Rule 55

Rule 55 was an operating rule adopted by railway companies in the British Isles in the late 19th century. It was introduced following a spate of accidents caused by signalmen forgetting that trains were standing on the line, sometimes within sight of their signal boxes.


or any shunter riding on the train, to the signal box to ensure that the signalman was aware of the presence of the train, and that all safeguards to protect the train, such as slides or collars on the signal levers, were in place, the crewman then signing the train register to confirm this.

In practice, this usually meant a fruitless trudge, often in foul weather, for the unfortunate crewman (although there was usually a mug of tea to be had in the signal box). Quite often the rule was obeyed only perfunctorily, the crewman merely exchanging a greeting with the signalman before signing the register and departing. In many cases, such as at major junctions or marshalling yards where crewmen walking along the rails were in grave danger from moving trains, the rule could not be applied properly. Further, the need for the fireman to return to the train would delay it if the signal was cleared in the meantime.


Failure to apply the rule properly was a factor in several railway accidents in the period from 1890 onwards. At Thirsk and Hawes Junction, the crews of the standing trains failed to carry out the rule. At Quintinshill, the fireman of the standing train signed the register although the necessary safeguards were not in place.

It is impossible to know how many accidents were prevented by the proper observation of the rule, and it could not always prevent a crash. At Winwick, a train was brought to a stand some distance from the signal box. The fireman left promptly to carry out the rule, but he had not reached the signal box before his train was struck. To prevent such occurrences, 'call plungers' (which operate an indicator in the signal box when pressed) or telephones were installed at some signal posts, or track circuits installed.

Except on some remote rural lines, the rule has fallen into disuse.


A white diamond sign on a signal post indicates to the driver that Rule 55 does not apply at that signal (at which no telephone is provided), due to the train being protected by track circuits or similar means.



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