Category Archives: News

All the latest news and developments from the Society

July & August Opening Dates

The opening dates for July and August are now available:

July:
Saturday 6 (DRC Steam Running Day)
Saturday 13 (DRC Steam Running Day)
Saturday 20 (DRC Star Tugs Day)
Sunday 28 (DRC Steam Running Day)

August:
Saturday 3 (DRC Steam Running Day)
Sunday 11 (DRC Steam Running Day)
Sunday 18 (DRC Steam Running Day)
Saturday 24, Sunday 25, Monday 26 (August Holiday Weekend) (DRC Steam Running Days)

Come and visit us and have a go at operating the panel under the guidance of our volunteers on any of the dates above!

Simulator Room Commissioned

Development of the Swindon Panel “simulator room” has come on a great deal in the last few weeks.

The room has been decorated, desks fitted, shelving fitted, and now the temporary monitors have been replaced with this custom-fitted array of monitors which will make control of the simulator software much much easier. The monitors are ex-TVSC, so have a signalling heritage of their own!


Cables will be tidied into trunking!

The simulator room is located at the back of the Bristol Room in “The Signalling Centre” at Didcot Railway Centre, separate from the panel room. The software has several modes, some of which don’t require intervention from a person in the simulator room, so that it doesn’t need to be manned on public open days, and some which expect a person to be ‘pressing buttons’ in the background, acting as drivers, adjacent signalmen, stations, and everyone else on the railway!

Great work by everyone involved!

Reading Panel HST Nameplate Unveiled

Thank you and well done to everyone who has been involved in the donation of the READING PANEL SIGNAL BOX 1965-2010 HST nameplate from GWR to SPS.

An unveiling and re-dedication ceremony took place on Saturday 11 May, attended by many ex-Reading Panel signalmen, where GWR Managing Director Mark Hopwood formally handed the nameplate over.

It is great to see it on display in the panel room, and we are delighted to have been trusted to look after this item of Western Region and signalling heritage.

£1000 Book Sale Donation to Train Describer

THANK YOU very much to SPS member and author of “A Chronology of Railway Signalling 1825-2018″, Peter Woodbridge, who has donated the proceeds from the sale of his book – £1000 – to Swindon Panel Train Describer restoration fund!

Copies of Peter’s book are still available – Peter can be contacted via SPS or via the comments below.

As you’ll see from the photos, it has received great reviews in magazines and has been justifiably placed alongside the three excellent major IRSE publications “Railway Signalling”, “Railway Control Systems” and “Railway Signalling and Control”. High praise indeed!

It is planned that Swindon Panel’s train describer will be the next stage in its restoration and will feature VDU, solid state and Sodeco mechanical units – all three technologies that were used in Swindon’s TD in its lifetime.

Thank you Peter for this most generous donation, and thank you to everyone who has bought Peter’s book and therefore contributed towards the restoration of what will be a very rare, if not unique, installation of a mechanical TD in preservation.

Demonstrators’ Workshop – Follow Up

The SPS Demonstrators’ Workshop in March was a great success, and one of the things to come out of it was the desire to hold a follow-up for less formal sharing of best practice among demonstrators.

The first of these will be held on Saturday 18 May, after the AGM. The exact venue on the DRC site is TBC (as the panel will be open to the public). When the panel closes at 4pm we will move into the panel room.

Attendees are welcome to stay at this session until 7pm, after which everyone is invited to a meal in the Prince of Wales, opposite Didcot Parkway station. No need to book in advance, we will arrange informally on the day.

All demonstrators and prospective demonstrators are welcome to attend this session.

Technical Conference – 16 November

Swindon Panel will be hosting a technical conference on Saturday *16* November 2019 [Date amended], starting at 10.30am, where we intend to explain all the details of our extensive simulator system.

PRE-BOOKING is required – please see below.

A detailed presentation will be given on the subject of the simulators that drive Swindon Panel, including:

- the interlocking simulators
- ‘outside world’ simulator
- train describer
- JMRI/Panel Pro
- interlocking XML generator
- HTML/PHP control tables interpreter
- PCB designs and operation
- TC64 units
- what went well and what went wrong
- future developments

Some brief details will be given of the wiring of the panel, but only sufficient for understanding of the simulator (otherwise this could take up a whole day on its own)!

