About the Byles & Calcutt Award

IRSE Australasia instituted the Byles and Calcutt Award in 1990 to commemorate the names of two prominent signal engineers who had a significant impact upon the direction of signalling in Australia and to encourage younger members to participate fully in the section’s technical meetings. The award, for a maximum of $1500A, is made annually to the Australasian section’s younger member who presents the best paper at an Australasian section technical meeting.
Cyril Beuzeville Byles, (1871­1952), formerly Signal Engineer of the Lancashire &Yorkshire Railway, Manchester, emigrated from England in May 1911 with his family to New South Wales Australia. He had been offered employment by the New South Wales Government Railways as a signalling consultant and in 1912 was appointed as the Signal Engineer of NSW Railways.

He was in charge of NSW signalling until his retirement in 1929 during which period he oversaw an extensive programme of resignalling works using the most up­to­date practices of the day including the introduction of automatic signalling on route signalling principles. (See my earlier article in Issue 150 for more details of CB Byles’ career). Francis Macnamara Calcutt, (1870 ­1950), was born on 17 July 1870 in Williamstown, Victoria, Australia.
He was the eldest son in a family of 14 and left school aged 13 to start work. He joined the Victorian Railways on 10 September 1883 and worked for them for the next 47 years until his retirement in 1930. In the early part of his career he held various positions related to civil engineering, studying at night school to qualify as a civil engineer in the Engineer­ in­ Chief’s branch of VR. In 1887 he was a junior clerk and draughtsman. By 1889, aged 19, he was a Field Assistant and by 1902 had progressed to become an Assistant Engineer. He surveyed many of the lines in Victoria including the famous Puffing Billy Railway, a narrow gauge 2ft 6in gauge railway in the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne. The railway was originally one of four narrow gauge lines of the Victorian Railways opened around the beginning of the 20th century. It runs through the southern foothills of the Dandenong Ranges to Gembrook and is today run by volunteers as a heritage railway.

In 1908, aged 38, he was appointed Engineer of Signals and Interlocking for VR. He had written a thesis on the VR signalling system and in 1913 was sent overseas by the Government of Victoria to examine the signalling systems of England, Germany and North America. On his return he introduced the American developed system of speed signalling to VR. He alsoarranged for the in­ house manufacture of mechanical signalling equipment, including the development of a mechanical frame instead of buying in from McKenzie and Holland. In 1922 he was appointed Chief Engineer of Signals and Telegraphs, Victorian Railways and was responsible for the very large scale resignalling of the Melbourne metropolitan area with power signalling, including the provision of some automatic signalling, as part of the electrification of the area.

Calcutt had become a Member of the IRSE from its earliest days having joined at the same time as CB Byles on 31 March 1913. He resigned from the Institution on 9 January 1924 and retired from the railway on 11 July 1930. He died aged 80 on 1 October 1950 at Croydon, Victoria, Australia.

CB Byles and FM Calcutt were contemporaries and their careers followed somewhat similar lines. Both were members of the IRSE from its earliest days, had risen to the top of their respective signalling departments by their early 40s in 1913, became prominent members of the profession and introduced modern practices of signal engineering in their respective railways throughout the 1920s, and both retired from the railway at about the same time. However it is notable that Calcutt was born in Australia and trained initially as a civil engineer with no background in signalling whereas Byles was an expatriate UK trained signal engineer.

The difference in their backgrounds probably explains the different signalling philosophies they adopted for their railways. Byles, using his previous UK experience, implemented automatic signalling based on route signalling principles on NSW railways whereas Calcutt, influenced no doubt by his study of American practice, implemented automatic signalling based on speed signalling principles on VR.

Before the inauguration of the Australasian Section of the IRSE in 1947 there would have been no contact between signal and communications staff of the several Australian railways, the only official contact would have been at the Chief Engineers' level at their annual conferences. The establishment of the IRSE Australasian section has enabled many engineers at all levels to discuss their work activities at the regular technical meetings. This has promoted the free flow of information and has led to many lasting friendships.

The Byles and Calcutt Award recognises the significant contri­bution of these gentlemen to the profession and to the IRSE.

Ken Burrage

IRSE News No 151, December 2009

IRSE Australasian Section colleagues, in particular Geoff Wilmot and Noel Reed
IRSE Proceedings and Council minutes

CB Byles - Signal Engineer

C B Byles - died 19 November 1952.

A copy of the Illuminated Address to CB Byles, presented on his retirement from the NSW Government Railways is available here.  (1.2 MB file)

IRSE Australasia History

IRSE Australasia was formed in 1947, with the impetus coming from Mr L Martin, the District Engineer for Signals and Telegraphs in Goulburn, NSW.  Some of the correspondence relating to the formation has been preserved and is available here.  (Please note that this is a very large scanned file).

Images fo this correspondence can be found here. letter1 letter2 pg1 letter2 pg2

C.B. Byles was a leading figure in the formation of the IRSE in the UK and continued to be influential when he moved to Australia. 

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