This paper begins with examining the fundamental nature of wayside signals and considers the first know signaling practices used to communicate the condition of the track ahead to the train engineer. The principle of wayside signals is to keep trains separated and to provide knowledge of the conditions ahead; speed and routing information. Most railways have gone through many different evolutions of signals and practices some driven by railway mergers which drove the operating rules. This consistently required changes within the training of locomotive engineers assigned operate trains within their territory.
This paper will focus on a few transitions between signal types, the specific makeups and effectiveness of wayside signals since the beginning of railway signals in the early 1830s. Starting with the term “High Ball” not related to a popular drink known today, but a raising of a large ball into the air that could be seen from afar instructing a train his status to train operating schedule. Later, signals were developed to provide the train engineer the status of the track ahead by dividing the track into short sections. This allowed the track section to be labeled as “occupied” a train present or “un-occupied”, train not present within the track section. Wayside signals continued to be advanced such that today’s standards, aspects (mimicking the wayside signals) are displayed within the operating cab providing the indication directly to the engineer. As we continue forward, wayside signals have been reduced and in the future, they may be only in a museum next to the cassette player.