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  Enthusiast Activities - Signals and Telegraph

The trackside signals and communications facilities along the railway have been significantly rationalised since the line was passed to SteamRanger's control. This was necessary to combat vandalism and to better suit SteamRanger's method of Train Authority safeworking.

The Signals and Telegraph team is coordinated by
long term volunteer Troy Barker, in "real life" an Assistant Principal
and ICT program coordinator at one of Adelaide's leading High Schools.
Troy commenced working with SteamRanger in 1993 and has been awarded a SteamRanger Gold Certificate of Appreciation for his contributions

With valuable background experience as a SteamRanger railcar driver and guard
Troy has gathered together a team of volunteers who have played a major role
in formalising our signalling, and on-track communications procedures and commissioning appropriate hardware

Click here to see examples of our signalling devices


A number of relevant S&T Documents can be accessed by clicking HERE

PLEASE NOTE: Access to these documents is restricted and you may need to provide a
new USER ID and PASSWORD available from your relevant Manager

Please Note: Passwords to access these files have recently been updated.
Please contact the appropriate section manager to obtain a new password

Activities in the first half of 2015

This report summarises the more significant tasks undertaken during the previous half year and whilst our team is usually caught up in routine signal maintenance activities, detailed here are the more significant tasks. Transfield Services continues to provide the routine external inspection and maintenance service for signalling installations. SteamRanger performs all corrective work and other upgrade projects that are detected through this process or as determined by the Board.

  • Strathalbyn
    The pole line near East Tce was vandalised requiring the running out and erecting of new overhead lines. An underground cable fault at South Tce was detected and temporary measures put in place to ensure satisfactory continuing service. Tree clearing under the pole line has been performed by contract.

  • Platform lighting
    New LED lights in the form of replica gas lamps have been installed at Mt Barker station. These replace the previously vandalised lamps that were totally unrecoverable. SteamRanger is fortunate to have supporters that were willing to donate the costs of these units to enable this work to occur and our gracious thanks is extend to those anonymous persons. Passengers on winter train services now have better lighting when leaving our trains. At Goolwa, the refurbished platform lights have been erected and put into service, again providing the platform with a good cover of light at night. Other stations will now receive a similar treatment.

  • Currency Creek
    Work has recently been ongoing in terms of re-instating the Canoe Tree level crossing to automatic operation. However due to the significant length of time since the crossing was changed to manual operation, this has made our work much more difficult. All components have to be inspected, some serviced and changed out, whilst work is also required on the track to ensure all electrical connections are in good condition to enable the re-instatement of track circuits - all time consuming work. Currently work involves installing refurbished insulated joints, upgraded power supplies and protection equipment.

  • Goolwa
    The deteriorating condition of the existing approach battery box for Hutchinson St saw the team undertake a refurbishment of another available box. The opportunity was also taken to resolve a speed restriction still in place due to signalling limitations. Given the improved track condition at this location, the approach to the level crossing was able to be extended and restrictions removed. Again, site works included re-cabling to various components, new insulated joints and repainting of the installation.

  • Signage
    Work continues on upgrading both track side and level crossing signage to comply with current standards and requirements. Recent efforts are focussed on Goolwa. Station name boards are currently being repainted or remade where required. New heritage style signage is being applied to stations to continue building on the authentic heritage experience for our customers.

  • Workshop tasks
    Overhaul of gongs, power supplies and level crossing fittings has been performed at our Mt Barker workshop. Subsequent to this, all gongs were changed out in accordance with relevant timeframes. We thank Terry Gifford for taking on this task, having recently re-joined the team so a warm welcome is extended to him.

  • Radio
    Work on the radio communications for the Cockle Train has been ongoing with recent testing proving a success. This is a credit to Stuart Schilling for his ongoing persistence towards completing this long term project.

    Recent work has seen the innovate 'repurposing' of former train control telephones to work as station radio units. Additionally the Selector unit has been re-worked to operate on selective calling to enable trains to call up the station.

    The first installation has been installed in the Victor Harbor station office shown here with Stuart hard at work. A radio is to be installed in RC334 and some change-over of non-compliant AN era radio antennas on some engines has occurred. We hope to have the system available for use soon.

