As recounted in the entries for Beechina (1), the Eastern Railway’s ascent of the Darling Range was not continuous. East of Chidlow the line descended into the valley of the Wooroloo Brook, a defile which could only have been avoided by a lengthy and expensive re-routing of the Railway many miles to the South. The original descent was very steep (with a ruling grade of 1 in 30 and a mile with an average grade of 1 in 35) which presented formidable difficulties to the working of Up (westbound) trains. Such a grade may have been tolerable during the lightly trafficked 1880s, but became intolerable once the during the gold rush era ushered in traffic levels along the eastern Railway undreamt of when the line was first surveyed.
In 1901, a deviation was built to the West of the original line between Chidlow and Wooroloo, which reduced the grade to a more manageable (but still steep) 1 in 45. This Deviation was single tracked, and included a new crossing loop which was the first Beechina. Duplication of the Eastern Railway saw the closure of the first Beechina in 1905, after a brief but interesting career incorporating the functions of junction and loop.
The duplication, which eliminated crossing loops, greatly increased the capacity of the Eastern Railway to handle traffic, although it did nothing to decrease the grades facing Up traffic. The opening of the West Australian wheat belt after 1900 saw a gradual but significant increase in the amount of Up traffic using the Eastern Railway, and by the end of World War One it had become apparent that further improvements were needed to improve the capacity of the Eastern Railway to move traffic - and in particular grain – to Fremantle and to ensure a speedy return of empty wagons.
It was also to see the introduction of additional boxes to decrease train headway (distance between trains) the
reduction of the grades facing up trains through strategic deviations (reducing the ruling grade facing up trains from 1 in 45 to 1 in 80) and the introduction of automatic signalling.
It was against this backdrop that Beechina number two was opened. For convenience, all references hereafter in this article to "Beechina" shall mean Beechina Number 2 unless otherwise indicated. Beechina was to have but a relatively short, albeit interesting life, although it is not entirely clear whether it was planned as a temporary expedient or was overtaken by events. In all likelihood, the WAGR administration realised that eventually their political masters would recognise that funds would have to be made available for re-grading the Eastern Railway, a process that would see Beechina by-passed, but until that occurred line capacity could only be increased by the construction of an additional box that would allow either a reduction in headway between trains traversing the steepest section west of Koojedda (the highest point on the line) and or allowing locomotives to bank trains through the section, or the steepest part thereof.
Beechina number 2 was opened on the 13th January 1920. It was located 32 mile 39 chains from Perth, as distances were measured after 1912. The relevant Weekly Notice announcing its opening recorded that it was a block signal box, to be opened as required. There were no sidings provided; however, a crossover connected the Up and Down main lines. Up and Down Starting, Home and Distant signals protected the main line while shunt movements through the crossover were controlled by a shunt signal. The Weekly Notice further advised that Beechina was a station at which trains could be accepted from the station in the rear when the line was clear only to the Home signal.
As the photographs above show, the box was a standard WAGR weatherboard gable roofed cabin located on the North (Down) side of the double line. When switched in, Beechina worked with Chidlows to the West and Wooroloo to the East, the Safeworking system used being double line absolute block working, using Winters two position instruments.
A siding was installed on the up side the following February. The siding held 6 wagons and was operated from the box when it was switched in and from a ground frame when the box was switched out. The frame was locked by an Annetts key which was kept was kept at Wooroloo. How frequently the siding was worked by guards using the key, and how frequently from the box is now impossible to say.
The crossover was provided to enable bank engines banking trains from Wooroloo to cut off at Beechina and return to Wooroloo. For those not familiar with railway working, banking was system by which a locomotive would be attached to a train to enable it to haul increased loads over a steeply graded section of track. Where the ruling grade did not extend throughout the section, it was normal practice to provide a means of enabling the banking locomotive to return to the station at the rear (i.e., the station from which the banking locomotive departed) without having to travel through the entire length the section. In double track territory, it was not uncommon for a crossover to be installed at a block post so that the banking locomotive could cut off and cross over to the correct line without tying up valuable time returning ”wrong road” to the station at the rear.
The WAGR lost no time in taking advantage of Beechina’s potential as a place for banking locomotives to cut off and return to Wooroloo after assisting heavily loaded up trains over the steepest part of the Eastern Railway west of Koojedda. Weekly Notice number 3 of 1920, for the week ending 23 January 1920, advised that a K Class engine had to rostered to bank trains between Wooroloo and Beechina. It left Midland on Monday evenings, and returned Saturday night / Sunday morning, stabling at Chidlows Tuesdays to Friday evenings.
Beechina's importance was such as to require a moderately comprehensive entry in the 1921 General Appendix. It is worth quoting in full.
