Fixed Signals

The various types of fixed signals used on railways are as follows.

Semaphore signals

The word ‘semaphore’ was first used by a Greek historian. ‘Sema’ means sign and ‘phor’ means to bear. A semaphore signal consists of a movable arm pivoted on a vertical post through a horizontal pin as shown in Fig. 31.2.

The arm of the semaphore signal on the side facing the driver is painted red with a vertical white stripe. The other side of the signal is painted white with a black vertical stripe. The complete mechanical assembly of the signal consists of an arm, a pivot, a counterweight spring stop, etc., and is housed on top of a tubular or lattice post. In order for the signal to also be visible at night, a kerosene oil or electric lamp, operated through a twilight switch, is fixed to the post. A spectacle is also attached to the moving signal arm, which contains green and red coloured glasses. The red glass is positioned at the upper end and the green glass is positioned at the lower end of the spectacle so that the red light is visible to the driver when the arm is horizontal and the green light is visible when the arm is lowered. The semaphore signal can be used as a stop signal as well as a warner signal.

With reference to lower quadrant signalling, the colour aspects of a semaphore signal and their corresponding indications when the arm of the signal is in two distinct positions are shown in Fig. 31.3 and also Table 31.3.

Lower quadrant semaphore signals move only in the fourth quadrant of a circle and have only two colour aspects. In order to provide the drivers with further information, upper quadrant signalling is sometimes used on busy routes. In this system, the arms of the semaphore signals rest in three positions and the signals

have three colour aspects, namely, red, yellow, and green associated with the horizontal, 45° above horizontal, and vertical directions, respectively.

Fig. 31.3 Positions of semaphore signals

Table 31.3 Indications give by a semaphore signal

Position of

Position of arm

Colour during







Stop or danger


Inclined 45° to 60° below horizontal


Proceed or line is clear

The signals are designed to be fail-safe so that if there is any failure in the working of the equipment, they will always be in the stop position. These signals are operated by hand levers or buttons located in a central cabin, which is normally provided near the station master’s office. Semaphore signals are normally provided as outer signals, home signals, starter signals, advanced starter signals, and warner signals.

Permissive signal—warner or distant signal

In order to ensure that trains speed up safely, it is considered necessary that warning be given to drivers before they approach a stop signal. This advance warning is considered necessary, otherwise the drivers may confront a ‘stop signal’ when they least expect it and take abrupt action, which can lead to perilous situations. A warner or distant signal has, therefore, been developed, which is to be used ahead of a stop signal and is in the form of a permissive signal that can be passed even in most restricted conditions. In the case of a stop signal, the driver has to stop the train when it is in the ‘on’ position, but in the case of a permissive signal, the driver can pass through even when it is in the ‘on’ position. The most restrictive aspect of a permissive or warner signal is that the driver is not supposed to stop at the signal even when it is in the ‘on’ position.

The warner signal is similar to a stop signal except that the movable arm is given the shape of fish tail by providing a V-shaped notch at the free end; the white strip is also V-shaped.

In the case of signalling using coloured light, the permissive signal is distinguished from the stop signal by the provision of a P marker disc on the signal post.

The warner signal is intended to warn the driver of a train regarding the following aspects as explained in Table 31.4.

(a) That the driver is approaching a stop signal.

(b) To inform the diver as to whether the approach signal is in an ‘on’ or ‘off’ position.

Table 31.4 Position of warner arm or distant signal


Day indication for semaphore signal

Night indication for semaphore signal*



Arm horizontal

Red light

Proceed with caution and be prepared to stop at the next stop


Arm inclined 45° in the upward direction

Yellow light

Proceed cautiously so as to pass the next stop signal at a restricted speed


Arm inclined 90° is the upward or 45° is the downward direction

Green light

Proceed at full permissible speed, next stop signal is also green

* Also day and night indication for a coloured light signal.

The warner signal can be placed at either one of the following locations.

