The Katy Depot

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Railroad Signals

Not all hand or lantern signals tell the train to stop and go. Some are friendly greetings. This pages shows you the different light signals, familiar railroad signs, hand and lantern signals and semaphore signals.

Position Light Signals • The position of the lights tells the engineer the signal.

Familiar Railroad Signs and Signals

Make a Signal Lantern

Make a signal lantern and use it to signal different activities. With a piece of construction paper draw a line one inch from the top and one inch from the bottom across the width of the paper. Fold the paper in half lengthwise, then lay flat. Cut at one inch intervals lengthwise from the bottom drawn line to the top drawn line. Form construction paper into a tube lengthwise, tape at top, bottom and center. For a handle, fashion a pipe cleaner and attach at the top, or cut a strip of paper and attach.

 Semaphore Signals

The position of the arm determines the signal.


Lantern/Hand Signals

The engineer cannot understand you if you just yell at a moving train. Because of this, the railroad people developed a system of signals to tell the engineer whether to stop or slow down. These signals have been in use for more than one hundred years.


By day, a red flag or handkerchief is used to make the signals easier to see. By night, the lantern is used. Lanterns were lit by kerosene,but now are battery-powered. Lanterns come with glass globes that can be clear, green, blue, and red. Often a metal part is stamped with the name or initials of the railroad.

Not all hand or lantern signals tell the train to stop and go. Some are friendly greetings. One of these is the proceed signal (also known as the highball). It is made by puling an imaginary whistle cord over the head up and down several times.

In the event of serious trouble, railroaders follow Rule 12-h from the rule book: “Any object waved violently by anyone on or near the tracks is a signal to stop.”

Warning signals should not be given except in an emergency. However, it is perfectly all right to greet a train by giving the engineer the highball sign, and if he is not too busy you may be rewarded with a toot in return.

Lantern Signals

At night, the station master or other railroad worker would use a system of lantern signals to communicate with the engineer. Do you know what the following signals mean? To find the answer, move your mouse over each image.