Fenian's Crossing - SignallingWA

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Fenian's Crossing

Signal Cabins in WA


WAGR - Eastern Railway (E. R.)

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Superseded by Mount Lawley

For the first half century or so of the Swan River Colony's existence its emponymous River provided the main means of communication between Perth and Guildford. "Main" is the operative word here: the river never totally displaced road traffic, which grew in importance after the  construction (as part of the construction of the Eastern Railway, the name bestowed on the Railway from Fremantle to Guildford) of the combined road and rail bridge at today's Sucess Hill. This  provided a direct - if often impassible - route between the two towns.

The surveyors of the Eastern Railway, motivated no doubt by the English tradition of keeping road and rail traffic quarantined, undoubtedly tried to keep level crossings to a minimum. In the case of the case of the Perth - Guildford Road, they were unable to totally eliminate such crossings, but, very creditibly, managed to keep the number down to two, located at 12 miles 34 chains and 13 miles 54 chains from Fremantle, as milages were measured until 1912, respectively. At both places the railway crossed the roads on the level, the budget for the construction of the Railway (in the best West Australian tradition) being insufficient to allow for any grade separation save where Beaufort Street crossed the Railway at Perth station.

The crossing at 13 miles 54 chains soon became known as 'Fenians Crossing', a local name bestowed by virtue of the fact that the Perth - Guildford Road (or just 'Guildford Road' as it was to be more latterley known) had been rebuilt by Irish nationalist Convicts, (otherwise known as Fenians) transported to the colonies on account of their seditious activities. In a classisc case of officialdom adopting the colloqual, the name was to be recognised by the WAR, later the WAGR, which bestowed the name on the signal boxes that were to be be built there in the first years of the 20th Century.

As a level crossing, Fenians Crossing had little to recomend it. The railway crossed the Guildford road by means of an embankment (requiring rather steep approach ramps for road traffic) before curving shaply though a line of sight  limiting cutting (the site of today's Mount Lawley Stopping place) a few chains to the East.

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The combination of cutting, curvature and embankment rendered the crossing positively dangerous, and it was to feature with monotonous regularity in coronial inquiries involving accidents and suicides in later years.

The crossing was initially equipped with gates which were normally set for the railway, being opened to allow passage of road traffic. Such an arrangement was probably in deference to the English practice (or perhaps more correctly the UK Board of Trade's dictate) requiring the road and railway reserves to be sealed from each other as much as was practicable. However, unlike several of the crossings closer to Perth, no keepers were employed. This led to unfortunate consequences. Barely 4 months after the Eastern Railway was opened a Perth bound train ran into and totally destroyed a gate which had been left closed across the Railway. The Herald newspaper published in Fremantle on Saturday 2 July 1881, reported the near miss, fulminated that incidents of this type had become all too common (suggesting that other gates were not as fortunate) and expressed approval with the Commisioner's posting of a reward of 25 pounds to catch the miscreants responsible for not closing the gates to road traffic.

At some stage the gates were removed leaving the crossing unprotected. Duplication of the Eastern Railway, and escalating levels of road traffic increased the danger presented by the crossing, and led to increasing demands to remove the crossing, or at the very least, provide active protection. A word of explanation is needed: in railway terms active protection means  protecting the crossing by utilising mechanisms whereby the public is warned of approaching trains. Until the introduction of track-operated warning devices (roughly the mid 1920s) the only way by which level crossings could be actively protected was to install manually operated gates, either worked from a nearby signal box, or by a dedicated crossing keeper. However, manually operated crossings were labour intensive, especially at locations which required twenty four hour protection, and no such box was ever installed at Fenians.

A box did however appear to open at Fenians Crossing in early 1903, although no official pronouncement was published in the Weekly Notices; the first reference to its existence was an entry on page 13 of Weekly Notice 17 of 1903 announcing that a temporary Block Station at Fenians Crossing was to be opened on 11th April 1903. Perhaps the WAR wished to keep the knowledge of the box's existence from entering the public domain lest there be calls for it to control the crossing, as well as regualte the passageof trains.

