Elleker - SignallingWA

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WAGR - Great Southern Railway (G. S. R.)

1938 WAGR MAP Mileage = 331

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Quick Facts



Interlocked 11/3/1907




6 Levers


Fate: Nothing remains on site

The most southerly railway junction station ever to have existed in Western Australia, Elleker has the distinction of being the only Western Australian station where two privately owned common carrier railways met. The key phrase here is common carrier: while there have been several junctions in Western Australia where privately owned railways connected with each other, these were either mill or mining railways which, by their very definition, did not, or do not, offer services available to the general public only by the payment of an appropriate fee. As it would seem most unlikely that there ever will be a railway branching off the southern extremity of the Great Southern Railway nor will the days of railway common carrier ship will ever return, it is most unlikely that Elleker will ever lose these laurels.
Elleker opened with the privately owned Great Southern Railway (hereafter referred to as the "GSR") on the 1 st July 1889. It was originally called Marbellup, although the earliest map of the town that the author has been able to find (dated 1889) refers to it as Lakeside. A loop and a dead end siding were provided, suggesting that Marbellup was a staff station. During the latter part of the construction of the GSR it had been the junction of that line and the timber tramway serving the mills built at nearby Torbay by Messrs C and E Millar, the brothers who won the contract with the WA Land company (which traded as the Great Southern Railway) to build the GSR. The tramway had been built to enable sleepers to be cut near Torbay to be railed directly onto the main line, rather than being shipped to Albany by boat then offloaded and placed onto work trains, as had previously been the case. This arrangement was but temporary, and by late 1888 the tramway had been removed, leaving Marbellup a place of relative unimportance.

However, after the opening of the GSR, Marbellup’s fortunes began to change.

Following the opening of the GSR the Millar brothers had initially decided to leave WA and return to their native Victoria, however, they changed their minds and decided to establish a mill at Denmark, some 35 or so miles to the west of Marbellup. The brothers approached the WA government with a proposal that they be granted the right to build a line to Denmark on the land grant principle, with a sweetener that the railway would be handed over to colony of WA at the expiry of 14 years. The government agreed, and in 1889 an agreement between the Millars brothers and the colony of WA was reached authorising the construction of the necessary railway. Millars lost no time in building the railway, which was opened in late 1889 (the 1889 Annual Report of the West Australia Railways gives the opening date as November 1890, suggesting either a misprint or a hitherto unrecorded and successful experiment in time travel conducted in WA in the late Victorian era), and connected with the GSR at Marbellup, which was renamed Torbay Junction to reflect its new status. Note by Editor: The name Marbellup was later re-used for a siding approximately two miles North of Elleker as shown on the WAGR's Railway Map of 1938.

Although it was now an important location,
Torbay Junction never lost its unattended siding status in the days of GSR ownership, and the company never appointed a Station Master. There does however, appear to have been a resident GSR ganger who helped with the receipt and dispatch of trains.

It also appears that the location was signalled
, as on the 10th of April 1894, the Albany Advertiser published a letter by a man, writing under the pen name “Traveller”, complained of the traffic arrangements at Torbay Junction.  He described himself as a regular traveller along the GSR and appears to have observed the operations at Torbay Junction on a number of occasions. He complained that despite its importance, Torbay Junction was unattended, although trains were met by the local ganger or, shockingly, his wife! He considered this to be a failing on the part of the Company, which had uniformed Station Masters at stations that saw only one train a day but would not or could not see fit to appoint a station master at Torbay Junction. His letter concluded;

“And as the staff system is worked on this railway, there is a very great risk of the skirts of the care taker (sic) leading to accident or death through becoming entangled with the train, when the staff is being taken from the drivers of trains entering the junction. If the management of this railway are pursuing an economical policy, they should be more considerate to their employees, and give women (if they must employ them) the small unimportant stations up country, where there is least work and, least risk. I think it will be agreed it is not a cheering sight on a cold, wet day to witness a woman with, perhaps, a child in her arms, running to lower signals and open points to admit the train. (emphasis added)

Yours, etc.


