The Signal Cabin was demolished
Located south of Beverley on the Great Southern Railway, Brookton long had the distinction of being the only station between Spencers Brook and Albany graced with a signal cabin. Brookton's Safeworking facilities for many years being superior to the larger and more important stations such as Wagin, Narrogin, Katanning and Albany. This superiority was probably due more to circumstance than the intrinsic importance of the location, a classic example of being at the right place at the right time.
Brookton opened along with the Great Southern Railway in 1889. It is likely it was little more than the first stopping place after leaving Beverley, devoid of any siding accommodation. Detailed maps of the town in the days of the WA Land Company ownership ( the company that owned the Great Southern railway until 1896) shows no siding or facilities along the line within the town site, and precious little in the town itself. This state of affairs may not have lasted very long, for in August 1898 Brookton was opened as a staff station splitting the Beverley to Pingelly section. This indicates that a siding had been installed by this stage. Brookton’s first incarnation as a staff station was to be short, for in a fortnight later it was closed. It was probably opened to facilitate reballasting of the Great Southern Railway following the W. A. G. R. takeover.
On the 1st December 1904 Brookton was opened as a goods and coaching station. Facilities appear to have been austere, with only a shelter shed, parcels office and staff room provided. A station master however was appointed to oversee operations. A fortnight later his workload increased, Brookton becoming a staff station splitting the Beverley to Pingelly section. Staff and ticket working was in force, although increasing traffic levels saw this replaced with electric staff working the following August.
Some 6 months later Brookton’s Station Master's duties expanded to include working signals, for in March 1906 Up and Down Home and Distant signals were installed. These signals applied on the main line and were worked from a lever frame located on the platform.
By 1912 Brookton’s Safeworking facilities had improved with facing point detectors being installed. This was reflected in Brookton’s entry in the 1912 General Appendix, which read:
Up and Down home and Distant Signals re provided at this station.
The Up and Down Home signals are fitted with point detectors.
As this station is approached on the Up journey by a steep falling
grade for a considerable distance Engine drivers and Guards must
keep their train well under control.
There is no one in charge of this station at night between 7 pm and
7 am at night. Guards during those hours will be held responsible for
the safe working of traffic in accordance with the regulations.
Guards are authorised to cross trains at this station.
Guards must be careful to see that they are in possession of the proper key
to the staff room and that the signals, points, and scotch blocks are left in
their normal position.
Before leaving duty the station Master must leave everything in readiness
for the guards. A wall lamp must be left burning on the platform.
By the time the entry had been published Parliament authorised the construction of the Brookton to Kunjinn Railway, which was to change Brookton from a sleepy stop on the Great Southern Railway to a moderately important junction station. The Brookton to Kunjinn Railway Act (No 15 of 1911) authorised the construction of what was to be a lightly constructed cross country agricultural line linking the Great Southern Railway with the Merredin to Narrogin Railway, connecting with that latter line at Kunjinn - later named Corrigin (for convenience the latter name will be used throughout this article). The line was to have a somewhat difficult birth and a troubled, relatively short lived life. Its construction was plagued by material shortages caused by the First World War, while its light construction and steep grades were to render it an expensive line to operate.
The Brookton to Corrigin railway opened on the 23rd April 1915. The conversion of Brookton into a junction saw significant additions to its railway facilities. A new track was built alongside the eastern side of the platform, converting it into an island platform. This track became the Down platform road. The original loop to the west of the platform was converted into a siding. The original main line became the Up platform road. New signals were installed. And finally, a Signal Cabin was provided to work the expanded interlocking.
Precisely how Brookton came to be equipped with a cabin is not now readily apparent. There was no local precedent to justify its provision: by the time the Brookton to Corrigin railway had been built there were six junction stations on the Great Southern Railway, all of which having to make do with humble ground or platform frames. The surviving records indicate that by April 1915 the decision had been taken to relocate the cabin at Karrijine (by that stage Karrijine had been renamed Coates but the cabin never bore this name during its working life), redundant since 1909, to Brookton, although the records are silent as to precisely why this recommendation was made. The simplest explanation is that someone realised that Karrijine's Cabin was available. Perhaps the railway administration thought that recycling the cabin would save resources (important in wartime, even on the home front) by not having to construct a new one, overlooking the fact that even greater resources could have been saved by not installing a cabin a Brookton in the first place.
