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Sunday, September 6, 2020

Data Infrastructure Increasingly Substitutes for Radio Comms

I have been reading reports that as PTC systems are being certified for operation, their data transmission facilities are being used to transmit various mandatory directives such as Track Warrants, Temporary Speed Restrictions and Work Limits. Moreover, company issued electronic devices are also being used to send the same type of "paperwork" in various electronic formats. Previously read over open channel VHF radio to be copied and repeated by the crews, the new methods keeps the information off the air with the radio link only being used to confirm delivery.


Although a loss for the scanner community, delivery of what I will call "train orders" has used closed communications channels since the first telegraph line was established to replace a pure timetable system. Hand and telephone delivery have always represented a small, but durable portion of train order transmission since radio communications became a thing in the 1970's. Closed communications channels have long been the norm in Europe using a dedicated GSM-R band set up for the purpose.

I would still anticipate policies on train order transmission to evolve as one of the greatest benefits of open channel communications is the situational awareness provided to all manner of right of way workers and train crews who may wind up at the wrong place at the wrong time. There are countless stories of accidents averted because someone was tipped off to an unsafe situation through radio chatter and is also one of the reasons signal calling remains a thing.

It will be also interesting to see how the scanner community adapts and if PTC deciding will become a thing like ATCS decoding. Although not as open as analogue VHF, there are no FRA requirements to encrypt PTC data, only requirements to authenticate safety critical data. What the industry has decided to do remains to be determined, but with locomotives needing to be able to operate across the national network it is highly likely that industry will seek to minimize the certificate management problems. It is also likely they will just do a bad job resulting in security that is easily exploitable.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

MBTA Installing New Searchlights in Lowell

I know this is the third MBTA post in a row, but I was preparing for a trip there, which led to some discoveries, and then actually went on a trip there, which lead to further discoveries.  In this instance the news is wholly positive as when I was taking a little walk around CPF-BY south of the Lowell MBTA station I noticed that MBTA signal crews were in the process of installing new replacement GRS SA searchlight signals.

Here on this dwarf signal you can see the brand new mounting hardware, base and signal cable.  However I know this is rather weak evidence of the "newness" of searchlights, but I actually showed up when the signal crews were part way done installing the refurbished searchlight dwarfs.

Hey, break time is break time, even if you're only half way through your work task.  They literally dropped what they were doing leaving the searchlight signal housing wide open.  If you look at the full resolution you can see a 1980's style GRS identification plate.

Anyway, I hope to get back to the Lowell area soon.  Lots of interesting signaling there that appears ready to stick it out in the long term.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Better Know a Signaling System: Staten Island Railway

Now I know what most people are thinking, the Staten Island Railway uses B&O Color Position Light signals and I already covered B&O Signaling years ago.  Well you would be correct on both accounts, however after a recent trip to document the SIR after it's 2004 re-signaling project I decided that the 14-mile long quasi railroad deserved its own special section.  For those of you who don't know, the SIR, sometimes referred to as Staten Island Rapid Transit, was an orphan B&O property that came about due to 19th century efforts to bust one of Cornelius Venderbilt's ferry monopolies.  Electrified for third rail operation in 1925, the B&O made use of the line to test out the new color position light signaling system that the B&O would eventually adopt system wide.  Signaling on the line consisted of ABS operation between the terminal at St George and the other terminal at  Tottenville with interlockings at each end.  A new tower and a GSR NX style interlocking plant was constructed at St George in 1951 while the Tottenville interlocking was presumably under local control until 1990, although I am not sure where the control station would be.

SIR Tower B
Until the re-signaling in 2004, if you were expecting to find main line style B&O CPL masts, one would be disappointed as at some point, probably after the MTA took control in 1971, the high railroad style masts were replaced with CPL dwarf signals on 7 or so foot tall sticks.

The only mast signal was located on track 1 approaching the St George terminal and it was only capable of displaying slow speed indications due to the lack of any orbitals.

