Search This Blog


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

LENOX Tower Gets Reprieve, PRR Main Line :-\

So I just heard that the State of Illinois did not get a TIGER grant earmarked for the replacement of the LENOX tower complex between Alton and Granite City on the Amtrak Lincoln Corridor.  Without the government funding, UP has no plans to decommission the tower and its GRS Model 2 interlocking machine.  I guess one benefit to corporate greed is that when they feel the state will pony up for capitol improvements, the neglect (aka "historic preservation") sets in.  Let's hope for further austerity measures going forward.

LENOX in 2005
On the other side of the coin it looks like the long rumored re-signaling effort is starting up on the PRR Main Line between Duncannon and Lewistown.  This will be a Rule 562 conversion so we won't be forced to deal with Darth Vader intermediates and the absolute signals will be sporting 'C' boards.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Better Know a Signaling System: BNSF Combined Signals

In 1996 the Burlington Northern Railway merged with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.  Typically when two railroads are involved in a mega-merger the signaling systems are so incompatible that the surviving railroad needs to employ multiple signal aspect systems, or the systems are similar enough that they can be merged without much change.  However when looking at the famous BNSF signal chart we see an almost bizarre mix of route and speed signaling, almost as if two different systems that should have been kept separate were merged.  The shocking truth is that prior to the merger, both BN and ATSF used very similar bizarre signaling systems and the merger was nearly seamless.

Like I said, what stands out is the mix of route and speed signaling.  At home signals it's all route with Diverging Clear and Diverging Approach.  At the distant however we see Approach Medium and Approach Limited, traditionally speed signaling aspects.  This is why it feels like one road was speed signaled and one was route signaled since it would be easy enough to just remove the  speed signal aspects at interlockings and just rely on the timetable while applying speeds to the distant signals. However if one goes back and looks at the original ATSF and BN rules, we can see what actually happened.

BN Chart is a PDF so click the link.
Both these nominally route signaled western roads included speed signaling aspect Approach Medium and Approach Restricting while the ATSF additionally included Approach Limited .   During the unification process BN's Approach Diverging was simply folded into Approach Medium so that the rule now reads "Approach next signal at Medium speed (40mph) AND prepared to proceed on diverging route".  In practice the Y/Y is still used for diverging routes 40mph and below while *Y* tends to be used for 4-block signaling, however this was not always the case on legacy installations, which allowed for two lamp distant masts. 

Approach Medium (Diverging)

Approach Medium (to Stop)
The other signal that stands out is the use of Y/G for Advance Approach.  Now with the Y/Y Advance Approach popular in the east being used for Approach Diverging, it does make some sense to use Y/G, but why was *Y* labeled Approach Medium and then used in the role of of Advance Approach as seen in the preceding video?  Well on BN this remains a bit of a misery, but from the ATSF side of the family tree we got what became the final BNSF rule that states pass next signal at 50mph AND be prepared to advance on diverging route.  It's basically filling the role of Approach Limited, or in Union Pacific parlance, Approach Clear 50. As BNSF re-signals it appears to be common practice for distant signals to display Y/G Advance Approach for Diverging Clear in the 30-50mph range and Y/Y Approach Medium for Approach Diverging (or the extra block length gained with an interlocking allows for a more permissive 4-block signaling). However this could just be BNSF installing signal lamps that aren't used.

BNSF has been investing in 6 lamp distant signals that can display Y/G and Y/Y.
Now I know you must be looking at the signal chart and noticing that there is indeed an Approach Limited using Y/*G*.  Well again, read the rule, not the name.  It's basically the same as Advance Approach, only the speed is raised to 60mph for high speed turnouts.  On UP this is more appropriately called "Approach Clear 60".  

To make things even more confusing BNSF maintains a distinction between R/*Y* and R/Y/Y.  Whereas R/*Y* is typically used for back-to-back diverging movements, on BNSF it is labeled Diverging Approach Medium and is clearly intended for short signaling distances as there is no mention of proceeding on a diverging route and the speed is limited to 35mph instead of 40.  R/Y/Y is the more straightforward Diverging Approach Diverging, but appears on neither of the predecessor systems so as one might guess R/*Y* is still used for back to back diverging movements where BN traditionalists still hold sway.  I have to assume the R/*Y* Diverging Approach indications on the ATSF were converted to plain R/Y.

Diverging to stop at the second signal over Diverging Approach Medium
While BNSF allows for both Lunar white and *R* Restricting, the *R* is clearly the preferred choice nowadays.  Like UP, BNSF only employs Y/L for Approach Restricting without the obvious Y/*R* option.  However unlike UP there seems no desire to distinguish Yard routes with Lunar and occupied block routes with *R* as I have not encountered any 4-lamp signal heads. (For those who don't know, Approach Restricting provides advanced notice of being routed into a yard or non-signaled siding).

