of accidents that lead to the loss of both of the footplate crew which meant that some of the questions remained forever unanswered...
     
  2. hexagon789

    hexagon789 Established Member

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    The oil lamps must've been a right pain considering how difficult the electrically look ones look to be to see.
     
  3. Bromley boy

    Bromley boy Established Member

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    Indeed. The footplate of a steam loco is a pretty horrendous working environment. SPADs still happen for all the reasons you outline above. These days TPWS means they generally aren’t fatal thankfully.

    Drifting steam is less of a good excuse for dropping a b*llock nowadays!
     
  4. Kneedown

    Kneedown Established Member

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    To be fair the Mirror was just as bad. I remember one columnist (Carole Malone? Not 100% sure if it was her) writing about "Train Drivers playing fast and loose with our lives".
     
  5. AndrewE

    AndrewE Established Member

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    Exactly right, and why a "passed fireman" could go out driving whenever needed. A steam fireman had lots of experience of the roads he worked over, signal and road crossing locations, also gradients and (of course) firing/steam demand, and could step up as and when a driver was missing.
     
  6. hexagon789

    hexagon789 Established Member

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    So "passed" firemen were allowed out to drive unsupervised then?
     
  7. AndrewE

    AndrewE Established Member

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    I think so, because they were already "passed"out as competent to drive, but presumably only on lines that they had fired over.
    However the level of route knowledge required was far different to today. Here's a story from a man I worked with in the 1970s who had been a fireman at Heaton Mersey shed:
    On summer Saturdays freight engines and crews would routinely be booked to work excursions and relief holiday trains to resorts. My friend was firing on one of these trains to Blackpool and on the approach to Preston station the driver slowed right down, almost to a stand and jumped down onto the platform. He said to my mate "If any of those (departure end) signals come off then move slowly up the platform towards it: By the time you get there I shall have found out which one is for us!"
     
  8. hexagon789

    hexagon789 Established Member

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    Oh okay, I just found that slightly surprising.

    I hope he found out! ;)
     
  9. chorleyjeff

    chorleyjeff Member

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    Of course.
    They were qualified as drivers but could not be promoted until a vacancy arose.
    Route knowledge would have to be learned as normal for drivers.
    Firemen did not need to know the road.
    And firemen would drive, under supervision, as the best or only way to learn how to drive.
     
  10. hexagon789

    hexagon789 Established Member

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    I had just assumed that until they became drivers, they could only drive supervised by presumably a driver. Were secondmen on diesels/electrics also allowed to drive unsupervised or did things change with the end of steam?
     
  11. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    There was none of the formal precise announcement of the aspect from driver to fireman, followed by the same in return, that you get in the USA. Just a "Yeah mate".

    This was part of the 1940 Norton Fitzwarren accident. The Down express had stopped at the Taunton Down Relief platform, on the left, for the best part of 10 minutes, with heavy passenger and mail exchange. The driver had looked out and saw the normal bracketed starting signal, on the left at this platform as well, for departure over the crossover to the Down Main at clear. Then the signalman was advised the nonstop down mail train was approaching, so reverted the signal, reset the points, and cleared the straight ahead Down Relief starter on the bracket instead. Train ready to go, driver on the right, fireman on the left, fireman looks back, gets the tip, looks forward, says "Clear", which it is for the Down Relief now,driver starts, does not notice in the dark blackout they are not crossing to the Down Main as he had seen signalled, on they go with the driver looking at the Down Main signals, on his side, all clear for the mail.

    Two ATC hoots at Silk Mill and Norton for a distant at caution at exactly the same place as the main line distants were clear. It was wartime. Distants regularly got flat batteries and gave misleading caution hoots where signals were fully visible and clear.
     
  12. AndrewE

    AndrewE Established Member

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    I disagree. They knew all the gradients and steam demand, and hence line speeds, and had to observe all the signals on the "wrong side" for the driver.
    My experience on a footplate ride on the SVR was of the fireman diligently shouting out all signal aspects on his side and all crossings "clear." I can't remember the driver doing the same (for his and the fireman's benefit) but if it happened in BR steam days it would have trained the fireman on the signals to expect. I agree that drivers saw themselves as the trainers of firemen [for driving] and some of the books you read have the driver refreshing his skills on the shovel while letting the fireman drive under his supervision.
     
