Claremont (4) - Preserved - SignallingWA

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Claremont (4) - Preserved

Signal Cabins in WA

CLAREMONT (4) - In Preservation

WAGR -  Railway (E. R.)

1938 WAGR MAP Mileage = 6

Lat: 31.98086 S

Long:  115.781162 E

Next Down Cabin

Next Up Cabin

KARRAKATTA

SWANBOURNE

Quick Facts

Opened

Preserved

14/10/1906

1990

Mechanical

Electrical

45 Levers

Colour-light Signalling

PRESERVED - BUT NO LONGER OPEN TO THE PUBLIC


The Claremont Signal cabin is a classic example of a Western Australian Government Railway signal box. The term Signal Box was no doubt carried over from England, the birthplace of railways, and was sometimes replaced with 'Signal Cabin'. Similar structures were built in many places in Western Australia. A listing of these can be found here.

Built in 1906, this cabin is now the only surviving, traditional, all-lever signal cabin still in its original location in the Perth metropolitan area. The Signal Cabin was closed in 1990 due to the impending electrification of the Fremantle to Perth railway line, and the structure was initially scheduled to be removed, as was the case of other signal cabins along the line.

Thanks to the foresight and the support of local community members, the Town of Claremont and the Claremont Museum the Signal Cabin is now a working museum and is operated by volunteers. Thankfully, it is now Heritage Listed, along with the Station Building, Goods Shed, Footbridge and Platform awning and other buildings on the (now) island platform. As such, it is perhaps the only metropolitan station in Western Australia that has its full compliment of original buildings still intact. We should all be grateful for those who had the foresight, the wisdom and the ability to save these structures for future generations.


Between its closure in 1990 and the first Public Open day in 1993, the cabin was given a cosmetic referbishment inside and out, and the colour scheme chosen was of the pre-Westrail era, and typical of the 1950s / early 1960s. Unfortunately, some things were lost during this renovation. The 'safety rails' - namely metal pipe rails, which ran outside the full length and the full width of the windows to prevent a signalman from falling out the window opening whilst cleaning the windows were removed.







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Also, the Relay Room at the foot of the footbridge steps on the island platform was removed, as the bulky 'Shelf type Relays' were rendered obsolete by the new computerised signalling system being introduced to control the electric trains. In preparation for the removal of the signal cabin, the electrical control cables (several 17-core Vulcanised India Rubber insulated cables) had been hack-sawn through to enable easy extraction from the building. This turned out to be a positive bonus to the Cabin's volunteers later on, as it left the 'electrical termination racks' intact. These racks were located below the floor of the 'operating floor' in the 'Interocking Room' which is also known as 'tween decks.

Post-Restoration. After the 'make-over' the signal cabin looked splendid, but inside, the box was not in great shape. The Cabin was, as it had been left by Westrail on its closure in 1990, very austere. Most of the levers were white, meaning 'Out of Use' or 'spare'. There was no floor-covering, and the brown Lino (linoleum) so typical of these structures was missing. So too were other 'creature comforts' such as the hand basin on the back wall, and even the toilet (added to the building 1938) was not working. At the time of closure of the box, the station's once impressive track arrangement had been severely reduced and much of the 'yard' equipment, signals and points had been 'rationalised'. Apart from the mains power and lighting, nothing as far as the signalling functions of the cabin was working. The original brief given by the Claremont museum to the first of the volunteers was to "Re-create the Signalman's Working Envionment." This posed a bit of a challenge when the platform level relay room had been demolished and there was no possibility to show the visiting public how the signal cabin worked in a proper railway context. Former WAGR Fremantle Line Signalling Technician Jim Appleyard was approached to 'get the bells working' so that visitors could at least hear the sounds, which engender such a characteristic air to the box. This was done by re-configuring the wiring of the 'Bell Circuits' on the 'operating floor' (the Public access area of the cabin). This was necessary as the 'Interlocking Room' was rendered inaccessible to those with mobility issues by the placing of a fence across the accessway to the interlocking room door. At the request of the volunteers, the mechanical connections to the electrical interlocking in the 'tween decks area had been disconnected, so that at least the levers could be moved. Unfortunately, this meant that they could be moved at times inappropriately. Also, due to the lack of electrical interlocking, even the power to the Instrument Shelf on the Operating Floor meant that no 'shelf lights' worked. Note: All internal signal control circuits are 12 Volts or less. Still, the first volunteers began a public interpretation program of the box and set out a standard 'presentation script' of what to expalin to visitors, but had to contend with asking the Public to 'suspend their disbelief' (in other words 'imagine') that things were working as they should.

