The Interlocking at Bedell [1]

Follow up letter from Sam Gaw


The Bytown and Prescott Railway opened the first line into Ottawa in December 1854.  It passed through Kemptville.  It wasn’t until thirty years later that another railway was built through this area when the Canadian Pacific Railway, masquerading as the Ontario and Quebec, built its main line, now the Winchester subdivision, between Smiths Falls and Montreal.  The CPR had to cross the Bytown and Prescott, by then the St. Lawrence and Ottawa, just south of Kemptville.  This is the story of the crossing of the two lines.

Early protection

On 29 September 1886 the Canadian Pacific Railway, technically the Ontario and Quebec Railway) wrote to the Secretary of the Railway Committee  The letter submitted for approval a plan showing the manner in which the CPR proposed to intersect with its rails the rails of the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Railway in Oxford township. The plan is dated 17 Sep 1886 and shows Kemptville Junction.  The two lines cross at an angle of 77 degrees 56 minutes and there are connections in the north west and south west quadrants.  A signal is located at the diamond and there are signals on each line 1500 feet out in each direction from the diamond.  This was a pretty rudimentary form of protection.


The Winchester subdivision was double tracked some twenty years later.  From Kemptville Junction to Smiths Falls was opened on 22 July 1908[2], and from Finch to Kemptville Junction was opened on 2 September 1908 [3].  Even after this time the very basic form of train protection was provided by two non-interlocked distant (stop signals) on the Prescott branch (the St. Lawrence and Ottawa was now part of Canadian Pacific), north and south of the crossing, and by a home semaphore at the crossing equipped with two signals governing traffic on both branch and main lines.  These were so arranged that only one line could be cleared at the same time.  The signals were operated by the station staff.  The distant semaphores were respectively 1485.5 feet north of the diamond operated by double wires and 1508 feet south of the diamond and operated by a single wire.

By 1912 the junction was known as Kempton.

An interlocking is installed

With rail traffic increasing heavily the Board of Railway Commissioners became concerned about the safety of non interlocked crossings such as this one.  Should a train miss a warning signal the possibility of a serious accident was very real.  There was thus a general move to provide full interlockings at such locations.  Plans for an interlocking machine at Kempton Junction were approved in February 1919.[4]  This 40 lever machine [5], with 34 working levers and 6 spare, was inspected by Mr. A.A. Belanger, Assistant Engineer of the Board on 9 June.  At that time, railway companies could use such new installations before a Board inspection, but only by bringing each train to a complete stop and flagging it over the crossing.  Following the inspection, an order was issued on 12 June 1919 [6], which authorized the railway to operate its trains through the interlocking without first bringing them to a stop.

The interlocking was a much safer form of train control because the junction was fully signalled and interlocked and derails were provided.  Warning of the approach of trains was given by annunciator bells.  The switches and derails were operated by cranks and bolted by their respective traffic levers which formed approach and route locking.  The machine was housed in a purpose built tower (18 feet by 29 feet 2 inches).  Although shown as Kempton in correspondence with the Board at that time, instructions to train crews issued in May 1919 [7] refer to Bedell Crossing.


Removal of the derails

In February 1932 the railway applied for permission to remove the derails and the Chief Operating Officer of the Board, Mr. G. Spencer inspected the plant on 17 February.  He found the plant to be efficient and well maintained but went on to say:

“A southbound passenger train stopped with the engine and baggage car on the crossing and the northbound way freight came in and after switching and getting its train together stopped on the crossing to allow a small quantity of way freight to be unloaded into the freight shed which is just north of the crossing.  Both these operations would be exposed to a train on the main line which might fail to stop at the home signals respectively east and west of the crossing, the stopping point for which, at the present time, is just short of the derails presently located in the tracks; and under the proposal, it would be the home signals 50' to 60' east and west respectively of the derails in the track.