(a) Independently on a post with a fixed green light 1.5 m to 2 m above it for night indication.

(b) On the same post below the outer signal or the home signal.

In case a warner is fixed below an outer signal the various positions of the outer and warner signals and their corresponding indications are given in Fig. 31.4.

Coloured light signals

These signals use coloured lights to indicate track conditions to the driver both during the day and the night. In order to ensure good visibility of these light signals, particularly during daytime, the light emission of an electric 12-V, 33-W lamp is passed through a combination of lenses in such a way that a parallel beam of focused light is emitted out. This light is protected by special lenses and hoods and can be distinctly seen even in the brightest sunlight. The lights are fixed on a vertical post in such a way that they are in line with the driver’s eye level. The system of interlocking is so arranged that only one aspect is displayed at a time. Coloured light signals are normally used in suburban sections and sections with a high traffic density. Coloured light signals can be of the following types.

(a) Two-aspect, namely, green and red

(b) Three-aspect, namely, green, yellow, and red

(c) Four-aspect, namely, green, yellow (twice), and red.

Fig. 31.4 Warner below an outer signal

In India, mostly three-aspect or four-aspect coloured light signalling is used. In the case of three-aspect signalling, green, yellow, and red lights are used. Green indicates ‘proceed’, yellow indicates ‘proceed with caution’, and red indicates ‘stop’ (Fig. 31.5).

Fig. 31.5 Coloured light signals

In the case of four-aspect coloured light signalling, the interpretation of the colours are given in Table 31.5.

Table 31.5 Indications of coloured light signals

Colour of signal



Stop dead, danger ahead


Pass the signal cautiously and be prepared to stop at the next signal

Two yellow lights

Pass the signal at full speed but be prepared to pass the next

displayed together

signal, which is likely to be yellow, at a cautious speed


Pass the signal at full speed, next signal is also off

In conventional semaphore signals, the ‘on’ position is the normal position of the signal and the signals are lowered to the ‘off’ position only when a train is due. In the case of coloured light signals placed in territories with automatic signalling, the signal is always green or in the ‘proceed’ position. As soon as a train enters a section, the signal changes to ‘Red’ or the ‘stop’ position, which is controlled automatically by the passage of the train itself. As the train passes through the block section, the signal turns yellow to instruct the driver to ‘proceed with caution’ and, finally, when the train moves onto the next block section, the signal turns green indicating to the driver to ‘proceed at full permissible speed’.

Thus it can be seen that each aspect of the signal gives two pieces of information to the driver. The first is about the signal itself and the second is about the condition of the track ahead or of the next signal. This helps the driver to manoeuvre the train safely and with confidence even at the maximum permissible speed.

Calling-on signal

This consists of a small arm fixed on a home signal post below the main semaphore arm (Fig. 31.6). When the main home signal is in the horizontal (on) position and the calling-on signal is in on inclined (off) position, it indicates that the train is permitted to proceed cautiously on the line till it comes across the next stop signal. Thus the calling-on signal is meant to ‘call’ the train, which is waiting beyond the home signal.

The calling-on signal is useful when the main signal fails, and in order to receive a train, an authority letter has to be sent to the driver of the waiting train to instruct him/her to proceed to the station against what is indicated by the signal. In big stations and yards, the stop signals may be situated far off from the cabin and the calling-on signal expedites the quick reception of the train even the when signal is defective.

Co-acting signal

In case a signal is not visible to the driver due to the presence of some obstruction such as an overbridge or a high structure, another signal is used in its place, preferably on the same post. This signal, known as the co-acting signal, is an exact replica of the original signal and works in unison with it.

Repeater signal

In cases where a signal is not visible to the driver from an adequate distance due to sharp curvature or any other reason or where the signal is not visible to the guard of the train from his position at the rear end of a platform, a repeater signal is provided at a suitable position at the rear of the main signal. A repeater signal is provided with an R marker and can be of the following types.

