Code des Signaux de 1885

Here is a translation into English of this Code, which was in effect from 1885 until 1934


It is convenient to point out, in that which concerns signals:

1. The appearances or the sounds that they are intended to produce, as well as the significance to be attached to them;

2. Their construction and the mechanical means whereby they are manipulated;

3. The rules following which they are placed and arranged.

The Code of Signals determines only #1 above, the uniformity of language.

Title I: general dispositions

Art. 1.--The signals exchanged between employees on the trains and employees of the way or stations are governed by the following dispositions.

Special regulations of each Company may not contain any contrary disposition.

The Companies may otherwise be authorized by the Minister of Public Works to use, for the purposes of trial, signals other than those which are envisioned and defined in the present Order.

Title II: Way Signals

Section 1--General

Art. 2.--Way signals, that is to say, signals made from the way or stations by employees of the train or engines, are intended either to indicate clear track, to command a stop or slowing, or to give direction.

In every case, the absence of a signal indicates that the way is clear.

The signals may be mobile, that is, capable of being moved to and used from any point whatever, or fixed, that is, established permanently at a certain point.

Art. 3.--The signal of slowing made to trains in full motion indicates that the effective speed must be reduced in such a way as not to exceed a maximum of 30 kilometres an hour for passenger trains, and 15 kilometres for freight trains.

Section 2--MOBILE Signals

Art. 4.--Ordinary mobile signals are made:

By day, with flags, guidons, any object whatever or the arms; [Note: a guidon is a small target at the end of a stick held in the hand.]

By night, or by day in times of thick fog, with white lanterns or coloured lanterns;

By day, as by night, with detonators.

Art. 5.--Clear track may be indicated by presenting to a train:

By day, a rolled flag, or the arm extended horizontally in the direction followed by the train;

By night, the white light.

Art. 6.--The red flag, held in the hand unfurled by an employee commands immediate stop.

In the absence of a red flag, stop is commanded either by agitating vigorously any object whatever, or by raising the arms to their full height.

The red light commands immediate stop.

In the absence of a red light, stop is commanded by any light vigorously agitated.

Art. 7.--The unfurled green flag or the green guidon commands slow.

The green light commands slow.

Art. 8.--In the case of temporary slowings, such as those necessitated by work on, or the state of, the track, a rolled flag, a white guidon, or a white light indicate the point from which the slowing ceases.

Art. 9.--Detonators are employed to supplement mobile visual signals commanding stop when, by day or by night, by reason of atmospheric obscurity or for any other cause these signals cannot be sufficiently seen.

In this case, one must place two detonators at least, and three in humid weather, one on each rail at 25 or 30 metres interval, and at an equal distance before the visual signal that they supplement.

The use of detonators for supplementing mobile visual signals commanding stop is obligatory when, because of fog, or other atmospheric conditions, the visual signals cannot be distinctly perceived at a distance of 100 metres.

Art. 10.--In case of absolute necessity, detonators may be employed isolated and independently of visual signals, even in the absence of an employee posted to give signals at that point.

The driver of a train who encounters detonators placed under these conditions must immediately make himself master of the speed of his train by all means at his disposition and advance further only at a speed sufficiently reduced to be able to stop within the view ahead, should an obstacle or a signal commanding stop appear. If, from the place of the explosion, after a distance fixed by the regulations of the Company, but not less than 1,000 metres, no obstacle nor no signal commanding stop appears, the driver may resume his normal speed.

Section 3.--FIXED Signals

Art. 11.--The fixed signals of the way are:
The discs or round signals;
The signals of absolute stop;
The semaphores;
The signals of slowing;
Junction signals and warning signals;
Point indicators.

Art. 12.--The disc or round signal can take two positions with respect to the track that it governs: perpendicular or parallel.

The closed disc, that is, presenting to the train its red face perpendicular to the track, by day, or a red light by night, commands stop.

The open disc, that is, disposed parallel to the track, by day, or presenting a white light by night, indicates that the track is clear.

After a driver perceives a closed disc, he must immediately render himself master of his train's speed by all means at his disposition and not advance further except at a speed sufficiently reduced to be able to stop in time in the distance in view, if an obstacle or a new signal commands stop. In any case, he must never reach the first point or the first crossing protected by the signal, and not resume his movmement until having been authorized either by the conductor-chef of the train or by the stationmaster of the station or post protected.

