Wagin - SignallingWA

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Station Frames


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

1938 WAGR MAP Mileage = 193

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Fate: All signals and lever frames removed

Located 193 rail miles from Perth, Wagin opened with the Great Southern Railway in 1889. It was originally named Wagin Lake, taking its name from the lake to the immediate south west of the town. If the earliest maps of the townsite are accurate, Wagin’s facilities in the days of the WA Land Company’s (the private company which built and operated the Great Southern Railway) ownership were unusual to say the least.

The station was situated on the west side of the main line, a few chains on the south side of today’s Tudhoe Street level crossing, and approximately opposite the junction of today’s Tailstock and Tudhoe Streets. The station consisted of a wooden building with a single marginal platform, located on a long dead end siding, which also served a goods shed several chains further south. The only access to the siding (and hence the platform) was by a crossover from the main to the siding, about midway between the station and the goods shed, the points facing up (Perth bound) trains. Such an arrangement suggests either an idiosyncratic outlook on the part of the company’s engineers, a safety precaution, or a lack of money to install at set of points to convert the siding into a loop. Geography may have determined the unusual arrangement.

The approach to
Wagin from Narrogin was on a steep falling gradient, and this may explain the lack of direct access from the Narrogin end of the main into the platform road: perhaps the WA Land Company felt that the risk of an out of control train descending the grade being accidentally diverted into the platform road outweighed the operational inconvenience such an arrangement presented.

The Station was 'attended' from the opening of the Great Southern Railway,
Wagin Lake was probably a staff station during the days of WA Land Company days.

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The first Great Southern Railway timetable records that trains did not stop at unattended station 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, the attended stations on either side of Wagin Lake being Narrogin and Katanning, the latter being the GSRs mid-point loco depot.

Unfortunately, as all local records relating to the signalling practices of the WA Land company appears to have long disappeared, one has to look at secondary evidence to try to infer what safeworking arrangements applied at Wagin during the days of the WA Land Company’s operations. To date the author has located no such secondary evidence, however, there are grounds to suspect that Wagin Lake may have been signalled. The track arrangement there must have made both accessing the platform and crossing trains an awkward and risky task. Passenger trains would have had to set back into the platform road or mainline, depending on the direction of travel, while every crossing would have required one train to run into the siding, involving a time consuming setting back movement in every case. Unless the GSR prohibited crossings at Wagin Lake (which would have been unduly restrictive from an operational viewpoint), such movements had a significant potential for what the Americans described as “cornfield meets”, particularly if the manoeuvre had to be conducted at night. Logic suggests that a prudent 19th Century English railway company (such as the WA Land company), charged with protecting shareholder funds, would have mitigated the risk by installing signals to protect the station.

Photographic evidence indicates that the WA Land Company installed signals at Pingelly and Beverley. The signals at Beverley consisted of a single, centrally located post mounting a Home signal facing each direction, following the old English practice. A similar arrangement was used by the Midland Railway of WA (which shared the same engineer as the WA Land Company) well into the twentieth century. Pingelly had a similar track layout to Wagin, with a loop which continued onto a dead end siding serving a goods shed. The signals appear to have been located adjacent to the crossover, which was at the Beverley end of the station where the goods siding joined the loop.  If Pingelly’s installation is any guide to WA Land Company signalling practice, one would expect to find any Home signal adjacent to the crossover of a yard with a similar layout. Although the author has located several photographs of Wagin station in WA Land Company days, these are all close up views of the station staff standing in front of the station buildings, and show little of the yard. However, a poor quality photograph of the station taken in 1901 looking south from the Tudhoe street level crossing, showing both the Land Company and government stations (the two platforms coexisted for a few years) shows a  tall post which appears to be at the location of the crossover from the main to the original platform road. The  location and the height (giving excellent sighting distance if it were in fact originally a signal, important for a train descending the  grade from Narrogin) raises the possibility that this was a GSR era signal post, sans signal arms, although it is just as possible that it was an oversize telegraph pole.