So there are the interesting parts of the BNSF signal aspect system.  Hopefully I'll get some feedback regarding how some of the overlapping indications are utilized out in the field and also some more of the historical context I'm not aware of.  Specifically I was unable to locate either a CBQ or GN signal aspect chart to trace to origin of the odd speed signaling components further.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Stingy Man's CTC

I'm talked before about various "poor man's" signaling.  Well I don't think anyone could accuse the great Pennsylvania Railroad of being poor, however compared to many peer railroads they were almost pathologically opposed to CTC.  Sure, there were a few schemes like the largely single-track Port Road and Buffalo Line, but where the PRR was using two or more tracks, manned block stations were the name of the game all the way into the Conrail era.

While recently searching around for information on Reading towers, I came upon an interesting resource relating to an interesting manual block scheme employed by the PRR on their Schukyll Valley line between Philadelphia and Reading. This line was one of several built in the late 19th century as part of the PRR's feud with the Reading.  Intended to stab into the heart of Reading territory the line didn't have quite its intended level of success, but ultimately winding its way to the Scranton area, the route was seeing about 18 passenger and 8 freight trains per day in the 1930's. 

Click to Enlarge

Unlike the Reading's 2-4 track ABS main line, the PRR's attempt of competition was mostly single track with passing sidings operated under manual block rules.  On the twelve miles of the line centered on Birdsboro, PA there three passing sidings, each requiring a manned block station that in the depths of the depression, even the likes of the PRR couldn't afford.  While the technology to CTC this type of line had been debuted by the NY Central in 1927 and was also being deployed by the PRR at THORN and COLA, the powers that be decided on a more cost effective solution.

BROOKE tower, note both the PRR and Reading signs.

The jointly PRR/RDG operated BROOKE tower in Birdsboro controlled a crossing between the PRR line and the Reading's line to Wilmington as well as a number of other local yard and industrial tracks.  There was no way this tower could be eliminated to the PRR installed a 20-lever table interlocking setup to remote control both the local BROOKE siding and one additional siding in either direction. However if you think that sounds like would be wrong.

The 20-lever table setup had been reduced to 8 by the 1970's.

First, as far as I can tell the system was direct wire, not some sort of remote code system as one would expect from CTC.  More importantly, there was no traffic control, which is two of the three words that make up the term CTC.  The operator at BROOK would use the levers to work the remote switches as well as the manual block signal granting access to the next block.  Track occupancy lamps on the table units would confirm the passage of the train.  In fact almost the entire line was covered by track circuits and distant/home signals would provide full block status between themselves and the next manual block entrance (Stop and Proceed being substituted by Caution).

Despite being a bit of a kludge, the system was successful, operating until BROOKE was closed in 1977.  It allowed the PRR to close two manned Block Stations and paid for itself within 3 years.  Why they didn't just go for CTC is still a mystery.  After all the tracks were circuited and the sidings signaled and under remote operation.  My theory is that the PRR was just very conservative when it came to its focus on reliable operation and didn't want to gamble on a technology was not yet fully established.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Hot Summer News

It's been a pretty slow summer for new, but I have a few items built up I should probably get around to sharing.

First up , the famous Rochelle diamonds in Illinois seem to have entered some sort of Schrodinger's Box because they are both re-signaled and not-resignaled.  This is because the former CBQ searchlights on the BNSF line have been replaced while the former CNW signals on the UP line continue to hold on.

If you remember my early 2016 news reports from upstate New York, the Albany-Rensselaer terminal had been partly re-signaled.  Well the new CP-143 has been cut over and work has moved on to CP-145.  Not sure when LAB tower will close.

New CP-145 with double slips and LED searchlights.

New signal masts going up at CP-145.

We are also starting to see more and more B&O CPL signal replacements on the previously immune CSX Toledo Sub, so again, try to get out there and take some photos.  In related news, thanks to a crash in traffic resulting in partial abandonment, some of the Indiana Sub B&O CPLs might survive a bit longer.

 Down south the re-signaling is also progressing in Seaboard land as seen in Douglassville, FL where a restricted speed siding looks to be getting full signaling protection, albeit still over a slow speed turnout.

 The NS Pocahontas District re-signaling is continuing.  It's not just the CPL bracket masts ad gantries that are at risk.  These double split masts are perhaps rarer than either and are slated to be replaced by cookie cutter side masts.  Imagine if the ICC had never repealed the right hand signal placement rule...

 Via Google Earth I just learned that the surviving PRR CTC huts on the Enola Branch have finally all been demolished by NS.  These include the structures at the former CP-PORT, CP-MANOR and current CP-LAKE.  One can also see the new signals at WAGO.

 Finally, the spectre of re-signaling doesn't just apply to the wayside equipment and dispatching offices.  Here we see the cab of the last unrebuilt Metro-North GP35R, #102.  Note the old school center mounted, bulb lit cab signal display.  It will soon be sterilized in a rebuilding process.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

It's the 80's! (Do a lot of coke and design a bad signal.)

By the time the 1980's rolled around the dominant signaling providers in North America, US&S and GRS, were facing unanticipated competition from a variety of upstarts like SafeTran, Harris and others, that were making the incumbents 1920's vintage cast iron product line look a little long in the tooth.  The result were a pair of odd designs that entered the stage and then quickly exited with nobody really talking about them ever again.  The interesting thing is that both major manufacturers seemed to take the opposite lesson and in the end they both learned different things.