While the 2004 re-signaling project fortunately kept the CPL signaling, any though that CTC operation with multiple new crossover interlockings would bring about orbital equipped double sided CPL masts on both tracks was dashed by the incorporation of a new PRR-style pulse code cab signaling system without intermediate wayside signals.  Although the plethora of new interlockings likely increased the total number of CPL signals in service on the SIR, the use of cab signals with ATC allowed the SIR to present a reduced menu of B&O CPL signaling.

Although some high mast and gantry mounted signals were added, orbitals were limited to the 12 and 6 o'clock positions, as cab signals were expected to take up the task of controlling speed approaching the next fixed signal, even in the case where signals were ostensibly back to back.

This limits signal indications to Clear, Approach, Medium Clear, Medium Approach, Slow Clear, Slow Approach, Restricting and Stop.  Limited speed indications are not used and I am unsure as to the use of Stop and Proceed as any wayside signal that can display Stop and Proceed can also display Restricting.

One interesting addition to the B&O CPL rule set is a Flashing yellow / with 12 o'clock marker for what I have been informed is "Approach Proceed Cab", which would replace Approach Medium and Approach Slow and thus saving on the need for extra orbital modules.  I suspect this indication would only be displayed at back-to-back wayside signal locations and could possibly also serve as an Advance Approach as well, which it might be doing in the above situation where a BL20 MoW diesel was making a relay move. Note that while the CPL dwarfs are authentic GRS equipment, the high CPL equipment is long out of production and the SIR opted to use Safetran PL targets with CL-20 modules as the markers.

That about sums it up.  One could simply say that the SIR uses B&O CPLs, minus indications for Approach Medium, Medium Approach Medium, Approach Slow, Medium Approach Slow, but with the addition of Approach Proceed Cab.  However, I am happy to report that after some painstaking research I was able to confirm that there exists at least one 10 o'clock orbital in service on the SIR and it is located at the Tottenville Interlocking 6W signal (west end of the track 2 station platform).

Click to expand!
Used to give train operators on track 2 visual indication of a lined crossover route to head west, the approach medium capable signal was present when it visited in 2003 and remains there to this day as the Tottenville terminal interlocking was not substantially altered by the 2004 resignaling project.  Therefore, despite the slow service and the abysmal headways, I recommend riding all the way to the end of the line where you will be rewarded with what is arguably the most "B&O" CPL on the SIR.  

BTW, the above video proved to be a great resource for the SIR's Tottenville terminal operation.  Skip ahead to 8:30 to see the Approach Medium and 7:30 for an eastbound train approaching Tottenville under a Medium Approach.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

MBTA Cab Signal Project to Include All South side Lines

I previously reported on the Rule 562 cab signaling project on the Boston Line that extended the cab signaling from CP-21 in Framingham to the Amtrak division post at COVE.  It now appears that the need to install cab signaling for the ACSES PTC system is resulting in the same treatment being given to the Needham and Franklin Lines.

NEED Interlocking eastbound mast.
As we saw with the Boston Line, existing interlockings are being left unaltered, except for the addition of Rule 280a "Clear to Next Interlocking" lamps, as seen here at NEED interlocking on the Needham Branch during the summer of 2019.

New Franklin Line interlocking in Norfolk, MA
 An exception to this is on the Franklin Branch where several additional miles of double track are being added with the eventual goal of the double track extending all the way to Franklin/Dean College.  This is resulting in new interlockings with new cantilevers and new Safetran scallop shells arranged in a target formation.

Franklin Line Signal 284.
Most of the signals appear to be legitimate GRS G-Head signals, installed in the 1980's to replace the original New Haven signaling although the Franklin Branch will also be losing searchlight intermediates at mileposts 11.7 and 13.1.  Additional color light signal locations presumably being lost are mileposts 16.9, 22.1, 23.5, 25.9 and 28.4 on the Franklin Branch and mileposts 7.1, 9.6 and 10.6 on the Needham Branch.

