A blog devoted to explaining the ins and outs of North American railroad signaling, past, present and future. This blog seeks to preserve through photo documentation the great diversity and technical ingenuity of 20th century signaling and interlocking hardware and technology. Related topics cover interlocking towers and railroad communications infrastructure.
Note, due to a web hosting failure some of the photos and links may be unavailable.
If you wanted a photo of the unique compact PRR position lights at CP-NORRY or just some run of the mill pics of the "downtown" PL's at CP-SF in Sunbury, now is the time to jump into the car and start driving because the word is that the Darth Vaders will be cut in sometime within the next week or so.
Next Stop Ebay!
Although the new signals only went up within the last few months, it looks like NS had put the pedal to the metal to get the project finished instead of letting it drag on for some number of years. I don't know if the cut-over will extend all the way to CP-WYE at Rockville or just around the Sunbury area, but this is likely your last chance to get photos of some very accessible PRR PL signals, including the famous roadside ones at North Miller.
I did my photo surveys of the entire line last year, but the more photos the better. get your ass out there before it all goes away!
While doing some research I was reminded that a lot of really informative books and technical journals are fully indexed and available free on Google Books. Typically, niche railroad signaling books are only to be found at train shows and have steep prices. Google Books lack the tactile element, but have all the information as well as a better index.
So it appears that my prediction from two weeks ago was exactly flip-flopped. Despite the 5-track signal bridge for CP-HARRISBURG remaining on the ground as of Labour Day weekend, it was the Harrisburg Terminal and not the old Middle Division that saw the new signaling cut over on the weekend of September 9th and 10th. The affected interlockings are CP-HARRISBURG, CP-ROCKVILLE, CP-WYE, CP-HIP and CP-MARY. CP-BANKS and CP-CANNON will be cut over in the next few weeks.
Ha ha, fooled me.
Coincidentally I just completed processing a photo set I compiled last October that documents CP-HIP and CP-HARRIS. So click the link and take yourself back in time to August 2018 ;-)
Here is an official listing of the changes at CP-HARRISBURG, CP-ROCKVILLE and CP-MARY. in addition the MP 107 automatic signals were removed from service due to the Rule 562 operation.
So while this is a rail signaling blog and not a railfan video blog, sometime I like to highlight sets of videos that really show off the signaling. Recently YouTube suggested a number of grainy 8 or 16mm film film compilations taken out the front of old school British DMU's running on long since defunct branch lines.
The videos were posted by the appropriately British sounding Alen Snowdon and were narrated by his wife. Due to the limitations of old school home film recording, the clips are all about 3-5 seconds long and show only a fraction of the route. However this fraction contains a large proportion of the signalboxes and signaling apparatus that the train passes. It's sort of like one of those low frame rate fast motion videos, only the frames are a few seconds of every passing semaphore signals.
Not all of the videos are cab rides or even rail related, but the ones that are, are a wonderfun time capsule showing the anachronistic state of the British rail network in the 1960's. Thanks to two World Wars even the main lines were stuck in he Victorian era, with very little power signaling and steam hauled trains galore. Just before the infamous Beeching Cuts, the branch line infrastructure is absolutely decrepit, sort of like how the Amtrak Harrisburg Line and Conrail in general looked in the 1970's and 80's.
Also worth noting is the astonishing level of employees needing to keep these old branch lines in operation with both signalmen and station agents working every 1-3 miles along the line. It is interesting that instead of cuts British Rail didn't simply try massive cost reductions like CTC or even ABS!
There's even a little main line action out of london, although one would never know it due to the state of disrepair. Also note the high quality railfan view despite a full width cab. Anyway, enjoy the videos, they aren't hours long and the archive isn't intimidating.
The scuttlebutt is that NS will be cutting over the new signaling and attendant Rule 562 operation on the Pittsburgh Line between Harrisburg and...somewhere. There are two 12 hour outages scheduled for September 9th and 10th, or so I have heard. However when I visited in person over Labour Day the new signal bridges at CP-BANKS and CP-HARRIS were still sitting trackside there I had seen them over a year ago.
