London’s cutest signal gantry?

London’s cutest signal gantry?

As an aside to London’s unique concrete signal gantries which I’ve written about a couple of times, here’s one steel gantry that defied attempts to build it in the style of many others seen on the mainline out of Waterloo! At one time nearly all the signals out of Waterloo (including the many platform starters at the main line station itself) were sited on this particular type of steel gantry with a curved brace as part of a huge re-signalling programme implemented between 1935 and 1936 between Hampton Court junction and Waterloo (13 miles.) There are no gantries of the type remaining at Waterloo thus the first examples along the SW mainline are to be be seen at Vauxhall (eg W40) then further examples past Clapham Junction through Wimbledon and Surbiton as far as WK 134 & 336 covering the up fast/up slow lines just west of Hampton Court junction.

You may or may not have seen this particular gantry, but its certainly unusual! Where is it? Its at Raynes Park, an important junction which is the next stop after Wimbledon. The gantry is to be found on the up slow platforms (as well as spanning the up fast line) the location being known as Raynes Park Up Junction. The gantry has a number of interesting symmetries which is what makes it all the more interesting. Note how the route (theatre) indicators are on much the same alignment as the supporting beam that steadies the main gantry’s structure.

Some might think this particular gantry hasn’t any sort of aesthetics that can be claimed of it. But I think it does! Its quite cute. Not only that it could do with a little bit of TLC! Anyway its quite endearing in how the arrangement is procured and I’m not aware of any other gantries in the London area these days that have this sort of cute factor!

The Raynes Park signal gantry June 2021. A more typical example of the style can be seen on the down slow and fast lines in the distance.

At first glance some might think this signal gantry had been troublesome (a bit wonky at times if one must say) thus needed some extra support to help stablise it. I often thought that myself however having been past it quite a few times I began to realise the gantry had indeed been built in this most unusual manner when first constructed in 1935!

As a result, our main question is why was the gantry built in this manner? As stated, I couldn’t figure out why this was but eventually worked out this at Raynes Park has a very shallow foundation. In other words, it is not as solid as the railway would have liked. All of the other gantries in the same build have substantial concrete foundations, but our example sits on the platform ramp, which serves to secure the gantry in place. This is not the only issue at hand. The platform’s end is actually on an overbridge, and there is clearly very little solid ground beneath the platform itself. What this means is that the gantry’s foundations are almost certainly too close to the airspace above the road (incidentally these days its a pedestrianised route and has been since about the early 1990s.)

The basic map based on the 1950 OS shows how the signal structures (marked in red) are located. It’s not meant to be precise as I’ve guessed the road alignment beneath the bridge. It clearly shows that the gantry’s base is not in a location where a deep foundation could be used. The other signal (labelled SP) has a proper foundation and thus does not require any additional bracing. I’ve highlighted in blue where the gantry’s base meets both the bridge abutments and the air space above the roadway.

Clearly when it was built the gantry’s base was modified to suit the conditions. The problem is that normally these structures have a concrete foundation dug two to three feet below the level of the ballast, but at Raynes Park it’s a plate of steel just a few inches below the level of the ballast – and then there’s practically nothing but fresh air beneath that! It is for this reason that the entire structure has been constructed in such a unique manner. It’s also a one-of-a-kind example of how railway engineers have tried to make the best use of the space where an overbridge exists, especially if it’s a steel structure. There are numerous examples on the railway of how the track or other associated infrastructure has been secured differently to compensate for the fact that a proper solid foundation cannot be secured where there is air space just a few inches below track level, but this signal gantry at Raynes Park certainly deserves to be an unusual example of this type of work.

Viewed from a fast suburban train, the arrangement of the gantry can be more clearly seen, showing its modified base that accounts for the fact its practically on a bridge. One can see the platform section that is over the roadway itself and how such a small bit of platform end ramp has been awkwardly built to try and fit into the layout.