(a) A square-ended semaphore arm with a yellow background and a black vertical band.

(b) A coloured light repeater signal.

(c) A rotary or disc banner type signal.

The ‘off’ positions of these three types of repeater signals are depicted in Fig. 31.7.

Fig. 31.7 Different Types of repeater signals

Shunt signals

These are miniature signals and are mostly used for regulating the shunting of vehicles in station yards. Unlike fixed signals, these are small in size and are placed on an independent post of a running signal post. In semaphore signalling areas, the shunt signals are of the disc type.

The disc type of shunt signal consists of a circular disc with a red band on a white background. The disc revolves a round a pivot and is provided with two holes, one for the red lamp and the other for the green lamp, for the purpose of night indication. At night, the ‘on’ position of the signal is indicated by the horizontal red band and the red light, indicating danger. During the day the red band inclined to the horizontal plane and during the night the green light indicate that the signal is ‘off’ (Fig. 31.8).

Fig. 31.8 Disc type of shunt signals

In colour light signalling areas, the shunt signal on an independent post consists of two white lights forming a line parallel to the horizontal plane. This indicates that the signal is ‘on’ or that there is danger ahead whereas two white lights forming a line inclined to the horizontal plane indicate ‘off’ or that the train can proceed (Fig. 31.9).

Point indicators

These are used to indicate whether points have been set for the main line or turnout side (Fig. 31.10). It essentially consists of an open box with two white circular discs forming two opposite sides of the box and green bands on the other two remaining sides. The box rotates automatically about a vertical axis with the movement of the points. The white disc indicates that the points are set for the main line. When the points are set for the turnout side, the green bands are visible. At night white light indicates a main line setting and green light signifies a turnout side setting.

Fig. 31.9 Shunt signals in coloured light signalling area

Fig. 31.10 Point indicators

Trap indicator

A trap is a device fitted on the track, which in its open position derails the vehicle that passes over it. When the trap is closed, the vehicle passes over it as it would over a normal track. A trap indicator reveals whether the trap is in an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ position. The details of the same are given in Table 31.6.

Table 31.6 Operation of a trap indicator

Position of trap

Day indication

Night indication

Trap open

Red target

Red light

Trap closed

Green target

Green light

Caution indicators

When the track is undergoing repair, trains are required to proceed with caution at restricted speeds and may even have to stop. Caution indicators help the driver of a train to reduce the speed of (or even stop) the train at the affected portion of the track and then return it to the normal speed once that portion has been covered. The following indicators are used for this purpose.

Caution indicator This cautions the driver to get ready to reduce the speed. Speed indicator The driver has to reduce the speed (or stop) at this location.

Stop indicator or stop board The driver has to stop the train at this location. Termination indicator This indicates that the driver can assume normal speed and that the speed restriction zone has ended.

These indicators are also called temporary fixed engineering signals and are provided in the direction of the approaching train in the case of double lines and in both directions in the case of single lines.

Sighting board

A sighting board (Fig. 31.11) is an indication to the driver that he or she is approaching the first stop signal of a railway station. The function of a sighting board is to allow the driver to estimate the location of the next stop signal from the current location so that he/she starts applying brakes in case the first stop signal is in an ‘on’ position. As the requisite braking distance of goods trains and Rajdhani trains is greater than that of the passenger trains, the sighting boards for goods trains and Rajdhani trains are located farther and their design is different from that of sighting boards meant for passenger trains. The distances of sighting boards are listed in Table 31.7.

Signalling and Interlocking 549

Table 31.7 Positions of sighting boards

Type of sighting board


Passenger train sighting board

Goods trains and Rajdhani sighting board

1000 m for speeds over 72 km/h for BG tracks and 48 km/h for MG tracks

1400 m for speeds over 72 km/h for BG tracks and 48 km/h for MG tracks

Classification of Signals | RAILWAY ENGINEERING | Stop Signals