Katanning - SignallingWA

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Station Frames


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

1938 WAGR MAP Mileage = 225

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? Levers


Fate: Station intact but signalling removed

Located 120 rail miles from Albany, and a similar distance from Beverley, Katanning was the midpoint station of the original Great Southern Railway, the name of the land grant railway built by the WA Land Company that connected Albany with Beverley, the then extremity of the government Eastern Railway. Katanning was a “company town” created by the WA Land Company, and opened with the Great Southern Railway in 1889.

Attended from the opening of the Great Southern Railway, Katanning was equipped with a combined locomotive /carriage shed, a triangle for the turning of locomotives, watering facilities and a marginal platform (with a simple wooden station building) on the west side of the railway approximately on the site of today’s memorial to F. H. Piesse. As one of only two locomotive depots on the Great Southern Railway, Katanning was undoubtedly second only to Albany in its importance in the days of WA Land Company ownership.

Unfortunately, as all local records relating to the safeworking practices of the WA Land company appear to have long disappeared, one has to look at secondary evidence to try to infer what signalling arrangements applied at Katanning during the days of the WA Land Company’s operations. To date the author has located a WA Land Company era track plan of Katanning and several photographs and a track plan of Katanning which might date to the days of WA Land Company ownership. One photo (a photo in Battye Library erroneously described as being taken at Albany) shows what might be a distant signal located at the south (Albany) end of Katanning. Given that the approach to Katanning from Albany was (and is! ) around a sweeping curve, with the attendant restriction on visibility, logic would suggest that a company mindful of protecting its equipment and facilities would take the precaution of locating a signal at the South end of the yard.

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Assumptions aside, by itself the evidence is presented by this photograph is equivocal and little weight can be placed on it. However, a photograph from the Katanning Historical Society's collection, taken of the WA Land Company era  station looking north and annotated "Katanning Railway Stn" shows a signal wire suspended by pulleys attached to a Saxby and Farmer style lever which appears to be both identical to  a lever in a photograph taken in Pingelly yard during WA Land Company days. The lever is opposite the station building, and the wire runs to connect to what could only be a signal (points are operated by rods, not wires) located to the South of the station.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to positively date the photograph by reference to other evidence, and it is possible that the photograph was taken following the takeover by the Government and Katanning's operation by the West Australian Railways ( the "WAR") as the government railways were to be known up until 1906 when they became the WAGR. However, if it was taken after the WAR takeover, the lever is likely to have been a hangover from the days of the WA Land Company's ownership. Although prior to the mid-1890s the WAR's rudimentary signals had been worked by crude levers at, or near, the base of their signals by the time the WAGR took over the GSR it had adopted McKenzie and Holland equipment. McKenzie and Holland levers were of a totally different design to the Saxby and Farmer type of levers seen in the photograph. The WA Land Company's Saxby and Farmer equipment were orphans in the WAGR, and the cost of maintaining any spares etc. for these orphans would hardly have been warranted. It would be straining credulity to both suggest that the lever could be attached to anything else other than a signal, and that the WAR suffered a technological relapse and installed what was, by the time of the takeover, equipment that was obsolete at worst, and non-standard at best. In the author's opinion, there are strong grounds to believe that Katanning was signalled in WA Land Company days. However, unless and until definite photographic or documentary evidence emerges, the matter probably will never be definitely settled.

However, surviving evidence gives the modern researcher much greater confidence in determining whether Katanning was s staff station during the days of WA Land Company ownership. Its position as the mid-point station and locomotive depot renders it inconceivable that it could have not had this safeworking function. The first Great Southern Railway timetable records that trains did not stop at unattended stations unless requested, implying that only the attended stations were Staff stations (Marbellup, later Torbay Junction was the exception to this rule; however, it did not become a junction - and hence had to be a staff station - until after the railway opened). These were mostly about thirty miles apart.  As the attended stations on either side of Katanning in WA Land Company days were Wagin Lake and Broomehill, the staff sections either side of Katanning prior to the government takeover were Katanning-Wagin Lake and Katanning - Broomehill.

As befitting its role as the central station on the Great Southern Railway, Katanning developed rapidly. Shops, a school and a post office followed in quick succession. More significantly (for present purposes) in 1891 the colony’s first roller flour mill was opened at Katanning, a side effect of this being the first application of street lighting in Western Australia. The mill was (and still is) located on the corner of today’s Clive St and Austal Tce , and was served by a siding connected to the goods shed siding. The mill siding was at right angles to the goods shed siding , and was connected to it by means of a small turntable. Vehicles entering the mill were pushed along the good shed siding road onto the turntable, the turntable rotated through 90 degrees to line up with the mill siding, and the wagons pushed into the mill. Use of such turntables appears to have been something of a Great Southern Railway speciality, with the Railway using an identical method to connect the sidings on the Albany town jetty to the main line. The turntable at Albany appears to have been removed rapidly after the government takeover, however, the turntable at Katanning survived quite a few years after its Albany cousin was abolished.

