Beechina (3) - SignallingWA

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Beechina (3)

Signal Cabins in WA


WAGR - Eastern Railway (E. R.)

Mileage:  33 Mile 47 chains

Location Map

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Quick Facts







Ground Frame Levers


Some arifacts can still be seen on site

The name Beechina is of some Safeworking significance, being the only named location on the WAGR network that was to have a signal box at three separate locations each bearing the same name. As well as this nomenclature honour, Beechina number three had its own claim to fame. It was the only WA country location were a signal box  controlled traffic in one direction only and, after the introduction of automatic signalling on the Eastern Railway between Wooroloo and Chidlow saw its closure, had probably the greatest density of automatic switch locked sidings of any part of the WAGR system..

As recounted in the entries for Beechina (1) and Beechina (2), the Eastern Railway’s ascent of the Darling Range was not continuous. East of Chidlow the line descended into the valley of Wooroloo Brook, a defile which could only have been avoided by means of 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. In 1901, a deviation was built to the West of the 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 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.

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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 the movement of grain – to Fremantle and to ensure a speedy return of empty wagons in the opposite direction. This was addressed through a suite of improvements consisting of the introduction of additional signal boxes to decrease train headway, reducing the grades facing up trains through strategic deviations (reducing the ruling  grades facing up trains from 1 in 45 to 1 in 80) and the introduction of automatic signalling. As the first stage of this process, Beechina number two was opened, the box allowing both a reduction in headway between trains  and enabling locomotives to bank trains through the steepest part of the climb between  Wooroloo and Chidlow and return to Wooroloo without  having to work through to Chidlow. The second Beechina was really no more than a temporary expedient, to tide over working until the ruling grade was reduced. To this end a substantial deviation between Wooroloo and Chidlows was approved and construction started in the mid-1920s. Its opening was to see the closure of the second Beechina, and the opening of Beechinas’ third incarnation.

Construction of the deviation occurred in three phases. The first involved regrading about one and a half miles of the Up Main Line a short distance east of Chidlow. This work appears to have been relatively uncomplicated involving no heavy earthworks or construction of track outside the existing railway boundary. The second involved a similar re-grading of the first half a mile of track immediately west of Wooroloo. The third and last was more substantial, and involved diverting the up line only onto a new alignment that ran to east of the 1901 deviation and was separated from it by distances of up to a mile.

The new deviation was five and a half miles long, and was opened on the 29 September 1927.  Beechina number two was closed on the same day and the staff withdrawn. Contemporaneously, a new signal box was opened at Beechina number 3, which was located on the new up line 33 miles 47 chains from Perth. The relevant Weekly Notice that announced the closure of Beechina number 2 also announced  that the new Beechina was opened as a block station, to be switched in during “certain hours” and when required. Up Home and Distant signals were provided, worked from a ground frame situated outside the signal box. The ground frame was controlled by an Annetts key which was kept at Wooroloo when not in use.  The box was undoubtedly intended to be a temporary arrangement, for plans were well underway to introduce automatic signalling between Chidlows and Wooroloo. Indeed, Weekly Notice 47 of 1927, week ending 2 December 1927, advised that until automatic signalling was introduced Beechina would be attended 2.30pm to 6 am Monday to Saturday, and 2.30pm to midnight Saturday. Like Wundowie and the 54 mile Box, the cabin was purely to protect the Winters instruments: signalmen may have been waterproof but block instruments were most certainly not. The ability to separate  block instruments and signal levers was a feature of Winters two position block instruments: unlike Sykes lock and block instruments there was no interconnection  with "the fixed signals controlling the entrance into the  section ahead” as the Rule Book stated. This facility enabled smaller and less expensive cabins to be used, something which was probably appreciated by the WAGRs accounting branch far more than the staff that had to work them. Precisely what the box looked like is not known:  to date no plans or photographs of the box have been located.