No previous attendees’ knowledge will be presumed, apart from the basics of signalling and panel operation, and the basics of computer use, so hopefully the day will be of interest to everyone, but particularly those who are involved in other similar projects, either with clubs or privately.

If you haven’t already seen Swindon Panel in action, we recommend visiting on one of our public open days before attending the technical conference, but if you can’t don’t worry. http://www.swindonpanel.org.uk/activities-2019/

There will be plenty of opportunity to see the hardware and software in action, and to ask as many questions you like of those responsible for creating the system.

No information will be withheld, we will be very happy to share all intellectual property, plans and designs that belong to SPS.

The event is free to attend for SPS members. Please pre-book as below and show your SPS membership card at the DRC booking office to gain access.

Non-members are also welcome, donations towards the continued upkeep and development of Swindon Panel (registered charity) welcome. Please pre-book as below and you will be able to access DRC by your name being on a list at the entrance gate.

PRE-BOOKING IS REQUIRED. Attendee spaces are limited. Please contact us via email or Facebook message with your name, if you are attending from another club/organisation, and how many people will be in your group, to book your spaces.

See you there!

Workshop Day

Thank you to everyone who attended the Swindon Panel Demonstrators’ Workshop Day on Saturday.

28 SPS members, including some new faces, took part in “Welcome Host” training delivered by Tourism South East, plus an explanatory tour of the other signalling attractions on the DRC site and a general look around the Railway Centre.

We hope you all found it useful – we certainly came away with a lot of things to think about and great ideas for the future!

SPS Demonstrator Workshop Details

Swindon Panel Society is holding a Workshop for volunteer demonstrators on 16 March.

There are still places available, and as you’ll see there are some good opportunities for us all to improve our skills, whatever our background level of signalling experience.

If you might be interested in demonstrating Swindon Panel to visitors at Didcot Railway Centre – please get in touch!

———————

Hello everyone,

Thank you for volunteering to attend the SPS Demonstrators’ Workshop day!

We have constructed the timetable for the day to hopefully enable everyone to get the best from it, as you’ll see from the schedule below. To avoid overwhelming the different aspects of the day there will be two groups, with slightly different times.

*** Please could I ask everyone to let me know their preference for Group A or Group B or if you don’t mind either please let me know and I will allocate you to even out the group numbers. ***

The most important important parts of the day are the Welcome Host for Volunteers training programme from Tourism South East, and the Didcot Railway Centre signalling tour. These are great (and expensive!) opportunities, so let’s all try to make the best out of them. Our panel-specific skills are of secondary importance on this day.

A buffet-style lunch will be provided (if anyone has any allergy etc requirements please let me know).

Recognising that many attendees will already be fully comfortable with operating the panel, the ‘Panel’ items have been put at the start and end of the day so that those already familiar with how it works can arrive late or depart early if they wish. Group A has this at the end of the day, so the ‘fixed’ part of Group A’s day is 0915-1545, with as much ‘Swindon’ time after that as you wish. Group B has this at the end of the day, so the ‘fixed’ part of Group B’s day is 1100-1700, with as much ‘Swindon’ time on the start of that as you wish.

Group A:
0915 fixed start time
0930 – 1230: Welcome Host for Volunteers Training Programme, run by Tourism South East
1230 – 1300: Lunch
1300 – 1500: Tour of the other signalling exhibits in the building, Radstock and Frome signal boxes, and DRC in general.
1545 onwards Swindon Panel explanations and practice (optional). If you are already familiar with the operating of the panel then please don’t feel obliged to attend this part.

Group B:
Arrival until 1100: Swindon Panel explanations and practice (optional). If you are already familiar with the operating of the panel then please don’t feel obliged to attend this part. The panel will be open from 9am (approx!)
1100 – 1300: Tour of the other signalling exhibits in the building, Radstock and Frome signal boxes, and DRC in general.
1300 – 1330: Lunch
1330 – 1645: Welcome Host for Volunteers Training Programme, run by Tourism South East
1700 finish (unless you would like to ‘play’ on the panel for longer!)

