Society visit to Bristol Panel Box

Saturday 5th July saw another excellent visit to a WR signalling panel – this time at Bristol. Like Swindon Panel, Bristol is a Western Region “turn-push” type panel.

Two groups enjoyed an informative and well-organised session in the panel building.

After the necessary safety briefing, the first hour was spent on the operating floor, where we were taken through the whole area covered by the panels – starting at Bridgwater, through Weston-super-Mare, Bristol Temple Meads and Bath on the main panel, then Filton, Bristol Parkway and finishing in Charfield and Badminton on the Stoke panel, which is physically separate. The various features of the locations were explained, what traffic was involved and which moves were possible. We had ample opportunity to photograph the installation and to talk to several of the duty staff who shared there excellent local knowledge about their routines and daily moves, including “tricks of the trade”; where, and where not, to regulate freight trains for example.

While we were in the operating room a late running FGW local service was routed onto the reversible line Up Charfield between Yate and Westerleigh to allow a CrossCountry fast service to pass on the Down Charfield. This is a fairly unusual move and it was a great bonus to see something of this nature while in the box. We also saw a track machine being authorised to pass a signal at danger to enter a possession. It was a really enjoyable morning gaining a close-up view of this panel and its functions.

We then adjourned to the relay room, where we were treated to Tony Cotterell’s excellent explanations of the complicated world of interlocking. We were taken through the four stages of interlocking operation – Selection, Locking, Aspect and Release – and showing us the various relays which carried out these functions. This gave us a comprehensive insight into the 1970’s interlocking technology and of the more recent updates and fault analysis systems.

Our third session was held in the room housing the training simulator. The simulator is of a fictional area designed to put signallers through their paces, and is of a different, more modern design to the panels at Bristol and Swindon. It was great fun to operate! We were able to learn how to set up and cancel routes and carry out safety procedures. Danny kept us on our toes with useful hints on how best to plan the various moves. We ended up spending over an hour comprehensively mucking everything up, all for the purposes of signalling education, of course!

All in all this was a fantastic day out with some great people – we learnt a lot, and had a huge amount of fun at the same time!

Thanks from all of us to Network Rail and the signallers on duty for accommodating our visit.

(Merged from two reports by John Hill and Tim Squires)