Facilities and Practices

Some History

The line was originally operated under a combination of Absolute and Permissive Block systems. Under Permissive Block trains worked according to schedules in Working Timetables (WTTs) and extra Train Notices. Crossing and proceed Orders could be issued by stationmasters to vary the running and guards and SMs recorded movement times in books at stations and sidings. Trains were permitted to follow preceding trains into a section after a fixed time delay, which inevitably resulted in following trains colliding with disabled or slow running movements from time to time. Absolute Block used electric telegraph signals to ensure a train had sole occupancy of a section of track and was therefore more reliable, but less flexible.

The introduction of the electric staff system automated the absolute block process. The section between Mt Barker Junction and Strathalbyn (originally worked by Absolute Block) was converted to Electric Staff working in July 1912 and on to Victor by June 1914. Staff instruments were installed at Mt Barker Junction, Mt Barker, Bugle Ranges, Strathalbyn, Finniss, Goolwa Junction, Pt Elliot and Victor Harbor. Staff drawer locks were installed at Sandergrove, Gilberts, Currency Creek and Middleton to control switches to sidings. However, staff still needed to be in attendance at block stations, which was inappropriate on a such a lightly trafficked branch line.

Train Order working (now known as Train Authority working), which allowed unattended working, was introduced widely in SA following the arrival of the US born Commissioner W.A.Webb. A centrally located Train Controller (US terminology "despatcher") was made responsible for issuing train movement orders to SMs (US: "agents") or directly to crews by telephone. The Victor line was the first to use the system from the 22nd Nov 1926 and is the method used by SteamRanger today. Train order signals were installed at Mt Barker Junction, Littlehampton, Mt Barker, Bugle Ranges, Strathalbyn, Finniss, Goolwa and Pt Elliot to indicate to train crews that a new order should be collected. Although most were later removed by the SAR, SteamRanger has recommissioned the TO signals at Mt Barker and Strathalbyn as heritage items.

SteamRanger Safeworking Procedures


All SteamRanger rail operations are carried out in accordance with the national Code of Practice for the Defined Interstate Rail Network and a specific SteamRanger Addendum. which elaborates on procedures applicable to the SteamRanger Tourist railway

All operating volunteers; loco crews, guards, shunters, track workers and Station Masters are trained and periodically examined in these procedures.

Trains normally operate under the authority of a paper based Train Authority issued by a rostered volunteer designated (for a particular period) as the SteamRanger Train Controller by the SteamRanger Operations Manager. During his period of duty the Train Controller maintains a record of all movements on the track and issues Train Authorities to crews, station masters and track workers by telephone. Recipients are required to confirm arrivals and departures at designated points. The Train Controller also issues authorities to work gangs to carry out work at specified locations on the track and advises them of any conflicting train movements.

Fixed Signals

At its busiest period, the Victor Harbor line had a comprehensive fit of lineside signals including signal boxes at even some minor stations such as Bugle Ranges. Most of the fixed signals along the line have now been removed; the remaining signals are listed in the following table.

Fixed Signals on the Railway
Location Type Function
Approach to Mt Barker Junction Upper quadrant permissive facing up trains(3200) Fixed at caution; train to pass at no more than 20km/h prepared to stop at end of line at station
Mt Barker Station Train Order semaphore (bidirectional) Receive train order if set
North end of Strathalbyn station Colour light permissive facing up trains(810) Will illuminate 20 secs after warning devices at South Terrace activate for up trains
Strathalbyn Station Train order semaphore (bidirectional) Receive train order if set
Facing points of Victor Harbor yard Lower quadrant absolute facing down trains Admission signal to yard
Up side of Coral St Gates Victor Harbor "Stop - Proceed under Handsignal" sign facing down trains Protection of Coral St Gates

Click HERE to see examples of each of these signals

Main Line Switches

In the absence of signal cabins and interlocked yards, access to the main line at stations and sidings is generally controlled by security locked points stand indicators which display a green arrow if the switch is set for the main line and a red dumb-bell otherwise. Locomotives may normally proceed past these points at a maximum of 30km/h.

At Goolwa Depot the facing switches into the depot and triangle are controlled by bolt locked indicator switch stands which positively confirm that the main line switches are positively engaged and permit higher speed running on the main line.

Diverging tracks within depots and yards are interconnected with cheese knob switches or spring levers as appropriate.

Road Crossing Protection

The railway has 76 individual road or farmer's access crossings between Mt Barker Junction and Victor Harbor. Most are protected by either conventional Dept of Transport STOP or triangular RAIL CROSSING signs.