There is in fact solid ground some distance away from the bridge itself (because the structure is slewed) thus a substantial supporting post has been placed where a considerably deep concrete foundation could could be secured. An extension in the form of a pair of support beams was then linked to the main gantry – one can call it a a supporting frame, a bracing frame or whatever they like, however its this that ensures the gantry stays upright and is fully secure.

Pic taken from a fast suburban (eg non stop Surbition to Wimbledon) showing the support arrangement by the side of the Up Epsom track. Both the conventional signal and the support gantry are able to anchor into substantial foundations.

W160/W162 gantry by the bridge at Gap Road near Wimbledon. I took a number of shots of this from both the SW main line and the District Line as this seemed the best example showing how the substantial bases for these 1935/36 signal gantries were made. In the event I used this one as it had the least amount of reflection from the train windows/lights. Clearly it would have been impossible to build such a foundation for the gantry at Raynes Park.

It should be noted its nearly impossible to obtain images of the gantry from street level (due to significant tree growth) to demonstrate how this and the road beneath align to each other – thus I have had to rely on Google for this. Looking at Google Streets (taken every year since 2009), its clear the signals in question have been barely visible from the road since a hoarding was removed in 2009! Because of the trees, even the most recent Google images (2020) don’t show the gantry!

Its quite impossible to see the gantry from the main road at any time however this tree growth on the embankment was not apparent more than ten years ago. There was an advertising hoarding but that soon went and the tree growth sprouted. Source: Google Streets

Sighting through the Raynes Park bridge in 2009. Its clear from this just how close to the open space above the roadway this signal gantry is. Source: Google Streets

View from the Down Epsom platform looking across Raynes Park Down Junction across to the Up junction and the signal gantry.

It must be said there’s little in terms of ‘unusual’ in the London area now, thus this arrangement at Raynes Park is one outstanding example of the more unusual aspects of railway maintenance. My pics were taken from a variety of fast or stopping trains, as well as on-site visits to the platform. I’m aware the platform area located over the bridge itself is off-limits to passengers which is why I resorted to photographing the supporting frame from passing trains.

Here’s some other pictures I found on social media that reflect the signal gantry at Raynes Park! Evidently thousands of West Country and Battle of Britain Class locomotives passed under it in both original and rebuilt form! It must be said that a cute signal gantry and dare I say, a cute West Country Class locomotive, (these are some of my favourite steam locomotives by the way) makes for a fantastic picture!

Raynes Park in May 1964 showing the gantry and the station’s unusual signal box too. This was an ARP structure built with extremely thick walls to protect it from WWII bombs. Note the signals on our gantry which too indicated a connection from the up fast to the up slow lines, a move that hasn’t been possible for many years. The locomotive is West Country Class 34048 on a Salisbury stopping train. Source: Wikipedia

A Class 73 and Class 455 at Raynes Park in 1985 – both almost framed by our signal gantry in question! Source: Twitter

Cute signal gantry and a cute railway shot to boot! Four trains pass at Raynes Park. Absolutely love this! Wish I had taken it! Damn! Source: Pinterest

The signal gantry is not the only unique thing about the station, the track alongside it has an experimental steel trough (of a rather ugly appearance) for the railway’s communications and signal cables. This was built during the same 1935/36 re-signalling programme. The steel trough was apparently never repeated elsewhere because of its cumbersomeness. It extends from a point near Wimbledon to New Malden and originally it snaked behind New Malden station itself to end at the substation by the main road.

Finally a picture I scanned from one of my books on the LSWR just for comparison of the gantry types! This is a view of Waterloo station in 1937 when these signals were new. Most at Waterloo were of a double span type which was of slightly different design compared to the single span types like at Raynes Park. The main line station did however have single span types (both long and short spans too.) These double spans pictured above had a rather more solid looking column compared to the lattice look prevalent on single spans. Its amazing to think the Southern had what looked like LED indicators in those days! These were simply an early form of dot matrix indicator which gave far more legible readings than any of the other types of visual route indicators used on the railways.