Albany - SignallingWA

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Signal Cabins in WA


WAGR - Great Southern Railway (G. S. R.)

1938 WAGR MAP Mileage = 340 Mile

Next Down Station:

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Quick Facts

Opened: Circa 1897


Signal Box opened: 1961

Circa 1993



4 Levers

Signal Panel

Preserved on site but inactive

Although it had been connected to the WAGR network in 1889, and spent the first 7 years of its existence as the headquarters of the private Great Southern Railway, Albany was not to graced with a signal box until after the line's diamond jubilee, the box opening in early 1960 a few weeks short of the 71st anniversary of the lines opening. Albany holds the record for the having the longest hiatus between the opening of a line to a location and the opening of a box there, and given that the days of the traditional signal cabin are well and truly over this 71 year record is unlikely to be equalled.

The Great Southern Railway
was the trading name of the land grant railway, running between Beverley and Albany, which was operated by the WA Land Company. The Company’s headquarters, main locomotive depot and workshops were all located at Albany, with a subsidiary loco depot at Katanning, the station closest to the midpoint of the line.

The company was neither a good corporate citizen nor a profitable venture and its assets were purchased by the WA Government in 1896. Unfortunately, a combination of the passage of time and a lack of appreciation of the importance of archiving records have resulted in the loss or destruction of local records relating to just about every facet of the Company’s operations. For any researcher delving into the early history of the Great Southern Railway the absence of primary records often force him to make educated guesses from the secondary resources that have survived. This is particularly the case with the WA Land Company’s signalling and safe working practice, as no local records, signalling diagrams, Rule Books or other like documentation has survived.
Fortunately, in the case of Albany , the  surviving material lets one confidently state that this station was, as  befitting its importance, signalled from the earliest days of WA Land Company’ operations.

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A Plan of Albany station, held in the Rail Heritage WA archives, signed by the company’s Engineer in Chief William Rogers and bearing the date 19 March 1887, shows that a signal was located at the western end of Albany yard, on the north side of the track, just east of today’s Parade Street level crossing. Photographic evidence of Beverley station taken in WA Land company day’s shows that the Company used double-arm Saxby and Farmer pattern signals, consisting of the single post with two arms mounted on opposite sides such that an indication can be given for both directions. The symbol used on the drawing for the signal at Albany consists of a vertical line with 2 horizontally opposed arms, strongly suggesting that it was one of Saxby and Farmers' products.

Curiously, the signal is annotated ‘
Distant' signal however, there is no reference on the plan to any 'Home' signal. This seems puzzling: certainly as far as WAR (later WAGR) government practice was concerned a Distant signal was always paired with a Home. While this might suggest that the plan is unreliable, there is photographic evidence which tends to confirm the existence of both the distant and a home at Albany in the days of WA Land Company ownership. A photograph of Albany station looking west, taken in 1900 (see below) shows a tall post at the location of the distant shown on the plan. The same photo shows a tall post at the facing points at the west end of Albany yard. Neither post bears signal arms, nor cross arms or insulators suggesting that the posts were not telephone poles. Indeed, we can be reasonably sure that the post next to the prison was not a telephone pole: a photo taken shortly after the railway was built shows the Company telephone line was carried on relatively short posts (barely higher than the top of the adjacent prison wall) while this post towers over the same wall by many feet. Unfortunately, the angle from which the photo was taken is such that the second storey of the building obscures the view where the post is located, however the relative height of the telephone poles is abundantly clear. The height of the post is consistent with a distant: being tall it would have provided for excellent sighting distance. A photo of similar vintage looking towards Albany station shows what is almost certainly the tall post located at the facing points, situated on the side of the track opposite to the side on which the telephone line was located. Although the photo is maddeningly unfocused, there appears to be signal arms on both sides of the post near the top, precisely where one would expect to find such arms on a Saxby and Farmer signal. The apparent presence of the arms and the location of the post at the facing points (where it would both signal trains into and out of the yard) strongly suggests that the post was a company home and starting signal in the Saxby and Farmer pattern. In the author’s opinion, the posts shown in the 1900 photo were most likely the remnants of WA Land Company distant signal and the home/starter signal, minus their arms, which would have been removed after the government take-over.

