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Section 11: Indicators and Signs associated with Points

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In some circumstances, signs or indicators may exist to mark the location of points or to inform drivers that they are properly set for the intended train movement.


The first mechanical signal of any description on the Great Western Railway was brought into use in 1839 at Maidenhead. Brunel had designed a 'capstan' to indicate to drivers the position of facing points in the running line. When the points were set for straight running, a disc was displayed to drivers [11.1]. When the points were set for a divergence, the disc was turned edge on such that it was no longer visible. Also in 1839, a very similar points indicator was provided at Corbett's Lane Junction, the junction between the London & Croydon and London & Greenwich railways. When the points were set for the Croydon line, the disc was displayed, along with a red light at night. When the points were set for the Greenwich line, the disc was turned edge on and showed a white light at night [11.2].

[11.1] Points Indicator - Points set for straight route.
Area: GWR   Usage: Low   Status: Historical
[11.2] Points Indicator - Points set for diverging route.
Area: Various   Usage: Low   Status: Historical

A different type of points indicator was in use at High Carr on the Talk o' th' Hill branch. This comprised an upright arm which was inclined to indicate the lie of the points [11.3 - 11.5]. The arm lay to the opposite side to the direction the train would take.

[11.3] Points Indicator - Points set to left.
Area: High Carr   Usage: Low   Status: Historical
[11.4] Points Indicator - Points set to right.
Area: High Carr   Usage: Low   Status: Historical
[11.5] Points Indicator - Points incorrectly set.
Area: High Carr   Usage: Low   Status: Historical

In 1862, J.J. Stevens patented a points indicator that was similar, except that the arm moved to the same side as the direction that the train would take at the points [11.6 - 11.8]. Lamps were added later [11.9 - 11.11].

[11.6] Stevens Points Indicator - Points set to left.
Area: Various   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[11.7] Stevens Points Indicator - Points set to right.
Area: Various   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[11.8] Stevens Points Indicator - Points incorrectly set.
Area: Various   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[11.9] Stevens Points Indicator - Points set to left.
Area: Various   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[11.10] Stevens Points Indicator - Points set to right.
Area: Various   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[11.11] Stevens Points Indicator - Points incorrectly set.
Area: Various   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical

Saxby developed the points indicator into one that had two arms and two lamps. The arm was inclined downwards on the same side as the direction of movement for which the points were set [11.12 - 11.14].

[11.12] Saxby Points Indicator - Points set to left.
Area: Various   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[11.13] Saxby Points Indicator - Points set to right.
Area: Various   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[11.14] Saxby Points Indicator - Points incorrectly set.
Area: Various   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical

Since the arms of the original Saxby points indicators were liable to be mistaken for semaphore signals, a miniature version was developed. A letter painted on each arm indicated the route to which it applied [11.15 - 11.17].

[11.15] Points Indicator - Points set to left (e.g. Main).
Area: Various   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[11.16] Points Indicator - Points set to right (e.g. Loop).
Area: Various   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[11.17] Points Indicator - Points incorrectly set.
Area: Various   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical

Points indicators were later provided only for shunting movements and took the form of revolving discs mounted at ground level [11.18 - 11.22]. Generally, this form of points indicator displayed a red disc and light [11.18] when the relevant points were set for the main line or, in the case of trap points, set to derail. When the points were set the other way, the disc was rotated out of view and a white light was shown at night [11.19]. Points indicators on the Hull & Barnsley Railway showed a blue disc and light [11.20] instead of red. Some points indicators on the Great Western Railway were fitted with red and green targets [11.21 & 11.22].

[11.18] Points Indicator.
Area: Various   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[11.19] Points Indicator.
Area: Various   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[11.20] Points Indicator.
Area: H&BR   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[11.21] Points Indicator.
Area: GWR   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[11.22] Points Indicator.
Area: GWR   Usage: High   Status: Historical

Eventually, the discs came to be worked independently of the points and as such were treated as signals in their own right (see Section 3). Points indicators gradually disappeared from the scene, although a few examples survived into the 1980s.

Before all goods trains had been fitted with continuous automatic brakes, it was common practice to install catch points on running lines, below steep rising gradients. The point switches were usually held in the derailing position by a spring, to arrest any vehicle running back in the wrong direction. Signs were often provided at the lineside to mark the location of catch points, generally comprising a simple worded notice board opposite the points. On the Great Northern Railway, the signs had the word "switch" [11.23], while most companies' signs had the words "catch points" [11.24 & 11.25]. On the Great Western Railway, a large sign was placed on the approach to catch points, stating the distance to the points [11.26]. These signs were fixed on the skew, so as to be visible to drivers of approaching trains.

[11.23] "Switch" Sign.
Area: GNR   Usage: Medium   Status: Historical
[11.24] "Catch Points" Sign.
Area: Various   Usage: High   Status: Obsolescent
[11.25] "Catch Points" Sign.
Area: LMS   Usage: Medium   Status: Obsolescent
[11.26] Catch Points Warning Board.
Area: GWR   Usage: High   Status: Historical

On the North Eastern Region, a red marker post [11.27] was sometimes installed as a fouling point marker. An alternative use for a red marker post on the North Eastern Region, in the 1960s, was to mark the position of a set of points upon their conversion to hand operation.

[11.27] Red Marker Post.
Area: North Eastern Region   Usage: Medium   Status: Historical