Franklin Line signal 302
Uncertain are the 12.6 and 12.7 automatics around Needham Center and the 302 automatic at the Forge Park/495 Franklin Branch station where terminal operations make wayside signals somewhat useful.  As of Aug 2019, the holdout signal at CP-HEIGHTS on the Needham Branch did not have a 'C' board mounted.

Stoughton Branch CP-PORTER
Needless to say this should not have come as any surprise.  Not only were all three of the 90's/2000's Old Colony Lines built with complete Rule 562 signaling, but the short Stoughton Branch off the Amtrak Main Line at Canton Junction was 562 as well.  Moreover, the Dorchester Branch, cab signaled in the 80's during its time as Amtrak's route into Boston during the Southwest Corridor rebuild, lost its famous rectangular signals during a late ~2000 562 re-signaling project.  Ironically, this leaves Amtrak's Shore Line, the one with 150mph speeds and ACSES installed since 2000, as the only south side MBTA route to retain its intermediate signals.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Former Conrail Boston Line Completes Cab Signal Conversion

Sometime over the winter of 2019/20 the MBTA cut in the last section of Rule 562 cab signal without fixed wayside signal territory on the former Conrail Boston Line between the Amtrak division post at COVE and CP-21 in Framingham.  This completes the cab signal conversion project that was imitated by Conrail in 1988 and carried out in three distinct phases over the following 32 years.
Rule 280a 'C' boards are up at CP-3 (Photo Credit Fred G.)
In 1988 the Conrail Boston Line, originally built as the NY Central affiliated Boston and Albany (B&A), was showing its age.  The two track, Rule 251 ABS signaled line was an expensive albatross in post-industrial New Englande. Seizing the opportunity, Conrail decided to rebuild the line and in the process set a new standard that continues on to this day, most notably under under NS.  At the time the state of the art for a Rule 251 ABS conversion was a mix of CTC and single tracking.  Conrail decided to take this one step further and installed cab signaling without fixed wayside signals to compliment the adoption of CTC and single tracking on most of the B&A's 200 mile long main line. 

CP-147 with Conrail standard target signals and legacy SA searchlights now serving as Clear to Next Interlocking lamps.

The first part of this rebuild stretched from CP-187 at the Post Road Branch junction to CP-33, midway between Framingham and Worcester.  While this system had been tested on the PRR's Conemaugh Line in 1948, the Boston Line project would mark the first use of cab signal only operation by a post-deregulation freight railroad.  More surprising is how the former B&A was well away from Conrail's existing cab signal territory on former PRR routes and signaled a commitment. by Conrail, to deploy cab signaling as standard equipment on its full fleet of road freights.  Conrail would later repeat the cab signal rebuild process on the Morrisville, Fort Wayne and Cleveland lines before the 1999 sale and breakup halted further expansion of cab signal territory. The project also involved the use of color tri-light signals, a departure from the small target Michigan Central style searchlights Conrail had briefly favored during the 1980's.  The color tri-lights would remain Conrail's default signal up to the 1999 sale and beyond via the Shares Assets Operations. 

Clear to Next Interlocking lamps at CP-21 turned to await a cab signal extension that would take 22 years to complete.
Halting the cab signals at CP-33 in 1988 allowed the MBTA commuter operation that ran between Boston South Station and Framingham to avoid having to cab signal equip whichever trainsets that on the line.  Conrail did eliminate the remaining single direction ABS between CP-33 and COVE and also preserved the line as fully double track.  Nine years later, the MBTA was expanding and the Rule 562 cab signal equipped Old Colony lines would generally eliminate the desirability for non-cab signal equipped trainsets running out of South Station.   In 1996 the second track was restored between CP-33 and CP-43 east of Worcester with the decision being made to extend the cab signals through to CP-21 Framingham.  While 'C' lamps were installed on the eastbound masts at CP-21, they were turned out of service as the recently upgraded CTC signaling between there and COVE was seen as not worth replacing.