The presence of a home at the facing points would appear to have been at variance with the practice that appears to have existed at other Company stations. The signals at Beverley, and almost certainly the signals at Pingelly, adopted the old English practice of being located centrally at the station. Such an arrangement would have been pointless at Albany, as the view of the station from trains approaching from the west was obscured by cuttings and curves such that a clear view of the station was not possible until a train had arrived within the yard. One curious feature of the location of the distant was that it was barely two hundred yards from the home, whereas the WAR standard was to place Distant signals a quarter mile (440 yards) from a Home. Perhaps the WA Land Company had greater faith in its driver’s abilities to control their trains than did the government: alternatively, locating the distant next to the prison might have been a deliberate ploy by the Company to give train crews a stern reminder of what holiday might await them should they negligently fail to adequately check the speed of their train.

Following the purchase of the Great Southern Railway in December 1896, the WA government undertook an extensive program of upgrading WA Land Company’s facilities at Albany. Part of these improvements undoubtedly involved the removal of the Company’s signals: being Saxby and Farmer products they were orphans in the government system which had standardised on the McKenzie and Holland somersault pattern. While no records confirming their removal from Albany – or anywhere else on the Great Southern Railway - appear to have survived, records of the other improvements have. It is a matter of historical record that the improvements include the construction of a new locomotive depot on the site of the Company’s workshops, which were approximately one and a half miles west of Albany Station, and the introduction of Electric Staff working between Albany and the new depot, the latter occurring in September 1897. The old Great Southern loco depot, a few chains west of the station, became the carriage shed. At some stage prior to June 1898 a signal was installed on the approach to loco from Albany in order to provide that location, which approached trough several deep cuttings, with a modicum of protection. The signal, was a Down Distant, (applicable for trains leaving Albany, as this was prior to July 1899, when the 'Up' and 'Down' directions were reversed) and does not appear to have been paired with a Home signal: perhaps the local engineer was inspired by the plan now in Rail Heritage Western Australia's possession. Weekly Notice number 19 of 1898 reported that this signal had been removed, and was replaced by Up and Down Homes and Distant signals, which were brought into operation on the 9th June 1898. In all likelihood this Down Distant had been introduced  as a temporary expedient at  the time the locomotive depot was opened (the lack of any reference to a Home signal would tend to support this supposition) although the possibility that it may have been a WA Land Company signal cannot be dismissed out of hand.

For how long the signals remained at the new depot is a moot point: the Weekly Notices are silent as to their removal. Perhaps to compensate, at some stage prior to February 1899 down distant and home signals were installed at Albany station. While this this too being overlooked by the compilers of the Weekly Notices, a plan of Albany station compiled in February 1899 clearly show the both the distant and home at the west end of Albany yard, ( the home being very close to the site of the old WA Land company signal) while the abovementioned photograph of Albany station taken in 1900 provides conclusive proof that the yard was not interlocked, the home being adjacent to a set of points operated by a ‘cheese knob" ground throw unconnected to any frame.

By the time that the 1912 General Appendix was published the signalling arrangements at Albany and its environs had become Spartan indeed. Albany Loco had lost its semaphore signals and had been reduced to the status of an intermediate siding. Albany yard had both a Down Home and a Distant, however, these applied to the platform road only and there was no mechanical point detection to ensure that conflicting paths were not sent.

