The signals in use throughout the County Donegal system exhibited a splendid diversity, representing the original equipment supplied to the railway, combined with components obtained from the Midland Railway's [of Britain] Northern County Committee. Thus tall Duttons lower quadrants with Midland cast-iron cruciform spear finials were to be seen throughout the system alongside elegant NCC and McKenzie & Holland somersaults. And the signal engineers at Stranorlar works would cheerfully combine components from any of these sources when repairing or replacing signals.
In time, therefore, each signal on the railway gained its own individual character and, if you're modelling one of the stations, consult as many pictures of its signals, you can bet there wasn't any exactly like them elsewhere. Just to show that nothing was beyond the ability of the works, Stranorlar would occasionally manufacture signals, particularly fixed distants, from lengths of old rail or steel bar, suitably painted.
With the exception of the Stranorlar-built signals, all posts were wooden, the tallest examples being about 30 feet from ground to arm. For shorter signal posts, the dimension was nearer 15 feet. Somersault arms rotated to between 55º and 80º from the horizontal when pulled off. The introduction of the NCC-pattern somersaults dated from 1922 when the NCC's engineer assumed responsibilities for County Donegal civil engineering matters. As a result of his appointment it was said that the Strabane-Derry line came to have the best track of the whole system.
Ground signals were usually worked off the point tail-rod and therefore showed which way the points were set. There were at least three different designs of ground signal in use, including the distinctive McKenzie & Holland miniature semaphore type. Others were Railway Signal Co. or Saxby & Farmer designs with rotating lamp head on the top of a tall vertical spindle.
Inevitably, Stranorlar manufactured its own ground signals from time to time by adapting commercial signalling components tailored to fit their location. A favourite configuration was to bracket the rotating signal head off a length of old sleeper driven vertically into the ground. Typically, the rotating head ground signals would have one red disc face and one white one sandwiching a rectangular green face with a white cross.
The rail itself was originally of 45lb-per-foot flat-bottomed 27-foot lengths, spiked direct to sleepers. These were 6 feet long, 8 inches wide and 4 inches thick in cross section, set at 22-inch centres at the rail joints, and at 30-inch centres elsewhere. A relaying programme was pursued after the formation of the Joint Committee in 1906 in which 60lb rail was laid on sleepers which were typically 6 feet 9 inches long, 10 inches wide and 5 inches deep. This enabled the heavy Class 3 and 4 engines to work over the West Donegal section through the Barnesmore Gap.
Buffer stops were practically unknown at the end of sidings, though where these ended against a loading dock or the wall of a building, it was customary to bolt a sleeper or piece of stout timber to the wall at buffer height. Otherwise, sidings simply disappeared into the grass or had a sleeper laid across the rails to restrain over-enthusiastic shunting. The end of the running line at Ballyshannon, for example, had a classic Donegal buffer stop – the last three feet or so of the running rails were bent up at a right angle with a sleeper bolted across the very ends. Though, after the odd runaways and shunting mishaps over the years, the right angle had become more like 120º!
Facing point locks were fitted to all pointwork on passenger running lines, and an ingenious combined lock and actuator mechanism was installed at a number of locations. Otherwise, siding points had no facing locks and were operated from adjacent hand levers. Trap points were conventionally located at the exits from loops used by passenger trains. They were connected to the facing point rodding and were pulled off by the same lever.
Turntables had to accommodate the long bogie railcars, though it called for a precise hand on the brake to position the cars exactly at Killybegs where the deck length of 31 feet, only just exceeded their total wheelbase. In the best Forbesian make-do-and-mend tradition, this table had been constructed from the frames of a withdrawn Class 2 4-6-0T. The arrival of the even longer railcar 19 in 1950 caused some hasty rebuilding, famously involving the frame of Class 5 no. 19, with the rails extended a few inches beyond the deck at either end. Also, as the turntable was so close to the station wall, the bogie cars could only be turned with their cab end towards it, allowing the deck rails and the rear of the saloon body to overhang the adjacent headshunt track during turning. The Backwoods kit for Killybegs’ turntable reproduces its latter-day form with the frames of Class 5 no. 19. 4mm scale modellers can also modify the Peco N gauge turntable to represent the others on the system.
At Donegal Town, the turntable was only 30 feet in diameter and was similarly extended by lengthening the deck rails slightly when the two full-fronted railcars entered service.
There was a bit more room to spare on the railway's other turntables, that at Stranorlar Works being 36 feet in diameter.
Letterkenny 42 feet in diameter Stranorlar
Additionally, Stranorlar had a 20-foot diameter table just behind the West signal box for turning railcar trailers. This matched the 20-foot turntable at Glenties which could just accommodate railcars 7 and 8 but ruled out operation of the branch by any of the bogie cars.
Strabane had no fewer than three turntables: one by the loco shed, another alongside platform 4 used by the railcars on the Letterkenny service, whilst the third was the dual-gauge transshipment turntable at the south end of the station which was much smaller, having a 13 foot deck, just capable of accommodating a single transship wagon.