Art. 13.--The disc or round signal must be followed by a post indicating, by a legend, the point from which the closed signal assures effective protection.

Art. 14.--The square signal of absolute stop can take two positions with respect to the track that it governs: perpendicular or parallel.

The signal presenting to the train, by day, perpendicularly to the track, a red and white checquerboard, and, by night, a double red light, commands an absolute stop; that is to say, no train or engine may pass the signal while it commands stop.

The open signal, that is to say, disposed parallel to the track, or presenting, by night, a white light, indicates that the track is clear.

Art. 15.--On tracks other than those followed by trains in service, the signal of absolute stop defined in the preceding article may be replaced, with the authorization of the Minister, by a square or round signal with a yellow face, showing by night a single yellow light.

Art. 16.--The semaphore is an apparatus designed to maintain the necessary intervals between trains.

It gives its indications: by day, by the position of the arm with which it is equipped, by night, by the colours of the lights that it shows.

The arm that one sees at the left, in looking at the semaphore towards which the train is directed, governs only that train.

By day, the arm extended horizontally and showing its red face commands stop; The arm inclined downwards, at an acute angle, commands slow; the arm lying along the mast indicates that the track is clear.

By night, the semaphore commands: stop by a light giving red and green at the same time; slow by a green light. The white light indicates that the track is clear.

The stop signal of the semaphore forbids movement beyond the post or the location of the semaphore, without formal authorization to proceed given by the stationmaster or whoever operates the semaphore, and with any particular restrictions indicated to the driver.

Art. 17.--The slow disc can take two positions with respect to the track that it governs.

The signal presenting to the train by day, perpendicularly to the track, its green face, and by night a green light, commands the slowing indicated in Article 3.

The open signal, that is, turned parallel to the track and presenting by night a white light, indicates that the track is clear.

The special limitations of speed can, in cases decided by the Minister, be indicated by white signs illuminated by night and carrying the figures to which the speed must be reduced.

Signs carrying in distinct letters, illuminated by night, the word ATTENTION, can equally, in cases fixed by the Minister, be used to indicate to train crews that they must redouble their prudence and attention until their liberty of movement is restored.

Art. 18.--The junction indicator is formed either by a square plate, painted in a green and white chequerboard, illuminated by night either by reflection or transparency, or by a plaque carrying the word bifur, illuminated in the same manner.

This signal is arranged, unless with authorization of the Minister, to give constantly the same aspect.

The green and white chequerboard can also be used as a signal of warning announcing square signals of absolute stop that do not protect junctions.

The driver who encounters one of the preceding signals, not open, must be ready to stop, if necessary, at the junction or the signal of absolute stop that the signal warns of.

Art. 19.--The point indicator signals are distinguished:

As direction signals placed at facing points where the driver can preliminarily ask for the correct road by the locomotive whistle.

As signals of position, intended to inform sedentary employees of the direction given by the points, a direction the driver does not have to request by the whistle of his locomotive.

Art. 20.--Directional signals for points which address only those trains approaching in the facing direction are made by semaphore arms painted in violet, terminated by a fishtail: these arms are arranged, are moved, and are illuminated in the following manner:

1st. When they are moved by independent point levers, but interlocked with them, they are placed on a mast, at different heights, in number equal to the directions that can be given by the post. The highest arm corresponds to the leftmost direction, the lowest one to the rightmost direction, each arm being placed from above to below in the order in which the directions are found, in going from left to right. The arms can take only two positions: the horizontal position indicating that the corresponding directin is not given; the inclined position, at an acute angle, indicating the direction that is given. By night, the horizontal arms display a violet light; the arms incined at an acute angle, a green or white light, depending on whether one must slow or pass at speed;

2nd. When they are moved directly by the points, the mast or the indicator beside the points only ever shows one apparent arm. The arm appearing on one side by day, or giving a violet light by night, indicates that the direction corresponding to this side is closed. The arm not visible, by day, or a white light by night, indicates the side of which the direction is open. When several junctions follow at one post, the signals are placed in the order of directions that can be taken, and their indicatins must be observed in the same order.

