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Saturday, 9 October 2010

Some Rules for Station Masters

For much of British Railway history, the station master occupied a special place in the interweaving melee of railway company operations. They were responsible for the companies’ key units of operation, the station. It was to their stations that the traders came to send their wares, where holiday adventures began and to where people returned after an evening out, happy in the knowledge that they were near to home. Therefore, because they were central to the smooth operation of the railway industry, the activities that they were tasked with are worthy of study.

Of course, the duties of station masters changed through the years. What may have been of concern to station masters in 1840, may have been outside their remit in 1940. For this blog post I have decided to look at the duties of station masters in 1933, as in this year Britain’s railway companies produced a new rule book for the staff, the content of which all had agreed to through the Railway Clearing House. Therefore, the basic duties of a station master in Penzance on the Great Western Railway were very similar, if not identical, to those of his compatriot in Edinburgh on the London and North Eastern Railway. For this blog I will be using the London and North Eastern Railway’s rule book (although it wouldn’t really matter which one I used) to describe some of the key duties of the British station master in 1933. The numbers in brackets are the rule numbers from the book.

Naturally, station masters were to be responsible for everything that went on at the station. Interestingly, the first rule specifically directed at station masters specifies that the ‘security and protection of the buildings and property at the station’ were their concern (17i). Could it be that the authors of the rule book, buy putting this rule first, were subconsciously channelling their desire to protect the companies’ property and its revenue? Further, they were to undertake a daily inspection of the station to inspect its ‘cleanliness and neatness of all premises (including closets and urinals), signboards &c,’ such was the emphasis in this period on maintaining a good outwards appearance of the station (17vi).

But the property of the station wasn’t the only thing they had to look after, and the station master had to marshal all the employees at stations (18). Therefore, it was the station master’s duty to oversee that all operations, whether it be the sorting of wagons, the coupling of carriages, the painting the white line along the platform’s edge, or tending to the flower beds, were done in a safe and efficient manner by staff (17iii/19). Prevention of accidents was also achieved by making sure that all staff had the rule book on them at all times and that they were aware of any additional notices that may have altered its content (17iv). They were also responsible for curtailing wastage at the station, and all stores were to be ‘properly and economically used (17x). Lastly, the station masters were to ‘make himself acquainted’ with all the signal boxes and signalmen that he was in charge of, evidently to make sure they weren’t asleep (17v).

Safety was to be ensured in other ways. Because station masters must have seen a lot of rolling stock pass through their stations, they played a role in reporting any defects that they found within the trains. When a carriage or wagon examiner had to inspect a train for defects, the station master had to ensure that this work had been completed before the train was allowed to leave. (28a) However, if an examiner was not present, the station master, if his staff could not fix a defect, was to have the offending vehicle removed from a train, hopefully not with any passengers inside (28b). Further, if any signals, points or any other aspect of the line was found to be defective, these were to be reported as soon as was possible (61)

However, apart from these outdoor jobs, which could have been good or bad depending on the station at which he was posted, the station masters’ main duties were being chained to a desk doing paperwork. All new orders and instructions coming into the station, of which there were multitudes, were to be noted. Further, all books that recorded everything from passenger numbers, wages paid, wagons moved, gas consumption and most importantly, income, were to be written up and sent to the central headquarters (17vii). Indeed, a large part of the station master’s duties was not just ensuring the smooth flow of traffic, but also enduring the smooth flow of information up the organisation so that senior managers could analyse it.

Another large part of the station master’s day would be dealing the great unwashed. Naturally, they had to make sure that passengers were not unruly and that the Bylaws of the company were displayed clearly so that the customers knew what they could and couldn’t do. Further, they were to ensure that all the fares, notices, the Carrier’s Act and all other public declarations were clearly displayed (17viii). If, for whatever reason, the customers were unhappy, the station masters were to promptly send all complaints to head office (17ix).

Of course, these weren’t all the duties of the station masters on Britain’s railways in 1933, but it is the core selection. Clearly, this evidence shows that station masters had huge responsibilities and kept Britain’s railways running.

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