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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Vanishing NEC Pneumatics (and other News)

The NEC continues to see a wide scale reduction in the number of pneumatic point machines. Within the last year BIDDLE and OAK interlockings on the southern end have been replaced by electric, BAY interlocking has been half replaced, LANDOVER interlocking is en-route to be decommissioned entirely and just recently FAIR interlocking in Trenton has started seen selective replacement of its still impressive pneumatic plant.

BIDDLE interlocking with new M3 point machines.
The HAROLD re-signaling project in support of East Side Access is not largely complete, however some track and switch work is ongoing for the physical connections to the new lines.

On the Shore Line a new interlocking, LIBERTY, has been commissioned west of the Kingston, RI station to support the new third track and island platform.

Around Boston, the ACSES PTC system is being installed on North Side MBTA lines, although it is not clear if this is in conjunction with cab signals or not. Normally ACSES is designed to work in conjunction with cab signals and ATC, but modifications to allow operation without cab signals is within the real of possibility.  Also notable is thatACSES transponders have not appeared in the Guilford Rail System territory, which is generally exempt from the PTC requirement and has demonstrated hostility towards installing it for the Amtrak service if not required to.

For some updates regarding recently reported stories, the Rule 562 'C' boards are up in both directions at OAK interlocking, although not in service and all of the PRR pedestal signals on the SEPTA trunk line between Suburban Station and 30th St station have been replaced by the new ersatz variety.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

UK Lickey Incline Classic Signaling

I found an interesting video on the manual block setup on Lickey Incline, the steepest Main Line gradient on the UK.  This 2.65% grade stretched over two miles on the line to Birmingham and due to the under powered nature of UK locomotives, most trains, passenger included, would need help getting up.  Although the line was fitted with track circuits, manual block was still employed.  To ease operations, an intermediate manual block signal was provided so that two trains could climb the grade at the same time.  This video details how the blocks were worked and how the helpers were dealt with.

Compare with operations on the steepest main line grade in North America, Saluda.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Website: Hidden Trackside Treasures Of Southwestern PA

I wanted to take a moment to plug another blog I just found that takes an in depth historical look at the PRR Main Line between Altoona and Pittsburgh.  Given the title, I am sure that it will eventually cover other topic, but at this point the articles have focused on the PRR Main Line, specially the transition from the Classic PRR configuration of the 1950's and 1960's. to the modern Conrail configuration of the 1980's. 

 The articles are well researched with much scanned and displayed primary source material. One series covers the lost interlockings and interlocking towers of the Western PRR Main Line, like Latrobe's KR tower, seen above. 

The future CP-WING, with and without CTC applied as the Penn Central envisioned it.

Another series covers the Penn Central's plan to convert the PRR Main Line to CTC operation a decade or two before Conrail was able to complete the task with its influx of Federal funding.  It's just say things would have been a lot more interesting if the line was rebuilt with the PC's understanding of how railroading would work.

My only criticism is that over the past 3 years there have only been a handful of posts, so let's show the creator some appreciation with the hope that he'll increase his output ;-)

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Amtrak NEC Happenings

Just wanted to provide a quick update on some operations on the Southern NEC.  I previously reported on Amtrak's plans to extend Rule 562 operation southward to BUSH interlocking.  Currently 562 is only in service between BACON and GRACE, but this past month work started at OAK interlocking to both remove the pneumatic point machines and install new signals with 'C' boards.

At this point OAK interlocking only has a single crossover between tracks 4 and 3, creating a combination trailing point ladder when combined with GRACE.  This crossover will be replaced with a new electrically powered concrete model and some other reports hint of a second crossover creating a facing point ladder as well.

The southbound 'C' boards indicate an immediate risk for the 4 automatic signal locations between OAK and BUSH.  I have been able to document those at Perryman and Aberdeen, but the others are less accessible :-(

Finally, Amtrak is adding a new trailing point ladder at PERRY interlocking to carry trains from the Pord Road, across the two through tracks and over to the track 1 siding.  Apparently this is in anticipation of track work on the track 4 siding or switches at PRINCE interlocking.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

CN Cripples Chicago 16th St / 21st St Corridor

In a move that could only make sense as part of some nefarious plan to cripple Amtrak service, Canadian National has single tracked a critical portion of its connecting line between the former Illinois Central main line and it's Chicago area distributor that runs west to Joliet on the former Chicago and Alton alignment.  Specifically the mile or so long segment between the two major passenger crossings at 16th St and 21st St, the former controlled by a famous METRA interlocking tower and the second by Amtrak's Chicago terminal train directors. 

As you can see in the above diagram CN has cut Main Track 1 between a new 18TH ST interlocking and the existing CERMACK interlocking.  The method of the cut will create bottlenecks for Illini Service Amtrak trains on and off the St Charles Air Line from downstate and Lincoln Service trains entering and exiting the Heritage Corridor at CERMACK due to Conrail style interlockings that eliminate any sort of parallel operation.  Why would they do such a thing?