The redundant points and signals, as well as the now superfluous up line was removed from the 1901 alignment, reducing the second Beechina to little more than a stopping place for Down trains only.  However, even this seems to have been more than the WAGR was prepared to tolerate, and less than a year later Weekly Notice 30 of 1928 announced that with effect from the 1st August 1928 it was closed to all traffic and Beechina number 3, located on the Up line, had taken its place.  

The introduction of automatic signalling on the up line between Bellevue - Wooroloo, which was completed by May 1928, saw the closure of Beechina no 3 box, although the precise date that the box was finally closed seems to have escaped the compilers of the Weekly Notices.  Beechina number three was reduced to the status of an unattended siding, the amount of traffic loaded at or detached at the siding being too insignificant to justify any accounting staff.

An automatic switchlock worked public siding which was located on the Down (right had side) of the track. A switchlock was an electrically operated lock that secured point levers, and was normally used in automatic signalling territory. Switchlocks could be automatic or controlled (i.e. worked from a signal box) and in double line automatic signalling territory they were usually of the automatic variety, the upper quadrant signals behind the train “tumbling home” (dropping to the  to stop position) and thus protecting its rear whenever the switchlock was used. In July 1930 a ballast pit siding, also accessed by a switchlock was opened, this siding being located approximately one mile to the east of Beechina. Located approximately a mile east of the ballast pit siding was a private siding, serving the Wooroloo Sanatorium.  All three sidings were dead end affairs which could only be worked by up trains setting back into them. Trains shunting such switched locked sidings has to follow a procedure designed to both activate the circuits releasing the lock and to protect the rear of the train, and guards had to ensure that some portion of the train shunting the siding was always left on the main line to operate the track circuits to cause the signal in the rear to “tumble home”, that is, display a stop indication. The public siding was protected by automatic signal number 2881 while both the ballast and sanatorium sidings were protected by automatic signal number 2884. As far as the author has been able to ascertain no 2884 was unique in that it was the only automatic signal on the WAGR network that protected two switch locked sidings. Perhaps the WAGR preferred to keep this information close to its corporate chest, fearing that guards operating either switchlock might claim an increased allowance for protecting both.

The closure of Beechina number 2 apparently was unpopular with the local inhabitants, particularly those travelling from Perth who now had to travel past their old stop 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 Beechina number 2, 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. The author has been told by a number of former railway staff that as a consequence of this it was not possible for a passenger to get a return ticket to either Docconning or Beechina, a return ticket implies that the trains passed through a station in both directions, which, at either location, they most certainly did not. To date he has been unable to determine whether or not this is old WAGR folk lore, or was in fact WAGR law.

Throughout its life Beechina number 3 appears to have led relatively peaceful existence. Although it was located on a busy main line, the lack of any significant local source of passenger and goods traffic meant that few trains stopped there to collect passengers, or detach or collect wagons from the public siding. Stopping trains became fewer after 1953 when the Sanatorium Siding was lifted, due no doubt to road competition. Surprisingly, in March 1958 the public siding was re-laid with heavy rail and extended in length to take 21 “high capacity wagons”. This improvement was almost certainly to enable loads to be divided at this location, as traffic originating at Beechina, like most locations on the Eastern Railway had all but disappeared by the late 1950s.

Beechina number 3 was closed in February 1966 with the opening of the ultimate deviation, the Avon Valley Line. The track was lifted and the facilities removed in a somewhat desultory manner (the author recalls seeing the name-board in situ in the early 1970s) and the rail bed regraded  as a walk trail.  Today there is little evidence to the casual observer that the siding ever existed, although a trained eye can spot the remnants of the ballast pit and public sidings, the signalling trunking that protected the switchlock cabling and the base of the automatic signal signal bases that mounted the signals that protected the trains that stopped there.

Information researched and interpreted by Justin Smith of the Signalling Interest Group of W. A.

Any additional information or photographs of this location would be most welcome - please use the e-mail form provided on this page.

Photograph of Track Layout Plan by Justin Smith, courtesy of RHWA Archives

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BEECHINA (3) 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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