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By Russell Hollowood on

The secret life of a museum exhibit

What does an Edwardian training aid have to do with modern railways?

The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway signalling school layout (L&Y) was built in 1912 to teach railway workers the art of signalling trains. You might imagine that this training aid from the Edwardian age would have no place on the 21st Century railway. How wrong you would be.

About one quarter of the UK rail network is still signalled using absolute block signalling. Of the three quarters that aren’t, the rules and regulations that underpin the system are based on the principles enshrined in absolute block signalling. So what better device to test the knowledge of aspirant signallers than a railway layout designed for the purpose?

When the last visitor has left and the museum is in darkness; trainee signallers from heritage railways, Network Rail, the wider rail industry and schools come to put theory into practice. Under the guidance of a Network Rail expert, the students shunt trains, run engines round, block back and practice emergency procedures.

The rules, regulations and diagrams come to life, as trains speed around the layout; bell codes describe the trains and signals control their movement. The added difficulty of being able to hear everybody’s block instruments as well as your own puts an extra layer of stress on the would-be signallers.

The two-hour training session is soon over, and as the would-be signallers head off into the night, the L&Y falls silent… until the next class.

You can find out more about the signalling school on our website.

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