13 crossings are protected by active warning devices. For reliability, the control circuits are powered by heavy duty batteries at each location, trickle charged from the AC mains. The following table shows their locations. They are tested weekly by the SteamRanger S&C or track maintenance teams. An indicator light facing the track confirms their operation to approaching loco crews.

Unless noted otherwise in the table, all crossings are protected with flashing lights and gongs (FLG), automatically activated by conductive track circuits for trains travelling in both directions. The control circuits are activated by the oncoming train completing an electrical circuit between the running rails and as the installations age they become susceptable to faults due to mechanical failure, electrical breakdown or vandalism and require ongoing maintenance. The Wellington Rd crossing at 56.8km uses a reactive "road traffic light" type of detector in an attempt to reduce locally rampant vandalism.

The unique Cameron Rd crossing device is the last example in the State of a "wig wag" warning device using a mechanical arm swinging backwards and forwards.

Actively Protected Level Crossings
Track Section Km post Roadway Type
MB Junction to Mt Barker 53.641 Old Princes Highway, Littlehampton  
MB Junction to Mt Barker 54.413 Cameron Road Wig Wag
Mt Barker to Philcox Hill 56.800 Wellington Road, Mt Barker FLG - inductive detector, auto
Bugle Ranges to Gemmells 80.900 Mt Barker/Strath Road near Gemmells  
Gemmells to Strathalbyn 80.900 East Terrace Strathalbyn  
Gemmells to Strathalbyn 81.450 High Street, Strathalbyn FLG - auto down only
Gemmells to Strathalbyn 81.636 South Terrace, Strathalbyn FLG - auto down only
Strathalbyn to Finniss 81.727 Milne Road, Strathalbyn FLG - auto up only
Finniss to Goolwa 104.903 Goolwa / Strath Rd (Canoe Tree) FLG - manual both directions
Goolwa to Middleton 115.20 Main Goolwa / Victor road, Goolwa  
Goolwa to Middleton 121.600 Goolwa / Victor road, Middleton  
Middleton to Pt Elliot 125.572 The Strand, adjacent Pt Elliot station  

The devices adjacent to Strathalbyn station are automatically activated for trains approaching the station, but are set in operation from a push button on the station platform for departing trains in order not to inconvenience road users when trains are standing in the station. A conventional searchlight signal indicates to "up" trains that the High Street crossing device has been activated.

Communications and Station Public Address

At the line's busiest period, each station along the line was connected to each other and to the train controller in Adelaide by open wire pole mounted telephone lines.

Most stations had two polished wooden encased instruments. One was dedicated to communications with the Train Controller in Adelaide and used to receive Train Orders and report train movements. The other was a "Party Line" phone for less formal communications with other stations on the line. Stations were called by vigorously winding the calling handle on the side in short and long bursts corresponding to the allocated code of the called location (for example LONG - SHORT - LONG). Some historic party line telephone handsets have been retained at stations as non operational historical exhibits.

The telephone line was substantially vandalised and removed prior to SteamRanger commencing operations and has now been entirely removed, save for a short circuit connecting Mt Barker Station to Mt Barker Depot and extending towards Littlehampton. This operates in the traditional party-line manner.

Communication with trains is now established using the public mobile cellular telephone network.

Mt Barker, Goolwa and Victor Harbor stations are connected to the Telstra fixed line network with calls diverted to SteamRanger's central booking office when they are unattended. Public address systems have been installed at each of these stations to provide visitors with train running information.

Other Railways' Signalling

For those interested in the broad topic of signalling on historic railways, here are some links to some interesting Australian and UK sites.

If readers know of other interesting signalling sites, please email us and we will include them

Becoming Involved

Most of the equipment described above is maintained by a group of volunteers from within the Track team. Additional volunteers with a liking for outdoor work and an interest in signalling and communications systems wil be warmly welcomed.

SteamRanger runs a fare concession scheme as an incentive to volunteers who put in many hours of dedicated effort. Look here for details

If you think that you may be interested in volunteering with the signals group,
please contact our Signals and Telegraph Coordinator, Troy Barker
Phone: 0419 803 526

or click the logo below and send him an email.


And remember, as one S&T person was heard to say - "you ain't safe without us!"

Revised Jan 2016