New signals at the new CP-6
 In 1999 CSX purchased 48% of Conrail including the Boston Line, which quickly became an operational headache as CSX did not otherwise employ cab signaling except for the former Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac.  As CSX owned the line all the way to the Amtrak division post at COVE in order to serve the Beacon Park yard and intermodal terminal and has little interest in commuter operations, service on the MBTA Framingham/Worcester Line began to suffer.  In 2011 the state on Massachusetts offered to purchase the line and yard real estate east of CP-45 in exchange for land in Worcester for a new CSX intermodal facility.  This would allow the MBTA to improve both service and the physical plant with the first major project being the elimination of a single track bottleneck that existed between CP-3 and CP-4 to support the former yard.  By 2017 this project grew to encompass a new full crossover interlocking (CP-6) and, the extension of the Rule 562 cab signaling all the way to COVE.

Milepost 6 intermediate signals..

Milepost 7 intermediate signals.

Milepost 8 intermediate signals.

Milepost 10 intermediate signals.

 This unfortunately has meant the elimination of 4, bi-directional searchlight automatic signal locations.  Each of these 16 signals were equipped with two heads per mast to support a 4 block signaling arrangement that was necessitated by the short, 1.4 mile signal blocks between CP-11 and COVE.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Somethings up at Deshler

The CSX Toledo Branch is one of the last bastions of CPL signaling and the crossing complex at Deshler, OH is the crown jewel on the line.  I don't have firm confirmation of a full re-signaling project, but something might be up so plan accordingly.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Chicagoland CNW ATS Retired

The Intermittent inductive automatic train stop system in service on two former Chicago Northwestern commuter lines was taken out of service on October 19th, 2019.  UP/Metra received FRA permission to abandon the system due it being generally rendered unnecessary through the deployment of PTC.   Known for its distinctive "upside-down canoe" track mounted inductors, the IIATS system was developed by General Railway Signal in the 1920's and at its peak covered thousands of miles of main line track with the New York Central, Southern and Santa Fe being the most prominent users with the system supporting high speed operation after the ICC 80mph regulation came into effect in 1948.

ATS inductors partly hidden in the snow below Metra UP-Northwest Line Signal 48.
 Although the Central and Southern dropped the system in the 1970's, the Chicago Northwestern installed ATS on the North line to Kenosha in 1952 and the Northwest line to Harvard in 1967.  The system provides a in cab alert if the train passes a signal displaying an indication other than Clear, which the engineer must acknowledge.  Although the system is no longer is service, removing the inductors has not been a priority and there was likely no alterations made to any signal logic as the greatest operational impact of ATS is the pickup shoe mounted to the leading truck of the locomotive or cab car.  The ATS shoe must be properly gauged to prevent false activation or damage as well as tested like any other technical safety system.  The immediate result of the October 2019 retirement was the removal of equipment mounted ATS shoes with the track mounted inductors slated for removal over time.

This means that there is still a window of time for fans to get out there and document the trackside component of the ATS system as installed by the CNW, especially on the Northwest line with its three track arrangement on the UP Harvard Sub.  At this point ATS is still in service on portions the former Santa Fe "Chief" transcontinental route between Chicago and LA, the Surfliner route between Fullerton and San Diego and the New Jersey Transit RiverLINE where it functions as a positive stop enforcement device at interlockings.  Currently UP is undergoing a dispute with METRA over operation of the former CNW commuter routes with UP looking to offload responsibility.  As the North and Northwest lines see minimal freight traffic, an outright sale to METRA could keep the inductors in place for many years to come.  The Southwest Chief route in New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas has the ATS system "out of service" for over a decade, but the equipment left in place due to general disinvestment in the line.

ATS inductors at CY tower in Chicago.
Left unresolved is the fate of the CNW Automatic Train Control two aspect cab signal system.  Although targeted for retirement by PTC, continuous cab signal systems have proven to be a more reliable form of wayside to train communication and the FRA is still generally in favor of ATC as a PTC supplement.  Union Pacific with its extensive network of traditionally cab signaled track, may look to convert the CNW system or keep it in place as the differences can be ultimately handled in software.