How to paint a semaphore?

For a long time, when preparing the color versions of the models in Repository, I used the swatches from the default palette of CorelDraw, which roughly resembled the real color. To be honest, I never really bothered to check if there are any precise regulations regarding the painting of railway signaling equipment. After all, Polish railways, especially during the previous regime, were always thrifty on means of expression and resources, so the signaling devices were painted with whatever came handy (back in 2011 I found a W1 distant signal indicator refreshed with new coat of a… chalk paint). The only aim was to keep the signals colors as seen in the signal book. Even the official blueprints and maintenance manuals were short on details regarding the painting, using only the terse expressions like paint gray or red enamel. Without any paint patterns or paint catalogue numbers…

Ordnung muss sein

Not so long ago, I came across a single sheet from what appeared to be a German equivalent of Polish Signaling Blueprints Albums. The sheet, dated to the 1957-58, contains details regarding the painting of the semaphores and distant signals of the railways of FRG. However, the most important part of the sheet were five small color rectangles undersigned with respective RAL paint symbol. Further research revealed, that the usage of RAL patterns on German railways reached back to the beginnings of the RAL committee (Reichs-Ausschuß für Lieferbedingungen und Gütesicherung), that is around 1927. It is not a coincidence – at the same time, Deutsche Reichsbahn Gesselschaft (founded in 1920) was in progress of signaling standardization. It was due to the fact, that DRG was primarily a cluster of bigger and smaller railways, each of which had its own signaling system.

At the same time, in Poland, quite similar clean-up took place. The newly appointed Polish State Railways had to choose the best signaling solutions from the ones left after the Partition of Poland. Prussian signaling and traffic equipment appeared to be the most reliable and advanced. Soon, Polish signaling caught up with German counterpart – the signal book from 1924 presents the semaphores and distant signals like the ones at DRG, replacing the earlier shutter-type discs and arms. It is quite possible, that later even the same paints were used. For sure German signaling painting become widespread on Polish land during the WWII when Poland was occupied by the Third Reich and Deutsche Reichsbahn took over the Polish railways. The equipment installed during this period and its painting can be found in Poland till today.

Not all colors of a rainbow

That’s all about history, let’s get back to colors. The base colors (not regarding the lights) of the Polish and German railways were initially red (danger), orange (attention), white (background) and black (symbols). Any other part was painted iron grey. According to the aforementioned sheet, the colors are following:

Color RAL designation RAL name Examples of usage on Polish Railways
. RAL2000 Yellow orange (Gelborange) Disc of distant signal, signal DO and D6
. RAL3002 Carmine (Karminrot) Borders of front side of semaphore arms and additional arm of distant signal, signal D1, odd front plates of semaphore
. RAL7011 Iron grey (Eisengrau) Mechanical signals posts, casings of signaling drives and wire shafts, gantries, back sides of indicators and signs
. RAL9002 Grey white (Grauweiß) Backgrounds of indicators, semaphore arms, subsidiary arm of distant signal, even front plates of semaphore
. RAL9005 Jet black (Tiefschwarz) Borders of back side of semaphore arms, inner border on distant signal disc, symbols and lettering on indicators, signal case of mechanical barraging signal

(colors in the table are only an RGB approximation of the real paint, based on

Examples of signals and indicators painting before 1960 Examples of signals and indicators painting before 1960.

Poles are no geese, they have the colors of their own.

Probably all those familiar with contemporary painting of Polish signals noticed the lack of blue color in the above list. This color came to Polish railways from k.u.k. Railways when PKP adopted the Austro-Hungarian shunting signal. In Germany, the color was first introduced on the El indicators for electric vehicles (present Polish We indicators are copies of them, initially they were black and white). Unfortunately, I couldn’t determine which particular shade of blue was that. Except blue, we have to remember, that green paint was also utilized in signaling – the end of speed limit indicator was a round, green plate with a white border and a white letter E. However, this type of signal was already becoming obsolete at both Polish and German railways before the introduction of RAL standard.

