Saturday 12th November 2011 saw the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers, Minor Railways Section (MRS) hold their biennial technical seminar at Kidderminster Railway Museum, next to the Severn Valley Railway (SVR) in Worcestershire.

It’s an appropriate venue with audible heritage reminders throughout the day; the hiss of steam and thud of slam doors; the café below the lecture hall with an ebb and flow of banter that coincided with the departure of trains; the kids on outings knocking seven bells (literally) out of the block instruments in the museum below.

It was all very atmospheric.

Some sixty five members and guests from various minor railways around the UK attended the sponsored, free-to-attend event with the overall theme being “Signalling the Link”.

With the President and Chief Executive of the Institution present, Major Ian Hughes acted as the master of ceremonies and formally introduced a wide range of speakers, arranging for questions at the end of each session.

Redundant materials

David Helliwell, MRS Chairman, gave an introduction to the Section and the event. He was followed by Ian James Allison, Founding Chairman of the MRS, who outlined the history, achievements and highlights of the Section over the past two years.

Martijn Huibers, MRS Secretary, spoke about “The disposal of redundant Network Rail materials and the way forward”.

With the real prospect of a significant amount of equipment being made available by the largest heritage railway in the UK (Network Rail), it was appropriate that protocols were in place to manage this.

Martijn appealed to the minor railways to participate in a scheme that would allow surplus equipment to be made available to colleagues. He also gave details of the planned Section visit to the Netherlands in July 2012.

With a wealth of practical knowledge from the ‘inside’, Charles Weightman, Network Rail HQ, spoke about “Making the connection to Network Rail from other railways” with detailed examples of how this has been achieved or planned for the future.

Following the mid-morning refreshments, the proceedings expanded the day’s theme.

Dominic Beglin, Peak Rail S&T, (and of which more of later in the day) spoke regarding “The project to connect Peak Rail to the National Network (Pitfalls – Problems – Plans)” whilst Craig Donald, North Yorkshire Moors Railway S&T, gave an insight into “Signalling the Link between NYMR and NR, what has been achieved to date and the future plans for future development”.

Off piste, Grahame Taylor, Tern Systems Ltd, gave a rapid-fire summary of his TERN system, a simple, cost effective processor-based aid for Train Controllers and a story that has been running for the last 25 years. A live demonstration using GPRS ran through the day on the TERN trade stand.

Quentin Macdonald, Quaestus (Poppleton) Ltd, had a tale of two links and the issues encountered along the way with Network Rail at Cae Pawb – the flat crossing on the Welsh Highland Railway – and at UK Coal’s Butterwell open cast site.

Time-critical deadlines

A buffet lunch courtesy of the event’s sponsors was provided following questions and all members and guests were afforded plenty of time to indulge.

There were opportunities for viewing the museum and station, the trade stands and the Kidderminster (SVR) Signal Box before returning for the afternoon sessions.

After lunch Kevin Weston, Longleat Railway S&T gave an account of the installation of “A Level Crossing for a Narrow Gauge Railway”.

It’s not just the main line network that has to deal with time-critical deadlines. Kevin showed that many considerations are common to all railways regardless of size.

Ian Hughes then outlined the progress towards a Minor Railways safety passport which is 100% in line with HSE guidance specifically for the minor rail sector.

Much closer to home – in fact, within a few hundred yards – John Phillips, Severn Valley Railway S&T, gave his take on the nearby Network Rail Resignalling and the “Interface to the SVR” demonstrating the challenges and changes required to achieve correctly signalled routes between the two railways.

Guideline Documents

As master of ceremonies, Major Hughes ran the proceedings with an iron hand and not a minute was lost, to the extent that the afternoon tea queue arrived early at its destination, wrong-footing the caterers for a moment.

A select number of exhibitors occupied the prime position next to the tea queue. The steady, not hurried, pace of tea pouring ensured that everyone had time to see every stand.

On show were Señalización Ltd, Henry Williams Ltd and Green Dragon Rail Ltd.

Stuart Marsh of Signal Aspects Ltd was there with an array of LED devices along with his narrow gauge point machine that had been heroically manhandled up the fire escape.

Following refreshments, the proceedings continued with the Section Chairman David Helliwell, who is also the MRS Document Co-ordinator.

He spoke about the production and management of Guideline Documents associated with signalling and telecommunications, the progress achieved to date and how different railways and individuals could assist in the development;

In a final reference to the theme of the day, David Barnes, Spa Valley Railway, spoke about how the railway was reopened between Groombridge and Eridge in Kent and how this project was achieved.

Golden envelope

Then came the award ceremony complete with golden envelope. Mike Tyrrell, MRS Award Organiser, introduced this year’s finalists for the Volunteer S&T Technician of the Year award.

This is designed to encourage greater interest in railway signalling and telecommunications within the volunteer sector whilst increasing the awareness of the IRSE and its Minor Railways Section.

With the support of the rail engineer magazine, the award is administered by the Minor Railways Section of the IRSE and is targeted at volunteer S&T individuals from minor and heritage railways who are over the age of 16.

They must be actively working in the maintenance, installation, testing or design of S&T equipment and systems.

The winner receives nominal ownership of the Winner’s Trophy for the period of one year and £100 in cash, a commemorative certificate and commemorative miniature trophy together with one year’s free membership of the IRSE at an appropriate grade.

They will also be awarded attendance at a leading Industry Training School for relevant identified training and the opportunity to work with other S&T staff on other minor/heritage railways for experience and further understanding.

The Section is grateful to Charles Hudson MBE, for donating a single line train staff as the trophy and John Francis, for chairing an independent committee to review all the applications for the award and to select the award winner.

Out of a wide range of candidates the finalists were Dominic Beglin of Peak Rail & Churnet Valley Railway, Shawn Sanders of the Great Central Railway and Michael Sargent of the Bluebell Railway.

John Francis provided background about all the three finalists at this event, after which Charles Hudson opened the envelope and announced Dominic Beglin as the winner before awarding him the prizes.


A closing address was given by Claire Porter, President of the IRSE, about the successes of the Section and the potential to develop further in the near future.

The Section is also grateful to the sponsors of this event, Signal Aspects Ltd, Señalización Ltd, the rail engineer magazine, Henry Williams Ltd, Green Dragon Rail Ltd, TERN Systems Ltd and Centregreat Rail Ltd.