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Friday, January 15, 2021

Bell Tolls for Caltrain's 1907 Signal Bridge

 Way back in 2004 when the San Francisco peninsular commuter rail service known as Caltrain was being modernized with new trains, new passing tracks and new signaling, only a few pieces of Southern Pacific era hardware was retained.  Perhaps the most spectacular of these was the 8 track signal bridge just north of the South San Francisco Station sources claim dates from 1907.

Needed to span a number of freight sidings, the signal bridge was evidently found to be in reasonable condition and subsequently fitted with two pairs of modern signals.  Unfortunately, 15 years later freight service on the peninsula has continued to shrink and a new electrification project has provided capitol money to re-build the South San Francisco holdout platfom and replace the century old lattice steel signal bridge with a modern cantilever. 

While the Bay Area's preservation mindset makes its likely that the signal bridge will avoid being sent to a scrap yard, the electrification project also makes it likely that the signal bridge will need to be moved elsewhere, perhaps to an existing museum, a Caltrain parking lot as an art installation or maybe just the purgatory of the former SP Bayshore shop and yard complex while the powers that be figure out what to do. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Union Pacific Looking to Can Automatic Cab Signals?

 In November 2017, I learned of a builtin order showing that Union Pacific was shutting down the Automatic Cab Signals (ACS) and ITCS that had been installed on the Lincoln Corridor as part of the multi-billion dollar 110mph upgrade.  (You can see how they operate in this 2012(!) video). 

Although it seemed to be part of the general ETMS PTC rollout and the elimination of the more unique ITCS PTC system I was puzzled that operation of ACS and PTC were to be exclusive, the former only to be cut in if the latter failed. 

13.1.4 PTC/ACS Operations:

The Automatic Cab Signal (ACS) system on the lead unit must be cut out
upon successful initialization of the Positive Train Control (PTC) system and
prior to initiating movement. If the PTC system disengages, is cut out under
authority of the train dispatcher, or otherwise fails en-route while leading
engine is within PTC/ACS territory, the train must be stopped. After stopping,
the ACS system on the lead unit must be cut in prior to any subsequent
movement. If the ACS departure test cannot be performed while on energized
track, a departure test must be conducted in accordance with Rule 13.1.5 at
the train's next forward location where such a test can be performed. If unable
to cut in ACS system on the lead unit, the train must comply with Rule 13.3.3.

Of course this flies in the face of NS's integration of cab signals and PTC, which allowed them to reduce the reliance on a real time digital radio link.I was about to do a post on this situation and how ETMS and ACSES/CSS may be incompatible, but further research indicated that such incompatibility did not exist and I left the post in draft form. 

Well a comment to my previous post on the elimination of IIATS on UP's METRA commuter lines in Chicago indicated that the Joliet Sub rule regarding ACS and PTC had become a System Special Instruction also covering ATS and CNW ATC.

Item 10-B Positive Train Control (PTC) Operations

8. PTC, ACS, ATC and ATS Operations

PTC must be the system utilized by the engineer. Upon successful initialization of PTC all subsequent systems (ACS, ATC, and ATS) must be Cut Out. If at any time PTC disengages, is Cut Out under the Train Dispatcher's authority or otherwise fails, the train must be stopped and the secondary system cut back in prior to any further movement.

This covers a HUGE amount of cab signaled territory stretching from Chicago through Iowa (CNW ATC), Iowa through Wyoming and the Portland Sub in the Columbia River valley.  While the elimination of the clunky 2-aspect CNW ATC system was expected due to its uniqueness, ACS is a standard, 4 aspect, pulse code cab signal system generally compatible with what is used by NS, CSX and the Northeast passenger roads.  As I said before, NS has actually expanded its CSS territory in response to PTC as it solves many problems with radio coverage.  It is also used by Demver's new RTD commuter rail to support a reduced aspect signaling system.

As I pointed out with my NS example, the motivation behind this move is puzzling.  UP went as far as to get FRA permission to operate ACS and PTC trains in mixed company, so there is no technical safety or technical reason that these systems cannot get along.  (BTW, the document is a great primer on how both ACS and PTC are displayed in cab).  In addition to solving much of the issue with a reliable and secure radio path, the FRA PTC regulations also give additional leeway to trains operating after a PTC failure where ATC (as could be enabled by ACS) is still working. 

In theory it could mean an additional test or form, if such a test was not rolled into the existing PTC test.  The ACS antennas behind the pilot are also a potential source of damage that can take a locomotive out of service. I asked around on some forums and the desire to allow foreign leaders on run-through freight was also brought up.  There are also two significant technical issues that may be playing a role.  