Many thanks to everyone for contributing your time to Swindon Panel. This Workshop will hopefully improve all our skills at handling visitors and delivering demonstrations, no matter what our background level of signalling experience.

If there are any queries please let me know.

Remember to please let me know your preference for Group A, B or ‘don’t mind’!

Many thanks

Danny Scroggins

CE Grand Dinner – 23 November 2019

We are delighted to have been invited to Didcot Railway Centre’s Civil Engineering Group’s Grand Dinner, on the evening of 23 November 2019.

The surroundings will be a bit more salubrious than in the photo! (The photo shows a Sunday Roast cooked in the panel by James Nelhams during deconstruction work at Swindon in 2016 – it was excellent!)

All SPS members (and partners etc) are welcome to the Grand Dinner. The exact times and location will be confirmed closer to the time, but it is normally somewhere within 30 minutes’ drive of Didcot. There are normally an informal after-dinner ‘quiz’ type entertainment to get everyone laughing (or groaning!)

The CE Group conducted the planning, procurement and nearly all construction work for The Signalling Centre, in which Swindon Panel is now displayed, and we are delighted to maintain close friendships between SPS and the CE Group.

Joining instructions will be posted here, and messaged to anyone who indicates they’re ‘going’ or ‘interested’ in this event, as well as via the other usual methods.

See you there!

Panel Demonstrators’ Workshop

Demonstrators’ Workshop Day on 16 March 2019.

Everyone who currently demonstrates Swindon Panel or wishes to in the future is encouraged to attend.

Will all be informal and discussion based including:
- Method of operation of the panel for those who feel they need it
- Dealing with visitors, framing our description, pitching to the right audience
- Input from DRC, of which we form part to visitors
- Input from Tourism South West
- Discussions between everyone on what they’ve found works well and what doesn’t.
- Explanations and discussions with the DRC signalling team about the other items of signalling equipment in The Signalling Centre and around the DRC site, so that we can answer questions etc
- A brief note on dealing with lost children, first aid incidents, etc

Lunch will be provided. All discussion based, everyones’ views welcome – there won’t be any tests or assessments!

If you wish to attend please ensure you advise Danny, Tom or Jamie, or ‘click to volunteer’ on the roster on HOPS. If you’ve never been involved with Swindon Panel before, but would like to be, this is an ideal time to get involved! Please contact us for more info!

SPS AGM – 18 May 2019


SPS AGM 2019.

All SPS members are invited to the SPS AGM on 18 May 2019, at Didcot Railway Centre, commencing at 1pm.

The panel will be open as part of its normal open day from 10am until 4pm, so even if you’ve never visited before, you can come and see how it all works!

Please show your SPS membership card at the box office to obtain entry to Didcot Railway Centre.

The AGM is an “official” affair, but there will be an opportunity for informal questions and answers after the formal business. Non-members are welcome to attend in an observer capacity (but may not vote).

There will also be the opportunity to look round the rest of the Railway Centre, engine sheds, other signalling exhibits, etc, and a light buffet will be served in the afternoon (donations welcome).

2019 Members’ Weekend

All SPS members are invited to Members’ Weekend to see the latest progress and developments at Swindon Panel and Didcot Railway Centre. Whatever your level of signalling knowledge or experience, come and visit the panel you’ve all contributed to preserving and have a chat with some old friends and maybe make some new ones too!

The panel will be open from 10am on Saturday 7 September to 4pm on Sunday 8 September… CONTINUOUSLY!

Yes, that’s right, the challenge of the weekend will be 30 hours of continuous Swindon Panel operation!

There will be rostered slots for panel signalmen and some ‘free-for-all’ periods, following approximately the schedule below:
10.00 Sat – 12.00 – rostered signalmen
12.00 – 15.00 – free for all
15.00 – 18.00 – rostered signalmen
18.00 Sat – 10am Sun – rostered signalmen (more than one shift)
10.00 – 12.00 – rostered signalmen
12.00 – 16.00 – free for all
16.00 Sun – close.

The Railway Centre is open from 10.30am, so all members are welcome to ‘drop in’ at any time from 10.30am each day. (Please show your SPS membership card at the box office).