  13. chorleyjeff

    chorleyjeff Member

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    I guess they would need to be qualified on the traction, know the road and be passed as drivers.
     
  14. chorleyjeff

    chorleyjeff Member

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    Disagree all you like.
     
  15. AndrewE

    AndrewE Established Member

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    I don't think you have any concept of what the railway was like in the 1950s, or how it was organised. Given your 380-odd posts, how much have you talked to steam age drivers, and how many books of footplate reminiscences have you read?
    If you go on a steam-hauled train when the fireman doesn't know the road (or isn't under the supervision of a driver capable of doing both jobs) then you will quickly be very disappointed. Do you think a fireman is or was a mere labourer?
    I think traction knowledge was just "steam" (or, later, specific diesel classes.) Firing for a driver familiar with the loco type might have been a bonus! Knowing the road probably came from firing over it (and maybe having a traction inspector ride with the candidate for an assessment) and being passed as a driver might have been an interview and then an inspection/demonstration trip.
    When I get my copy of "southern loco footplateman" back - or whatever it is called - I'll re-read the bits on passing out. Until then I suggest that you read up a bit on the skill needed to be a fireman, and then you might understand how they were more than ready to step up when a vacancy arose.
     
  16. hexagon789

    hexagon789 Established Member

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    I've seen that practice in a video of the SVR, presumably a standard practice of their's, certainly to me as a layman it seems like a good idea.

    The first two certainly, the latter is the one I'm not sure about.
     
  17. LowLevel

    LowLevel Established Member

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    No, they did not. They *might* have done, particularly the more senior men on top link work, but they certainly did not have to.

    You could have a 16 year old boy firing for you who was on hire from another depot for the week to cover shortages in another part of the country on occasion.

    Read a few accident reports. I can assure you there was no formal requirement for the fireman to have any route knowledge.

    They might have known their regular routes and there were some very experienced firemen at depots where the driving seniority age was high. Conversely particularly at the end of steam in London very were some very young firemen and drivers. Otherwise the fireman was expected to help where possible/practical and be managed by the driver.

    Modern preserved railways are a different matter and the fireman will generally have some kind of formal route knowledge assessment as part of the risk assessment for signal sighting with a steam locomotive.

    Your appreciation for the fire man's skill is admirable but you're assigning competence that simply wasn't there in practice, any fireman could fire any loco anywhere they were required to.

    Before I get the same question as earlier sent over to me regarding my knowledge, I know and have known plenty of steam age loco men from the 40s, 50s and 60s and I know plenty of modern day ones as well. I am also an experienced preserved railway operator as well as a national network one and am quite satisfied with my competence to comment on these particular matters.
     
  18. LowLevel

    LowLevel Established Member

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    For reference please find attached a sample of the accident report from the Eastbourne collision of 1958 which sums up a fireman's own explanation of signal sighting and route knowledge.

    20190629_230353.jpg
     
  19. Wilts Wanderer

    Wilts Wanderer Established Member

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    I imagine there were a myriad different examples of firemen of various levels of expertise and diligence. Much of it will have depended on the prevalent culture of the depot in question, the individuals involved, the variety of work in the links, etc.

    My personal experience of preserved steam operation is that a fireman will not succeed on the job without a good grasp of the route, the steam demands of the locomotive (and the driver!) and being able to anticipate problems about 10 mins before they occur.

    That being said, no fireman is much good to start with, and relies heavily on a tolerant driver who will walk them through their first few jobs. So yes, the 16 year old passed cleaner of 1950 might have landed a turn on the Pines Express or whatever, but most likely the engine struggled for steam, the train was 30 mins late and driver’s workload was greatly increased by having to coach his inexperienced mate, amend his driving technique and most likely nearly missed a few signals too.

