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Section 15: Whistle Boards

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Steam locomotives were fitted with whistles which the driver could sound to give warning of the train's approach, for example to staff working on the track. At certain locations, such as on the approach to a level crossing or footpath crossing, a lineside board was installed to instruct drivers to sound the whistle. These continue to be referred to as 'whistle boards', despite modern trains having two-tone horns instead of whistles.


Early whistle boards generally had the word "whistle" spelled out in full [15.1]. A variant of this existed at the north end of Polhill Tunnel, where the board read "whistle for at least ¼ mile" [15.2].

[15.1] Whistle Board (e.g. North British Railway).
Area: Various   Usage: High   Status: Obsolescent
[15.2] Whistle Board.
Area: Polhill Tunnel   Usage: Low   Status: Historical

The Great Western Railway installed rectangular boards lettered "SW", signifying "sound whistle" [15.3].

[15.3] Whistle Board. Click Here for Photo
Area: GWR   Usage: High   Status: Obsolescent

From 1965, a new type of whistle board, comprising a black letter "W" on a white circular background [15.4], was being installed on the approaches to several new Automatic Half Barrier (AHB) level crossings on the Southern Region. In May 1967, the Operating Committee recommended that this style of whistle board be adopted as a future standard, leading to their further provision around the network on an experimental basis. Some whistle boards with a non-standard square background were provided in the Liverpool area [15.5]. B.R. later introduced a standard form of whistle board which was circular and had a grey or blue border [15.6].

[15.4] Whistle Board.
Area: All Areas   Usage: High   Status: Obsolescent
[15.5] Whistle Board.
Area: Liverpool area   Usage: Low   Status: Obsolescent
[15.6] Whistle Board. Click Here for Photo
Area: All Areas   Usage: High   Status: Current

Special illuminated whistle signs were provided at Glasgow Central (Scottish Region) in 1971. These could be switched on when trains were stabled in the sidings and it was necessary to warn staff about the line. The signs displayed either a horn symbol [15.7] or the words "sound horn" [15.8]. Illuminated "sound horn" signs were also installed at Lanark in 1973. Those at Lanark were removed in 1986, while the last examples at Glasgow Central remained until 2007.

[15.7] Illuminated Whistle Sign.
Area: Glasgow Central   Usage: Low   Status: Historical
[15.8] Illuminated Whistle Sign.
Area: Glasgow Central / Lanark   Usage: Low   Status: Historical

New experimental whistle boards were introduced at certain user-worked level crossings on the Scottish Region from 1993. The design of this board is similar to the special speed restriction sign provided on the approach to a locally monitored level crossing (see [16.17]) but the speed figure is replaced by a letter "W" [15.9]. Where this sign is provided, the driver must sound the two-tone horn continuously until the train is about 50 yards from the crossing.

[15.9] 'Continuous' Whistle Board. Click Here for Photo
Area: Scottish Region   Usage: Medium   Status: Current

An unusual variant of whistle board with a red border [15.10] is installed on the Down direction approach to Penrhiwtyn user-worked level crossing, between Briton Ferry and Neath.

[15.10] Whistle Board with Red Border. Click Here for Photo
Area: Penrhiwtyn   Usage: Low   Status: Uncertain

In 2012, a whistle sign comprising a cut-out letter "W" [15.11] was proposed to overcome the problem of graffiti obscuration rendering whistle boards unreadable. Cut-out whistle signs had existed for many years in Northern Ireland.

[15.11] Whistle Sign.
Area: All Areas   Usage: Low   Status: Current

In response to complaints from residents living close to railway lines on the matter of noise pollution caused by train horns, an amendment was made to the Rule Book in 2007, which required drivers only to use the low tone of the two-tone horn when passing a whistle board. Despite this, a trial commenced in 2014 between Kemble and Standish Junction (Western Route) with a view to reverting to the use of both tones of the two-tone horn at whistle boards. To remind drivers to sound both tones during the trial period, an additional whistle board was installed below each existing whistle board on the section of route affected [15.12].

[15.12] Double Whistle Board.
Area: Kemble - Standish Junction   Usage: Medium   Status: On Trial