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Section 13: Permanent Speed Restriction Signs

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For various reasons, although mainly because of track geometry (curvature, etc.), it is necessary to limit the speed at which trains may travel over certain sections of the railway. These places are subject to what are termed 'permanent speed restrictions'. In some instances, different speeds are specified for specific types of trains.


In the early years, most railways did not bother to install lineside signs to indicate a change in the permitted speed but relied on the drivers' knowledge of the road. Two railways that did, however, were the Great Western Railway and the North British Railway. Both companies provided worded notice boards at the beginning of the restriction stating the maximum speed to be observed [13.1 & 13.2]. Boards were also provided at the terminating point of the speed restriction, where normal line speed may be resumed [13.3 & 13.4].

[13.1] Speed Restriction Board.
Area: GWR   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[13.2] Speed Restriction Board.
Area: NBR   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[13.3] End of Speed Restriction Board.
Area: GWR   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[13.4] End of Speed Restriction Marker.
Area: NBR   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical

Some permanent speed restrictions on the London & South Western Railway were indicated by signs quite similar to those more commonly associated with temporary speed restrictions (see Section 14). An 'outer speed warning indicator', bearing a white triangle on a black background [13.5], was erected on the approach to the start of the speed restriction. The actual commencement of the restriction was denoted by a white circular indicator bearing a letter "C" [13.6]. A similar indicator with a letter "T" marked the terminating point of the speed restriction [13.7]. Although no speed value was exhibited at any of these signs, they provided drivers with a reminder of the location of permanent speed restrictions. Several of these indicators were removed in 1931.

[13.5] Outer Speed Warning Indicator.
Area: L&SWR   Usage: Medium   Status: Historical
[13.6] Speed Commencement Indicator.
Area: L&SWR   Usage: Medium   Status: Historical
[13.7] Speed Termination Indicator.
Area: L&SWR   Usage: Medium   Status: Historical

In 1905, the Great Western Railway decided to remove all its speed restriction boards (see [13.1 & 13.3]) because their details were published in the Working Time Tables and Sectional Appendices. From 1908, however, the GWR provided illuminated speed indicators [13.8] at certain places where it was felt desirable to do so, e.g. where there was no distinctive physical landmark to identify the location of the speed restriction. At diverging junctions, two indicators were provided, with the indicator applicable to the lower speed diverging route being bracketed to the left or right of the main indicator as appropriate and mounted lower down. If there was no speed restriction on the main route, the higher indicator was blank [13.9]; otherwise, it also showed a speed [13.10].

[13.8] Speed Restriction Indicator.
Area: GWR   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[13.9] Speed Restriction Indicator applicable only to diverging route (e.g. on right).
Area: GWR   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical
[13.10] Speed Restriction Indicators applicable to main route and diverging route (e.g. 40 m.p.h. on straight route and 25 m.p.h. on diverging route to left).
Area: GWR   Usage: Unknown   Status: Historical

The LNER chose to identify all speed restrictions by installing signs with white 'cut-out' figures [13.11]. Where the restriction applied over a diverging line, a white arrow was placed below the figures [13.12] or, where the same speed applied over divergences on either side, two arrows were fitted [13.13].

[13.11] Speed Restriction Sign.
Area: LNER (subsequently All Areas)   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[13.12] Speed Restriction Sign with Directional Arrow (e.g. applicable to left-hand divergence).
Area: LNER (subsequently All Areas)   Usage: High   Status: Historical
[13.13] Speed Restriction Sign with Directional Arrows applicable to divergences in both directions.
Area: LNER (subsequently All Areas)   Usage: High   Status: Historical

When King's Cross (LNER) was resignalled in 1932, the lines on the approach to the station became known by the identifications "A" route to "E" route. Certain speed restriction signs in the area carried a letter in addition to the speed [13.14] to clarify which line they referred to. The letters were also displayed on signals in the area (see [8.7]).

[13.14] Speed Restriction Sign (e.g. applies to route "B").
Area: King's Cross, LNER   Usage: Low   Status: Historical

In 1949, the Railway Executive considered the question of whether permanent speed restrictions should be marked at the lineside and recommended:

"that indication signs be provided on the lineside at the commencement of restriction at places (1) where there are no landmarks to identify positions and (2) where there has been experience of persistent excessive speeds."

The above recommendation was considered but not acted upon, although a few illuminated signs were installed to meet special circumstances. Selected permanent speed restrictions on the Southern Region were marked at the lineside by indicators at the point of their commencement and termination, exhibiting a triangle [13.15] and a letter "T" [13.16], respectively. These indicators were illuminated at night.

[13.15] Speed Restriction Commencement Indicator.
Area: Southern Region   Usage: Medium   Status: Historical
[13.16] Speed Restriction Termination Indicator.
Area: Southern Region   Usage: Medium   Status: Historical

On 23 January 1955, a derailment occurred at Sutton Coldfield, causing the deaths of seventeen people. An express train, which had been diverted from its usual route, derailed at a speed of around 60 m.p.h. on a curve restricted to 30 m.p.h. As a recommendation of the Ministry of Transport's report into the accident, British Railways reconsidered the provision of speed restriction signs and decided to adopt the ex-LNER system (see [13.11 - 13.13]) as standard across the whole network.

In 1963, following what had been an exceptionally cold winter, B.R. took the decision to re-paint all cut-out speed restriction signs yellow to improve their visibility in snow [13.17 - 13.20].

[13.17] Speed Restriction Sign. Click Here for Photo
Area: All Areas   Usage: High   Status: Obsolescent
[13.18] Speed Restriction Sign with Directional Arrow (e.g. applicable to right-hand divergence). Click Here for Photo
Area: All Areas   Usage: High   Status: Obsolescent
[13.19] Speed Restriction Sign with Directional Arrows applicable to divergences in both directions.
Area: All Areas   Usage: High   Status: Obsolescent
[13.20] Speed Restriction Sign with Directional Arrows applicable to divergences in both directions.
Area: Various   Usage: Low   Status: Obsolescent

The special speed restriction signs at King's Cross (see [13.14]) and the terminating point markers on ex-NBR lines (see [13.4]) were also painted yellow at that time [13.21 & 13.22].

[13.21] Speed Restriction Sign (e.g. applies to route "C").
Area: King's Cross   Usage: Low   Status: Historical
[13.22] End of Speed Restriction Marker. Click Here for Photo
Area: Scottish Region   Usage: Medium   Status: Obsolescent

A 'blanket' speed restriction applies over all lines within a complex track layout. A speed restriction sign applicable to a blanket speed restriction carries a supplementary board with the words "all lines" or "all routes" [13.23].

[13.23] Blanket Speed Restriction Sign.
Area: Various   Usage: Low   Status: Historical