After the end of 1960’s one could find in Polish signal book another color not mentioned in German blueprints – yellow. Yellow were the posts indicating the boundaries of isolated sections (indicator W23). In 1980’s appeared yet another indicator – W28 (communication channel change) this time with yellow lettering.

Despite the fact that the above table contains only approximation of the real color, it is apparent that iron gray is really dark when compared with contemporary gray-painted railway equipment. Purist may also notice a tad different red, not typical for present D1 signals. Of course we can pin the blame to the different painting techniques (old enamel versus spray lacquer).

Yet, the contemporary gray is really lighter. I would estimate, that it have replaced the iron gray since the reform of signaling in 1959 (it’s the period when the second green light on semaphores become orange and two aspect distant signals were left with a single light aperture). Interestingly, similar changes in painting occurred in Germany. Deutsche Bundesbahn (FRG) started painting signal posts pale green (Blassgrün) RAL6021 ., while railway men at DR (GDR) were using a color referred simply as gray.

Differences in base color Differences in base colors on an example of dwarf semaphore: a. German and Polish railways before 1960, b. DR (GDR) and PKP, since 1960, c. DB (FRG), since 1960.

The question of signal colors in Poland was normalized only in 2005, together with publishing of updated maintenance manual Ie-12, which replaced the outdated E24. At the very first chapter a list of 10 (sic!) RAL colors is provided. From those, which may interest us, are:

Color RAL designation RAL name Examples of usage on Polish Railways
. RAL1016 Sulfur yellow (Schwefelgelb) Indicator W23, lettering on indicator W28
. RAL3020 Traffic red (Verkehrsrot) Signal D1, stripes on semiautomatic light signals
. RAL5010 Gentian blue (Enzianblau) Mechanical and fixed shunting signal, indicators We for electric vehicles
. RAL7040 Window gray (Fenstergrau) Mechanical signals posts, light shunting and distant signals posts, casings of signaling drives and wire shafts, gantries, back sides of indicators and signs
. RAL9005 Jet black (Tiefschwarz) Background shields of light signals, stripes on level crossing warning signals posts
. RAL9016 Traffic white (Verkehrsweiß) Backgrounds of indicators, posts of semiautomatic and automatic light signals

(colors in the table are only an RGB approximation of the real paint, based on

One would have a hard time to find near the tracks other colors mentioned in the manual: lilac (RAL4001 .), green (RAL6002 .), light gray (RAL7035 .) and brown (RAL8002 .). Their domains is the signal box equipment: lever frames, block devices and sometimes their single parts.

Interlocking cams in lever frame

The most colorful place on the railway – interlocking cam box in lever frame. Color code underlined the difference between seemingly similar parts.

Signalbox Skr Skierniewka, November 2015, fot. P. Adamowicz

All right, but where’s orange? After all it is still in common use today, not only on the existing mechanical distant signals and indicators W16 and D6, but also on newly introduced (in 2000) level crossing warning signal announcers W11p. Somehow, the redactor of the manual forgot about this color. The omission was made complete in 2014 in the new manual Ie-102, which ordered the everlasting railway sign commotion in Poland. It recommends using RAL2008 as orange color.

Color RAL designation RAL name Examples of usage on Polish Railways
. RAL2008 Bright red orange (Hellrotorange) Background of signal D0, D6 and indicators W11p and W14.

(colors in the table are only an RGB approximation of the real paint, based on

Malowanie urządzeń SRK od 2005 Examples of signaling painting since 2007, according to manuals Ie-12 and Ie-102.

So how to paint?

The question of historically-correct painting is still open. Considering the lack of old color photographs and reliable paint patterns one can hardly avoid pitfalls of this topic. The key is the consequence in using of the particular shade of each color. For instance, I have adopted the following painting schema for Polish signals models in Repository (divided into Polish Railway Epochs, see NEM 825PL)

Epoch Ia-IIIb (to 1959)

RAL2000 RAL3002 RAL5010 RAL6002*
RAL7011 RAL9002 RAL9005

* Only the speed limit end indicator before 1924.