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 government took over the operation of the GSR 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 Wagin’s fortunes. As Wagin was now the station the closest to the mid-point between Albany and Spencers Brook, it became the midpoint locomotive depot, with Katanning closing as soon as the facilities were provided. 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 Wagin was to retain a depot serving the branches to the east, it never regained its pre 1914 glory.

The government lost no time in establishing new facilities at Wagin. A new island platform with a shelter shed, new barracks for the crew, running sheds and a triangle for the turning of locomotives were installed in quick succession. Down Outer and Inner Home signals and an Up Inner and Outer Home signals were also provided. The signals were operated from two small trackside frames, one near the Tudhoe Street level crossing and the other adjacent to the point giving access to loco. Any WA Land Company signals at Wagin they would have been promptly removed either as part of, or coincident with, this upgrading: the WA Land company signals were made by Saxby and Farmer, and were orphans in the government system, which used McKenzie and Holland somersault semaphores. In all likelihood, if there were any WA Land Company signals at Wagin they would have been removed either as part of, or coincident with, this upgrading. The WA Land company signals were made by Saxby and Farmer, and were orphans in the government system, which used McKenzie and Holland somersault semaphores.

Strangely enough, very little of these improvements were recorded in the Weekly Notices. The Great Southern appears to have been a black hole as far as weekly notices were concerned: while the Albany and Perth newspapers and even the annual reports for the last years of the 19th century reported on the changes taking place on the GSR the weekly Notices are silent. The author has not been able to locate any records explaining why the railway administration maintained this policy of silence, although a clue might be found in an article published in the Albany Advertiser of Thursday 27 May 1897 which reported on the improvements the GSR was undergoing. It reads (relevantly):

…. “On being interviewed, Mr Pidgeon, Resident Engineer of the Great Southern Railway, informed us of the alterations. Wagin has been made a half-way station, the drivers and guard's resident at Albany going no further, and the running from that point being taken in hand by men from Northam. This system allows the Traffic Manager to have full control, of all rolling stock in his district and enables the 'guards, engine drivers, & to have  a settled home, which was almost impossible under the late system.”

This suggests that, initially, the Government takeover of the WA Land Company involved little more than the metaphorical equivalent of installing a sign saying “under new management”, and the line operated pretty much as it did before the takeover, being worked by the same loco and traffic staff as before. If this was the case then it would explain why so little was published in the Weekly Notices. The staff who needed to know what was happening were all locals who could be more conveniently and quickly briefed by internal memoranda issued from the local mangers office rather than via the medium of Notices emerging from a far way head office.

In WA Land Company days Staff and Ticket working was in force, with sections being Wagin – Katanning and Wagin – Narrogin. Following the government takeover Wagin initially worked with Narrogin and Katanning, however, both of these long sections were to be soon split into shorter sections. To the north Barton (later Piesseville), was opened in 1902, while to the south Woodanilling was to be opened as a permanent staff station in 1903, having been opened and closed several times in the first few years after the government takeover. North of Wagin Staff and ticket working remained in force until 1908, when it was replaced by Electric Staff working, with Electric Staff working replacing staff and ticket working to the south of Wagin the following year. The staff sections on the Great Southern Railway were to undergo some changes, Lime Lake being opened as a staff station in about February 1913 while Barton was replaced by the picturesquely named Neeralin Pool in November of the same year.

The new locomotive depot appears to have been opened in February or March of 1898. Over the next decade Wagin’s importance in the WAGRs order of creation increased, having become a junction station in 1907 with the opening of the branch line to Dumbleyung. The branch signalling arrangements at Wagin were, to put it mildly, unsophisticated, as this extract from Weekly Notice No. 10 of 1907 makes clear:

Special Instructions, Junction Working, Wagin.

Until such time as the compounds are provided and the road pulled over clear of the Loco. Yard, it will be necessary to provide a pilot for both Up and Down Branch trains; and Loco must not foul the Branch Line unless the pilot is present to protect the obstruction. This must be strictly enforced on the days the Branch train runs.