To date this is the only written record found by the author referring to the Great Southern Railways signalling arrangements; the primary documentation appears to have been culled long ago. How credible is this reference? In the authors’ opinion, it is quite credible. Whoever 'Traveller' was he clearly was no layman when it came to railway operations and practices. He appears to have possessed a knowledge of the principles of staff system, and railway terminology ( eg “lowering” signals rather than operating them as a member of the public would be more likely to say) above that of the general public. It is unlikely that a man of such knowledge and obvious observational powers would have misreported what he saw; such as mistaking a point indicator for a signal. There is another factor to bear in mind in assessing the credibility of this source and the weight to give to it. Photographic evidence unequivocally shows that the GSR installed a signal at Beverley (following the old English practice of installing a post in the middle of the station with a home for each direction) to protect its interface with WAGR. It would have been logical for the GSR to have installed a signal at the only other location where it interfaced with another railway, Torbay Junction. In the authors’ opinion, the balance of probabilities points to the existence of signals at Torbay Junction during at least part of the WA Land Company’s ownership of the station.

Torbay Junction appears to have been a busy place.  Millars lost no time in razing the forests around Denmark so as to pay for their investment, and were soon running two trains a day into Torbay Junction.  In addition, there were the normal GSR trains (the daily mixed, the regular mail and goods trains handling traffic for the booming goldfields) as well as local siding traffic. In 1890 Torbay Junction featured in one of the most bizarre accidents in WA railway history. In the evening of the 23rd May 1890 the Albany bound mail train collided violently with a GSR covered wagon east of Torbay Junction. The van, which had been loaded with goods for the local distillery, had been shunted into the siding the day before. Persons unknown had pushed the van onto the main line to a point about three quarters of a mile from the junction, before pinning (fixing - Ed) the brakes and decamping. The mail collided with the van at the breakneck speed of 20 miles per hour with such force that the locomotive became embedded in the van, resulting in the locomotive having to work through to Albany as some form of bizarre articulated rail vehicle in order that the two could be separated. Neither the miscreants nor their motivation were ever ascertained.

The WA Land Company was never a profitable venture or a popular corporate citizen, and it was bought by the WA Government in 1896. The WAGR took over the operation of the GSR on the 1st January 1897, retaining the name “Great Southern Railway” to describe the line between Albany and Spencers Brook. The immediate impact on Torbay Junction
's signalling arrangements is not known. Presumably, the WAGR would have maintained some signalling facilities at the junction to protect the mainline from Millars trains and the necessary shunting arrangements to enable Millars trains to detach their loads for conveyance to Albany, although it is possible that for a few years after the takeover, Millars were allowed to run their own trains into Albany. A (male!) porter in charge was appointed to oversee operations in August of that year, an act which “Traveller” would have undoubtedly approved.

In late 1902 the signalling arrangements at Torbay Junction were altered. Weekly Notice number 1 of 1903 announced that the existing signals had been replaced by the following suite of semaphores:

(1) an Up Home signal, 30 feet high, 14 yards south of the facing points at the South end,
(2) an
Up Distant signal, 21 feet high, 512 yards from the Up Home signal,
(3) a
Down Home signal, 20 feet high, 14 yards from the facing points at the North end,
(4) a
Down  Distant signal, 19 feet high, 600 yards from the Down Home signal, and
(5) on the Millars line, an
Up Home signal, 20 feet high, 110 yards from the North end of the platform.

Each signal was located on the left hand side of the direction of travel. The Up Main signals were operated from levers at the South facing points, while the Down Main signals were operated from levers at the North end. The signal for the Millars line was operated from a lever at the North end of the platform.

For how long the previous signals had been at Torbay Junction is not recorded. The GSR signals were made by Saxby and Farmer, and would have been orphans in the WAGR system, the WAGR having settled on the McKenzie and Holland two
-position 'somersault' signal as its standard. No doubt the GSR signals would have been removed in the interests of standardisation, although whether this occurred before 1903, and if so, when, is probably now an unanswerable question.