This place is opened as a Block Signal Box during certain hours (see current time table) and when required. A crossover is provided between the Up and Down main lines. Up and Down Starting, Home and Distant signals are provided.
A train may be accepted under “line Clear” if the line is clear to the Home signal.
The Blocking Back Signal 2-4 is not used at this station.
The special attention of drivers of bank engines is directed to the set back shunt signal No 7 which applies from the Up main through No. 4 crossover to the Down main.
When the signal box is “switched in” the siding points are operated by No 5 lever in the signal box, but when the signal box is “switched out” the points are operated from the small ground frame, which is controlled by an Annett’s Key, which is kept at Wooroloo. After shunting operations are completed, the signals must be returned to the “off" position, and the key left at Chidlow, to be returned to Wooroloo by the first available train.
There was also a reference to the bank engine working between Wooroloo and Beechina. It read:
Beechina Bank Engine
When a Goods Train is being assisted in rear by the bank engine, it must be coupled to the train with the chopper only. The vacuum brake and side chains are not to be coupled. The guard must attend to the attaching and detaching of the Bank engine.
The above reference indicates that trains being banked to Beechina stopped there and uncoupled, rather than uncoupling while in motion. As dangerous as it may sound, uncoupling bank engines while the train was on the move was common even into the 1950s, even if not officially sanctioned. The banker would be attached to the rear of the train by the chopper only, with the fireman walking along the running board to the front of the locomotive and uncoupling the locomotive from the train in front by reaching down and lifting the chopper coupling, the driver then easing off steam causing the banker to fall behind the train in front. In all likelihood the WAGRs decision that bankers should cut off while stopped at Beechina was motivated by the desire to ensure that bankers did not cut off early and run the risk of colliding with the rear of the train they had banked rather than a desire to preserve firemen’s limbs or to ensure that the Beechina signalmen were not suddenly confronted with the unnerving sight of a train, accepted as a train assisted by a bank engine, rolling past their box one engine short.
It is probable that Beechina was, at one time, a very busy location. The annual wheat harvest would have seen a succession of banked Up trains struggling up (in both senses of the word) the hill between Wooroloo and Beechina, while the Down line would have seen a series of closely spaced trains hauling empties back to the wheat belt for loading. How frequently the block opened throughout its life is impossible to say with any certainty. The only Working Timetable the Author has been able to locate, effective 2 May 1927, shows that it was manned by insomniacs Monday to Saturday, the signalling staff working shifts starting a 7pm and finishing at 11am the following day. Whether the signalmen lived locally in departmental accommodation, or travelled from Chidlow (which, being a large and important station probably had a barracks of sorts) or Wooroloo, is not known.
Like its first incarnation Beechina was to be made redundant by the WAGRs ongoing efforts to both reduce the grades facing Up trains travelling between Spencers Brook and Midland, and increase track capacity in the Down direction. In the mid-1920s, work began on a deviation to the south of Beechina, halving the ruling grade facing Up trains, while on the Down line, automatic signalling was progressively installed. On the 29 September 1927, the deviation was opened. Although the old down line remained in place, the new up line bypassed Beechina altogether. Its main reason for existence gone, Beechina was closed on this day, and the staff withdrawn. However, the name Beechina was not to disappear from the WAGR lexicon, for a new box bearing the same name, being the third box named Beechina, was opened on the new deviation, although this box was from the outset designed only a temporary expedient. That, however, is as they say, another tale.
Beechina number 2 was closed and expunged from the WAGR timetables with ruthless efficiency. The siding was removed and trains no longer stopped there. This probably annoyed the locals who, when travelling from Perth, now had to travel past their old stop and on to Wooroloo to alight. Pressure was probably applied behind the scenes, for in May 1929 a new stopping place on the Down line was opened. Rather than rename it Beechina the WAGR sensibly chose another name for this halt, calling it Docconning. It was located some 7 chains west of the site of Beechina, effectively within the old Beechina station limits. Passengers travelling from Perth to the Beechina area could now alight at Docconning and board at Beechina to travel back to the city. This effectively rendered Doconning and Beechina number 3 the Down and Up platforms for the same locality, features that may well have been unique to WA.
Docconning outlived Beechina by many years, remaining open until February 1966, when the Eastern Railway was closed by the new Avon Valley Line. Today, a person walking the still largely undisturbed formation and equipped with a keen eye can locate the clearing that was the site of Docconning, and using this as a reference point, locate the approximate site of Beechina. However, there is nothing to see, as time has erased all traces of the boxes location far more effectively that the WAGR were in removing its official existence.
Information researched and interpreted by Justin Smith of the Signalling Interest Group of W. A.
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BEECHINA (2) Employees
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