The Cabin was removed from Karrijine in August 1915, and was officially opened on the 23rd November 1915. The first signalling diagram of the new improved Brookton station, dated December 1915, shows that the cabin had 22 levers. An Up main Home and Distant signal and an Up branch Home and Distant protected the southern approached to the station. A Down Home and a Down Distant signal controlled traffic arriving from Perth. A bracketed signal post at the south end of the Down road mounted the Down main and branch Starting signals, while a Starting signal at the Up end controlled departures from the Up platform road. The placing of Starting signals at one end only of both the Up and Down platform roads indicates that traffic through each of the platform roads at Brookton was not bi-directional: trains kept to the left as if they were on a double track line. This mode of operation was identical to that which was to be adopted at the other GSR junction stations at Wagin, Narrogin, Katanning and Tambellup, as well as that which applied at Karrijine and the first Beechina.
The signalling arrangements at Brookton obviously required some “tweaking” for in July 1916 a Down Distant and several shunting discs to control access to and from the locomotive depot at the south end of the station had been installed. These additions increased the number of levers in the frame to 25. These changes were duly noted in Weekly Notice number 31 of 1916, the notice also recording that the whistle codes for Brookton had changed to reflect the new arrangements.
Once the changes had been made Brookton settled into the role of a relatively important junction station. The station probably was not busy enough to justify the employment of a dedicated Signalman; for example, the 1927 timetable lists a total of 51 weekly non-conditional mainline trains (24 up and 27 down) running through Brookton on the mainline each week and a weekly up and down fast goods the Corrigin branch, giving an average of one train every three hours. While the number of trains running through Brookton increased during the wheat season, even if all the number of timetabled specials ran this only added about another score or so trains per week, a frequency which could be easily handled by salaried station officers trained in Safeworking. The post-war increase in traffic did see any significant increase in timetabled services so as to justify any changes to such arrangements. In all likelihood the cabin was worked by the Station Master, Assistant Station Master or Night Station Master depending on the time of day trains were running.
In 1925 Brookton’s original, cramped and wholly inadequate station buildings were replaced with a new and impressive structure, which stands to this day. The WAGR obviously was proud of its new station to the extent that it published photos of the new building in the 1926 Annual Report. A flow on from the construction of the new building was the repainting of the Signal Cabin, which had become so shabby that in January 1926 the Electrical and Signal inspector felt compelled to write to his superior requesting its repainting. The Narrogin District Civil Engineer concurred, noting that the box had not been repainted since about 1914, and recommended the application of two coats (inside an out) as well as re-puttying the windows. Painting was approved, with the WAGR being some 17 pounds out of pocket (even allowing for inflation the work appears to have been a bargain) when the work was completed.
For a generation Brookton’s safeworking facilities were sufficient to safely and efficiently handle the traffic running to, from and through the station without any alteration. However, with the start of the great post war boom, its facilities began to show signs of inadequacy, which lead several signalling improvements undertaken in relatively quick succession. In September 1947 Brookton’s platform roads became bi-directional, with a new Down Starting signal installed at the Albany end of (the former) Up platform road and an Up Starting signal installed at the Perth end of (the former) Down road. The next month, the Chief Traffic Manager became aware that trains shunting at Brookton were often unable to use the shunting neck at the Up end of the station, due to the neck being used to stow wagons, which necessitated shunting on the main line at the Up end of the station. As such shunting could not occur once "Line Clear" had been given for Down trains from Beverley; and hence cause delays until the train had arrived from that station, he considered it appropriate that an Outer Home Signal be installed. He accordingly wrote to the Chief Civil engineer seeking his views and estimates. This Chief obviously agreed with his counterpart and in July 1948 a new Down Outer Home, located 227 yards past the Home, was brought into use, at a cost of 96 pounds 7 shillings.
