The Signal-Man Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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In "The Signal-Man" by Charles Dickens, how does the signalman die?

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When, at the end of the story, the narrator returns to visit the signalman once more, he is gripped by a sense that something is wrong, not least because a "little low hut" has appeared on the railway line by the Danger-light. This fear is borne out when one of the men waiting by the light tells him that the signal-man has been killed that morning.

He was, this man explains, run over by a railway engine, having not managed to entirely clear the outer rail. He was standing at the Danger-light with his lamp in his hand, his back to the tunnel, when the train came out of the tunnel and hit him. The driver of the train explains further that he saw the man at the end of the tunnel as he came through it, and, having had no success blowing his whistle, he called out to him: "Below there! Look out! For God's sake clear the way!" He also waved his arm continually to try to alert the signal-man, but to no avail—he was hit by the train and killed.

The words recounted to him by the engine-driver cause the narrator to start in alarm, because they represent not only the phrase which the signal-man had been haunted by, but also "the words which I myself—not he—had attached, and that only in my own mind, to the gesticulation he had imitated."

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At the end of the story, the narrator returns to the signal box to meet with the signalman. On his arrival, however, he learns that the signalman died early that morning. In fact, he is told by a witness that he was "cut down by a train" as he carried out his duties. The narrator is then introduced to the driver who hit the signalman. He explains that he called to the signalman as he approached, but the signalman did not hear his warnings. His exact words were:

Below there! Look out! Look out! For God's sake, clear the way!

In an ironic twist, these are the words which forewarned the signalman of an accident on the line earlier in the story. What he did not realize, however, is that these words (spoken by the ghost) were signaling his own untimely demise. 

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