Because the BANKS to HARRIS segment started being worked on after the CP-CANNON to CP-ANTIS segment, I suspect that the Middle Division is what will be cut over with the Harrisburg island to follow and the Altoona to Pittsburgh portion coming after that. No matter what is happening, get your photos in ASAP. Tune back because I have some feelers out and hope to have the exact information about what is being cut over in a few days.
It seems that I'm not the only person running into a hosting jam lately. For literally the last 20 years when I have needed information on one PRR era interlocking or tower I have dutifully gone to Google, typed in "Maps of the PRR" and been taken to broadway.pennsyrr.com, and been taken to a wonderful Web 1.0 gem that gave me my information with little fuss. The PRR part of the site had the aforementioned archive of interlocking sheets while else where on the file tree was a general signaling site with a good yet somewhat incomplete listing of signal rule sets and explanations of operating principles.
Unfortunately Mark's The Broad Way site was hosted on Keystone Crossing, a long running PRR history website that also hosted my interior photos of STATE tower in Harrisburg that I took in 2003. As the decades past the site owner Jerry Britton was overtaken by mounting costs and shrinking ad/donation revenue and I never noticed that he had announced the site's closing. While a stub of Keystone Crossing is still up (for now) most of Mark's page has completely vanished from the internet.
Fortunately, back in the day when broadband internet was yet to be a thing and websites were often highly unreliable, I was obsessive about saving everything to disc and I have long since backed up The Boad Way's interlocking charts as well as the html pages they were linked from. These have now been uploaded to Google Photos. Moreover, a lot of the site was archived here, including the HTML copy of the 1956 PRR rulebook. I am still trying to find out what happened to Mr. Mark D Bej and/or the full contents of his website. For all I know he may have passed away, but if he is still out there, and if I can get my own hosting back, I might be able to get his content back online. I am sorry I was unaware of KC's problems as I would have done everything I could to drum up donations and support. Meanwhile, some of KC's content has migrated to a PRR group on groups.io. Of course I am now going to have to go through my own posts to change all of the broken interlocking chart image links 😢
Yes, and before people get all nit picky yes NORAC is indeed adopting both new rules and a couple new aspects that go along with old rules. All of the new changes have in fact been used for many years by a number of member railroads as system special instructions and moreover they have also been seen in other railroad signaling systems. This is a nice example of a signal rules committee looking at the state of the art and deciding not to keep its head buried in the ground.
The new rules were made effective in the 11th edition of the NORAC Rule book released on Feburary 1, 2018. I've been a bit busy since the start of the year so I just hadn't noticed until now XD
We begin with Rule 281a, Cab Speed, which has been modified to include SEPTA's *G*/*G* dwarf indication which it has been using for about the last 10 years. Also included was a PRR pedestal indication probably because of some situation on Amtrak.
The next change plugs a major hole in several eastern signal aspect systems in that there is often no Approach indication available on dwarf signals. Y/R is Slow Approach, Y is restricting and for years NORAC had to make up with displaying Y/*R* Medium Approach for straight routes. However there was one obvious solution and after appearing on the Conrail SAA timetable as a special instruction for years, *Y*/R has been adopted as Approach. CSX please take notice.
A bit more consequential is the long overdue adoption of Medium Approach Slow. Unlike CSX which had reserved R/Y/G for M-A-S forcing R/Y/*G* for M-A-M, NORAC went with a nod to the PRR using R/Y/Y. This aspect had long been used in by the MBTA in the Boston area and possibly also on the former Boston and Maine territory. More recently it had been incorporated into Caltrains new speed signaling system in 2003. Note, NORAC Rule 283b does not include the "when first becomes visible" admonition, which I would suspect is something they are trying to get away from.
Finally in a weird nod to the Seaboard Coast Line, NORAC has adopted Limited Approach signal as Rule 286a. However, unlike the CSX Rulebook which is a bit ambiguous about when a train must slow to Medium Speed, NORAC Rule 286a states that Limited Speed applies only through the switches and turnouts, then Medium Speed applies. Like Rule 286 Medium Approach, trains must begin reduction to Limited Speed as soon as it becomes visible. I suspect this might be used to claw back a few seconds where trains had previously been stuck at Medium Speed due to a far-yet-visible Medium Approach indication.
All in all these are sensible moved by NORAC. The real question continues to be when CSX will finally adopt *Y* Advance Approach!!