“The derail in the Prescott line south of the crossing is 166' away from the crossing, placed there in order to shorten up the distance that passengers transferring to or from the main line trains are required to walk, as against the standard location of 500' usually provided.  The location of this particular derail was agreed upon when the plant was interlocked some years ago, when the train on which  I travelled to Bedell, after it had detrained its passengers, when the stop was first made, as described above, moved south until its rear end cleared the derail, otherwise the route could not have been given to the westbound fast mail, with which connection was made, and is made every day.

“The savings would be only in the wages of two trackmen now employed when necessary only to keep the derails clear of snow. These are additional men called out when snow conditions make it necessary. One works from 4.00 pm. to midnight and the other from midnight to 8.00 am., during the balance of the day the regular section crew include the clearing of the derails in their day's work.  There would be some saving in the maintenance of the derails and the interlocking connections by which they are operated but this would probably be hard to determine.  

“I am against the removal of derails .  Should the decision be to approve the company's application, I would suggest that the south distant signal on the Prescott line be made operative instead of fixed as at present and the home signal south of the crossing be put out to a distance of 500' from the crossing of the eastbound main line.”

Although the railway complained at the expense of maintaining derails they were denied permission to remove them [8].  However, the railway was very tenacious and on 25 October 1937  wrote a further letter to the Board:

“In 1932 we applied to remove the derails at Bedell.  At that time we were unable to say just what saving we would effect by the removal of the derails.  Since that time we have kept a record and it has been found that three additional sectionmen are required during four months of each year at a monthly rate of $85.00 each which amounts to $1,020 per year for labour to remove snow from the derails and pick ice and snow from between the main line rails from the derails to the diamond, which cannot be removed with flanger or snow plow on account of the guard rails.

“In order to effect the above mentioned saving and also to eliminate the hazard created by the derails I beg to renew our application for permission to remove the derails at this point.”

Note that the railway referred to derails as a hazard! Permission was granted on 4 November 1937 [9]with the proviso that the speed of trains operated over the diamond on the Prescott subdivision should not exceed 20 mph.  The railway, maybe concerned that the Board would change its mind, completed the changes on 23 November!  The plan shows the same 40 lever machine with 30 working levers, 6 spare levers and 4 spare spaces.

Increasing train speeds

In 1941, the railway requested authority to run its passenger trains on the Winchester subdivision at 50 mph over the crossing.  The Board Signal Engineer, D.M. Neill, reported on 30 July:

“The interlocker involved is a full electro mechanical plant with electrical home and distant signals with track circuits and detector locking on the Winchester sub. and electrical home and distant signals with track circuits and detector locking on the Prescott subdivision in one direction and electrical home and fixed distant signals in the other direction without track circuits.

“With a spacing of 8,900 feet and 3,170 feet for the distant signals on the Winchester sub. together with track circuit and detector locking , I see no reason why it will not be safe to operate passenger trains from a signalling point over this interlocker on the Winchester sub. at 50 mph with safety as, with the above distances, there is ample time for a train travelling at 50 mph when passing a distant signal to stop before reaching its respective home signal.

The Board approved the increase in speed in August 1941 [10].

In December 1957 Canadian Pacific wished to increase the speed of Winchester subdivision freight trains across the diamond to 50 mph. from 35 mph.  A Board Inspector found that each rail was anchored in the direction of traffic on nearly every tie   mile each side of diamond on the Winchester subdivision and was heavily rail anchored to about the home signal on the Prescott subdivision. About three feet of slag ballast had been placed under the diamond. Two ties, about ten feet long and bolted together, had been placed under the rail in line with the Winchester subdivision which should make it better for tamping under diamond.  The diamond was in good condition and all bolts appeared to be tight.  New double shoulder tie plates and pads would replace heavy sheet steel under manganese corners when they were received.