               The pilot must ride on the engine of all Branch trains between the junction of Branch with Loco Yard and the station. Guards and drivers must not leave Wagin, or foul the junction points, unless the pilot is in attendance and conducts the traffic over the section named.
               All facing points over which the Branch train runs must be locked for the passage of the trains, and the vehicles on all converging roads must be secured and stowed well clear of the fouling point.

Despite its newfound importance, the WAGR seems to have been in no hurry to upgrade the rather basic suite of semaphore signals installed at Wagin, improvements not being made until March 1911. In that month Up and Down Distant signals, and a Down Starter (Main to Main) were installed. Some seven months later the signalling was extended to the Dumbleyung branch, with the installation of an Up Home and a Distant signal ex the branch, as well a Down Starter to the branch. Even then the Commission appears to have been penny pinching, the signalling not being interlocked, as the following extract from the 1912 General Appendix makes clear:


This is the junction station for the Dumbleyung branch line.

Up and down main line home and distant signals, Up Branch Line Home and Distant
Signals, and down starters Main to main and Main to  Branch are provided at this station, and all facing points on the line to which the home and Starting signals apply are provided with facing point detectors.

These signals are worked from an interlocking frame but the points are worked by hand.

Up and Down lines are provided at this station.

The reference to separate Up and Down lines indicates that traffic through each of the platform roads at Brookton was not bi-directional: trains kept to the left as if they were on a double track line. This appears to have been a common practice on the Great Southern, with similar arrangements being applied at various times at Brookton, Narrogin, Katanning and Tambellup.

In 1914 construction of the cross country branch line from Wagin to Bowelling commenced. Construction of the line proceeded at a snail’s pace, due no doubt to material and labour shortages due to the First World War, the line not being opened until after the Armistice. In July 1916 the Signalling arrangements at Wagin were altered to reflect the installation of the junction with the Bowelling line, although the branch signals were recorded as not yet being in use.   The same year saw the extension of the Dumbleyung branch to Lake Grace. The new suite of signals consisted of Up and Down main line Home and Distant signals, Home and Distant branch line signals a Down Starting signal to the Main and Starters for both branch lines. The station was not interlocked, as although the signals were worked from a frame the points continued to be worked by hand-throws. Facing point detectors were fitted to all facing points to which the Home and Starting signals specifically applied, although staff were instructed to ensure that the points were correctly set before negotiating the same.  A point indicator was fitted from the points leading from the main line to loco, and a revised series of whistle codes, applying to both branches and the main was also provided. These signals were all operated from a station frame, probably located in the middle of the platform.  These arrangements were mostly in force at the time the 1923 General Appendix was published, the only change of note being the elimination of the point indicator to loco, a competent traffic employee being charged with riding on every locomotive running to and from the depot and ensuring that the relevant points were correctly set.

The semaphores at Wagin were, by Western Australian standards, quite impressive. The down starters were placed on a bracketed post, a similar arrangement applying to the up homes for trains approaching from Albany, Lake Grace and Bowelling. The signalling arrangements remained unchanged until January 1933, when a
Down Outer Home signal was installed to facilitate the marshalling of longer wheat trains. Until the 1950s wheat traffic originating east of Wagin was exported from either Bunbury (via the Bowelling Branch) or Fremantle (via the great Southern Railway), which required marshalling before forwarding to either port.

Over the years Wagin worked with several stations on the 2 branch lines. On the Bowelling line Staff and ticket working was in force, with Kylie (named after a local aboriginal word for Boomerang and not, as one might think, a singing budgie), Bokal, Dellyanine  and Warup all serving, at varying times, as the first staff station encountered after leaving Wagin. To the east, staff and ticket working was in force until 1967, Wagin working with Dumbleyung, Nippering and Ballying at various times. In 1965 staff and ticket working between Wagin and Ballying was replaced with train electric staff working, staff and ticket remaining east of Ballying.