All the lines were controlled by electric train staff with larger-type instruments on the Derry, Glenties, Ballyshannon and Killybegs lines, and miniature staffs on the Finn Valley, West Donegal and Letterkenny sections. Sidings at stations and halts, other than block stations, were unlocked by a key attached to the end of the staff. The staff and its key were held in the points lock whilst set for the siding, and only when the points were returned to normal was the staff released.
Single-line staff sections were as follows Derry (Victoria Road) – Donemana, Donemana – Strabane (latterly Derry – Strabane). Strabane – Castlefin, Castlefin – Stranorlar, Stranorlar – Lough Eske, Lough Eske – Donegal. Donegal – Inver, Inver – Killybegs. Donegal – Ballintra, Ballintra – Ballyshannon (latterly Donegal – Ballyshannon). Stranorlar – Fintown, Fintown – Glenties (latterly Stranorlar – Glenties). Strabane – Raphoe, Raphoe – Glenmaquin, Glenmaquin – Letterkenny (latterly Strabane – Raphoe, Raphoe – Letterkenny).
This box was built to NCC design and was situated between the Letterkenny and the Finn valley lines at the south end of platforms 3 and 4. It was of timber construction on a brick base, with considerable overhang of its hipped slate roof. The box controlled the following signals: Finn Valley line Outer home – Duttons tall post with spear finial and NCC somersault arm. Home – Duttons short post with spear finial and long arm. Starter – Duttons medium post with spear finial and long arm. Letterkenny line Starter – Duttons medium post with spear finial and long arm. Home – Duttons tall post with spear finial, long upper and short lower arms. Platform 3 northbound starter – Duttons tall post with spear finial, long upper and short lower arms. Platform 4 northbound starter – Duttons short post with spear finial and long arm.
This box was a replacement structure, built in 1922 to replace the original burnt by raiders during the Civil War. It was of timber construction on a stone base and had a slate roof with plain barge boards. It was situated on the up side, at the Stranorlar end of the platform. Castlefinn was signaled reversibly so that the layout could be used flexibly to allow goods trains to wait at the down platform whilst passenger trains underwent customs inspection on the up side. It was commonplace for railcars to cross here whilst a goods train was also dealt with. The box controlled the following signals: Down starter – post made from length of SG bullhead rail with spear finial and long arm. Down platform up starter – Duttons short post, long arm and spear finial. Up starter – Duttons medium post, long arm and spear finial. Up platform down starter – home-made tubular post with long arm and spear finial. Up home – Duttons tall post with spear finial, long upper and short lower arm. Down home – Duttons tall post with spear finial, long upper and short lower arm.
East box was sited on the up side of the Finn Valley line near the goods shed at the Strabane end of the station. This 1894 box, to the design of the Railway Signal Co., was of timber construction with stone steps and a slate roof with decorative barge boards. The box controlled the following signals: Down outer home – tall home-made post with spear finial and long arm. Down inner home – Duttons tall post, arms and spear finial. Upper arm longer than lower. Bracket lantern fixed to post. Up starter – Duttons short post and spear finial with long arm. At some date after 1930 this replaced a somewhat taller Railway Signal Co. starter with that company's characteristic ball and spike finial.
West box was on the up side of the main Donegal line with its back to the Glenties branch platform, though fully glazed along its back wall to give good visibility of all approaching trains. It was erected in 1882 and was of timber construction on a stone base, and had a slate roof with decorative barge boards and a lean-to wooden store at the rear. As built, it had a row of small panels below the main front and end windows but these were paneled over at some time after 1933. At the same time, the wooden steps at right angles to the box entrance were replaced by a stone-built set parallel to the base. Signalman Pat Monteith in the West box controlled the following signals: Glenties branch Starter – Duttons short post, long arm and spear finial. Home – Duttons short post, long arm and spear finial. Up platform down starter – dwarf Duttons post, short arm and spear finial, bracketed off footbridge wall. This complete signal has been preserved and can be seen in the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum, Tywyn. West Donegal line Up home – Duttons tall post with spear finial and two arms, the upper longer than the lower. Replaced after 1943 by Duttons short post and spear finial with long arm. Down starter – Duttons short post and spear finial with long arm.
Lough Eske The loop points and signals were controlled from a ground frame housed in the platform building. The frame controlled the following signals: Up home – short home-made post with spear finial and long arm. Up starter – Duttons medium post with spear finial and long arm. Down home – Duttons medium post with spear finial and long arm. Down starter – Duttons short post with spear finial and long arm. Donegal Town
Donegal box was built by the Railway Signal Co. in 1889 in a similar style to Stranorlar East. It was of timber construction with stone steps and had a slate roof with decorative barge boards. It was situated on the down side, facing the loco shed at the Stranorlar end of the station and had a lean-to stores hut at the east end. Signalman Willie Hegarty had the following signals under his control: Up starter – Duttons short post with long arm and spear finial. Up advance starter – Duttons tall post with spear finial and long upper arm and short lower one. Down platform up starter – McKenzie & Holland post and finial, somersault arm. Down platform starter – McKenzie & Holland short post and finial, somersault arm. Main line down home – three-arm bracket signal. Down home off Ballyshannon branch – three-arm bracket signal. Up home – Duttons tall post with spear finial and long arm. It was usually the practice for the Ballyshannon branch train to depart from the east end of the down platform, hence the provision of a starter signal at that end.