At that time, traffic on the Winchester subdivision had about 6 passenger trains and 15-24 freight trains per day.  Bedell station, 300 feet east of the diamond, was the first open telegraph station east of Smiths Falls during night.  Many trains stopped for orders or slowed down for clearances so not all of the freight trains would be running at high speed over the diamond.

The improvements made to the diamond crossing were such that freight trains could use it safely at higher speeds and authority to run all trains on the Winchester subdivision at 50 mph. was given in January 1958 [11].  Trains on the Prescott subdivision continued to be restricted to 20 mph. over the diamond.

Removal of the diamond

The next change was the removal of the diamond in 1967 [12].  Freight trains to or from Ottawa were then be routed from or to Smiths Falls and any traffic for Prescott was delivered from Smiths Falls. The operator (tower man) was retained and all main track switches concerned with the movements to and from the Prescott subdivision were operated by the tower man and interlocked. 

There were some detailed technical alterations. The signal 5,460 feet north of the junction switch was changed from inoperative to an interlocked signal with a yellow or red indication only.  Also yard limits were extended from 1 mile north of Bedell to mile 28.9, Kemptville, to enable the switcher from Smiths Falls to work at Kemptville.

The diamond was removed on 2 Oct 1967 and the signal changes were completed on 12 Oct 1967 [13].

Conversion to Automatic Block Signalling

The changes made in 1967 reduced the duties of the operators to lining the switches for infrequent movements on to the Prescott subdivision on which traffic became very light.  By 1969, this was usually one movement a day and it was decided to convert the switches to hand throw worked by train crews and to eliminate the operators. 

Of course, the CPR needed permission from the regulator, now the Canadian Transport Commission.  The CPR wrote to the CTC on 25 June 1970 requesting authority to convert to Automatic Block Signalling and to change the switches to hand throw operated by train crews who would request permission from the dispatcher before entering the main line.  Block indicators would be installed and minor changes made to the signal aspects to comply with ABS rules.  On June 25 1970 a signal inspector and the district operations inspector made a joint inspection of the plant to see whether the changes could be made.  To their consternation, they found that the changes had already been made on 31 October 1969.  Their joint report to the Directors of Engineering and Operations makes much of the need for the railway to request permission before making such changes and adds, almost as an afterthought, that the system was functioning as intended at the time of the visit and the system was operationally sound. 

A stern letter was sent from the Secretary of the CTC on 24 July 1970 to which the railway replied on 25 August.  The railway, rather lamely, claimed to have mislaid the plans and regretted that the application was not made to the CTC at the proper time. Nobody seems to have picked up on the fact that the changes were made only 9 days after the date of the plan so it is unlikely that permission could have been obtained in that short time.  The CTC took its time in issuing the order authorizing the changes.  This did not come until  2 November 1970 [14] and CPR thus had operated it, technically, illegally for just over a year!

So this completes the story of Bedell.  The former Prescott subdivision is but a shade of its former self.  Northbound it is known as the North Prescott spur and extends 2.4 miles to Kemptville.  Southbound the South Prescott spur runs 5 miles to Oxford.  The passenger trains no longer run but there is a great deal of freight activity.  So next time you are railfanning in the area spare a thought for a crossing which has had a very interesting history.

Bedell Interlocking - Lever Operation.



November 1937

October 1967


Dwarf signal standing to right of eastbound main track  opposite signal 104 governs trains to any available route within limits of interlocking plant and also serves as a "Calling on arm for signal 1034 at slow speed"

As before but placed on bracket post 1034

As before


Dwarf signal  for eastward movements on north main, Winchester

Dwarf signal 1034C for eastward movements from siding to north main, Winchester, (formerly lever 3)

As before


Dwarf signal for eastward movements from siding to north main, Winchester

Dwarf signal 1034B for eastward movements on north main, Winchester (formerly lever 2)

As before


Dwarf signal (1034D) for eastward movements from eastbound siding on to south main

As before

As Before


Home signal, upper arm of bracket post signal 1034, governs eastbound trains to Montreal

As before

As before


Home signal, lower arm of bracket post signal 1034, governs trains to signal 306 to Ottawa

As before

Three arms replaced by two arms, spare lever.