The WA Land Company was neither a profitable venture nor a good corporate citizen, and it was bought by the WA Government in 1896. The government took over the operation of the operation of the line on the 1 st January 1897, retaining the name "Great Southern Railway" to describe the line between Albany and Spencers Brook.

The takeover was to have an immediate effect on Katanning’s fortunes. As Wagin was now the station closest to the mid-point between Albany and Spencers Brook, it became the mid-point locomotive depot, with Katanning loco closing in 1898 as soon as the facilities were provided at the former. Having lost its depot, any justification for retaining fixed signalling would have disappeared: Katanning became no different to many other stations on the Government network where rigorous adherence to the rules was all that was needed to protect the station. Lest Waginarians chortle in triumph, their locomotive depot victory over the Katanningites was to be short lived, for in 1914, Wagin’s mantle as the main loco depot between Spencers Brook and Albany was snatched by Narrogin. Although Katanning was to retain a depot serving the branches to the west and east, it never regained its pre 1898 glory.

Following the government takeover Katanning worked with Wagin to the North and Broomehill to the South. Although the section to Broomehill was never divided (apart from a short period in 1923 when Murdong was opened as a temporary staff station to facilitate ballast working) the lengthy section to Wagin was split in 1903 with the opening of Woodanilling as a permanent staff station. Woodanilling had been opened and closed as a staff station several times in the first few years after the government takeover, these openings probably being in connection with ballasting work utilising Woodanilling’s ballast pit. Staff and Ticket working north of Katanning remained in force until February 1909, when it was replaced by Electric Staff working. The staff sections were Katanning- Woodanilling, staff coloured red. Oddly enough, the date of the extension of the electric staff system south of Katanning appears to have escaped the compilers of the Weekly Notices.

The first recorded fixed signals at Katanning were installed in February1906, these being an Up Distant, an Up Home, a Down Distant and a Down Home. These were worked from a lever frame located on the Up end of the station, and applied only to trains entering the platform, the old GSR station facilities at Katanning having not yet been replaced by the large island platform that survives to this day. Like virtually all of the junction stations on the Great Southern, Katanning was never to be graced with a signal box, such a facility no doubt being considered a luxury to a state government that had seen the last of the boom of gold rush era income. The introduction of the signals saw the removal of the existing point indicators. Photographic evidence (in the form of newspaper photographs published in 1904) indicates that these indicators were of the "bullseye" pattern which may well have dated back to the days of WA Land Company ownership. These signals may have been installed as preparatory work for the opening of the branch line to Kojonup, which was then under construction. The line to Kojonup was opened in April 1907 (and later extended through to Donnybrook), and with it Katanning gained a locomotive depot, and a 60 foot turntable.

The turntable was located on the site of the small turntable accessing the mill, and continued to remain as the means of accessing the mill until a sharply curved siding was built into it, this siding being installed sometime between 1906 and 1912. This siding was, in later years, to be extended through the mill to serve a grain storage facility at the rear as well as the local power station. Its remnants have only been recently removed, severing one of last physical links with the WA Land Company's existence.

In March 1911, the signalling arrangements at Katanning were upgraded to reflect Katanning’s importance as a junction. An Up Branch Home signal, an Up Branch Distant signal, a Down Main starting signal and a Down Branch Starting signal were brought into use. The Up and Down Home signals and the Down Starting signals were fitted with facing point detectors: presumably Katanning’s importance did not extend so far as to justify the expense of installing full interlocking. The Up Home signals for both Branch and the Main line were probably on the same post, with the Main line arm being bracketed, the same applying for the Up Branch and Main Distant signals: a curious reference in 1910 to the Up Main Home and Distant signals being relocated to bracketed posts suggests that this arrangement was the case. The following year, the Katanning- Nampup (later Nyabing) Branch line was opened, rendering Katanning a double junction. An Up Home signal, an Up Distant signal and a Down Starting signal applicable to the Nampup branch were installed, as Katanning’s entry from the 1912 General Appendix (reproduced below) indicates:


This is the junction station for the Nampup and Boyup Brook branch lines.

Up and down main line, Home and Distant signals, Up branch line Home and Distant signals, and Down main line and Branch line starting signals are provided at this station. The Up and Down Homes and the Down starting signals are fitted with facing point detectors.