The Signalling Centre will be closed to the public from approximately 4.30pm, so SPS members might like to take advantage of this opportunity to exclusively view the rest of the exhibits in the exhibition.

There will also be the opportunity to look round the rest of the Railway Centre, engine sheds, other signalling exhibits, etc.

If you are interested in taking on a rostered session on the panel during this period please contact Danny Scroggins. Sleeping accommodation can be arranged for this event at DRC if required.

See you there!

2019 Opening Days

Our list of opening dates for the first part of 2019 is now available!

The panel is visible (through a glass wall) on ALL days that the Railway Centre is open. The dates listed in the link above are those on which the panel room will be open to visitors, operated and everyone can have a go.

We look forward to seeing you at the panel!

New Open Dates in November and December

Just like buses…… Some further additional dates have been added when Swindon Panel will be open and in operation, for everyone to visit and ‘have a go’ under the instruction of our demonstrators!

Sat 11 November
Sun 17 November
Sat 8 December
Sat 15 December

SPS Members – If you’re free to volunteer on any of these dates then please let us know or ‘click to volunteer’ on the roster. All of these have training/induction potential so, if you’re waiting for a training day and can make any of these dates then please let us know or ‘click to volunteer’ on the roster.

Thank you to everyone for their input into these extra dates, we’ll now be open one weekend day every weekend from the end of October until Christmas which is a fantastic achievement!

Additional Open Date – 24 November

A great first training session was held last weekend and we are starting, thank you very much to our first group of demonstrators! Much positive feedback has been received, which is excellent, as well as a lot of ideas, suggestions and feedback for future improvement, all of which will be mulled over and implemented where appropriate.

The development of the panel exhibit is marching on as it has been doing behind the scenes for several years now – I am pleased to say that some furniture has been ordered for the panel room today, including some metal locker cupboards that will go on the back wall under the number plates to store leaflets, merchandise, tuck shop, etc and also display items and merchandise on top. Also on the way is a metal and glass display case which is destined for the small wall on the left as you enter the panel room, which will display items of MAS signalling interest such as relays, ATP components, piltoman’s armband, Annett’s lock, SPRS instrument and key, etc, etc.

An operating day on 24 NOVEMBER has been added, which has induction/training day potential. Please feel free to ‘click to volunteer’ on the roster, or let me know by reply if you are available for that day.

(Preference on that day will be given to those wishing to do induction training.)

November Roster (password required)

There are several other operating days in the roster now, with many opportunities to volunteer, so please feel free to do so (for dates after your induction/training day).

If you are still waiting for an training day, and 24 November isn’t convenient, please continue to watch this space!

Many thanks indeed

Danny Scroggins

Swindon Panel Days for Demonstrator Training

Swindon Panel Days will be held on September 1, 22, 23, 29, 30. These are for demonstrating the panel to public visitors, and for training demonstrators in how to do so.

We will contact members who have already expressed an interest in demonstrating the panel, but if you want to beat the queue, please contact Danny or Jamie to book in to one or more dates.

Training will consist of how to switch the system on and off, how to operate the panel, and (most importantly of all!) how to interact with public visitors. Training will be led by one of the central SP team, and each member can take as long or as little training as needed. When both you and we are happy, you’ll become qualified as a Swindon Panel ‘demonstrator’ to demonstrate the panel, or (again, only if you and we are happy) a ‘Person in Charge’. There is always a person in charge on duty when we are open and that person co-ordinates the ‘demonstrators’.

Please note that, to ensure quality training, only those members who are ‘booked in’ will be operating the panel all day and receiving ‘official’ training. However, these days are open to public visitors and anyone can ‘drop in’ at any time.

[Photo by Frank Dumbleton]

Panel Restoration Latest

The end of a long several weeks and months for SPS volunteers involved in finalising the panel’s electronics and simulator made some satisfying visual steps forward this weekend, when debugging of wiring and software glitches took place on the east end of the panel.

Although not all bugs have been fixed, a great many have, and the east end of the panel now looks ‘believable’.

Both ends of the panel have worked with the ‘outside world simulator’ independently, and a huge amount of very frustrating computing and programming work has taken place to bring the two ends together to work seamlessly with each other. Very soon we will reach the stage of restoration when a pretend train can travel from one end of the panel to the other!