Dating from the opening of the Killybegs line in 1893 when Inver was fully-equipped as a crossing station, the signal box was really more of an enlarged ground-frame cabin. Originally of all-timber construction with a slate roof and plain bargeboards, the front wall was later reconstructed in rough-cast concrete. It was situated on the up side at the Donegal end of the disused up platform. In its later years it controlled the following signals: Up starter – NCC short post with flat cap finial and somersault arm. Down home – McKenzie & Holland medium post with short arm. There was also a down starter and an up home signal.
The box was built of timber in 1893 for the opening of the line and again was more of a glorified ground frame. It was perched on the harbour wall with its back to the water and opposite the entrance crossover, but was removed before closure. The box controlled the following signals: Platform starter – Duttons short post with spear finial and long arm. Down home – Duttons tall post with spear finial and long arm.
Glenmore An open ground frame controlled entry to the sidings only. Cloghan A ground frame in the station building controlled a home signal in either direction as well as the siding points. Fintown An open ground frame located opposite the station platform controlled a home signal in either direction as well as the loop points in earlier days. Glenties
A small signal box at the Stranorlar end of the platform controlled the down home and starter signals which were located either side of the level crossing on the approach to the station.
The signal box was located at the Derry end of the station opposite the entry to the goods yard. It controlled up and down starters and up and down home signals as well as the loop points in earlier days. It was later replaced by a ground frame controlling entry to the sidings only.
Derry (Victoria Road)
A wooden signal box with a slate roof and plain barge boards was provided in 1900. It was situated with its back to the River Foyle, level with the platform end. The box was removed in the post-war period and replaced by an uncovered four-lever ground frame at the base of the platform starter. At the same time the exit from the exchange sidings was altered and the stop signal controlled them removed. The box controlled the following signals: Platform starter – NCC tall post with somersault arm and flat cap finial. This signal was retained when the station became a warehouse after closure and was used to indicate whether or not it was open for business! Stop signal at exit from NCC exchange sidings – McKenzie & Holland tall post and finial, somersault arm. The box also controlled the up home signal. Note that there was only one starter signal, despite the station having two platform faces.
This attractive all-timber box was situated on the outside of the approach curve by the station throat. It was built in 1905 to a Railway Signal Co. design, having stone steps and a slate roof with decorative barge boards. Unlike most CDR signal boxes it was possible for a signalman of normal stature to enter the locking room and remain upright! Additionally, it was provided with a four-pane toplight window in each gable end. The box controlled the following signals: Platform starter – Duttons medium post with spear finial and long arm. Home – Railway Signal Co. three-arm bracket signal with ball-and-spike finials. The centre dolly was the tallest and had a long arm. The outer dollies which controlled access to the goods yard and loco shed had miniature arms. A single ground frame lever controlled the release turnout and trap point onto the run-round loop at the terminal end as this was a considerable distance round the curve from the signal box and would have been a long hard pull for the signalman.
The neat little signal box here was built in 1909 of timber on a whitewashed brick base with a slate roof and plain barge boards. It was situated at the Letterkenny end of the platform. The box controlled the following signals: Up starter – Duttons medium post with spear finial and long arm. Down starter – Duttons medium post with spear finial and short somersault arm. Up home – Duttons medium post with spear finial and long arm. The box also controlled the down home signal. Note that Raphoe, like Inver, was a passing station without a loop at the platform. There was, however, a run-round loop in the goods yard but this was used for freight work only. The single-line token machine from Raphoe has been preserved and is on display at Malahide together with a set of miniature train staffs for the section to Glenmaquin.
Glenmaquin Had a ground frame which formerly controlled the passing loop but latterly only entry to the sidings. Letterkenny
The 1909-built box was like a larger version of that at Raphoe, being of timber construction on a whitewashed brick base with two windows lighting the locking room. It had a slate roof with plain barge boards and was situated by the station throat at the end of the cattle dock. The box controlled the following signals: Platform starter – originally a tall Duttons post with spear finial and single long arm. A second smaller arm was added below it between 1950 and 1957. Replaced in 1959 by a tall McKenzie & Holland post and finial with an upper somersault arm and retaining the lower Duttons arm. Advance starter – Duttons tall post with spear finial, long upper and short lower arm. Lower arm moved to platform starter post between 1950 and 1957. The box also controlled the down home signal.
There were 63 sets of public road crossing gates on the system, ten of which were connected with a down signal and 14 with an up signal, in all cases to give warning where the gates were concealed from approaching trains by a curve.
The above material was prepared by Roger Cromblehome for our forthcoming Modeler's Guide to the County Donegal Railway. This is a major publishing project of the society which Roger is preparing. It will cover all aspects of the CDR and include photos; loco, railcar, rolling stock, building and track plans; and a wealth of information and advice – watch this space for publication details.