This installation of an Outer Home no doubt improved Brookton’s operational efficiency, although it was to lead to an interesting incident the following year. On the 20th September 1949 a Safeworking Inspector was at Brookton awaiting the departure of No 2 Up passenger. He observed that as the Outer Home, controlled by lever No 22 was pulled off, the Inner Home cleared, creating a potentially dangerous situation. The matter was immediately reported to the ASM with a request to contact the District Engineer forthwith. The matter was investigated by an engineer from the Electrical and Signals branch, who discovered that the problem had been caused by the wires for both signals having become twisted as a result of the local per way gangs carrying out weeding alongside the track. Whether or not the ganger in charge was reprimanded or lectured for allowing this twisting to occur is not recorded on the Brookton interlocking file.
In 1957, services on the branch line to Corrigin ceased. Although the line was not technically to close until the enactment of the Railways Cue - Big Bell and other Railways Closure Act 1960, in reality the last run of no 62 fast goods from Corrigin on the 11th June 1957 marked the end of services on the branch other than on two short sections (which were excluded from the Act), one at each terminus. The WAGR was undoubtedly glad to rid itself of this unremunerative line and seems to have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure it could never be re foisted on them. At the 1958 Royal Commission which, among other things, enquired into the viability of reopening this line, the WAGR led evidence (the author uses this expression in a very loose sense) that the steep grade between Brookton and Weam, the first siding on the line, could only be overcome by building a tunnel costing over a million pounds! The Commissioner, a Stipendiary Magistrate, accepted the evidence (one wonders how the witness kept a straight face) without demurrer. Although the author never appeared before the Commissioner, when he commenced his legal career in the early 1980s there were older solicitors who provided many amusing reminiscences of the Commissioners ability to accept any incredible evidence provided it bore the imprimatur of the State or its agents.
The cessation of services did not seem to have any immediate impact on Brookton’s signalling arrangements, it not being until 1961 that the relevant signals relating to the branch were officially removed. By this stage the remnant of the branch at the Brookton end had been converted to a triangle, accessed directly from the main line via a rigid lever controlled by an Annetts key, called Key “A”. Oddly enough, the removal of the branch signals coincided with a synthesis of the pre and post 1947 platform arrangements. The western-most mainline reverted to becoming the Up road, and the applicable Down starting signal removed, while the former Down road remained bi-directional, but was officially renamed ( or is that re-renamed?) the Down road. To reflect this change in operations the Up home was given a second “stick” (a 'stick' is a signal in railway slang) located beneath it to signal movements from the Up main into the Down platform road. At the same time, a 3 lever ground frame, confusingly (for there was no frame “A”) called frame “B” was installed, this frame controlling entrance to the yard at the up end. Both keys were locked into the cabin frame while not in use and presumably their removal locked all signals at “Stop”.
In 1972 the remnant of the Corrigin branch was converted into a long siding to serve a new CBH grain bin. Access from the Down main to the now removed Loco Depot was removed and the disc signal controlling movements from the Down main to Loco was abolished. A revised signalling diagram was issued to record the new details. These changes were to be the last alteration to Brookton’s interlocking before its removal.
The corporatisation of the WAGR in 1975 (when the WAGR adopted the trading name Westrail) ushered in significant changes to its working and operational practices. For Brookton, the first significant impact of these changes occurred in December 1980, when its interlocking was removed. At the same time the train electric staff machines for the sections north and south of Brookton were converted so that they could operate in fully automatic mode. Both actions were an obvious prelude to the withdrawal of station staff from Brookton. Despite its obvious intentions, the WAGR never succeeded in returning Brookton to its pre 1915 status as a station where guards could cross trains by themselves, although not because the station master was withdrawn but, rather the guards were withdrawn first!
Brookton’s cabin survived for a few years after the interlocking was removed. As the photographs at the head of the page show, its last years reeked of neglect and decay, a metaphor for so much of the WAGR during the 1980s. The cabin was eventually demolished because of white ant infestation, a sad fate for a well-travelled and historic cabin that had elevated its station well above its status.
Information researched and interpreted by Justin Smith of the Signalling Interest Group of W. A.
Any additional information on this signal cabin would be most welcome - please use the e-mail form provided on this page.
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