Fenians Crossing was a Block Station, with a most unusual feature - it had no fixed signals! In that regard it was similar to River Bridge box on the Belmont Branch. The similarity goes beyond signalling arrangements - or thre lack thereof: both appear to have been introduced to faciltate the movement of race traffic. In an era of instaneous electronic communication it is difficult to appreciate the popularity of race meetings in the19th and early 20th centuries. As one of the few means of mass entertainmnet, race meetings attracted large crowds which required an intensive rail service  to move patrons to and from the meetings. This, in turn, required shorter blocks to increase track capacity, which could only be obtained by additional Block Stations such as Fenians.

The precise location of the box is not known. Given that the Eastern Railway, after crossing the Guildford Road, enetered a deep cutting situated on a sweeping right-hand bend, logic suggests that the box would have been placed on the northern (left hand side ex Perth) side of the cutting. This position would give the best sighting distances, however, this is surmise, and unless and until more definitive evidence emerges, the exact location of the box will be the subject of conjecture. Similarly, the design of the box appears to have gone unrecorded. In all probability the box was of a standard WAR gabled weatherboard design used at numerous other locations, although the possibility that the box was one of C. Y. O'Connors' New Zealand inspired skillon roofed monstrosities cannot be dismissed.

It might appear rather difficult to opeate a signal box with no fixed signals: however, the WAR gave the problem some condiderable thought, as the following entry from Weekly Notice No 43 of 1903, detailing the procedures, reveals:

"....Four flagmen will be provided at Fenians' Crossing and 17 Mile cabin, to  act respectively as Up home, Up distant, Down home, and Down distant Signals. In the absence of any instructions from the signalman, a red flag must be maintained and exhibited by the flagmen to the driver of an approaching train. As far as practicable the flagmen must shield the flag (by holding it in front of their bodies) so that it will not be seen by an engine-driver coming in the opposite direction. The flagman acting in place of a Home signal will receive all sjgnals from the cabin, and act accordingly. The flagman acting as a distant signal must be in vision of the flagman acting as the Home signal and must repeat the signal exhibited at the latter place.

Should a train approach while the danger signal is exhibited at the home, the danger signal must also be exhibited at the distant, but if the road is clear between the distant and the home, the flagman will, on the near approach of the train, and after it has been brought quite or nearly to a stand, lower the red flag and announce to the engine-driver "distant signal;" the train may then proceed slowly to the flagman acting as the home signal. Flagmen are directed to stand on the left hand side of the line, and to hold the flag with both hands, the lower hand holding the bottom, so that a large surface will be exhibited. The signalmen at the intermediate cabins must see that the flagmen under their control thoroughly understand their duties before they are told  off to their respective positions."

Whether or not extra tall flagemen were employed as distants (so as to provide better sighting distances) is not recorded.

Fenians Crossing box was to be opened on regular ocassions throughout the next few years, mostly for race traffic and the annual Royal Agricultural Socirty's show (until 1905 held at Guildford), as well as the ocassional special occasions.

Fenians Crossing worked with East Perth in the Up direction and  Maylands in the Down. Winters two postion instruments were used.

The complaints about the dangerous nature of the crossing continued, to the point where the Government decided it had to act. Accordingly, in 1905, the decision was taken to eliminate the crossing and replace it with a bridge spanning the Guildford Road. The WAGR, always on the lookout for improvements to its permanent way, seized the opportunity presented by this work to reduce the ruling grade facing down trains from 1 in 60 to 1 in 80, the net result being a rare occurence where the competing demands of road and rail benefiting from a work ostensibly intended to benefit the former.

The construction of the bridge was to see both the raisng of the emabkment in the vincity of the Guildford Road, and a significant lowering of the road surface below the natural ground level. This latter  feature was to inconvenience generations of road users: the subway which resulted from this work often becoming a natural resevoir after heavy rains, trapping many unwary motorists.