For the first 18 months of its WAGR existence Torbay Junction worked with Albany under the rules applicable to the Staff and Ticket system. In June 1898, with the opening of the Albany Loco Cabin, the sections became Albany - Albany Loco, worked under the Electric Staff system, and Albany Loco - Torbay Junction, worked under Staff and Ticket. In December 1902, Albany Loco closed as a Staff station and Electric Staff operation between Torbay Junction and Albany (Staff RED, shape 'fluted') was introduced. Northwards, Staff and Ticket working remained in force until 1911, the terminus of the Staff and Ticket section from Torbay Junction varying between Hay River Road (renamed Narrikup in 1910) Mulikupp  (later Redmond) and Mt Barker, depending on the fluctuating traffic levels on the Great Southern Railway.  In 1911 the Train Electric Staff system was introduced north of Torbay Junction, with the section north being Torbay Junction - Narrikup. Presumably, Staff and Ticket working applied on the Millars line. Given its importance Denmark would have been a staff station, although whether there were any staff stations between Denmark and Torbay Junction is not known at this time. After the Millars line was taken over by the government the line was worked under the Staff and Ticket system, with the relevant section being Denmark to Torbay Junction, later Torbay Junction - Youngs.

In 1902 the Millars brothers formed a company called the Millars Karri and Jarrah Co (1902) limited which became the entity which owned the railway line from Denmark to Torbay Junction. For simplicity this company will be called “Millars”. Millars continued to cut he forests around Denmark at an unstainable rate, and by April 1905 the Denmark mill had closed. Millars continued with their train service to Torbay Junction, however, this finished in May 1905. The cessation of services created a furore among the local settlers, who were deprived of their only reliable means of transport to the outside world, the Millars line carrying both settlers produce and inwards goods. The WA government came under significant pressure to take over the line, and “by resolution of the Legislative Assembly No. 25 of the 29th November, 1907, and the Legislative Council No. 28 of the 19th December, 1907” the line was purchased from the Company, and was “declared opened as a Government Railway in Government Gazette No. 18 of the 3rd April, 1908”, to quote the Act which later closed the line. Neither the lines initial construction, nor the resolution authorising the purchase of the line were ever the subject of an Act of Parliament, making the Torbay Junction to Denmark railway one of the handful of WAGR lines whose creation or purchase was never sanctioned by an Act.

By the time of the government takeover, Torbay Junction's signalling facilities had been improved somewhat. In March 1907 facing point detector locks were installed and the signals were interlocked from a frame located on the platform. The Weekly Notice reporting this is quite specific, stating that only the signals were interlocked, and thus indicating that the frame probably had only 5 levers which worked the signals only. The absence of Starting signals or any “Home to Loop” signals, the presence of facing point detector locks and the reference to only the semaphores being interlocked suggests that the Home signals were only cleared for straight through runs on the main line, and any movement into the loop or onto the branch was hand signalled from the facing points, the station staff having to walk to the relevant set of points and reverse the lever to admit the train. These arrangements may well have lasted the entire life of the station as an interlocked location: the only signalling diagram known to the author (this being reproduced at the head of the page), which is dated sometime after 1921 (the date is indecipherable, however, it bears the post 1921 name Elleker, see below) shows only the signals being worked from the frame.

Three years later  the Up Home signal for what was now the
Denmark branch was relocated 20 yards outside the branch facing points and a fixed Distant signal installed.  These improvements were no doubt designed to enhance protection of the junction, by provide a degree of advance warning to drivers and overlap for those who were not as alert as they should have been. Despite its importance Torbay Junction was not attended "round the clock", for after the 1 st April 1905 the night staff were withdrawn. This was reflected in the 1912 General Appendix, which advised that guards were allowed to cross trains there and to facilitate this, the Station Master had to leave a wall lamp burning when he ceased his duties in the evening.

In July 1916 the station staff at Torbay Junction were withdrawn (probably as a wartime economy measure) and the station became an unattended siding. The signals may have been removed, for when the station staff were reappointed in December 1919 the relevant Weekly Notice announced that Up and down main home and distant signals , together with a branch up distant and an home signals had been provided. If the signals had been removed during World War One censorship considerations may have prevented publication of that fact. Given Albany’s strategic importance in the early stages of the War such censorship may well have had a practical rather than a bureaucratic imperative.