The above situation apparently was not suitable on-going, and a telephone call was made to the author of this article by volunteer (the now late) Bob Metcher. This author was at the time still working as a Signalman for Westrail in the Kwinana Signal Cabin. Bob invited me to attend an open day at the Signal Cabin to see what was going on and in his words: "Perhaps you could help by fitting some switches to the levers downstairs (in the Interlocking Room) to make the shelf lights work?" As Bob was a respected (and by that time retired) former Claremont Signalman and also a Safeworking Inspector who had examined me in the working of various signal boxes, I agreed to have a look at the possibilities.

Getting things to work. After the visit to the cabin, which in those days comprised a mere two or three hours on a Saturday morning, this author left with a challenge. Bob Metcher and Chris Hoskyns-Abrahall who were volunteering at the Signal Cabin that day were very enthusiastic for the future of the project. I however, was a bit puzzled at first, about how to achieve what they wanted - which was to show the cabin in it's 'hey day' so that visitors did not see it in its much reduced form. So, on the next week day during business hours, this author whilst working the Kwinana Signal Cabin, made a phone call the the Westrail Drawing Office to ask if the 'Circuit Book' for the Claremont Signal Cabin might still be on file. To my relief, it was, and after explaining what it was required for, a copy was duly produced and sent to me. When it arrive, I eagerly scanned the many pages, but despite having been an apprentice in a non-railway electrical trade establishment, many of the symbols and terminology were alien to me. So, another phone call was placed to former WAGR Safeworking Technician James (Jim) Appleyard, who met with me at the Signal Cabin one day to explain what the drawings meant and how it all worked. Jim was an excellent teacher and but the end of our 2 hour meeting, not only did I have an understanding of the drawings, but the way ahead to achieve Bob and Chris' objectives was clear.

Now, the hard work began. The first thing this author did was to re-produce and (in my idea condence) each of the electrical circuit drawings that affected each of the Colour light signals once controlled by the signal cabin, on to one page of graph paper. The lines representing the wiring from the original circuit drawings were drawn in pencil. Once each signal was re-drawn, myself and fellow volunteer David Edwards attended the Signal cabin open days and then stayed back to work after the public hours finished. This was necessary to trace, with a test lead and light, each and every signal control wire from the termination rack in the 'tween decks area to the instrument shelf and illuminated track diagram. As each wire was 'proved sound', its representaton on the 'simplified' diagram was 'inked-in'. By the end of the process, those lines that were not 'inked-in' gave an indication of what was needed to be re-made in order to 'get the lights to work' - of course it also meant that these missing parts were basically what had been removed when the original Relay room on the platform was dispensed with.

Obviously, there was no room to re-build the missing relay room in the 'tween decks area of the cabin using the original type of relays that had been used. So this author designed and built a support frame and used miniature 12 volt relays to perform the same function. The termination rack had to be added to by the provision of a Fuse rack (originally in the Relay Room) but once this was done, the wiring up of the relay rack to the Termination Rack began.

Track circuits, which show as two red lights when a track section is 'Occupied' were to be shown on the illuminated diagram in the Operation Floor area, and would be made to show 'Clear'  (i.e. lamps out) when no 'train' was on the section. To place a 'train' on a track section, one merely had to turn a switch on the bespoke control panel and the lights would show. Not only did the lights show, much to Bob Metcher's delight, but because the rest of the electrical circuits and the Electrical / Mechanical interlocking had also been re-introduced, despite the odd repair to damaged infrastructure, the signal cabin did indeed meet the brief of re-creating the 'Signalman's working environment,' and the need for visitors to 'suspend one's disbelief' was finally, and gleefully removed.

