The Claremont Signal cabin is a classic example of the Victorian era signalling structures built in Western Australia.
Built in 1906, this cabin is now the only surviving, traditional, all-lever signal cabin still in its original location and operating (simulated), in the Perth metropolitan area. It has been observed by those in England, that the cabin is to a typical McKenzie and Holland design, and that the 'over-large' roof was perhaps to afford shade in our very hot summers. They were right about our summers!
The building would no doubt be called very 'light-weight' by northern hemisphere standards. Constructed of a simple timber frame, and clad with exterior weather boarding, the interior of the operating room floor was finished in match boarding. This, however, was not applied to the interlocking room beneath! Even though the Signalman was afforded the concession of the interior lining of his workspace, his other comforts were very slow in being provided - the Signalman's 'convenience' was not installed until 1938! The cabin once stood on four timber 'legs', (probably Oregon), but these were replaced in 1958 with steel girder uprights. As far as the cabin's design is concerned, it may indeed have been influenced by McKenzie and Holland, for they were one of the major suppliers of signalling equipment to the W.A.G.R. at the time, however this has yet to be proven conclusively. Access to the cabin is only via the additional stairs from the footbridge above the island platform at the station.
When originally built, the Eastern Railway was only a single line, and in those early days of the line, the Claremont signal cabin was little more than an open air lever frame on the Up Platform (No.1).
Trains were worked under Staff and Ticket Rules (introduced on 1st September 1886) - The Sections then being Fremantle to Claremont RED and Claremont to Perth BLUE.
Claremont station being situated midway between the Indian Ocean port city of Fremantle, and the state's capital city Perth, became the logical choice for a crossing place for trains during the 1880s. Eventually, an enclosed, signal cabin was constructed off the Fremantle end of the Up Platform and after duplication of the line, working was by two-position Block working using Winter's Instruments.
The present Claremont Cabin was located between, and worked with, Cottesloe and Subiaco signal cabins, and has seen various train working methods, ranging from two-position block (Winter's); Sykes Lock and Block working, and Automatic colour light signalling. During times of emergency or prolonged engineering works, the Claremont Signalman also used temporary equipment which included Electric Staff instruments and Dowson's Three-position Block working, using instruments which were developed 'in-house' using some components normally found in the Winter's instruments.
The Claremont cabin was fitted with a 35 lever McKenzie & Holland No. 9 Pattern lever frame. For a period of time, the Signalman even worked a Gate Wheel on the Fremantle end of the frame to work the near by levelcrossing gates. Unhappily, by 1990 many levers were painted white, to signify their being 'spare' and unused. This had been a result of track rationalizations during the last decade of the Claremont station's life prior to electrification of the line in the 1990s. During the busy years however, the lever frame had no 'spare' levers, in fact, the frame had to be extended several times until it's present capacity of 45 levers was reached. For so few levers, it is surprising to learn that the Signalman was able to work trains into, out of, and through, no less than five platform roads and a Goods Shed with sidings. The pointwork at the Perth end was always more complicated than the Fremantle end, this being attributable to the fact that trains from the Perth direction could come from two other lines: Namely, the continuation of the Eastern Railway to Midland (which was the junction for the once privately owned Midland Railway); and the South West Railway which branched off at East Perth (latter named Claisebrook). Livestock trains also, mainly came from the Perth direction, further adding to the Signalman's lot!
The reason for this traffic capacity was due to the local Agricultural Society moving its show ground to Claremont from Guildford in 1905. The once a year "Royal Show" is as popular today as it was back in 1906 when this cabin opened. Literally, many thousands of people journey to 'The Show' every year by train, and now have the benefit of a new station aptly called "Showgrounds" built just for this purpose much closer to the showgrounds proper. Located between Claremont, and the original Showgrounds station (The location of the former Loch Street Block Box - not to be confused with the present Loch Street stopping place) it is provided with pedestrian subway direct to the Showground entrance from the platform. It is perhaps not all ironic that the station roofs of this new station are built in the exact style of the roof of the Claremont Cabin, or that the track arrangement of this new station is almost identical to that which Claremont had at the time of its closure - simply, two through suburban lines and a 'back platform' road (dead end).
Gone are the days of the 1980s, when diesel railcar sets and 'steam sets' (coaching stock, usually hauled by the W.A.G.R.'s distinctive X class diesel locos) used the back platform road to 'run around'. Of course, long gone also, are the days when one could see many classes of steam locos either heading the show traffic, or working Goods or Livestock trains into the yard or shunting the Goods Shed.
In preservation, the Claremont Cabin now fills an educational role for the Claremont Museum and the Town of Claremont. The Claremont Signal Cabin opens on the first Saturday of every month. Visitors are given informative talks on the working life of the Signalman, and the working of trains through the station is demonstrated by the use of a custom-built simulator. The use of this simulator enabled the re-enactment of a spectacular accident at Claremont in 1944. For details of this accident, more details on the cabin itself, and our open days, please visit the web site at: Claremont Cabin @ "The Signal Box"
Information researched and interpreted by Chris. J. E. French of SignallingWA
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Photographs © by Chris. J. E. French and A. Gardner
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CLAREMONT (2) Employees
|This list may not be complete and does not yet include employees who worked here without being appointed |
16/08/2014 - Former Claremont Block Boy Arthur (Ben) Bransby remembers:
"I worked as a Block Boy in the cabin during the Royal Show in 1962. Day shift was a hectic period doing the Train Register book and watching the trains coming under the Ashton Street bridge. If one white disc was on the front of the train, I'd yell that out to the Signalman so he could set the road for the back Platform; two disc's meant that it ran between Subiaco and Cottesloe; no front disc meant it was a normal service to Fremantle. Afternoon shift was not as hectic, so I would do a run late in the evening to the Dalgety's Office inside the show grounds to see what wagons were required and what sort of live stock was being transported out the next day, sometimes I'd have to count the animals being loaded and note the wagon number."
11/02/2013 - Former W. A. G. R. Employee Chris. French remembers:
"As a young child in 1959 whose family had recently arrived from England, one of my first memories of the Railways of Western Australia, was standing on the footbridge at Claremont station with my parents, looking in through the open door of the Claremont Signal Cabin. The sight of the busy Signalman working the polished brass and timber instruments and pulling the brightly painted and polished handled levers left a great impression on me. So much so, that in later life, I was to renounce a trade apprenticeship, join the ranks of the last of the W. A. G. R. Signalmen and form a life-long interest in the subject of railway signalling."
14/02/2013 - Former W. A. G. R. Employee Fred Rance remembers:
During 1987 I was sent down to Claremont to learn the cabin in order for it to be used during the Royal Show.
That was fine, but the only problem was that pigeons had made the cabin their home in the roof and there was bird droppings all over the place - even in the toilet. We tried to clean it the best we could do with what cleaning chemicals were supplied, but some of the birds had died and fallen between the wall cavity and were decomposing in there. The smell was over-powering and we were expected to work in those conditions. We complained and eventually workmen came and took the inside of the wall off exposing dead and dying birds, including about 3 squeakers (baby Pigeons) they were removed and the length runner dug a hole under the big tree and buried them all. After a while the smell went away and we could work in there, but the smell used to come up from under the lever frame when the wind was coming from the sea, but that too was fixed so we did not have to put up with the stench.
On another day they rostered an engine and brake van to come to Claremont and work under the Trackmaster's direction. This was to get the rust off the rails on the back platform, (which now is the down main), so all the engine did was drive up and down the line trying to get a good circuit back so we could see them on our panel.