A tanker train passing by a semaphore

A tanker train passing the down-bound home signals at Shigenai on the Kosaka Railway.

Remaining Semaphores on the Kosaka Railway and JR Hanawa Line

By Hiroshi Naito

Remnants of old British train operation and signal practices still remain on rural lines off the principal routes in the northern part of the main island of Japan. One is the Kosaka Railway, an industrial line operated by Dowa Mining Comapny's Kosaka Refinery, and the other is the JR Hanawa line. On these lines, single-track traffic is governed by manual blocking systems that use tablet blocking instruments, which were copied after the Tyre's system. The signals protecting the loops are antique down-quadrant 2-position semaphores, which are manually operated by wires alongside the track.

Click here to see a map of the Kosaka Railway and JR Hanawa line and their vicinities

To dispatch a train to the next section, the station staff calls for blocking work to the next station using a blocking instrument, following the specified procedures by means of a bell code and telephone dedicatedly installed on the instrument. If the actions of the staff agree with the procedures, a token (tablet) is issued from the upstream instrument. The token is stored in a leather pouch attached to a hoop to be carried by the train. The station staff goes onto the platform with the hoop and hands it to the train driver, receiving the previous token. The station staff restores the received token in the blocking instrument to release the previous block. Note that a station with a loop is equipped with two separate blocking instruments for both directions, which release different tokens that can be distinguished by the notches on their sides.

The signals are independently operated by signal levers concentrated near the station building. The station staff manually reverses or restores the lever into position to clear or cancel the signal. The lever activates the semaphore by means of wires strung alongside the track. The switch points are manually thrown at the location, or spring points, which are more common at intermediate loops. If interlocking is required, the signal wire passes through a locking device placed adjacent to the points, securing a clear aspect with the direction of the points.

At the dawn of the railway age, Japan recieved financial and technical support from Great Britain. Because of this, Japanese signaling and operation were strongly influenced by British practices. Traffic was principally governed on both double-and single-track territory by manual blocking instruments from signal boxes located at each boundary between sections. Around the 1900s to 1920s, many signal engineers went abroad to study Western signal technology, mostly to the U.S. As a result, advanced American technology was actively introduced, and the majority of double-track lines had been resignaled by the 1940s with automatic blocking signals, first with 3-position upper-quadrant semaphores and then color light signals. Nevertheless, British manual blocking practice remained on single-track territory untill it was superseded from the 1960s to 1980s by automatic blocking systems associated with CTC systems, first on principal lines and then on branch lines. Now, these old signal practices have almost died out, wiht only a few remaining in service far away from urban areas.

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