Title III. Train signals

Section 1.--Ordinary signals carried by trains

Art 21.--Every train moving by day, on double lines as well as on single, must carry on the rear of the last vehicle a marker consisting of either a red plaque or the tail lantern with which the train must be provided with by night.

Art. 22.--Every train moving by night, on double lines as well as on single, must carry to the front at least one white light, and at the rear one red light, placed on the rear of the last vehicle; two other lamps must be placed on each side, toward the higher part of the last vehicle, or, if not possible, on one of the last vehicles; these side lamps must be arranged to show a white light to the front and a red light to the rear.

This disposition is not obligatory for shunting trains having to cover a distance of less than 5 kilometres: in this case, a single red lamp to the rear suffices.

Art. 23.--In all cases where it has been established, in conformity with the regulatory prescriptions on the matter, a movement against the current of traffic on a double-track line, every train or light engine moving against the current of traffic must carry: by day, a red flag shown to forward; by night, a red light in addition to the white light or the two white lights of the preceding article.

Art. 24.--Freight trains can be distinguished from passenger trains by the addition of a green light on the front.

Art. 25.--Engines without trains moving in service at stations carry by night a white light on the front and a white light on the rear.

Art. 26.--Engines without trains moving on the line, outside the protection of the signals of stations, carry by night: on the front at least one white light, on the rear at least one red light, without interfering with the special front signal in the case of a movement against the current of traffic on double track.

Art. 27.--The Companies may, in conforming to the special regulations approved by the Minister, distinguish the routes of trains or engines by the relative positions assigned to the head-end lights and by the addition of supplementary lights. These supplementary lights can be white or present any colour other than red.

Section 2.--Driver's signals

Art. 28.--The driver communicates with train crews and employees on the track by the whistle of his locomotive.

One prolonged sound calls attention and announces the start of movement.

At junctions, at the approach to facing points, the driver requests the route by giving the number of prolonged sounds of the whistle corresponding to the rank occupied by the track he wishes to take in counting from the left, as follows:
One sound to take the 1st track;
Two sounds to take the 2nd track;
Three sounds to take the 3rd track:
Four sounds to take the 4th track.

Two short whistle sounds in rapid sequence order the setting of brakes; one brief sound, to release them.

Section 3.--Conductor's signals.

Art. 29.--When the train is moving, the head guard communicates with the driver by the gong or bell on the tender.

One sound of the gong or bell is the command to stop.

Art. 30.--The intermediate guards signal stop to the head guard and to the driver as to employees on the ground in waving from the outside of their van or cupola an unfurled red flag or a red lamp turned to the front.

The head guard, on seeing this signal, repeats it to the driver by sounding the gong or bell on the tender.

Every employee on the ground who perceives in time such a signal must immediately make the signal to stop to the driver, and if he does not perceive it, take all means at his disposal to present effectively to the train the stop signal by any employee on the ground in advance of the train.

Title IV. Special dispositions

Section 1.--Signal of departure, and stopping of trains

Art. 31.--The order for the departure of a train is given to the head guard by the stationmaster or his representative, by means of a sound on the pocket whistle. The head guard commands in his turn the driver to set the train in motion by a sound on his horn.

If the train set into motion must be stopped at once, for any cause whatever, the stationmaster gives the signal by a series of sounds on his whistle, and the head guard sounds the gong or bell on the tender.

The driver must, in this last case, obey the whistle sounds of the stationmaster when he hears them, even if the head guard has not yet confirmed that they have been given.

Section 2.--Particular dispositions in the case of movments on more than two main tracks

Art. 32.--If movements are made on more than two main tracks, the signals governing each of the tracks must be placed in the immediate vicinity and to the left of the left rail in the direction of movement of trains, or above this track, with the exception of semaphores of which the arms may be placed to be seen one beneath the others, the highest arms governing the leftmost track, the lowest one the rightmost track, in the direction of movement of the trains, the intermediate arms governing the intermediate directions, if there are any.

Title V. Temporary dispositions

Art. 33.--The delays after which the dispositions prescribed by the present Order will have received their complete application will be determined, for each network, by ministerial decision.

Paris, the 15th of November 1885.

Philippe Roland, Le code des signaux de 1885, La Vie du Rail No. 1684.


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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 1 June 2004
Last revised