The first is that ACS does not map to wayside aspects in the same way PRR/CR/NS CSS due to the lack of strong speed signaling.  For example, Approach Diverging triggers Approach in the Cab while Diverging Clear, Approach Clear 50 and Approach Clear 60 all trigger Clear in the cab.  This cannot really be used to inform a speed based ATC function.  Furthermore, UP never installed cab signal cut points in advance of wayside locations, so the cab signal never drops to Restricting in advance of a Stop or Restricted Proceed signal.  All of this might require intermediate PTC data links to be maintained, or at the very least require specialty programming to deal with the difference between CSS and ACS practice.

On the other hand ACS has at least two advantages that PTC lacks and both are rooted in using the rails to deliver the cab signal codes.  The first is that a train in a Restricted block can take advantage of a ACS upgrade after running its own length (granted not a huge deal with monster freight trains) and the second is that PTC is blind to any sudden circuit shunt in an already occupied block, whereas ACS will immediately fail safe.  The second is likely to result in deadly accidents on an infrequent yet regular basis.

Hiawatha Sub Aspect Change Point near Baileyville, KS

Perhaps the ultimate answer to this question will be what happens on the Hiawatha Sub in Kansas, where UP installed its version of Rule 562 (Cab Signals Without Wayside Signals) on about 60 miles on single track main line.  Google shows PTC antennas in place at what they term Aspect Change Points, which are spaced at twice the frequency of normal wayside signal locations, clearly to ensure that any occupied block has 1.5 miles of Restricting indication behind it. If ACS are retained on this line, it would show that PTC and ACS can function together and that UP (or the FRA) still wants some kind of signal indication to be presented to the crew.  If the System rules apply on the Hiawatha Sub, then we will are likely seeing the first instance of a rail line signaled solely through the PTC system, something railroads have notably gone out of their way to avoid. 

As of 2019 UP had already applied to abandon the ACS so only time will tell if the FRA will grant this and the other requests that will follow.  At this point safety panic might be working in favor of the concept of a secure, reliable in track signaling system that has a lot of what is necessary to allow for 90+ mph operation without costly and time consuming certification processes.  It might be worthwhile in trying to engage in the regulatory process to prevent such a short sighted move.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Year's Position Light News

 As 2020 winds to a close I wanted to share a few PRR Position Light related news items.  The first is that the Lebanon Mason Monroe tourist railroad in Lebanon, OH, had installed a semi-functional amber PL at the end of the platform at its Lebanon, OH depot.

Next, the LIRR has started to equip its legacy amber PL's with the same type of LED lamps that SEPTA first installed a decade ago at ARSENAL and ZOO.  With all of the reduced aspect signaling and tower demolitions, its nice to see that some of their PLs might have a brighter future. 

Speaking of SEPTA, I reported back in May that the PRR PL's at ARSENAL and WALNUT interlockings appeared primed for replacement, however during my annual winter SEPTA trip I was able to confirm that the signals at ARSENAL, WALNUT and the MP 1.5 southbound PL automatics are all still in place, however the northbound MP 2.0 automatics have both been replaced by color lights.

MP 2.0 automatic half way through replacement in 2019.

That wraps up my 2020 season.  Signal wise, it was not as bad as some other things.  Stay safe and join me again in the new year.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Don't Miss These Updates!

 As we approach the new year I wanted to call people's attention to some internet resources that benefiting from updated content.  The first is the fantastic North American Interlockings archive that I have have featured before, but until i few months ago I assumed it was a somewhat static collection of personal photos, similar to John Roma's.  Well I couldn't have been more mistaken as there are near daily updates.  New photos and text explaining them are linked, by month, from the site navigation column, with the last three months showing.  I tried direct linking to previous months, but those pages seem to be taken down. 😢

In addition to that, the Trackside Photographer, well known for its coverage of signaling and classic interlocking technology, has resumed operations after a brief haitus.  One of my articles, an update of one I posted here about railroad signaling being repurposed, for grade crossing protection, was one of the first of the new batch. 

Anyway, have a Merry Christmas and a great new year.  If you find yourself with some free time over the next few months, make an effort to get out and get some photos of something that might not be around for much longer.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

WB Tower - Still Standing But At Risk

On December 9th, 2011, WB Tower in Brunswick, Maryland closed after more than a century of operation and in 2014 I posted a write-up on WB tower and its associated interlocking before it was modernized.  At the time the scuttlebutt was that the Brunswick Heritage Museum was interested in preserving the tower and adding it to its collection, something that would likely involve a move off of CSX property.

Well it appears that only part of this plan has come to fruition as the tower is still standing and has maintained many of its historic elements, but it is at risk of falling into neglect, disrepair and, the scourge of wooden towers everywhere, arson.

Upon visiting the tower the door to the relay room was wide open. An invitation to any local transient looking to get out of the elements.

Inside the relay racks were stripped of relays, but still wired up presenting a target for copper hunters.

On the upper floor an early pattern of US&S electro-pneumatic interlocking machine was still present along with the model board, representing a huge win for preservation, but the building was clearly no longer being used by CSX or MARC in any capacity.  The power was cut and the structure was in limbo, waiting for someone to care for it or someone to tear it up. 

