Signals at China Rail

You are displaying Hans Schaefer's home page. Contact me here.


Related web sites: The signal system of the German railways

Here is the explanation of some signals you will find useful when visiting China Railways.
Last update February 2011

Some general remarks

Link to a German language web site with some description of signalling in China.

This web page is not complete. It shows you the most often occurring signals in China, based on their Guidelines. You may buy the book explaining the signals in Chinese at China Railways Publishing Office in Beijing.

There are basically three kinds of signals:

  1. Signals for driving trains (exit from station, block signals along the line, and entry to station.
  2. Signals for shunting (inside stations)
  3. Hand signals

China differentiates strictly between driving trains and shunting. I.e. shunting signals are not set into a "free" aspect for train driving. Trains drive only according to train signals. For shunting, however, the locomotive drivers must follow shunting signals, but they must also stop for red lights of train signals! "Shunting forbidden" is a blue light signal, "shunting allowed" is a white light signal, whereas train signals have the internationally known aspects of red, yellow and green and combinations thereof.

China Railways put very much reliance on the locomotive drivers. They HAVE TO stop in front of signals. Normally there is no safety distance after the signal in case a train cannot stop. However, there is sometimes a defelcting switch. If a signal does not show light, it automatically indicates STOP.

Signals along the line

Semaphore signals Light signals Shunting signals
Warning for station nearby Train emergency stop

Repeater at platform
Semaphore signal invalid Light signal invalid Repeater before green main signal
Speed restriction Warning for line work Jitong railway procedure for passing guarded level crossings
Dead sections on electrified line Indicator for how many per thousand incline

Signals at stations

Shunting signals Brake checking signals Point signals
Station master to train signals Point of conflict between adjacent tracks Conductor signals at rear end of the train

Locomotive whistle signals

Locomotive whistle signals

Warning for line work:

A black and white plate on the left hand side of the line, put up about 500 to 1000 meters before the place of work. For locomotive personnel: whistle, be careful, await possible signaling from line workers.

Back to top of this page

Locomotive whistle signals

(still incomplete)

1 long tone Attention To warn people at places they must be warned when the train comes (bridges, tunnels, level crossings, line workers, entrance to stations, general people near the line, etc.
2 long tones Back! To tell a train or locomotive to go backwards
3 long tones Collect! To tell people working in or under a train to get out (because the train may be ready to leave)
long- short Open steam More power! (from one engine to the other)
long - short - short Close steam Close steam, from one locomotive to the other.
short - long I have trouble From electric locomotive if there is any trouble.
short - short - long please give a signal! From locomotive: I am ready to go, waiting for signal
Long - short - short - short Accident, trouble, need help From locomotive when there is serious trouble. Driver needs help.
1 short tone response to signaling 
start brake inspection
In response to any hand signal received. (And in response to many other signals received, to show attention of the driver). 
Brake! (at start of brake test)
2 short tones Brake inspection: Release brake! 
For use of hand brake: Release! 
Release brakes!
3 short tones Hand brake: Put hand brake on! Hand brake!
6 short tones Emergency stop! Stop!

Back to top of this page

Station master signals to train or train conductor

Station master signal to conductor: Start the train!
Daytime - Move the green flag up and down
Nighttime - Move the green light up and down

Conductor or station master to locomotive: Start the train!
Daytime - Move the green flag in a circle (upper part towards the train), several times round
Nighttime - Move the green light  in a circle (upper part inwards towards the train), several times round

Station personnel to train: Pass the station!
Daytime - Hold a green flag on a straight arm
Nighttime - Hold a green light on a straight arm

Station personnel to train: Unplanned stop at station
Daytime - Wave a red flag in a half circle above the head, back and forth
Nighttime - Wave a red lamp in a half circle above the head, back and forth

Station personnel to train: Permission to enter the yard or station. yindao shou xinhao: zhun xu lieche jinru che chang huo che zhan.
Daytime - Wave a yellow flag in a half circle above the head, left-right.
Nighttime - Wave a yellow lamp in a half circle above the head, let-right

Back to top of this page

Repeated signal at platform

If the signal at the end of the station is not visible from the platform, it may be repeated. A green signal showing clear line from the station is repeated by white lights in a round black plate along the platform.

Repeated signal for line

If a line signal is not visible, for example because it is in a curve, it may be repeated before the train passes it. This is done with a light signal in a black rectangle standing on its corner . (This can be seen at Shabazi (Baotou-Dongsheng line) and at SanDi (Jitong line).

Signals at electrified lines

Signals for electrified lines, for crossing special sections:

Section with isolated area

A section like this must be crossed with main switch «off» and only one pantograph up.

«Duan» ? «Cut off main switch» (white rhombus with black edge)

«he» ? «Switch on main switch» (white rhombus with black edge)

Signal = Jin zhi shuang gong ??  «Forbidden to use both pantographs»

(white rectangular plate with writing downwards, black edge)

First you may see a rectangular plate reading «Jin zhi shuang gong» togehter with a «K» sign, on lines with fast traffic. The the «duan» sign together with a «K».

