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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More Bad Position Light News (both kinds)

Norfolk Southern is continuing its assault on the cradle of PRR Heritage and stands ready to replace the mast remaining PRR 3-track automatic signal bridge between CP-SLOPE and CP-MG. The 2384/3 automatic is the eastbound distant to CP-SLOPE and also near enough to a grade crossing to make it a popular railfan location. Well that is to be all wiped away when a new, ungainly 3-track cantilever mast is installed with Darth Vader type signals. What makes this especially disastrous is that the 2384/3 auto has unbacked lower heads to display Approach Slow on #2 track and both Approach Slow and Approach medium on #3 track. I predict about another month or two until it is taken down so get your pictures while you can. I am not sure what will come next as NS could skip the interlockings and continue with the automatics between MG and AR/UN or re-signal CP-MG or CP-SLOPE. Stay tuned.

Next up on the it sucks front, CSX is replacing the CPLs at DORSEY and JESSUP interlockings on the Capitol Sub in Maryland. While both interlockings are relatively new, DORSEY was installed with the expanded MARC service in the early 1990s making the removal of its CPLs completely illogical. JESSUP appears to be in for a complete re-signaling, while DORSEY does not. The interlockings were back to back with DORSEY having mast CPLs and JESSUP a pair of brackets. All the CPLs except the eastbound signals at DORSEY were 4 orbital units. So far DORSEY has all for Darth Vader masts in place and turned. JESSUP only has the westbound masts in place. As JESSUP is also due for re-signaling it should be some weeks before the replacement is finished, but DORSEY could be cut over at any time. I have previously surveyed these interlockings in 2009, but the lighting was bad so I am making an effort to go back and survey them again before the ax falls.  Again I have no clue why CSX is doing this as the new masts will display the exact same aspects as the CPLs.  In the case of DORSEY I see absomutely no reason why they would want to replace CPL masts of the newest kind that are barely 20 years old.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

METRA: Gresham Junction Tower

This is going to be the first in a series of inside looks at METRA interlocking towers in the Chicago area.  All of the behind the scenes photos that will be shown here were sent to me from an employee who had access to the towers in the time period 2006-2008 so don't go asking me how I was able to get into all these places.  However some of the sets will be interspersed with exterior shots that I have taken of the tower and/or interlocking.

Gresham Junction Tower, on Metra's Rock Island District commuter lines operating south of Chicago is a surprising survivor where conventional wisdom would have dictated its closure well before its actual demise on Jan 30th, 2010. The tower is also of special interest to the British signaling community because of the interlocking equipment installed within. For those of you who don't know, Gresham Junction housed unique Sequence Switch interlocking machine made by Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd of London. It was an NX design developed in the 1950's from Rotary system telephone exchange equipment. Not many were sold and Gresham Junction was the only unit installed in North America. The only other STC Sequence Switch interlockings anywhere in the world were two 1949 models installed in the old LNER boxes at Doncaster North and South and two improved models installed at Tollerton and Pilmoorin 1960 and 1961.

Gresham Junction is located at the northern split of the two Rock Island District sub-lines, which for lack of a proper name I will refer to as the Slow Line and the Fast Line. The Slow Line is used by most trains and has 11 stops between Gresham and Blue Island. The Fast Line is only used be a few rush hour express trains and has only two stops. Where the two lines re-join in the south there is the also still active Metra Blue Island tower, which has a more conventional NX board and is not to be confused with the more famous Blue Island tower nearby. As indicated by this line guide The Slow Line between Gresham Junction and Metra Blue Island is unsignaled, with trains operating under a Controlled Block system between the two interlockings. The Fast Line is signaled for bi-directional operation. In addition to the split Gresham Junction also handles a wye connection to an infrequently used connecting track that eventually winds up at the former US Steel plant in South Chicago near the famous Quad Draws at CP-509.

The tower is also unusual in that it is located such that a city street is between it and the Fast Line track it looks out on. In this photo we see the rear of the tower. The front can be covered by Google Street View. The tower has a typical slab side 50's design common to both towers in the Blue Island area.