Over the next 11 years things improved somewhat, for by the time of the 1923 General Appendix
Albany had acquired an Up Home on the road from the deep sea jetty, which was both located to the east of the station and worked as a separate section under the rules applicable to Staff and Ticket (Staff only) working. Passenger trains could run onto that jetty, provided that the guards ensured that the doors on the sea side of the carriages were locked so that in the event that there was an unusual stoppage, passengers did not exit the train so as get an unexpected dip into the frigid waters of the harbour! There were three separate frames in the yard, one three lever frame adjacent to the carriage shed, one three lever frame at the Station and one adjacent to the swimming baths (Albanians must have been either a hardy lot or specially bred to be immune to hypothermia), the Down signals being worked from the first mentioned frame and the Up Home co-worked from both the station and swimming bath frames. One unusual feature of Albany’s operations was that guards operated the Up Home except in the case where passenger trains ran to the station from the deep sea jetty.

Unfortunately, by the time this Appendix had been written the Port of Albany was on a long term downward trajectory. The opening of Fremantle harbour had seen Albany eclipsed as firstly a mail port, then as an immigration port, and by the mid-1920s Albany was seeing barely 30 ships a year. With so few ships visiting, the port could not afford to upgrade its facilities, which became uncompetitive such that it was often cheaper to send goods from Albany to Fremantle for export. This rundown was accelerated during the Depression and the Second World war, and by 1947 traffic levels had fallen to the extent that the Staff section Albany - Deep Sea Jetty was withdrawn and the Up Home removed.

However, by the early 1950s Albany’s prospects began to improve. The opening up of much of the area around Mount Barker after World War two and a general improvement in the price of wool saw a steady increase in traffic to the port.  New factories (including a superphosphate works and a fish canning factory) were opened to the west of the town increasing the amount of traffic running between loco and the station, and to facilitate this Albany Loco was opened as an auxiliary Staff station in 1951. However, the singular factor that secured the ports future was the decision, taken in the early 1950s, to build a new deep water harbour with modern grain handling facilities. This project, completed in 1956, ensured that grain traffic would be directed to Albany from the vast cereal lands of the Great Southern and lower Central Agricultural regions.  It was in need to expeditiously handle this increase in traffic that saw the opening, in February 1960 of the cabin at Albany.

The interlocking arrangements at Albany were somewhat unusual.  Being a terminus, the interlocking at Albany was biased towards working traffic either from or to the west. The area it controlled extended from the locomotive sheds through to the Down facing points at the western extremity of the station yard. This arrangement was unusual but totally logical: in effect the interlocking extended the original station limits a mile to the west, bringing a number of previously mid-section sidings into the new station limits.  The interlocking was an interesting mix of the old and the new. The mechanical interlocking giving access to the old station yard was retained; however, the new interlocking was electrical, using state of art relays and three aspect colour-light signalling operated from a small panel. The new station limits were defined by a new colour-light signal, officially numbered 2RA Down Junction Home, located adjacent to the locomotive shed.  Access to loco, and the siding to the superphosphate works, was via set of power operated points, while the siding giving access to the wool stores opposite the loco shed were through an electric switchlock (perhaps the Loco Drivers had a stronger union than Guards and Shunters?) released by the Signalman. Between loco and the station yard were two sidings, serving a gas works and the previously mentioned fish canning plant operated by Hunt and Co, which were both accessed by controlled switchlocks.  The balance of the station yard was largely free of interlocking, the only exceptions being the points giving access to the goods shed from the main line platform, which were unlocked by an Annett's key normally kept in the Box's frame, and the points giving access to the loop from the platform road at the west end of the station. These points were controlled by a bolt locked rigid lever, the bolt lock being released by lever no 3 on the station frame. Inner and Outer mechanically operated Home signals protected the entrance to the station yard in the down direction, while a colour-light Starting signal controlled Up departures from the station yard. In an echo of the 1923 arrangements, an elevated disc signal, operated by the shunter, protected the station yard from trains approaching from the deep sea jetty road, which also accessed the CBH facility and a number of other sidings.

The interlocking was operated from a small cabin located at the west end of the station building. The ‘interlocking machine” (to quote the 1963 General Appendix’s’ description of the station frame) consisted of a simple four lever frame. Above it was a small panel, operating the semi-automatic signals, the switchlocks and the power operated points at Albany Loco. The staff instruments for the Albany to Elleker section were kept in the cabin (the auxiliary instruments installed in 1951, were removed on the opening of the cabin), and Up trains leaving Albany station had to be possession of the staff before departing while Down trains had to retain possession of the staff until they arrived there.