First up we have General Railway Signal's three lamp traffic light style signal.  Previously GRS has been the leader in modular signal design with their Type D signal having one lamp and the ability to be stacked as high as needed.  Seeing US&S with its successful 'N' series of linear multi-lamp signals, GRS added this rather low cost clone to its lineup.  Can you can see from the photos it was very low frills except for a snazzy block style GRS logo on the back.  The only nod to progress appears to be rust resistant aluminum construction.


These signals are quite rare with the only notable installation being the LA Union Passenger Terminal and this attests to their general success in the market.  It seems that GRS was stung by this turn of events as they basically exited the market for signal hardware aside from long running line of rapid transit signals that continue to be sold under the Alstom brand. 

As I said before, US&S took the opposite lesson and decided to add a modular signal to its lineup to supplement the N series that was forced to use a round marker lamp for single light situations. What they came up with is best described as...bizarre.

Yes they thought the best solution for a stackable modular signal lamp was a round housing. Stacking support was provided by an external frame that came in 1, 2, 3 and 4 lamp configurations.  Still, you have to give US&S a point for versatility since these units could also be arranged on a circular target signal in a 3 lamp configurations.  Again note the Plain Jane construction which was common in the high labor cost/pre-CNC period.

Needless to say these were also a flop with the largest concentrations appearing on the Pittsburgh Light Rail network and on the METRA Electric Division.   However, unlike GRS, US&S chose to keep fighting the low cost upstarts and re-designed their modular signal to be the squarest square you have ever seen.

Overcompensation much?

Anyway, if anyone knows the actual model designations of these signals please let me know and I'll update the posts. Also, I assume that the design and market life of these signals probably went beyond the 80's on one side or the other, but that would make less of a compelling title.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

CSX Philly Sub Re-Signaling Reaches Its End

Since 2012, CSX has been slowly re-re-signaling the Philly Sub because it was...different?  You see much of the line between Baltimore and Philadelphia had already been re-signaled around 2000, replacing the pole line and the logic at more than a few of the interlockings.  Starting at the west end, by 2014 the project had reached Wilmington and in 2015 it ploughed through the Darby siding and all the way to the 58TH ST crossover.  Well in 2016 it looks like they are tackling the final obstacle, RG tower and the Philadelphia terminal area from the movable bridge through VINE and LOCUST interlockings opposite 30th St Station.

Now I guess we should be thankful for the time we got because back around 2010 I got a bit of a scare as new signal mast footings appeared around both VINE and LOCUST, but fortunately they were for a crossing quiet zone project in conjunction with a river-walk bike path project.

Fortunately in 2010 this turned out to be a mast for grade crossing indicators.
Because of the scare I actually did a survey run of VINE and LOCUST back in 2010 and later wrote it up for this blog.  However that was before I got my super-zoom camera so I might give it another go later on in the year to capture some of the fine detail I might have missed. 

I know one thing for sure.  That bracket mast at VINE caught my attention driving across the nearby expressway bridge before I even knew what a B&O CPL was.  Without a reference to the orbital system, I had no idea what those wacky lights above the signal were for! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Reading and Northern News

Wow, I sure don't get to pose a positive news piece very often.  For some time now I have noticed that the Reading and Northern seemed to have been rather wildly bucking the Darth Vader trend and instead opted to purchase vintage signals on the used market.  The first of these were searchlights that appeared at a restored Mahanoy Jct interlocking.  Next I noticed that they had restored an old LVRR (or CNJ) cantilever at the new CP-COAL interlocking north of Mach Chunk. This was clearly part of a pattern and I just had my suspicions confirmed by one of my followers who spotted some additional R&N vintage signal work on an RDC head end video shot in spring 2016.

North of Tamaqua, Pa.  New Westbound Searchlight ABS located adjacent to the Tuscarora Park Road (Route 1015) Grade Crossing.  This approach lit signal governs westbound movements thru Tamaqua Tunnel about a mile in rear .  Note the 2 opposite side brackets for future signal heads.   I assume this will grow to include a 2 headed distant for eastbound movements thru to a new Tamaqua controlled siding that is in the works.  Sort of odd having ABS territory just sort of start like this, but hey, I'm not complaining.

Near the Orchard Road Grade Crossing in Barnesville, PA we see a pair of split ABS searchlight masts standing between the Tamaqua Tunnel and Mahanoy Jct.  This shows the extent of the current Mahanoy Jct signaling island. 

Further up the line the old Catawissa branch, the R&N is restoring HAUCKS interlocking.  Signals will be of the GRS G-head tri-light variety.

Here you can see the new eastbound distant signal going in  near Greenwood Lake along former CNJ trackage close to Lake Drive Underpass.

Finally on the former Reading Main Line south of Port Clinton, PA grant money is paying for a new controlled siding between Mohrsville and Dauberville.  The ends are non-interlocked now, but vintage signals may appear in the near future :-)

Well that's the news from Reading Country.  Thanks to Bill Tarantino for the update!