Travel - Railway
AWS, Automatic Warning System
The Great Western Railway pioneered an automatic warning system that significantly improved railway safety
especially during poor visibility. The impetus for development followed a 'SPAD' (signal passed at danger) accident
at Slough in 1900 which killed five people. Known technically as a voltage contact system, it comprised an electric
shoe under the locomotive connecting with a ramp between the rails. The ramp was energised depending on the
condition of the signals ahead of the train, sounding a bell (all clear) or a horn (caution or danger) in the cab.
Trials of the system, initially known as Automatic Train control (ATC) were completed by 1910 and it was installed
throughout the GWR over the following years. It remained in use until the mid-1960s. The British Railways system
until the advent of the current TPWS (Train Protection and Warning System) used exactly the same principle as the
GWR but using elecro-magnets instead of a contact shoe. Great Western locomotives operating on the GWR are all
still equipped with the brass bell and electrical equipment in the cab and some have the pickup shoe fitted.
The photograph is a Great Western Railway publicity photograph c.1930 of a Castle class locomtoive, showing the
shoe beneath the cab making contact with the ramp between the rails.
Approximately golf-ball sized pieces of crushed rock (usually granite or limestone), which holds the track in
place, provides drainage and absorbs the shock and weight of passing trains. The GWR used 8,000 tons to complete
its 3.5-mile extension to Cheltenham Racecourse.
The four-wheeled (or sometimes six-wheeled) truck beneath each end of most carriages and some vans and
A special overlapping joint in the rail found at the end of sections of continuously welded rail, designed to
allow for thermal expansion and contraction. A length of continuously welded rail can expand by several centimetres
between the coldest and hottest days.
The type of rail once used throughout the national network but is used much less now. The shape of the rail is
designed to fit within a ‘chair’ attached to the sleeper and held in place with a wooden or sprung-steel key. The
GWR has some ‘bull-head’ rail in use, especially in station areas and sidings. ‘Flat-bottom rail’ (see below) is
installed on the extension to Cheltenham.
Railway vehicle for carrying passengers, usually carried on ‘bogies’ (see above). Also known as a coach.
The drainage system running along each side of the track to ensure ballast does not become waterlogged during
wet weather. Volunteers on the GWR have carried out extensive work to clean and repair the ‘cess’ throughout the
length of the line.
CWR, Continuously Welded Rail
Lengths of rail are welded together end to end, forming one long, unjointed length. Results in smoother ride for
passengers and less noise for bystanders, eliminating the familiar ‘clickety-click’ of carriages running over
jointed track. The GWR has installed CWR through Bishops Cleeve and Woodmancote to reduce the noise and vibration
from passing trains that might otherwise be experienced by residents. Believed to be the first CWR installed on a
heritage railway. Much of the national network comprises CWR.
A special type of hopper wagon designed to carry ballast. It has a capacity of 24 tons and is equipped with
chutes to allow the ballast to fall on to the track.
The traditional term for a steam locomotive (steam engine). In a diesel locomotive, the ‘engine’ is the diesel
motor, which drives the locomotive.
Nothing to do with fish! Fishplates are heavy steel bars each with four holes, used to connect rail ends
together. Four fishbolts pass through first one fishplate, the ‘web’ of the rail and through a fishplate on the
opposite side, then tightened up using special nuts. The fishplates are greased regularly to allow the rail ends to
expand and contract during extremes of temperature.
Flash butt welding
See CWR above. A method of welding rail ends together by passing an electrical current of about 30,000 amperes
through them. The rail ends become red-hot and are forced together to form a fused joint. The excess metal is
sheared off and the joint made smooth with a special grinder.
The levelled and graded stretch of land on which the track is laid.
Flat bottom rail
The type of rail used on the national rail network – it has a broad, flat base (hence the name), which is
attached to the sleepers. This modern type rail is being used by the GWR outside station limits.
‘Four-foot’ and ‘six-foot’
The track is sometimes colloquially known as the ‘four-foot’ (see ‘gauge’ below) and the space between two
tracks (such as in stations on the GWR or double track main lines) is sometimes called the ‘six-foot’.
Gauge (track gauge)
The distance between the rails. Throughout most of the world, ‘standard’ gauge is 4ft 8½in and this is the gauge
of the GWR. ‘Narrow’ gauge refers to lines with a gauge less than this; ‘broad’ gauge is wider.
A length of track that allows shunting movements to be made in to and out of sidings
An engine travelling on its own (with no train).
Locomotive (see also ‘engine’ above)
The correct terminology for the motive power unit – steam, diesel or electric – that can be found at the front
of a train (or at both ends of some modern trains, such as high-speed trains). Locomotives may be designed for
different purposes, i.e. ‘freight locomotive’, ‘express locomotive’, ‘shunting locomotive’.
Panel, track panel
An assembled length of track (usually 60ft long) complete with sleepers and rail fastenings.
P/way, Permanent Way
A term coined in the 19th century to describe the original railway, including both construction and maintenance.
