AUSTRALIAN RAILWAY STORY

Railway Voices CD: 5. THE NIGHT OPERATOR

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Poem: The Night Operator Anon. Published in the NSW Railway Budget, 1893.
Recited by Denis Kevans

In his little lamp-lit office
Thro' the gloomy hours of night,
Sits the midnight operator,
From the eve till mornings' light.
Watching close with sharpened hearing,
What the sleepless sounders say;
Talking with his wakeful neighbour,
In the station far away.

Maurie Mulheron former ARU rep. on Signal Box Reclassification Committee.

The Night Operator was written in 1893. It reflects the loneliness and isolation of the staff employed on small stations and signal boxes, particularly in country areas. At the same time it emphasises the important and responsible nature of the work these men performed. Hundreds of signal boxes were located in very isolated areas many miles from a town or a major location. The only people at such a location were those who worked the box. The Rail Department provided, in the main, a married man's quarters, usually a small house in bad state of repair, and cabins in a similar condition for single men. Once a fortnight they were granted a market pass to travel to the nearest town for purchase of their needs. In between visits to town on market days, the bread or meat was placed in a sugar bag to be thrown out as the train passed through.

Peter Tye signal electrician, now National Secretary, ETU

When I started as an apprentice in the mid sixties, the position in the branch was that the equipment was gradually at the stage where it was in dire need of a complete change, not only to the type of equipment in place, but also the technology that was used to drive that signalling equipment.

Jim Walshe Secretary, NSW Branch, ARU, now retired

With the introduction of centralised traffic control, the signal boxes were no longer required, and for example between Maitland and Casino, something like forty signal boxes were eliminated in that length of track. All of the signalling functions was taken over by one major signal box, known as a centralised traffic control centre, at Broadmeadows, and they were able to identify trains, all along the track from Maitland to Casino.

Railway Voices a CD of Australian railway workers stories with songs and poems