The special attention of all concerned in the working of trains is directed to the instructions on page 73 of this appendix, headed "Normal Position of Points".

Special care must be exercised when shunting the Piesse and Co.’s flour mill siding, and engine drivers must not take their engines past the point indicated by the notice board.

When two trains approach the station at or about the same time, precedence must be given to the up train so as to avoid, wherever possible, trains being stopped on the grade.

When up trains are stopped at the Albany end of the Yard for the purposes of detaching or attaching vehicles, the train must be properly secured before the engine is detached, as the rear portion of train will generally be standing on the grade.

Following the flurry of signalling installation associated with the opening of the two branch lines, Katanning’s signalling arrangements changed little over the next decade, the 1923 General Appendix stating that the signalling arrangements consisted of Up and Down main line Home and Distant signals, Up branch line Home and Distant signals, and Down main line and Donnybrook Branch line starting signals. Presumably, the Nyabing branch starter had been removed sometime after 1912, alternatively, the 1912 Appendix might have been loose in its terminology with respect to what meaning was to be applied to the expression “branch”. The only other change of note was the installation, in May 1917 of a new frame (located near loco), operating the crossover from Loco to Nyabing line. This was locked by Annett's key kept in the Station frame, and when removed quite sensibly locked the Up Main Home, Up Nyabing Branch Home and the Down main Starting signal.

Over the years Katanning worked with several stations on the 2 branch lines. On both branch lines Staff and Ticket working was in force. To the West, Katanning worked with Kojonup, although Holly and Carlecatup were opened at various times, Holly for a three year period in the mid-1920s, and Carlecatup in 1961/62 to facilitate reballasting. To the east, Nyabing was the first staff station encountered until December 1923, when it was replaced by Kwobrup. Following the closure of Katanning to Pingrup branch line (Nyabing to Pingrup having opened in 1927) in 1957 and the re-opening of the Katanning – Nyabing section as a seasonal line in 1961, Nyabing was reinstated as a staff station. Traffic on the Nyabing line appears, at times, to have been sufficient to justify opening the intermediate siding of Badgebup as a staff station, this occurring on a number of occasions during the 1960s. In addition, in the mid1950s amidst the post war shortage of non-literal names, the aptly if inelegantly named 248m 20ch ballast Pit, located between Katanning and Nyabing, was opened as staff station to facilitate ballasting.

In February 1927 a new Down Outer Home signal was installed 268 yards north of the existing Down Home, and the Down Home relocated. This may have been installed to facilitate shunting generally and working of the flour mill siding in particular. Given the run down condition of the facilities at the port of Albany by the mid-1920s, it was often cheaper to export wheat from the great Southern via Fremantle or Bunbury, and thus wheat trains entering Katanning would have been required shunting to facilitate this, particularly traffic from Nyabing. Given the steep grades south of the town it was safer and more practical to shunt trains at the North end of the yard. The presence of an Outer Home extended the amount of shunting room available to assemble trains, for it meant that a train could be accepted from Woodanilling while a train was shunting outside the Katanning Home, something that was impossible if only a Home signal was provided. At the same time a new lever-frame was installed to operate the Vacuum oil Co siding south of the station. In due course this frame was to become "Frame B", with the frame providing access to loco expanded to control entrance to the south end of the yard, gaining the description "Frame A" in the process. Similarly, at some stage between 1927 and 1963 the entrance to the flour mill siding and the yard at the North end of the yard were to be controlled from a new frame called "Frame C". Frames A, B, and C were locked by Annetts keys which were locked in the Station frame when not in use.

Katanning’s signalling appears to have coped adequately with the reduced traffic levels of the Depression, the war time rush, the slow but steady boom in traffic on the Great Southern throughout the 1950s following the opening of the improved grain loading facilities at Albany, and the closure of the Nyabing Branch line between 1957 and 1961. A casual observer in 1922 magically transported to 1963 (the year that the first General Appendix after 1922 was printed) would have noticed relatively few changes to Katanning’s signalling, the most obvious changes being the presence of the lever frames now designated A, B and C, and a periscope, located adjacent to the Station frame. This was not a submariners inspired facility to enable Station Masters to torpedo the grossly subsidised road competition but, rather a means to view signals Nos 7, 8 and 10 (probably the Up Homes, to date no signal diagram as at 1963showing lever numbers has surfaced) located south of Katanning and which were obscured by the presence of tall buildings. He probably would have also noted the changes in traffic patterns, which were to see various changes to Katanning’s signalling over the next few years. In 1966 work began on extending Katanning yard. In November 1966 Frame C was abolished, while in March 1967, the Up Distant and Up Home signals at south end from Nyabing, Albany and Donnybrook were moved out 300 yards and 150 yards respectively to accommodate these extensions. The periscope was probably abolished at this time as a repeater was provided for the Up Main Home, while operation of the signals for the branches was transferred to a new frame which was well within normal view of that frame's operator.

