Moors Valley Miniature Railway

Moors Valley Miniature railway has sent us an article to publish which has been kindly written by Andy Wright. They are a great miniature railway with a fantastic signalling system. Click here to visit their website.


The Moors Valley Railway is a 714 inch (184 mm) narrow gauge passenger railway, in the Moors Valley Country Park at Ashley Heath, DorsetEngland near Ringwood in Hampshire. There are 20 steam engines and 2 diesel engines, although one runs on petrol. The railway was constructed at its present location by Jim Haylock in 1985/86, and opened to the public in July 1986, after the closure in 1985 of its predecessor at Tucktonia in nearby Christchurch, which had run since 1979.

Moors Valley uses a narrow-gauge prototype to produce tank engines in which one may sit, allowing running during the harshest of conditions, so much so that it runs throughout the year. A further benefit of the style of locomotives built to this prototype is that, unlike models, and standard gauge 7​14 inch locomotives, the locomotives used on the Moors Valley Railway are considerably more powerful due to the increased boiler size that can be achieved through almost freelance prototypes.

Roger Marsh was a pioneer of this principle and built Tinkerbell; when this was spotted a tank locomotive, Talos, was ordered and so started the Tinkerbell-class of locomotives. Coincidentally, when Tinkerbell was seen for sale, it was purchased by the then Tucktonia Railway, becoming its second locomotive.

Moors Valley Railway owns approximately 12 locomotives and a further 7 are privately owned. Hartfield is the most recent addition, being purchased from an owner who rarely used the loco. ‘Hartfield’ follows the general idea of Jason (a Tinkerbell variation) as per many other private locomotives.

There are many other tender locomotives such as Offa, almost certainly the most powerful 714 inch gauge locomotive in existence until recently.

The carriages at Moors Valley have no roof but have a bench in the centre to sit on. Each carriage is approximately eight feet long. There are four rakes of eight carriages, in green, brown, olive and red liveries. Trains normally run in three sets of twelve coaches, a luggage van behind the loco and a guard’s van at the rear of the train. There is also a large number of freight wagons, forming trains consisting of skip wagons, private owner wagons, engineering trains and a train of covered coaches, which are used as demonstration trains on event days.


There are two stations, the main station is Kingsmere (four platforms), the smaller one is Lakeside (one platform). The railway is fully signalled, with two signal boxes, one (Kingsmere West) in a Great Western Railway style and one (Kingsmere East) in a British Rail Southern Region style. The rails are made of aluminium and are set on wooden sleepers. Tickets available include rover tickets, return (one complete lap) and single (from one station to the other). A round trip, starting at Kingsmere, usually departs from platform three, the passengers having passed through the waiting room. It then goes “Down” the double track mainline, goes past Lakeside (no platform), into the spiral (a double loop with two children’s play areas alongside) and out into Lakeside and stops at the platform. It then departs onto the “Up” line back to Kings Junction where it diverges to go around by the lake and into platform four at Kingsmere. Platform four is an arrival platform, platform three is the departure platform, it has a waiting room.] Platform 2 takes eight coach trains, platform one only takes short passenger trains. All lines used by passenger trains are fully signalled and track circuited. There is a mixture of semaphore signals and colour light signals. With an overwhelming number of steam locomotives and a few diesels, it’s certainly reminiscent of the 1960’s.

There is a loco shed with a turntable and goods sidings at the back of Kingsmere, access to which is controlled by Kingsmere West box and a large ten road carriage shed at the front of Kingsmere, controlled by Kingsmere East box. There is a loop in the spiral, two footbridges (one at each station) and two level crossings.

There are three levels of signalling, depending on how busy the railway is and availability of qualified signalmen.

  • The first level, which requires no signalmen, can be described as automatic. Trains can run all day without the signal box being manned, shunting movements are controlled by the guard and makes use of air spring points.
  • The second stage is when a signalman is on duty in Kingsmere East box. He can control most movements over the entire system.
  • The third stage is when the railway is at its busiest, normally galas, special events and Christmas specials. This is when Kingsmere West box is also manned. Signalling is now absolute block between the two signal boxes, and Kingsmere West controls movements from and into the loco yard.

The signalling system was installed and maintained by Neil Henderson with guidance from some professional railwaymen. He has been working with Jim Haylock since Tucktonia days. It is because of Neil, that the Moors Valley Railway has such an impressive signalling system. The railway is constantly being upgraded

Kingsmere West

Kingsmere West box has 17 levers, which operate points mechanically, using point rodding, some signals are operated mechanically, with wires and some signals are operated pneumatically.

