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  • Automating the Northern Line by Owen Smithers

    This book begins with a potted history of the construction of the Northern Line and its various stages of expansion I hope you will find as absorbing as I did.

    The book features thirty-two years of signalling experience from boy to man, experiences like so many others who I was later to befriend, and eventually worked with so many in the last twenty or so years until the author's departure. Whilst each signal box operated in the same fashion, all had their own peculiarities – no two were the same. This is what made the work interesting.

    Automating the Northern Line 1 Morden Signal Box, 1955. The furthest drum sets up a train's platform number, the other the train's destination. (Automating the Northern Line)

    It was unfortunate that the general public in the period of 1958 to 1970 had to suffer mainly due to unforeseen circumstances. Unknown to them control staff suffered even more in their attempts to correct situations they were not responsible for.

    The attempts to relate the operating experiences of twenty-six signal boxes do not include the two on the Northern & City line, which operated between Moorgate and Finsbury Park. Learning and retaining the working knowledge of the whole of the Northern Line and its variety of operations was interesting. It will give the reader some idea of how, first as a signalman, then as relief signalman, it was all taken in. Now having retained all this knowledge, it was put to use when experiencing the break up of individual controlled areas a piece at a time which were transferred into a new control area, with restricted working conditions for eleven years. Whilst the first attempts of automation were making an appearance over the whole line none of us had ever experienced this type of push button operation, but we learnt with the help of our background knowledge. The complications were unimaginable since work was begun piece meal here and there along the line making the operation of passing information on to those signal boxes still manned stressful. As the work continued it was to create vast gaps between control areas that taxed operators to the limit. In 1969 the whole control operation was moved once more overnight into a new building that was just as stressful and complicated. It was made even more difficult since it was to be a while until the northern end of both branches were completed and added to our control. The room was also shared with the Victoria Line that also became our responsibility as the line was being constructed.

    Automating the Northern Line 2 Colindale during an early shift, with myself at the controls, 1956. (Automating the Northern Line)

    Working with long standing friends who were either formal signalmen from closed signal boxes or the lines relief signalmen, was to create a great team of work mates. Over the years we were joined by others from other Lines who moulded in making up what I always felt was a great family. You realise what a bond it was to become when the line was experiencing difficulties. It was during these moments when everyone banded together completing tasks to help as though they were thoughts already in your own head – it was uncanny.

    Obtaining an invitation to visit the very new control centre in 2015 was an eye opener that caused all the memories of what we all went through previously flooding my head and now to discover complete silence in the whole room. With all signals as we knew it having all been removed, a feat beyond our imagination during the 50's and 60's. The whole line now really is very automatic in its operations. The technicalities are all in the book relating as to how everything is now set up.

    Automating the Northern Line 3 Camden Town Kennington desk, 1970. (Automating the Northern Line)

    The hundred or so photographs taken should clearly illustrate to the reader what it was like operating areas during a very busy service, plus those many infrequent moments when things were not as they should be.

    This work is dedicated to all the men involved in working during the complete and final automation on the Northern Line and those unnamed who followed.

    9781445654829

    Owen Smithers new book Automating the Northern Line is available for purchase now.

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