First major event. Bouyed by the success of getting the Signal Cabin's essential visual and audible signalling functions rebuilt and operational, this milestone was marked by the Museum advertising a "Night of Lights and Sound." This event was to take place on Sunday, 11th September 1994 and use the cabin's new functions, and would also be augmented by the use of a custom-made sound tape by sound engineer Ric. Edwards to re-create the events that led up to, and the culmination of, the crash of the Garratt Locomotive into the Stirling Road subway, Claremont in the early hours of September 12th, 1944 - on the 50th anniversary. The evening was very popular and bookings were necessary for the four sessions: 6:15; 7;00; 7:45 and 8:30 p.m. The intention was to have only one night, but due to being over-subscribed, a second night was also catered for. The cabin was staffed by a number of volunteers: Bob Metcher as the host and narrator of the story, with Des Gaull (former Signalman) played the part of the Signalman at Perth, and this author (Chris. French) operated the simulator control panel (to show the tracks occupied, showing the passage of the train) and Ric and David Edwards who ran the audio presentation (the sound of the train as it would have sounded as it approached and passed on the night of the accident). Jim Appleyard was also on hand to answer any technical questions. Four sessions were provided that night, with another two later in the month.

As would be evident from the above, by this time, the number of volunteers at the cabin had increased, mostly from friends of the author. Later, others from the Castledare Miniature Railway Morris Cooper and the now late Paul Hrebtiewsky. Former Westrail Signalmen, Phil Bailey having the distinction of having actually worked the Claremont Signal Cabin at one time during a Royal Show week also attended. In carrying out research into the history of the cabin to ensure authenticity for the public presentations, this author came across so much information about the signal cabins and working of trains along the line, and so began the formalisation of a hobby interest into what was started as the Signalling Interest Group of Western Australia. By the end of 1999 the group had its first web site online with the Claremont Signal Cabin as its flagship project. Currently, the site is now known as SignallingWA.


Taking things further - going back in time. Whilst the Claremont Signal Cabin was now working and successful in its original brief, it was not representative of the cabin's busiest period. Following more research and investigations, and after the amassing of replacement, or in some cases, re-casting some of the missing mechanical interlocking parts, a start was made on the Lever Re-activation project. Gradually, during one of the state's hottest months, the missing interlocking parts were replaced where possible, and the cabin once again resembled its former glory. This work also of course, required the re-drawing of the illuminated Track Diagram to represent the original station layout. The original Black diagram was discovered underneath the white (white plastic-covered) diagram but the plastic covering could not be removed without damaging further the original diagram. The re-drawing (re-creation) of the Black diagram was accomplished by this author on two sheets of black cartidge paper, (using the photo of the original Black diagram supplied by Mr. A. Gardener, a visitor to the cabin, as a reference. This was cross-checked against the WAGR Claremont Interlocking Drawing to ensure that the 'Lever Pulls' in the table underneath the Diagram were accurate. The lettering of the table would have required the patience of Job, so this was produced using a modern-day computer / printer by reversing the values for the font, i.e. White text on a black background. The numbers, once pasted onto the diagram are now hard to pick the difference from an authentic diagram. This was all done so as not to compromise the original diagrams beneath. This is the finished product.

As a means of additional educational and interpretive scope, there was a belief amongst the volunteers that the cabin could be 'taken back further in time' further by the re-fitting of the system of train safeworking used before the Colour-light signalling system which was introduced in 1962. That form of working was called Sykes Lock and Block. Should that project have been persued however, it would have meant the unfortunate requirement to dismantle much of the colour-light signalling mechanism already fitted and working. Also this would have required the manufacture of lost castings which have been missing since the Lock and Block era ended on the WAGR ceased. The fitting of these mechanical and electro-mechanical parts, and some new, and some rare, parts and the development of yet another bespoke control device to mimic the operation of the instrument at the other end of the section would also need to be carried out. Whilst this project has not been proceeded with yet, it remains a tantalising possiblility, in some less intrusive form, for the volunteers.