Home signal 306 governs trains towards Ottawa

Spare lever, signal 306 removed

Spare lever


Two Hayes derails, north sidings Winchester

As before

As before


Switch from north main, Winchester, to siding.

As before

As before


Crossover switches north to south main Win,

South main crossover switch Winchester

As before


Switch from north main, Winchester, to north connecting track

As before

As before


Derail from north connecting to north main, Winchester

Derail removed, lever used for home signal 306 for movements towards Smiths Falls

Spare lever


Derail for eastward movements on south main Winchester across diamond

Derail removed, lever used for new dwarf signal on 306

Spare lever


Traffic lever for north main, Winchester, locks 8, 9, 10 (north), 11 and 12

Facing point lock for levers 9 and 19

As before


Traffic lever for movements on south main, Winchester, locks 10 south and 13.

Facing point lock for lever 13 removed, lever used for facing point lock for lever 10

As before


Switch and derail from eastbound siding to south main Winchester, west of diamond

As before

Facing point lock removed, lever used for switch only.


Dwarf signal, lower arm on signal 1033 governs trains over any available route and serves also as a "Calling on arm" to main track within the limits of the Interlocking Plant, at low speed

As before

Spare lever


Home signal, upper arm on signal 1033 governs trains to Westbound Main Track towards Smiths Falls

As before

Spare lever


Spare space

North main crossover switch, Winchester

As before


Spare space, later used as facing point lock for 12

Facing point lock for lever 12 removed, lever used for facing point lock for lever 11

As before


Spare space

Spare space

Spare space


Switch and derail Prescott to north west connecting

Derail removed, lever for switch only

Switch removed, spare lever


Traffic lever, Prescott, and facing point lock  for switch 22

Facing point lock for lever 22

Facing point lock removed, spare lever


Dwarf signal, lower arm on signal 307 serves as a "Calling on arm" towards Prescott or to signal 1033 towards Smiths Falls

As before

Spare lever


Home signal, middle arm on signal 307 governs trains to signal 1033 towards Smiths Falls

As before

Spare lever


Home signal, upper arm on signal 307 governs southbound trains towards Prescott

As before

Spare lever


Spare space

Spare space

Spare space


Spare space

Spare space

Spare space


Spare space

Spare space

Spare space


Derail for northward movements across diamond on Prescott

Derail removed, spare lever.

Spare lever


Traffic lever, Prescott for movements across diamond and facing point lock for 30

Facing point lock removed for lever 30, spare lever

Spare lever


Dwarf signal, lower arm for signal 308 serves as "Calling on arm" for trains to Ottawa

As before

Spare lever


Home signal, upper arm on signal 308 governs northbound trains to Ottawa

As before

Spare lever


Derail, south main Winchester east of diamond

Derail removed, spare lever

Spare lever


Traffic lever and facing point lock for 16 and 34

Facing point lock for lever 16, facing point lock for lever 34 removed

As before


Dwarf signal 1031B for westward movements over diamond south main Winchester

As before

As before


Traffic lever for westbound movements over diamond, north main, Winchester, locks 38

Facing point lock for lever 38 removed, spare lever

Spare lever


Derail, north main Winchester east of diamond

Derail removed, spare lever

Spare lever


Dwarf signal, lower arm of signal 1031 governs trains over any available route and also serves as a "Calling on arm' to main track within limits of Interlocking Plant at low speed

As before

As before


Home signal, upper arm of signal 1031 governs westbound trains to Smiths Falls

As before

As before

The Bedell lever frame in later years.  Bruce Chapman photo.

An idea of the working environment in the Bedell Tower.  Bruce Chapman photo.