Moving inside the tower we find a typical British green angled panel with some rather outsized NX knobs.Each know had a number of possible route selections.  All the operator had to do was turn the knob to the desired route and press in.  To cancel a route the knob would be popped back out. While the interlocking is clearly oriented North/South, the tracks of the old Rock Island carry an East/West designation in the timetable, so operators have drawn a handy compass rose on the panel. The line heading east used to sport 3 tracks, but the topmost one is now just a stub. Yes, there is a bit of an odd bottleneck on both lines where trains in both directions must squeeze through a single path. You can see where another turnout used to be located between the eastward slow line track and main track 2 and also that there were 3 tracks in the west direction as well. The tower still supports a double slip switch that all slow line traffic must negotiate. Finally note the blocking tag on the entrance button to the Westward slow line, which is probably in place for the manual block protection.

On the right side of the panel we see more of the same including a second compass rose. The wye track used to have a controlled switch at its east point, but that is now hand operated.

Pulling back to a wider angle we see the photo probably dates sometime after 2006 given the date on the retirement plan announcement taped to the panel. The company issued 2003 calender is quite a bit out of date. In case of Nuclear War we can see that this tower is equipped with ample supplies of water and paper towels. While the panel has seen a typical number of "deletions" over the yeard, its interesting how much room there was on the "west" side of the board. I am unsure if there were plans to add more interlockings or signal the slow route, but I do not believe anything was ever removed from that section of the panel.

Moving into the locking room we find the guts of the interlocking in the form of rotary circuit switches derived from telephone exchange technology. The Rotary System was developed by Bell Labs at about the same time that they were developing panel switches, but ultimately panel was adopted for the North American market, while rotary was sold in Europe.  I guess one can call it ironic that such switchgear would be imported back into the United States in the form of a railroad interlocking machine.

Here are selectors 1 through 5 and its astonishing how well maintained the equipment is. It is a testament to the original manufacturer and its subsequent maintainers that the equipment not only remains in service 50 years later, but also that it continues to look brand new. What is all the more astonishing is that the Rock Island railroad that built and owned the tower for its first 25 years was constantly going bankrupt.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Transcontinental Signaling News

Just got back from my Transcontinental journey via Amtrak taking the Empire Builder connecting to the Capitol Limited.  Lots of great signaling pictures covering BNSF's Northern Transcon including the stretch over the Cascades range, the Morias Pass and all of Montana and the fast dash between Fargo, ND and the Twin Cities.  Almost all of it was former BN.GN signals which were Southern style GRS traffic lights with some stretches of Darth Vaders that didn't look any different from those they replaced.  There were a few tidbits of searchlight signals, but nothing to really write home about and nothing that looked endangered.  The only bad news on that part of the run is that the southern of two 30 mile ABS segments on the BNSF Staples Sub was having its pole line and searchlights replaced with CTC-capable darth vaders.  Unfortunately I had gone for lunch at this point and failed to document the entire stretch. 

The bad news continued on the NS Chicago Line with the PRR PL equipped CP-513 not standing under threat of two new Darth Vader cantilever masts and as before I failed to document this as well due to an over early dinner reservation.  The w/b MC searchlights at CP-490 had larger targets installed due to sun glare issues, which was sort of cool.  The CTC project on the South Shore is reaching its conclusion as the final stretch of ABS/TWC track just west of South Bend has the new signals up and bagged. 

The worst news was that the CPL signals on the Cumberland Sub's Magnolia Cutoff were all cut down and replaced with Vaders.  Of course I had known about this, but I had figured I'd be able to get one last photo set of them before they were raped.  CPL's west of OKONOKO and west of ORLEANS ROAD do survive. 

If I ever take this trip again I am not sure what else I could document besides the signals south of the St Paul station and the Hiawatha route due to the fact that our EB was 6 hour late and was able to cover the Staples Sub in Daylight.  The former MILW/Soo Line Main is a signal wasteland using 4-lamp single head traffic lights for ALL their signals.  There did appear to be some Searchlights west of Minot on the GN Main, but I lost light. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

PRR Main Line Survey 2009 Part 4 (CORK to STATE)

In our last of the three sub parts we begin to CORK interlocking in Lancaster, PA. Named for a nearby Cork and seal factory, CORK interlocking and tower were built in 1927 when the Main Line was rerouted away from a congested downtown alignment. The shorter alignment resulted in the now infamous "Mile 67" which is only about 2000 feet long. Anyway CORK was the junction between the Main Line and the Philadelphia and Columbia line which runs to COLA tower, which I have previously written about. This was another freight outlet for any trains that had failed to take advantage of the A&S branch back at PARK interlocking. The interlocking also dealt with the at-grade crossing of a single track Reading RR branch and the routing of local freight trains to various local industries.