The old frames A and B were abolished replaced with new frames. One, called Frame A , was installed at the North Eastern end of the yard while the other, called Frame B, was installed near the Boyanup Street level crossing. This meant that Katanning had, during its long life, six individual frames to control movements into through and out of the station, which perhaps was a record. New signals were installed as part of these improvements, these being Down Starting signals ex Branch platform for Nyabing, Albany and Donnybrook, and a Down Home signal controlling access from the Main to the Branch platform. The Down Starting signals were placed on an impressive three-doll bracketed post forming what is called a 'trine' arrangement. Operation of the various signals was split between the station frame, and frames A and B.

Frame B worked the Branch Home signals, starting signal and points accessing the South end of the yard and Branch platform, Frame A working the Home signal and points giving access to the north end of the yard and the Branch platform, with the station frame controlling the rest. Unusually, 3 Annetts keys (normally kept in the station frame) were provided, called Annetts Keys A, B and C. Keys A  and B unlocked their respective frames, however, depending on what signals were being worked, Annetts key C needed to be removed from the station frame as well before those relevant signals could be operated. One curious feature of the post 1967 operations was that drivers working the Ash siding located on the Nyabing line between the Up Nyabing Home and Distant could, when the line was closed for seasonal purposes, shunt the siding on a written authority without having to be in possession of the Staff for the section. Perhaps the Staff was safely locked away in the station safe, or kept in the District Traffic Superintendent’s desk for use as a paperweight or a means of correcting errant traffic employees who found themselves “on the carpet”.

Katanning’s signalling remained unchanged for the next 15 or so years. The first change occurred in 1984, when a bypass connecting the Great Southern to the Nyabing line was constructed. Like its counterpart at Wagin, this enabled trains from Nyabing to bypass Katanning and proceed straight to Albany without having to be re-marshalled or reversed at the former. As most of the traffic to or from Nyabing was now bypassing Katanning there was no need for either a Nyabing Branch Home, Distant or Starting signals and these were removed. A new Annetts key (“Annett’s D”) was provided: the points for the bypass line to the main were locked by a rigid lever unlocked by this key. A new signalling diagram, dated 10 December 1984 was issued to show these changes. This showed that the old Branch platform had been renamed the Branch main, aligning itself with the terminology used at Wagin, Narrogin and Tambellup, although by now there was little branchline work for it to facilitate. Oddly enough, it still showed the Starting, Home and Distant signals for the Donnybrook Branch as being in use even though the line had not been seen a train since services were suspended in June 1982!

The chill winds of deregulation were to transform Westrail in the 1980s. A favourite target for the bean counters was semaphore signals - removing them not only saved maintenance costs, but their elimination from a station made it easier to withdraw the Station Staff. Katanning was unable to escape these winds (which by the mid-1980s had become a hurricane) and in May 1987 Katanning’s semaphores were removed, bringing the signalling curtain on the junction which, although never having a signal box, made up for its absence by having more individual frames at one location than just about anywhere else on the WAGR network.

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

Information researched and interpreted by Justin Smith
of the Signalling Interest Group of WA

This page designed and provided by Chris. J. E. French of SignallingWA

Photographs are credited in the captions; Diagrams of Signalling © by W. A. G. R.

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16/12/2014 - Former Katanning Station Relief Officer Arthur Todd remembers:

"Photo 7: (1982 02 24 Katanning - South end XA1410 & XA1412 leaving - Ed.) This train would be heading to either Gnowangerup or Kojonup and is pulling out of the loop.

The order of roads left to right were: Branch Main (left of station platform - Most branch trains left from here - to Gnowangerup branch, Nyabing branch, and Kojonup / Boyup Brook branch. Main, Loop, Three, Four, Coach Alongside (ran alongside the goods shed and branched off to Crane Rd, and Fitters shed. Shed (ran through the goods shed) This was the setup when I worked there during the 70's as a Station Relief Officer.

The Nyabing branch originally ran through to Pingrup but the section Nyabing to Pingrup closed in 1957. The Gnowangerup branch (which actually terminated at Tambellup) but originally ran to Ongerup. The section Gnowangerup to Ongerup also closed in 1957. None of the three branches are used now although the rail is still down for Nyabing and Gnowangerup.

The road to the right of the Branch Main was a short dead end. The only thing I can remember it ever being used for was the Commissioners Coach and a couple of "Reso" trains."

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