SOMERSET WEST

Somerset West is a major dormitory town some 45kms from Cape Town, and is served by a moderately regular electric train service. This route is one of the last bastions of semaphore signalling in South Africa, but the main station serving the town has had an interesting signalling history which is still been written in 2009. Up until 1980, the signals were worked from a 6-lever conventional frame on the platform outside the offices in the main building. The points were hand-thrown in situ, accessed by bicycle. There were only the two home signals for each direction, for the main and loop lines, and no outer home signals.

In 1980, a separate 16 lever cabin was built and the platform was lengthened to accommodate 11-car suburban trains, and the loops were also lengthened, making it possible for a crossing train to set back onto the main and then draw forward until the driver was opposite the cabin. This saved the signalman a lot of cycling with the tablet. Outer home signals were also provided, repeated in the cabin by miniature signal arms. Later these were replaced by coloured lamps on the track display board.

However, in the late 1990s, the box was pretty much permanently switched out, and in 2003, the semaphores were removed and the loop disconnected. The signal arms and lever frame remained, and with an upturn in train usage, partially prompted by the 2007/8 oil price hikes, as well as the introduction of a dedicated express train on the route, there was a need to avoid delays for suburban trains that could only pass at Firgrove (the close-by box at Van Der Stel can't facilitate the passing of electric trains.)

The signalling diagram at Somerset West, picture by Dylan Knott.

These pictures by Dylan Knott show the disconnected points and removed signal arms at the up end (towards Cape Town) of the station.

In July 2008, work began to reinstate the passing loop, and build point indicators, as can be seen in these pictures by Dylan Knott . The full semaphore signalling wasn't reinstated, but the Van Schoor machines are used in the signal cabin, with the points worked by hand. A Train Control Officer is needed, and effectively the box will need to be re-opened, at least until the rumoured CTC comes to this part of the world.

The new points indicators and the new express (Northern Express) can be seen in these February 2009 pictures by Dylan Knott.

March 2012, and the lever frame is still extant (with cleaning rag) but out of service. However, the box was very much open for train control on a Saturday afternoon.

New point indicators in March 2012, with the old signal post still there.

The signalman flags a metro train in March 2012 after exchanging tokens.

Thanks to Rollo Dickson for extensive additional information for this page.


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