The answer is diamonds, and not the kind that makes one wealthy.  Elimination of Main Track #1 will also eliminate 5 diamonds between both interlockings.  For those of you who don't know, main line diamonds are expensive maintenance items that also require fairly periodic replacement.

As we can see from this photo at 21st St, the small signs seem to indicate that the diamonds are the maintenance responsibility of CN.  The bottleneck will be felt as freight white periods at both crossings cause CN traffic to back up along the line and this will now preclude Amtrak service from being able to sneak by.  Perhaps that is the ultimate point.  "Unavoidable" delays may force the State's hand in funding alternatives to the diamond crossings like an overpass at 16th St and the Grand Crossing connector on the NS Chicago Line south of the city. The real loser is the 16th St tower which will loose a substantial number of its remaining active levers :-(

Sunday, July 21, 2019

ALTO: One Tower, Four Roads

This article originally appeared in The Trackside Photographer in November of 2018.  It builds on my previous coverage of ALTO tower posted in 2011 with additional photos taken in 2012 and 2018 and additional reference materials that I had obtained during the intervening years.

ALTO (JK) tower, in Altoona, Pennsylvania, was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1915 and remained in service for the next 97 years, closing in 2012. Over that time it worked under the auspices of four different railroads, the PRR, Penn Central, Conrail and Norfolk Southern and each railroad, in turn, brought something new to the table. It is easy to think of railroad history over the last century to be one of subtraction, infrastructure being removed as a transportation monopoly yielded to competition from air travel and highways. However, for at least it's 97 years in service, ALTO's story was one of adaptation to the ever changing times.

ALTO tower in 2012 as a pair of NS helpers push past.

What did the PRR bring to ALTO? A simple answer is wealth. The PRR was something like the Google or Amazon of it's day, a technological pioneer with the deep pockets to afford more than the basics. The wooden construction wasn't a cost cutting measure, but actually a mark of the PRR's dynamism as up into the early years of the 20th century the railroad's constant re-investment would render interlocking towers quickly obsolete, requiring frequent replacement. In fact the odd pop-out on the east side of the tower was added  when the original interlocking machine proved to be insufficient and a two more had to be installed in the 1930's. On the front of the tower, the bay window was an optional extra that gave the tower staff an unobstructed view of the Main Line, reducing delays and operator error.

Extensible wooden construction.

Although ALTO's design had a degree of implied disposability, the PRR nevertheless spent money on architectural flourishes such as the fish-scale siding, the shade over the relay room windows and the wheel-like ornamentation.

Transportation themed ornamentation.

To control the train movements at the west end of the busy Altoona passenger station and the freight yard, the PRR invested in an early style of Union Switch and Signal Electro-Pneumatic interlocking machine with 27 levers. In 1915 this type of machine was typically seen only in major urban junctions and station terminals like New York's Penn Station, but the PRR had no compunction against installing a very expensive piece of technology in what might otherwise be a "temporary" interlocking tower given the railroad's uniquely heavy traffic density. Still, the PRR was no spendthrift and had a penchant for building slow speed interlocking plants in busy terminal areas. Since trains were going to be making station stops, changing power or having helpers attached little was lost in having all trains move through the interlocking at 15 mph with the advantage of vastly simplified interlocking logic and compact dwarf signals.

Original 1915 US&S "EP" style interlocking machine.

Although by 1915 most interlocking arrangements in North America made use of track circuits and other forms of non-mechanical logic, "armstrong" style lever frames with mechanically worked switches were still the norm as they reduced the number of the highly expensive relays and could also be run on battery power. Situated in the PRR's own company town, the road had no problems supplying ALTO with a full time source of electricity.

Rear of the 27 lever EP machine.  The glass top is protected by a canvas mat.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


This might be a few weeks old, but I just wanted to report that the famous CP-ROCHESTER was pretty much completely removed, replaced by a new CP-BRIGHT and CP-BRIDGEWATER.  Located in Rochester, PA and not the home of Eastman Kodak, CP-ROCHESTER was the junction between the Conrail Fort Wayne Line, Cleveland Line and Youngstown Line and comprised a complete 4-track crossover with a 2 to 1 track compression on the other side of the Beaver River Bridge on the Cleveland Line.

CP-ROCHESTER was done in by being situated across multiple curves and also because it contained curved turnouts, a real maintenance headache.  It was replaced by CP-BRIGHT, a three 3-to-4 track crossover located on tangent track nearer to the New Brighton Flyover, formerly exclusive to the Youngstown Line. Although CP-BRIGHT and CP-ROCHESTER operated in tandem for a time as the tracks between them could be used to hold trains entering Conway Yard, NS ultimately removed all but one crossover and one turnout from CP-ROCHESTER that were used to provide access to the Cleveland Line.

ROCHESTER tower, a rare General Railway Signal plant on the Pensy, had been demolished by Conrail in the early 90's, but the position light signals, equipped with Rule 562 'C' lamps for the Fort Wayne Line and still configured for PRR era Rule 251 operation, had remained in place until 2019.