The 1933 addition was to be the last alteration to Wagin signalling for a generation. Wagin’s signalling appears to have coped adequately with the reduced traffic levels of the Depression, the war time rush, and the slow but steady boom in traffic on the Great Southern throughout the 1950s. However, by the mid-1960s the amount of wheat traffic originating on the branch lines east of Wagin (Lake Grace – Hyden and Lake Grace – Newdegate, as well as the original Lake Grace branch itself), were stretching Wagin’s facilities, resulting in an urgent need for an upgrade.  In 1967 work began on extending Wagin yard. The Down Starting signals for the two branches, the main Down Starting Signal, the Up Home, the Down Outer Home, the Down Distant, and the Up Distant from the Lake Grace Branch were all progressively resited, while the branch distants were disconnected and became fixed, an alteration that probably had little impact on train operations as trains emerging from the branches had to terminate at Wagin in any event. A new Outer Home was installed on the Bowelling branch, to allow for trains to be detained at the entrance to the yard without unnecessarily activating the level crossing lights on the Great Southern Highway, and a new Home signal was installed on the inner Home post controlling entry to the branch platform.

The work took the better part of a year, and in February 1968 a new (or to be correct, probably the first) signalling diagram of Wagin, incorporating the new arrangements, was issued. Two new frames were installed as part of these improvements, these being located at the north east side of the yard (east of the Tudhoe street crossing ) and at the south west corner, near the points for the lake Grace branch. The northern frame was known as Frame B and controlled entrance to the branch platform and the yard at the up end. The southern frame was known as Frame A and controlled access to and from the southern (Down) end of the yard as well as the branch homes and starters. Both frames were locked by Annetts keys when not in use, these being kept in the station frame which was located. The main line signals were controlled  from the station frame, main line trains taking the western side of the platform, while branch trains originated at the easternmost platform, known appropriately as the branch platform. One interesting feature of the new signalling arrangements was the alteration of the up starter and the down outer homes to become operable from either the station frame or frame B.

These arrangements were to remain in force for two decades, the only change of any significance during this period being the renaming of the branch platform road to the “Branch Main”, this alteration having been made sometime between February 1968 and  June 1977.

In the late 19070s the grain handling facilities at Albany were upgraded, making it a more attractive port for the export of local wheat than the closer, but increasingly uncompetitive port of Bunbury. In 1981, a bypass linking the lake Grace branch to the Great Southern railway was opened, enabling trains running from the Lake Grace branch to and from Albany to access the Great Southern without the need to reverse at Wagin. The diversion of this traffic to Albany robbed the Bowelling branch of the greater part of its traffic, and was instrumental in its closure some 7 or so years later. One interesting feature of the operation of the by-pass was that it was outside of Wagin station limits, and had no crossing loop, meaning that trains running to and from the branch could not cross at Wagin. A special procedure had to be developed to ensure that only one train could be in the Wagin - Woodanilling and the Wagin-Ballying section whenever the by-pass was in use.

The closure of the Bowelling branch in 1988 resulted in the removal of the Bowelling
Home and Starting signals. However, the remaining signals remained in situ and in use until 1995 when all fixed signals were removed from Wagin.

The electric staff system on the Great Southern was cancelled in 1990, and replaced with the train order system of safeworking.  In the five or so years that Wagin’s semaphores coincided with train order working, Wagin was, under the penultimate Westrail rulebook, classed as a Superior Train Order crossing station, being both attended and equipped with fixed signals. Such a distinction was doubly rare: while only a handful of WAGR stations ever achieving the title, Wagin was the only such station ever to have been equipped solely with semaphores.

Wagin has the melancholy distinction of being the last country location in WA to have its semaphores removed. Today there is no indication that they ever existed there. Fortunately, some of Wagin’s interlocking has survived, its removal coinciding with a general recognition among the local railway preservation movement that semaphores and frames were just as worthy of preservation as were locomotives and carriages. The station frame rests at Pinjarra with the Hotham valley Railway, Wagin's 'Frame B' (together with the three arm bracketed post) is at Whiteman Park under the care of the WA light Railway Association, while Wagin's 'Frame A' resides at Kojonup along with several of Wagin’s signal posts.  

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.

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

Photographs © by
Chris. J. E. French and Len Purcell courtesy of Rail Heritage WA Archives

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WAGIN Employees

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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