    The worst thing as a fireman is getting a bad reputation, which sticks with you forever. This does still happen on preserved lines and it can end up with individuals quitting the ‘hobby.’ There is a real incentive to fireman to maximise their abilities and knowledge of the job, and therefore it didn’t need to be formalised as a training requirement for the job. 9/10 times it happened on it’s own, and the 10th guy probably didn’t last very long.
     
  20. 70014IronDuke

    70014IronDuke Established Member

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    WILDLY OT

    My impression is that the Mirror, seeing its circulation eaten away and then surpassed by The Sun, abandonned its traditional "we're working class, but we'll work our way up for our kids' sakes" ethos and tried to copy The Sun. Which it never did as well (if that's the right word) as The Sun itself. So it lost a lot of traditional 'conservative' readers (small c) without winning the 'sod this, I'm in life for a good time an F*** the rest" type that the Sun conquored for life.

    BICBW. I would like to see a serious study of how the British media changed as a result of the 1969 Murdoch Sun.
     
  21. matacaster

    matacaster Member

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    Would a couple of cameras near front of said steam loco + flat screen in cab help? Shouldn't be particularly tricky or expensive or visually intrusive as long as said steam loco has an alternator on board (like tornado) or a decent battery even.
     
  22. Deepgreen

    Deepgreen Established Member

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    The OP has been lost in a haze of OT replies! I understand the question to be concerned with the effect of steam exhausts on other trains' drivers.

    Steam on the main line today is rarely encountered by other drivers compared with diesel/electric traction. Where it IS encountered, the chance of heavy drifting exhaust posing a serious (i.e. very prolonged) sighting threat is tiny. In almost all cases, the passing train is clear of the exhaust in a couple of seconds. In tunnels, there may be a longer period of dense exhaust, but signals today are bright enough to penetrate that. On top of that, multiple-aspect signals give reassurance about the road ahead at high speed, and at low speeds for yellow signals, junctions, etc., drivers will be cautious anyway.
     
  23. AndrewE

    AndrewE Established Member

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    And AWS and its successors almost eliminate any residual risk, regardless of the visibility of signals...
     
  24. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    This may be true on double track. An issue arises however on four track where a steam service on the Relief Lines on the upwind side is being slowly overhauled, or even kept pace, by a service in the same direction on the Main Lines.
     
  25. Belperpete

    Belperpete Member

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    I doubt it, by the time the camera lenses have been covered in rain and soot, and the flat screen in the cab has been affected by the heat, coal dust, etc found in the cab of a steam loco.
     
  26. Dieseldriver

    Dieseldriver Member

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    Not really necessary to be honest. All mainline certified steam locomotives are fitted with AWS and TPWS which has massively improved the level of safety since the glory days of steam.
    However, all that protection is useless if the footplate crew elect to isolate it... :rolleyes:
     
  27. Deepgreen

    Deepgreen Established Member

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    Sorry - did you mean 'overtaken'? Engineering work on trains doesn't happen out on the main line (!). If a steam train with exceptionally troublesome exhaust is on a parallel line, then I imagine the other driver should either slow down and clear the exhaust, or speed up, if permitted. Has the scenario of a driver running for miles 'blind' in this way ever happened in post-1968 Britain? I've never heard of it.
     
  28. Deepgreen

    Deepgreen Established Member

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    Again, the OP concerned the effect on other drivers, not the steam driver/train.
     
  29. Bromley boy

    Bromley boy Established Member

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    This seems a little pedantic. In any case, overhauled is a synonym for overtaken.

    You’d be surprised how faint ground based tunnel signals can be. I’ve known them to be almost completely obscured by both steam from charters and diesel fumes from freight workings (to the extent of having to slow to a crawl when running on restrictive aspects).

    Indeed. It’s also surprising how many locations are not fitted with TPWS.
     
  30. Dieseldriver

    Dieseldriver Member

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    I was replying to another posters comment. If you look at the beginning of the thread I have already replied to the thread creators original post.
    You may now stand down from your self appointed position of forum police officer.
     

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