It comprises rail, sleepers, fastenings and ballast, over which trains run. The ‘P/Way Department’ is one of the
GWR’s engineering departments and is responsible for replacing and maintaining the track over the whole route.
The connection between two rail ends – may be jointed using fishplates or welded.
Run round loop
A length of track with a connection to the main running line at each end which allows a locomotive to be
detached from its train, pass alongside the train and re-connect at the other end to make its return journey.
Hence, the locomotive ‘running round’ its train.
Semaphore signals or ‘semaphores’
The signalling system used almost since railways began. Semaphore signals can still be found on some secondary
routes of the national network and on most heritage railways in the UK, including the GWR. They comprise steel arms
mounted on posts. They are horizontal when at danger, exhibiting a red light at night. They are moved to a
45-degree angle either upwards (known as upper quadrant) or downwards (lower quadrant) when the line is clear,
showing a green light at night. The GWR uses lower quadrant signals (the former Great Western Railway was the
principal UK user of lower-quadrant signals). Colour light signals and electronic systems have largely superseded
semaphores on the main line. The picture shows a typical GWR lower quadrant signal, showing the line ahead is
S & T and Signalbox
Signal and Telegraph. One of the engineering departments of the GWR responsible for installing and operating the
railways signals and telephone, or ‘telegraph’ system of communication between ‘signal-boxes’ where the signalman
controls the movement of trains. Signal-boxes are installed at Toddington and Winchcombe, additional signal-boxes
and associated signalling equipment will be necessary on the extension to Cheltenham.
Not the ‘Jaws’ type, but a brake van equipped with ploughs, which can be raised or lowered to level off tipped
Lengths of timber or pre-stressed concrete on to which the rails are fixed. Concrete sleepers – which are almost
maintenance-free – are now used extensively used by the GWR. The national network mainly uses either concrete or
steel sleepers. Wooden sleepers are mainly confined to pointwork and sidings.
Staff or Token
A vital safety device handed by the signalman to the driver or fireman of a train entering a single-track line.
The staff, or token, carries a lock and the signalling equipment at the opposite end of the single track line
cannot be operated without it. This ensures another train cannot enter the single track section in the opposite
direction. The driver hands the staff or token to the signalman when he reaches the end of the single track section
and collects the staff for the next section. The device is often carried on a large hoop to facilitate easy
exchange, which can be seen at Toddington and Winchcombe signalboxes.
Steam locomotive (or steam engine)
See also ‘locomotive’ above. Steam locomotives that may be found on the GWR are of four main types:
Saddle Tank – a shunting locomotive such as King George whose water is carried in an inverted ‘U’ shaped tank
over the top of the boiler. Coal is carried in a ‘bunker’ and the locomotive is completely self-contained.
Side Tank – or just ‘Tank locomotive’ (such as Thomas the Tank Engine) – a shunting or main-line locomotive with
vertical tanks for water either side of the boiler. Again, coal is carried in a bunker.
Pannier tank – a type of tank locomotive almost exclusive to the Great Western Railway, where the water is
carried in ‘panniers’ on either side of the boiler. Coal is carried in a bunker.
Tender locomotive – there are no tanks on the locomotive, all water and coal is carried in a separate ‘tender’
coupled immediately behind it. The largest express locomotives may carry up to 8,000 gallons of water and up to six
tons of coal.
A special on-track machine, which raises, aligns and levels the track, consolidating the ballast beneath and
beside the sleepers and providing a smooth, safe and level track.
TPWS, Train Protection and Warning System
This is the current train protection system fitted on the national network. It is a direct descendent of the
Great Western Railway's Automatic Warning System which significantly improved railway safety (see AWS).
The collective term for the coaches or wagons being pulled by a locomotive (‘the train is being pulled by a
steam locomotive’) or for the combined ensemble of locomotive and carriages / wagons. A locomotive should not
normally be singly referred to as a ‘train’. For example:
Wrong: ‘King George’ is a beautifully restored steam train.’
Correct: ‘King George’ is a beautifully restored steam locomotive (or steam engine).’
Turnout (or Points)
A track installation that enables a train to change from one track to another.
A device for delivering a large quantity of water quickly in to a steam locomotive’s tank. The crane comprises a
large steel pipe with a flexible connection and is mounted alongside the track. The water may be supplied from a
header tank integral with the crane or from a tank located elsewhere. A steam locomotive at the GWR will consume
several hundred gallons of water during a typical day. Water cranes are located at both Toddington and Winchcombe
stations, one will also be installed at Cheltenham.
Although the Cheltenham to Stratford line was never equipped with water troughs, many of the locomotives we
operate on our line today are equipped with a 'water scoop' (although locked out of use). The scoop was lowered
into the trough to collect water whilst the locomotive was travelling.
Troughs could be found on most of the UK's main lines (except the Southern) and required a mile or so of level
track. Water was automatically supplied with treated water from tanks at the side of the line. The troughs
significantly increased the range of the locomotive, allowing non-stop runs over immense distances - for example
London to Edinburgh.
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