Category Archives: News

All the latest news and developments from the Society

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:

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!

EasyFundraising Extra £1 for SPS

£152.60 has been raised for Swindon Panel in the last few months via EasyFundraising! Well done everyone!

When supporters shop at one of over 3000 online stores, those stores donate money to Swindon Panel, without costing the shopper any more. If you aren’t registered yet, please consider doing so, and using this special link will attract an extra £1 donation for SPS, without costing you anything extra, or, in fact, anything at all!

There are even browser extensions available for Chrome, Firefox, etc, that automatically recognise you’re a supporter so you don’t have to remember to log in before shopping.

Swindon Panel & Friends, Slight Change of Plan!

We are all looking forward to the Swindon Panel & Friends day on 11 March, where we hope to welcome all those with a past connection to Swindon Panel to visit it in its new home (full details).

In response to feedback we have slightly changed the emphasis of the evening from ‘dinner at a restaurant with a bar’ to ‘drinks at a pub that serves food for those who wish to eat’. We hope this meets with your approval, and we hope you will be happy to join us for a drink at The Ladygrove, Didcot (OX11 7SZ) from 6.30pm. We will have a specially-reserved section of the bar/restaurant. Those who wish to may still order food, but there is no expectation to do so.

The panel itself is open from 2pm in Didcot Railway Centre (full details).

Swindon Panel Saturday 4 Feb

The next working day at the panel is Saturday 4 February, where we will continue (and hopefully finish) the threading-in of the 8-core cables that will connect the PCBs to the tag blocks.

Please note that due to a change in DRC policy, the building is without mains electricity at present. This, unfortunately, means no heating is available, so please wear your coat!

2017 Update to Volunteering Documents

Each year we review our documentation for working members. We also renew work permits (red cards) each year.

View the updated documents.

The briefing booklet for volunteers has been considerably updated. It contains all the necessary information required for safe and happy volunteering with Swindon Panel Society and will help ensure your safety and the safety of those around you as much as we can. This applies to all activities undertaken with SPS, not just on the DRC site.

All working members will be given with a copy of this new booklet on the first occasion you volunteer with us in 2017. At the same time we will ask you to complete an acknowledgement/emergency details form and we will renew your red card for 2017. Links are provided here for anyone who wishes to download/read/print at home (printed copies will be at the panel).

We also review the Risk Assessment for the work we do annually, so this has also been updated.

We will be very glad to receive feedback on the Induction Booklet and the Risk Assessment, please let us know if you have comments about how these can be improved or developed.

Thank you for volunteering!

Please Vote for SPS in Galaxy Hot Chocolate Fund!

SPS is taking part in the Galaxy Hot Chocolate Fund this week!

Five small community projects such as ours are awarded gifts of £300 from the Fund each week, and this is our week!

You can vote for SPS any time this week by following the link below. If we finish the week with the highest numbers of votes, Galaxy Chocolate will donate £300!

This donation will be used to further the fitting-out of the building, which still requires a ceiling, flooring, doors and sink!

Please vote, and encourage your friends to vote, for SPS!