Torbay Junction was renamed Elleker in April 1921. The same year a reduction in traffic levels on the Great Southern Railway saw Narrikup closed as an electric staff station, the section becoming Elleker to Mount Barker. This closure did not last long, Narrikup being reopened in December 1924. In June 1929, Elleker’s importance increased marginally when the line to Denmark was extended to Frankland, which was later named Nornalup. Marginal is the key word here: the extension to Nornalup generated barely enough traffic to justify the weekly trip of the mixed beyond Denmark and by 1943 traffic had declined such that a fortnightly service was introduced.  Not surprisingly, Elleker’s safeworking arrangements were more than adequate to handle this small increase in traffic and no major changes to the signalling arrangements appear to have been needed. Indeed, the only change that appears to have occurred to Elleker’s signalling after 1910 was the conversion of the branch Distant signal from a 'fixed' signal to one operated from the lever frame, although when this occurred is uncertain. This more than adequate capacity was probably fortuitous, as the onset of the Great Depression followed by the Second World War meant that no capital could be either found or spared for any improvements, had the need ever arisen.  

Increases in traffic levels on the Great Southern Railway in the mid-1950s (due to improvements in Albany’s port facilities) saw Elleker’s crossing loop extended in February 1955. The Down Home signal was moved out 740ft with the Down Distant moved out 450 yards from Down Home signal. Around the same time Redmond was opened as an unattended electric staff station to divide the section Elleker – Narrikup into two shorter sections so as to more efficiently handle the traffic now using the line.

In 1957 services on some 850 miles of WA branch lines were suspended in an attempt as to reduce the Railways rising deficit. One of the affected lines was the Elleker to Nornalup railway, on which the last service ran in September of that year. Like their forbears half a century previously the locals mounted a campaign to reopen the line, however, despite cogent arguments for retaining the section Elleker to Denmark the decision to close was affirmed and in 1960 the railway was formally closed The end of services on the Nornalup branch was a blow which was to forever destroy Elleker’s importance as a safeworking location, and probably hastened its demise. The redundant branch signals were removed (although when is not clear as the Weekly Notices silent on the matter) leaving only the mainline
Home signals and the Distant signals worked from the lever frame. Even this was probably unnecessary: with the removal of the branch there was no special reason why Elleker needed the protection of fixed signals. Effectively, it was no different to numerous other staff stations throughout the WAGR that handled crossings and shunting movements without any protection other than the rigorous obedience to the rulebook. Indeed, the presence of semaphores may actually have hindered traffic for as Elleker was only partly attended, trains had to be worked through the station by guards once the station staff had ceased duty. The Rules required that each “after hour” train had to stop at the home signal, the guard walk forward to the frame, unlock it and clear the relevant signal to let the train into the station, return it to danger once the train had passed it then attend to the changing of the staff. How strictly this rule was  followed is perhaps a moot point; for train crews working down trains on wet or  cold nights the temptation to bend the rules to save time so as to get to Albany and a warm dry bed might have been irresistible.

Elleker’s signals
were removed in September 1969 and replaced with Point Indicators. The station staff were withdrawn on the 28th November 1975, however, Elleker continued to remain an important safeworking location as the first / last train electric staff station encountered going from or to Albany (as the case may be) right up until the withdrawal of the train electric staff system from the Great Southern Railway in 1990 and its replacement with the more flexible, Train Order system.

Today there is little to indicate that there ever was a junction at Elleker, let alone a signalled one. The loop has long gone, and the formation of Denmark branch is so heavily overgrown that a project of defoliation is a necessary prerequisite to any archaeological expedition seeking
to locate the trackbed. The station buildings have been razed and little remains of the platform. The Station Masters house remains but not even a ganger lives there anymore. One wonders what "Traveller" would have to say about the matter…?

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

Any additional information on this Station Frame would be most welcome - please use the e-mail form provided on this page.

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Photographs © by Peter Ipkendanz and the late R. Goodman courtesy of Rail Heritage WA Archives

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ELLEKER Employees

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