All this recent work has used a lot of resources – especially computer components. We have been using parts of our collection of a great many donated computers and peripheral equipment, some of which is useful on its own and some has been a useful source of spares. There are some items which we will soon need to purchase, and these can be found on our Amazon Wish List if any supporters are feeling generous! They aren’t very glamorous (mice, extension leads, etc), but they are all required to complete the work.

While the last year has seen a lot of progress, not much has been visual. The next few months will see rapid visual progress, both for the panel and the building. The panel will move into its final position in the early spring, the ceiling and flooring will be completed, and a lot of the tools and equipment in the panel room will move elsewhere (probably upstairs into the loft).

Once the panel is in a working state we will resurrect the list of volunteers interested in demonstrating the panel and holding some training sessions for this. We also hope to hold some Members’ Days in the lead-up to or shortly after the grand opening.

Thank you very much to everyone who has slogged through the last year – especially the solderers! – it has been a long job but we are now going to see the fruits of our labour in a working panel!

Progress at Didcot

Well done to everyone who has been involved in progress at Didcot over the last several months.

A great deal of time and effort has gone into soldering the thousands of connections to tags in the back of the panel – a seemingly never-ending fiddly task that made us glad we hadn’t tried to preserve anything bigger than Swindon!

The west of the panel is pretty comprehensively debugged and has been fully working (to the extent to which the software is programmed).

The east end is not fully debugged yet, as software progress is not as advanced on this end of the panel and it is more difficult to debug the hardware before the software performs reliably.

The volume of computer hardware in the panel has increased significantly over the last few months, with a computer required for each of the east end of the panel, west end of the panel, ‘outside world’ simulator, and train describer. Our collection of second-hand computers has been worked hard, and some patch-and-mend has been required in the short term. Once the final computer requirements are established we will install some decent hardware, but there is little point in doing this until the final requirements are known.

Integrating the hardware and the software has been challenging, especially as we are using the software for an installation far far bigger than anything envisaged when the software was designed (for model railways). Some hurdles have also been encountered because we have written our own code for the program in addition to using code written using the program interface, which has occasionally caught us out when newer versions of the program have been released by the makers.

The completion of the panel simulator is comparable to filling up a swimming pool – in that it fills up widely and slowly until one day it all reaches 100% full. We are at the stage of everything being 95% complete, and everything having been seem to work independently, and all the integration concepts having been proved, and it is now a case of ironing out all the snagging issues of making it all work together!

The original VDUs in the panel have been made to work (which was more tricky than it sounds!) and connected to the TD computer. This emulates the Vaughan Harmon train describer, which Swindon had for approximately its last 20 years. Previous to this there was an LED train describer and previous to that a Sodeco mechanical describer. We also have components available of both of these other types of describer, which we plan to recommission in the future on at least part of the panel.

The work is currently slow, sometimes frustrating, and doesn’t show such as visible progress as our earlier work, however, we will very soon complete this stage and move on to more detailed testing of the panel. Completion of the panel room ceiling is now imminent and very quickly the room will start to come together.

We hope, soon to be able to advertise some members’ days in the leadup to the grand opening in June.

SPS at Warley Show

Don’t forget, SPS will be at Warley Show, Birmingham NEC, 25th & 26th November 2017

We have arranged to have an information stand at this very large model railway exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham.

Of course we’ll need people to staff the stand. No specialist skills are required, simply enthusiasm for your subject!

There will be ample opportunity to look around at the other exhibits, you won’t be chained to the stand!

Further information about the show here:

https://www.thewarleyshow.co.uk/

If you’re interested in helping please contact us via the usual channels.

Thank you,
Tim Miller

Grand Opening Date for Swindon Panel

A date in Swindon Panel’s exciting and sometimes unbelievable journey to preservation that you won’t want to miss!

The grand opening of the new signalling building at Didcot Railway Centre, including the ceremonial opening of Swindon Panel, will take place on 23 June 2018.

We are delighted to confirm that the opening ceremony will be officiated by Francis How, Chief Executive of the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers!

The ceremony will also be accompanied by other special attractions and visitors…. watch this space!