Hopefully the Brunswick Heritage Museum can complete its mission to in some way preserve and protect the building.  If they cannot yet move it perhaps a better door, new locks and some lighting could make it look lived in. A modest fundraising campaign could probably bring back electricity as well as a connection for internet connected cameras that could serve the fan community as well as detect vandals.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Signs! Signs! Everywhere a Sign! - Western Passenger Roads

 It's been a while since my post on Western Freight Railroads, that that's due to the unfortunate situation that many of the commuter agencies that do operate track between Chicagoland and the West Coast put little or no effort into their interlocking signs.  This installment will attempt to cover the interlocking signs of Metra, the South Shore, Railrunner, Denver RTD, Coaster, Metrolink and Caltrain. 

Starting with METRA, it directly owns and operates those lines that were cast off from freight railroads where there was little or no freight service and/or a general bankruptcy and abandonment.  This consists of the Rock Island division, Electric Division and SouthWest Corridor. In all these cases it appears that METRA just stencils a barely legible name on the relay huts with black paint.

There is an exception to this on the Milwaukee District lines that are are jointly operated between METRA and Canadian Pacific. In this territory interlockings are provided with white on Metra blue signs.

In the Chicago Union Station area, Amtrak provides Conrail style white on blue signs, although the font isn't quite right.

One might have thought the Chicago South Shore and South Bend would use some sort of heritage inspired sign, however this is not the case with plain white black on white stick mounted signs located at the interlocking limits.

With its strong roots in transit instead of traditional railroads, Denver's RTD just labels its signals with a lever number and milepost.

Albuquerque RailRunner uses cute ATSF inspired  black border signs at interlockings as well as maintaining a few originals. 


While  LA Metrolink has gone in with the METRA style of not giving a damn.

However across the county line, San Diego Coaster has gone all in for a period correct ATSF black border type sign.

Last and least we have Caltrain that has gone in for the stencil method.  However the stencils are larger and more legible and Caltrain also provides secondary signs with the full interlocking name.arranged in a vertical format at every interlocking entrance.

Well that finishes my coverage of railroad "station" signs in the United States.  If I am able to get enough references I'll see if I can do the same for Canada.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

What a Potential Guilford Sale to CSX Means

 I previously reported on how the eccentric owner of the railroad formerly known as the Guilford Rail System was calling it quits.  With the previous Pan Am Southern joint venture, NS was a likely suitor as it would complete its move into the New Englande market, however an independent operator like G&W or RJ Corpsman was equally likely given the generally declining freight and heavy industry scene in New Englande  and the cost advantages a non-legacy carrier would bring to the table.  Well, as you already know the first buyer to make a move was CSX, and although it faces potential regulatory opposition from both NS and a Biden administration looking to decrease corporate consolidation, we should take a quick look at what a CSX purchase would mean. 

As discussed in my two previous posts on the unique signaling quirks of the Guilford system, while the system isn't perfect it is at least different.  For example, while its commitment to target style signals outside of MBTA territory has been waning, it has remained committed to the bracket mast and offset signal heads on automatics.  Both of these can be expected to vanish under CSX Administration. 

The Guilford is also pretty lazy about demolishing disused signaling infrastructure like towers and old signal bridges.  CSX is far more proactive in this regard.  While the Guilford is slowly replacing old signaling where necessary, the CSX will likely embark on major re-signaling efforts that will zap large swaths of whatever heritage signaling remains, especially since, as a Class 1, CSX would be required to install PTC where the Guilford was largely exempt .  Of course when we're talking about swaths what remains to be lost pretty much only includes between the Mass Border and Portland, ME and  Andover, MA and Ayer, MA excluding the MBTA Lowell Terminal.  The couple hundred miles between Ayer and Mechanicsville, NY is part of the NS joint venture and might see a decline in investment due to CSX not wanting to help a competitor. 

Because of the cab signaled Conrail Boston Line, CSX has shown little interest in changing this part of its territory over to Seaboard style signals and this is likely to apply to the Guilford territory due to the new PTC related MBTA cab signaling projects on what will include parts of the Guilford freight main such as Andover to Haverhill (plus the reality of MBTA joint trackage). Still, use of lunar restricting and other Seaboardisms might become more common.  I would certainly expect the B&M heritage double green clear to vanish for good. One positive might be the more standard inclusion of a Restricting capability at all interlockings, something the Guilford tends to pass on (along with Canadian Pacific for that matter).

That's pretty much it, more darths, less brackets, PTC and more scrapage in general. The ideal buyer for the Guilford is a private party of existing Class II or III operator that will have limited capital resources of upgrades.  Even the garishly painted G&W would be an improvement seeing as how they have maintained B&O CPLs on their B&P property in Central Pennsylvania.