A westbound freight train on the Winchester subdivision, with CP 8744 leading, has just passed the tower.  The arrangement of point rodding can be seen in the foreground.  The Prescott subdivision crossed the Winchester subdivision just this side of the tower.

A view taken from the tower looking north of a northbound light engine, CP 8775, crossing on the Prescott subdivision.  The diamond with the north Winchester subdivision track can clearly be seen as can the north connecting track to the Winchester subdivision.

Wayfreight, No. 94 is heading south with CP 2207 standing just north of the diamond in September 1948.  The station awning on the main line platform can be seen to the right.  Canada Science and Technology Museum – Matt-3835.

A September 1948 view looking west showing the station and north platform awning with the diamond just beyond the platform.  Canada Science and Technology Museum – Matt-3836.

A September 1948 view looking south along the Prescott subdivision.  The diamonds can be seen in the foreground and some work equipment is standing on the south connecting track to the right.  On the left are the two platform awnings over the Winchester subdivision platforms.  Canada Science and Technology Museum – Matt-3838.

Taken in September 1950, this view shows the tower and the arrangement of station buildings.  Looking eastward along the Winchester subdivision. Canada Science and Technology Museum – Matt-6546.


[1] Much of the information for this section has been taken from Public Archives of Canada RG 46 Accession number 1992-92/066 Box 17 file 15499.5.  Details of the final history of the interlocking were obtained by permission from Transport Canada file ASRE 3550-8-2-90.
[2] Board of Railway Commissioners order 5070 of 22 July 1908.
[3] Board of Railway Commissioners order 5262 of 2 September 1908.
[4] Board of Railway Commissioners order 28117 of 24 February 1919.
[5] Canadian Pacific Plan X-2-244-3 of 6 February 1919.
[6] Board of Railway Commissioners order 28430 of 12 June 1919.
[7] Diagram of Interlocking Plant and General Description of Signals at Bedell Crossing, CPR Chief Engineer's Office plan X-3-269, Montreal, 22 May 1919.
[8] Board of Railway Commissioners order 48344 of 17 March 1932.
[9] Board of Railway Commissioners order 55157 of 4 November 1937.
[10] Board of Transport Commissioners order 61058 of 2 August 1941.
[11] Board of Transport Commissioners order 93501 of 29 January 1958.
[12] Board of Transport Commissioners order 124659 of 2 June 1967.
[13] Letter from Canadian Pacific to the Canadian Transport Commission on 20 October 1967.
[14] Canadian Transport Commission order R-10061 of 2 November 1970.
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, January 2007.

This letter appeared in Branchline for March 2007:.

MEMORIES OF BEDELL: I read with great interest the story by Colin Churcher titled "The Interlocking at Bedell" in the January 2007 Branchline. The reason for my intense interest is because I was literally raised in the tower at that location. My father was the 1201 to 0800 operator for 29 years before becoming the agent, and I worked there as an operator for a number of years before moving on to other positions with CP Rail.

I thought I knew quite a bit about Bedell but I didn't access the Public Archives of Canada as the writer did to learn the early history of the place that is so well documented here. As an example, I didn't know the Prescott Subdivision between Ottawa and Prescott was in operation for 30 years before the Winchester Subdivision was built from Smiths Falls to Montreal.

As stated, Bedell was originally named Kemptville Junction, then Kempton, and finally Bedell in honour of a General Bedell who was prominent in World War 1.

The levers in the tower and the activity involved in throwing them to keep trains moving, as well as the pictures accompanying the article brought back fond memories of my younger years. I literally saw and heard thousands of trains passing over the diamond at Bedell. At my retirement party in Montreal in 1984 after 42 years of service, I was given a copy of my service record. It identified many locations and positions held during my years of service and also no demerit marks but five merit marks given to me for discovering a broken rail in the diamond at Bedell in 1956.

Well done Mr. Churcher, it is a very informative and enjoyable article, particularly for me. (Sammy Gaw, Kemptville, Ontario)

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