If it is on a normal-speed line (up to 120 km/h), the «Jin zhi shuang gong» sign is 75 meters before, the «duan» plate 30 meters before the isolated section. The isolated section is 30 meters long, and after further 30 meters follows the «he» sign

Section where use of pantographs is forbidden totally

Signals are:

Zhun bei jiang gong = «Prepare to lower pantograph» (white rectangular plate with writing downwards, black edge)

Jiang = «Lower!» (white rhombus with black edge)

Sheng = «Rise!» (white rhombus with black edge)

First you may see a rectangular plate reading «zhun bei jiang gong» together with a «K» sign, on lines with fast traffic. The the «jiang» sign together with a «K».

 If it is on a normal-speed line, the «zhun bei jiang gong» sign is 150 meters before, the «duan» plate 50 meters before the problem section. The problem section can be of any length. After its end follows the «sheng» sign.

For lines with trains faster than 120 km/h signals are displayed once more before the section, with an addition plate showing the character "K".

Here is an example of some of the signal plates. The distances in the map are from an older version of the railway signal standard.

Back to top of this page

Point of conflict signal

A small metal pin, about 30 cm high, in red, white, red color, between two rails near a switch: After this point, in direction of the switch, any car or locomotive will be in conflict with the neighbor track.

If parking trains, locomotives or cars, you must keep clear of this point, in order not to block the neighboring track.

Back to top of this page

Warning posts before stations

A lengthy white board with skewed black stripes on it.

Three stripes: 1100 m before entrance signal to station
Two stripes: 1000 m before entry signal to station
One stripe: 900 m before entry signal to station
At station entry from side tracks there may only be the three stripes signal at 1100 meter.

Back to top of this page

Emergency train stop (when line is blocked etc.)


Signal if the line is not passable, for example if a train cannot move further.
Daytime: Conductor holds a red flag horizontally, and 20, 40 and 60 m in front of him towards oncoming train he puts three explosive devices on the rails (left, right, left rail)
Nighttime: A burning flame in the middle of the rails (night)
Train must stop as fast as possible. Check line. If nothing dangerous found, train can proceed at maximum speed 20 km/h. If no dangerous thing found after one kilometer, train can proceed at normal speed.

Back to top of this page

Speed restriction

The actual speed in kilometers per hour is indicated by a black number on yellow (sometimes white) ground, the digits about 25 centimeters high. The signal is a round plate, about 45 centimeters in diameter, with a black edge and yellow (in nonstandard cases white) ground.

Back to top of this page

Water column signals (at lines with steam locomotives)

A water column is equipped with a signals displaying the Chinese charater for water, "shui". If a locomotive has to take water, it must stop with the driver about at this signal. The water column itself is equipped with a red lamp, visible from the rail if the water column is positioned over the rails.

Back to top of this page

From train conductor (at last car): Everything is OK

Daytime - Hold both red and green flags up
Nighttime: Hold a white light up.

Back to top of this page

Procedure for passing guarded level crossings at the Jitong railway:

Level crossings with the main road have gates and guards now (autumn 2000). (Probably because in December 1999, there was a deadly accident at the level crossing at SanDi).

When coming near a level crossing with guard, the locomotive driver shall call the guard by radio. The guard shall report if the gate is working (i.e. if the street can be closed). The guard identifies himself by the kilometer position of the level crossing.

When calling, the locomotive driver shall identify himself with the train number.

When passing the crossing, the driver shall blow the horn and greet the guard with the hand.

If the guard has any problem with the level crossing, this shall first be reported to the locomotive driver.

Locomotive drivers shall report incorrect answering from level crossing guards.

Guarded level crossing for small roads (they have this from 2001) have no radio and are not called up. Their gates shall always be closed.

Back to top of this page

Procedure for fire safety on steam locomotives at Jitong railway:

(A procedure from 1997, number 30)

This procedure was emphasized in the internal timetable of 2000 by the safety manager.

1.) (High priority): Check that the box in front of the fire door does not contain coal dust! Check that no glowing coal can fall out of the firebox! (Grate must be in order, and the mesh at the outside sides of the ash box must be closed). Check that the fire can be dumped fast, if necessary.

2.) When starting the fire (in a cold engine), all three people working at the locomotive must check the whole checklist for this (for example that the grate is in order), and sign the checklist.

I have not seen this checklist, but checklists at other railways contain the following:

3.) The cloth material for starting the fire must be kept in a safe place. When starting the fire, do not use dry coal, as it can overheat the grate!

4.) The area in front of the fire door must be kept clean (no coal dust). This may be done using water.

5.) If a fire starts, stop the train and try to extinguish the fire. Radio the controllers for reporting stop on the line.

Back to top of this page