There is a signal diagram suspended down but there are also GWR type track circuit indicators.

There are GWR block instruments.

Kingsmere East

Kingsmere East box is much larger than West box. You could almost say that it has three operating positions.

  • It has a traditional lever frame with 28 levers that control the station area.
  • It has a push button control panel that controls the Spiral area.
  • It has a mini frame that controls the carriage shed area.

The levers control points and signals from East end of the station to Kings Junction (where the line diverges to go towards the Lake) and to West signal box. They are mixture of mechanical and air operated.

The panel is all electric and operates its signals and points by air.

The mini frame uses air to operate its points and signals in front of the carriage shed.

The box has block bells and instruments to communicate with West box when both boxes are open.


There is an awful lot of jobs that need doing on a continuous basis. There is routine maintenance and refurbishment, there is an ongoing program of improvements, replacements and changes in track layout.

Virtual trip

I now intend to take you on a virtual trip around the railway.

Departure is normally from platform three, but all platforms have similar signals, all semaphore and all air operated. On departure we have KE23 cleared, this will take us to KE7 which protects Kings Junction. With these two signals clear, we drive onto the Down line, consisting of a twin track section. The next two signals are both 3-aspect automatic colour lights, the signalman has no control over these two, they clear to a proceed aspect if the track circuits are clear.

This brings us to KE139. This is a 3-aspect stop signal, situated just before Lakeside level crossing. It is also a junction signal. Position 4 (45 degree set of 5 white lamps) takes you across to the down line and into the through platform at Lakeside. This means trains travel on the Up line in the Down direction. This same signal can display a position 5 (90 degree set of lamps) junction indicator which will take you into the Lakeside Bay platform. The bay platform is current out of use but used to be used by a shuttle train. The shuttle train consisted of a small tank engine (normally Talos) positioned in the middle of some slightly smaller coaches. This was a service for those who merely wish to travel between the two stations.

The normal route from KE139 is to go to signal KE141. KE141 allows trains to enter the spiral travelling in the ‘right direction’. After two automatic signal we come to KE118. Here the signaller can put the train through Woolsbridge loop, to either pass another service, or to wait to be passed by a following service. This is used whilst driving experience trains are out or during event days. A few more signals and we emerge from the third of three tunnels in the spiral and come into Lakeside platform to set down/pick up passengers. When the guard is happy, they will blow the whistle and we depart. We are now on the Up line. Two more 3-aspect signals and we approach KE1. This signal protects the crossover ahead of us at Kings Junction. When clear we proceed to KE2 & KE3. This will take us normally onto the Tunnel line towards the back of the station. A few more automatic signals and we arrive at the impressive gantry situated just outside Kingsmere.

The main (top centre) signal takes us into platform 4, where all passengers change trains. Going back to trains that are sent into Lakeside ‘wrong way’, the signaller has a choice. He can send the train around the spiral ‘Normal way’ or to send them ‘Wrong way’. If the train is sent wrong way it will go through

Woolsbridge loop and come out what is normally the first tunnel and into Lakeside platform.

Track Detection

As previously stated, all passenger lines are track circuited. Track circuits are ways of detecting where trains are. Railway tracks are divided up into sections. These sections normally have a signal at either end. The sections are isolated from one another. A power supply is fed into one end, and at the other end, the power is sent to a relay in the relay cabinet, situated on the lineside. When a track circuit is unoccupied, the power feed is uninterrupted and goes to the relay. The relay is an electrically operated switch. When power goes into the relay, an electromagnet holds up an electrical contact and is in contact with one contact, if the power fails to reach the relay, the electromagnet is de-energised and the contact falls and no longer completes the electrical circuit in the relay. The most likely cause to interrupt the electricity in the track circuit is the presence of a train.

Track side Cabinets

The relays are housed in various cabinets around the railway. Not normally on view, this is what they look like inside.

Inside the cabinet are the relays that control, track circuits, signals and points. Air valves which operate the signals and points.


Signal refurbishment is ongoing. Signal KE7 was showing signs of age, so was dismantled and repainted. It was put back together using new components as required, just waiting for the distant arm to be repainted.

Points are made on site.

New projects always involve resignalling. This shows the new carriage shed being built, back in 2004.

A checkrail has been added to help the wear and tear on the outside rail on the tight Blackberry curve

Kings Junction being relaid in 2019.

Platforms 3 &4 being re-laid, also 2019