The WAGR engineers realised that the works involved could only feasibly be done one track at a time, for which new signalling arrangemets would be needed to enable trains to be switched from one main to the another. It was decided that two signal boxes would be needed to facilitate this, these initially being named Temprorary Crossing Box A and Temporary Crossing Box B. These boxes were opened in August 1905, the relevant Weekly Notice giving a detailed description of the interlocking arrangements which is worth repeating in full:

" Fenians' Crossing - Subway.
At  7 a.m. on Thursday, the 10th August, 1905, the following Signal Arrangements in connection with the above will be brought into use.
A temporary block cabin " A" will be situated on Up side of line about 500 yards West of the level crossing.
Crossover road will trail between Up and Down roads. Down Distant will be arm on back of East Perth Up Distant. Down Home on Down side of line 44 yards from cabin and 380 yards from Distant. Down Starter top arm on post on Down side of line180 yards ahead of crossover.
Up Starter on Up side of line, 180 yards ahead of crossover. Up Home on Up side of line 32 yards from cabin.
Up Distant bottom arm on Up starting signal from cabin " B," 500 yards from Home signal.
A Temporary block cabin " B " will be situated on Down side in cutting about 300 yards East of level crossing. Crossover road will trail between Up and Down roads. Siding will have trailing connection in Up road 146 yards West of cabin, and catch point with indicator at clearance from main line.
Down Distant will be bottom arm on Down Starter from cabin "A."
Down Home on Down side of line 10 yards from cabin and 636 yards from Down Distant. Down Starter on Down side of line 180 yards ahead of crossover.
Up Starter on Up side of line will be top arm on post 80 yards ahead of Siding points. Up Home on Down side of line 45 yards from cabin.
Up Distant arm is on back of Maylands Down Distant, 490 yards from Up Home. These signals and points will be interlocked.
Cabins will be cut in from 7 a.m. to 5·30 p.m. on week days, and on Saturdays from 7 a..m. to 12·30 pm until further notice.
Signals will not be lit at night, and when the cabins are cut out will stand at clear.
When the cabins are cut in, the temporary sections will be as follows :- East Perth-Temporary cabin " A ; " Temporary cabin "A; "Temporary cabin " B ; " Temporary cabin " B "- Maylands.
The Up and Down lines are to be lifted between temporay block cabins, and this work will be carried out between trains. Speed over this portion of the line is not to exceed four miles per hour.
A ballast train will be employed on the temporary section. Warning boards, applying to Up and Down lines, will be fixed in accordance with the Regulations. "

Single line working remained in force until the 9th of October 1905, when the crossovers and temporary signalling assocated with the single line working were removed. The signalmen were withdrawn from both cabins with the signals being left in the"all right" position, and left unlit at night. By this stage the names "Fenians Crossing A " and "Fenians Crossing B" appear to have been officially adopted.

This arrangement continued for some 7 months. In the meantime, both boxes continued to be used. Box A was regualarly opened as a block post for race and other special traffic, while Box B was to be opened on two occasions, these being for the 1905 end of year race meetings at Belmont.

On 18 March 1906, single line working was again introduced. The crosovers were altered to suit the new arragements, and signalmen were posted. The Up starter at cabin "B," and the Down starter at cabin "A," were taken out of use. Drivers were directed to approach the  junction of the single line 'with their trains well under control, in the same manner as if they had been warned to enter the section under "Section clear, but station or junction blocked working."

This arrangement lasted only a fortnight. On  April 3 double line working was resumed. The signalmen were withdrawn and Cabins A and B reverted back to the status of block posts, the relevant weekly Notice announcing that the cabins were to be opened for special occasions only.

This official direction was somewhat relaxed in October 1905,when Cabin "A" was opened on a daily basis from 8·30 a.m. until after the passage of No. 20, Express. Cabin "A" appears to remained in use under ths arrangement until closure, as well as being opened as a block post to facilitate race traffic. Box "B", however, was not so included, and never seems to have reopened.

Both Cabins at Fenians lasted until April 1907 when they were closed and replaced by a new cabin at the then new Mount Lawley station, named, in part, after a former Governor of the Colony. The name Fenians disappeared from the WAGR lexicon: presumably, those charged with naming the new station prefered establishment over sedition. Whether or not any of the Fenians after whom the box was named were still alive to take offence is unknown, however, even if they were they would no doubt be mollified to know that, in one sense they had the last laugh. Although Mount Lawley was to remain open as a box for far longer than Fenians, it never was to perform as vital a function as its seditiously inspired predecessors.

NOTE: This page is under constant development - please check back later, however, if you have any additional information on this signal cabin, it would be most welcome - please use the e-mail form provided.

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

Information researched and interpreted by SIGWA member Justin Smith for SignallingWA

Fenian's Crossing - P
hotographer unknown.

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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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