Once the signalling arrangements at Albany had been “bedded in”, there were to be comparatively few changes to Albany’s interlocking over the next decade. By the early 1970s the gas work siding had been removed, while the loco depot closed in 1973 and was replaced with a depot near the site of the original. These alterations did little to reduce the amount of traffic moving within the station limits. A goods forwarding depot built at the site of loco and shunted from the yard at Albany station, provided a steady stream of traffic to compliment the numerous movements necessary to service the superphosphate works and the wool stores. In addition a steady stream of wheat trains shuffled between the CBH storage facility at Cuthbert a few miles west of the town and the wharf grain siloes, the latter having become too small for the vast increase in wheat traffic they had help generate. By 1974 entrance from the loop to the yard at the west end of the platform had been altered, the rigid lever controlling the entrance from the platform road to the loop being replaced with a two lever ground frame, controlled from a bolt lock on the station frame, the ground frame controlling entrance from the platform road to the loop and from the loop to the west end of the station yard.  Sometime between 1974 and 1978 a set of intermediate signals were installed between the wool stores siding and Albany station, presumably to facilitate closer headways although as events were to transpire this was to prove to be an unwise investment.

The dawn of the 1980s brought with it a flurry of deregulation that was to see Westrail, as the WAGR was now known, systematically abandon a raft of traffic that once was considered to be the railways staple. Initially, this did not affect Albany: being a large country centre it was large enough to justify its own dedicated goods service (known as the Albany freighter) in addition to the bulk traffics of superphosphate, wool and wheat, and an casual observer viewing the workings at Albany in the last week of 1979 would have seen little changes a decade later.  However, the 1990s were to see a complete transformation in Albany’s railway fortunes. By the middle of the decade general freight, fuel, wool and even superphosphate had disappeared, leaving wheat as the only rail traffic handled in the entire Great Southern. The loss of wool and superphosphates eliminated any justification for Albany cabin's existence, and it closed in the early 1990s. After its closure a plan was floated to revive it: CBH, faced with the need to solve the problem of inadequate silo space at the port, seriously considered upgrading Cuthbert’s facilities and running shuttle trains between that location and the Albany CBH, with Centralised traffic control (controlled from a resuscitated Albany cabin) keeping traffic moving safely and quickly. Alas, this was not to be the case and the port CBH facility was extended instead.

The cabin still survives, complete with the frame and panel. Fortunately, the station building is now vested in the shire, and is put to good use a tourist centre. Hopefully the frame and panel will continue to be preserved, for they are an important relic of a series of far sighted developments that have created the town that is Albany today.

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

Information researched and interpreted by
SIGWA member Justin Smith.

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ALBANY 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.




Taylor, Stephen


Ticket Examiner

Neate, William H. L.



Archer, Stanley L.


Temporary Labourer

Smith, Henry T.



Rance, Fred

21/09/1990 - CC

Assist. Station Master - Qualified in Signal Cabin

     Is a name missing?
Please submit any corrections / additions with suitable evidence using the e-mail form above.

06/02/2013 - Former W. A. G. R. Employee Fred Rance remembers:
"In 1990 I was stationed at Albany as Assitant Station Master (ASM) and in the course of my duties I had to learn and pass exams to work the signal cabin in order to work trains to and from the yard. I passed the
cabin exam in September 21 1990 and to my knowledge I was the last person to qualify in that cabin.
The cabin had only a small frame with a large staff instrument which was connected to the next station towards Perth, this station was named
I was rostered on duty early in the mornings and once the station was unlocked I would open the signal cabin and check the staff instrument to see if I had a train at Elleker. If so, I would hold the bell key down until the train crew withdrew a staff from the machine at Elleker, the enter the details in Train Register book. Then I would go outside and check the yard out and set the road for the incoming train, then stand at the facing points in order to give the Right Away to the incoming train."

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