Pre-dating the involvement of the current Claremont Signal Cabin Volunteers, was the restoration, and hopefully the re-erection, of some of the original Claremont semaphore signals - one of these, Signal Nos 35 (arm) and 21a (Shunt) is shown here. These had been saved from destruction by the original volunteers when the cabin closed in 1990, and for a long time were held in the Town of Claremont's depot near the Claremont Football Oval. Following that, they ere moved into the then empty Claremont Railway Station Goods Shed, where the post-1993 Volunteers were to work on them, but before work could commence in ernest the building was leased out to a private company and the signals were moved back out in the open air once more, being positioned on land that once was Claremont station's Platforms 4 and 5. It was here that volunteer Ric Edwards led a team to restore them and prepare them for re-erection in locations around the station that was both safe (from the now overhead electrified railway lines) and meaningful. This was intended to be a key part of the Signal Cabin's centenary celebration in 2006, but just prior to the event, permission to re-erect them was not forthcoming and the the signals again lay languishing. Their condition again started to deteriorate and eventually the Goods shed was 're-invented' in its present form, and only one of the signals were used, although having sustained some damage, and with some parts missing, it is now not in a railway context, but at least it is still visible from the signal cabin.


On the 14th October 2006, the Claremont Signal Cabin celebrated its centenery and the occasion was marked by a special event on the day and the presentation of a plaque and certificates to those who assisted with the restoration and interpretation of the iconic structure, and thanks were due to Signalling Interest Group of WA member Ruth McCole of Historical Highlights for assistance in collaboration with the Claremont Museum in planning this event. The celebration was an integral part of the Rail Heritage Weekend - the signal box being open for its Centenary on the Saturday and the same volunteers giving Signal Box demonstrations in the preserved signal box at the 2006 "Rail Fest" at the Rail Heritage Museum at Bassendean on the Sunday. Following this latter event, this author had been invited to take part in an On-Air radio program called "The Way We Were" with Steve Gordon on Radio 6PR. This author has received permission from the radio station to include the audio of this session on this web page.
In preservation, the Claremont Cabin continues to fulfill a valuable educational role for the Claremont Museum and the Town of Claremont.

Unfortunately due to COVID-19 restrictions and accessibility issues during recent trackwork changes, the cabin has been unable to open during much of 2021.

From January 2022 however, The Claremont Signal Cabin aims to open on the first Saturday of every month between 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

NOTE: As from 17th January 2022, and due to matters completely outside of the control of the Claremont Signal Cabin Volunteers,
regretably this Signal Cabin is NO LONGER OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

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


Special mention must be made of the late David Beazley
who, on many open days would regale the volunteers with interesting stories from his vast memory of trains, events and railway personnel and for providing several photographs of trains at Claremont over the years.

Photographs © by Chris. J. E. French

This page is copyright, and permission must be sought from  SignallingWA before this page is used for any purpose other than personal education.

CLAREMONT SIGNAL CABIN IN PRESERVATION - The Volunteers

This list is of those who have been known to have actively assisted in the preservation and historical interpretation of the signal cabin over the years.

Name

Notes
Metcher, Robert (Bob) S. Ex-W.A.G.R. Signalman (Claremont)
Pidgeon, William (Bill)
Ex Justice
Appleyard, James (Jim.)Ex-W.A.G.R. Safe-working Technician
Hoskyns-Abrahall, Chris
Ex-W.A.G.R. Signalman
French, Chris. J. E.Now ex-W.A.G.R. Signalman
Hrebtiewsky, Paul
Ex-W.A.G.R. Signalman
Edwards, Ric.Ex Castledare Miniature Railway
Edwards, David
Ex Castledare Miniature Railway
Woodward, Clive
Ex Castledare Miniature Railway
Smith, JustinEx Hotham Valley Railway
Bailey, Phil.
Ex-W.A.G.R. Signalman
McCole, RuthHistorical Highlights
Loxton, DonInitial restoration of the Claremont Signals
Is a name missing?
Please advise acordingly in order to update the list using the e-mail form above.
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