The permissive society

An unusual view of Brownhills Station. Image from Walsall Local History Centre/A Click in Time.

Just as I hoped when I first saw the report, local railway historian and expert Ian Pell has been in touch to add his comments to the matter of the 1873 railway accident I featured the findings of last weekend.

You can see the 1873 report from the Railways Archive here.

I was surprised at the time that signalling systems and control procedures were already so complex, even though the railway was still effectively in it’s infancy; now Ian lights the whole thing up. It’s truly fascinating.

My thanks, as ever to Ian whose knowledge of the subject is huge and yet always takes time out to answer questions and offer a wise owl view on such matters here on the blog.

If you’d like to meet Ian, he has a talk coming up soon in Brownhills – he’ll be giving a talk entitled ‘From Water to Oil’ on Tuesday, 23rd October 2018 at the Scout Hut,  Barnetts Lane,  Brownhills for  the ‘Back the Track’ Group.  18.45 for 19.00 start.

If you have anything to add, please do – comment here is welcome, as is buttonholing me on social media or a good old fashioned email to Brownhillsbob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks.

Ian wrote:

Brownhills Station in 1967 after closure. Image kindly supplied by Chasewater Railway Museum.

Hi Bob

A Question if Visibility

Such incidents were not uncommon on the railways of the 1870s.  At that time the wagons or carriage were unfitted, ie:-  there was no continuous braking system throughout the train, and as such the trains relied on the locomotives brake, the guard’s van’s brake and the skill of the crew in understanding the gradients of the line.  The event was not really due to the system being overloaded but more the signalling system’s limitations.   A similar rear end collision occurred on 4th March 1873 on the Cannock line from Birchills to Bloxwich, where a proceeding goods train slipping on the up hill gradient was rear ended by a passenger train injuring 12 passengers.  Train travel in those days was a lot more exciting!

Tfc23718 15.10.1873 Walsall & Wichnor – various signal alterations to be carried out in connection with the Block Telegraph viz:- Wichnor Junction, Alrewas Station, Lichfield Trent Valley Junction, Lichfield City Station, Lichfield Water Works Siding, Hammerwich Station, Anglesea Sidings, Brownhills, Pelsall and Rushall stations
Off 10559 18.11.1873 Mr.Sutton reported that the Train Telegraph on the permissive system will be put into operation between Walsall and Wichnor Junction on Monday 24th inst
PW15784 19.11.1873 Minutes of Other Committees:-Walsall & Wichnor Block System – Wichnor Junction (not revised), Alrewas Station, Lichfield TV Junction, Lichfield City Station, Lichfield Water Works Siding, Hammerwich Station, Anglesea Sidings, Brownhills, Pelsall, Rushall Station various signalling arrangements to be carried out in connection with the Block Telegraph.
The Block system was adopted throughout the South Staffs line not long after the accident as is seen in the above table of events.  However, some parts of the line were signalled under “Permissive” Block while others “Absolute” Block.  Even in those days it came down to cost and as coal traffic was predominant, simplicity.  Eventually, the whole line was signalled by “Absolute” Block.

Put simply –

Permissive block signalling.  Under the permissive block system, trains were permitted to pass signals indicating the line ahead was occupied, but only at such a speed that they could stop safely driving by sight.  Permissive block working could also be used in an emergency.

Absolute block signalling is designed to ensure safe operation by allowing only one train to occupy a defined section of track (block) at any time.  A train approaching a section is offered by a signalman to his counterpart at the next signal box. If the section is clear, the latter accepts the train, and the first signalman may clear his signals to give permission for the train to enter the section. This communication traditionally takes place by bell codes and status indications transmitted over a simple wire circuit between signalmen using a device called a block instrument, although some contemporary block working is operated wirelessly. This process is repeated for every block section a train passes through.

Below is a copy of the 1899 signalling diagram for Brownhills, when the original signal box was replaced with the new box that was to remain until its closure in January 1967.   Far left is the distant signal in question.  It also shows the down goods loop, adjacent to the goods shed which existed in this form for a number of years.  It was approved for construction on 17thOctober 1873.

A remarkable document: The 1899 signalling plan for Brownhills Station. Image kindly supplied by Ian Pell. Click for a larger version.

I think the signal andkindred is referring to is the Norton Junction distant adjacent to the pony centre off the Pelsall Road – although I could well be wrong.   The distant signal in the report was closer to Brownhills between bridge Nos. 68 Bullows Road and 69 Clayhanger Lane.

This must be the most photographed disused signal ever… Image from my 365days journal.

Hope these ramblings are of some assistance.

Kind regards

PS.  For anyone who’s interested I’m due to give a presentation entitled “From Water to Oil” on Tuesday, 23rd October at the 2nd Brownhills Scout HQ,  Barnetts Lane,  Brownhills for  the “Back the Track” Group.  18.45 for 19.00 start.

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2 Responses to The permissive society

  1. Mick Bullock says:

    Bob,the second photo says the station closed in 1867 !!!!

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