Suggestion of signals painting - epoch Ia to IIIb

Epoch IIIc-IVc (1960-1989)

RAL1016 RAL2000 RAL3002 RAL5010
RAL7040 RAL9002 RAL9005
Suggestion of signals painting - epoch IIIb to IVc

Epoch Va and later (since 1989)

RAL1016 RAL2000* RAL2008 RAL3002*
RAL3020 RAL5010 RAL7040 RAL9002*
RAL9005 RAL9016

* only mechanical signals

Suggestion of signals painting - epoch Va

Of course, the above palette assumes that signals are kept in pristine condition. However, one should take into account the fact that reality is not perfect. Weathering, negligence and sloppy maintenance may create shades of colors which could be hardly compared to any paint pattern available on the market. What is more, this article relies heavily on the RAL standard, yet in the time of Polish People’s Republic, each factory might have used its own internal paint patters ex. the KTM code enamels.


[2016-02-12] The question of contemporary orange color was solved 7 years after novelisation of Ie-12 maintenance manual. In brand new Technical requirements for indicators and signal boards (Wymagania techniczne dla wskaźników i tablic sygnałowych) Ie-102 the color has been specified as RAL2008, contrary to my presumption that RAL2000 is still in use.


  1. Przepisy sygnalizacji na kolejach polskich Nr E.1., Wydawnictwo Komunikacyjne, Warsaw 1951;
  2. Przepisy sygnalizacji na Polskich Kolejach Państwowych E1, WKŁ, Warsaw 1970;
  3. Przepisy sygnalizacji na Polskich Kolejach Państwowych E1, Polskie Koleje Państwowe, Warsaw 2000 (obtained from, last access on 13th March 2015);
  4. Instrukcja konserwacji i przeglądów urządzeń sterowania ruchem kolejowym E24, Polskie Koleje Państwowe, Warsaw 2000 (obtained from, last access on 13th March 2015);
  5. Instrukcja konserwacji, przeglądów oraz napraw bieżących urządzeń sterowania ruchem kolejowym Ie-12 (E-24), PKP Polskie Linie Kolejowe S.A., Warsaw 2005 (za, last access on 13th March 2015);
  6. Wymagania techniczne dla wskaźników i tablic sygnałowych Ie-102, PKP Polskie Linie Kolejowe S.A., Warsaw 2014 (za…pdf, last access on 12th February 2016);
  7. Jerczyński, M.: Historia semafora, cz.2 – unifikacja sygnalizacji kształtowej, Świat Kolei 11/2011;
  8. Lambl, J.: Sygnalizacja w pytaniach i odpowiedziach – podręcznik dla personelu stacyjnego i drogowego, ? 1926 (obtained from, last access on 13th March 2015);
  9. Einheitszeichnungen für Stellwerksteile, Blatt 279.03.4 (Haupt- und Vorsignale Anstrich und Schelzüberzug), Deutsche Bundesbahn, 1958 (obtained from, last access on 13th March 2015);
  10. Carstens, S.: Signale, tom 1, 2 i 3, Verlagsgruppe Bahn GmbH – MIBA-Verlag, Nürnberg 2009;
  11. Official RAL website (last access on 13th March 2015).


  1. nieznane cóś ktuś 24 September 2016 at 21:33

    A zrobisz taki karzełkowy ?

    1. Paweł Adamowicz 30 September 2016 at 13:45

      Kiedyś na pewno tak. Gdzieś w bardzo odległych planach jest model pomostu sygnałowego, a do niego będzie potrzebny karzełek – sześcio- lub czterometrowy.

  2. kolejoż 21 December 2016 at 15:42

    ale pomost kiedy będzie

  3. Jacek 17 August 2017 at 22:18

    Ja u siebie pomalowałem tak:

    1. Paweł Adamowicz 30 August 2017 at 19:55

      Gratuluję ładnej kolekcji. Co na to sąsiedzi? :)
      Kiedyś widziałem zdjęcia posesji, której właściciel (emerytowany kolejarz nomen omen) wstawił mechaniczną rogatkę zamiast bramy wjazdowej. Korba do otwierania była w kuchni :)

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