As you can hopefully see from the 1992 diagram CORK has an interesting layout that grew out of the monolithic realignment project that spawned it. First of all the interlocking is over 3 miles from end to end with everything being wired directly into a Model 14 power frame. Second the new station was built with the then novel high level platforms. Of course to prevent restricting freight clearances passenger trains had to use special "station tracks" to platform at them.

By the first decade of the 21th Century the complicated plant at CORK was more than a little anachronistic. The through tracks for freight were rusty and infrequently used with most local freight using the "0" track. You can see how the interlocking machine and model board looked in these three picture. Note the cute self portrait on the upper right corner.

Unfortunately CORK was right in the cross hairs of a re-signaling project that by 2009 was nearing completion. This would split up the single interlocking into 4 independent plants and retire the venerable Model 14 machine. Fortunately the tower would be left open until the entire line could be wired for CTC. At some point I will devote a post to CORK tower and its history.

In my 2008 survey I had taken enough still photos of the east end of CORK interlocking so this time I decided to try some video. Here is what will become the new CONESTOGA interlocking. A full crossover now replaces the single facing point 9 switch and the connection to the freight tracks are streamlined for medium speed movements as the 0 Track is optimized as the freight bypass track as opposed to a local delivery track. In the video we first pass under the 10R signal complete with train order lamp. Then the in service 9 switch and then a not in service trailing point crossover that will be part of the new interlocking, before passing the 10L dwarf. Finally we pass the bagged signal masts of the new interlocking.

Here is the station area. You can see how the main tracks were re-aligned to replace the station tracks. Before the mains were moved and after the station tracks were removed you had a number of switches to nowhere.

Here is the old CORK tower with the new CORK relay hut in front. I really dislike Amtrak's new signage policy that involves barely readable text labels instead of a large interlocking name placard.

Here we can see the rebuilt 27 and 37 switches to the freight tracks. The 25 and 35 switches to the station tracks are gone.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

PHOTOS: Complete CPLs at Carroll Interlocking

As I promised some of you CPL fans out there here is the much awaited tour of CARROLL interlocking in Baltimore Maryland. CARROLL interlocking is located directly south of downtown Baltimore on CSX's Baltimore Terminal Subdivision on the route of the former Baltimore and Ohio route to Washington, DC (now known as the Metropolitan Sub). You might remember this route from other essays such as those covering Dorsey and Jessup Interlockings.

As always I will start with a little history. The interlocking currently known as CARROLL started life under the B&O as CX Tower. CX was an electro-mechanical plant of the type typically seen on the B&O with manually operated points and panel operated signals. CX was located south (railroad west) of 1950's relay/NX plant, HB Tower that governed the southern throat of the B&O's Camden Station. CX was also the junction between the South Baltimore Industrial Track and the Mount Claire Branch. The Mount Claire Branch was at the time a two track branch that allowed trains on the new alignment to Camden Station and the Howard Street Tunnel to reach the old alignment that terminated at what is today the B&O Railroad Museum. The old Alignment contained the Mt Claire Yard so CX was an important junction that allowed trains to reach this yard from the North. CX also provided a connection to what is now the South Baltimore Industrial Track, but then allowed southbound trains a routing to the Curtis Bay yard and industrial area w/o having to go through the Mt Claire Yard. To the south was the smaller Mt Winans Yard which complimented the older Mt Claire Yard.

Luckily pictures do exist online of CX tower as it appeared . Here you can see the cantilevered lever room design and the mechanical pipelines for point operation in this view looking north.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

PRR Main Line Survey 2009 Part 3 (THORN to CORK)

Alright, moving on with part 3 we begin at CALN interlocking. This is the west end of the now defunct Thordale yard. Today the interlocking is only in service on track 1 and 2 and basically mark the end of the #2 track siding and the only remaining track in the yard space, #5 Running. Signals cannot be displayed for movements into 5 running as it is not cleared for passenger trains and there was an accidental misroute into it a number of years back. As a remedy a fuse was removed to prevent any route being cleared into 5 running and trains have to be given permission past the stop.

Here we see the eastbound signals. From right to left tracks are 1, 2, 5 running and 4. The signal on 4 track is now the 363 automatic as the interlocking was removed on 4tk prior to 1992. The ghost signal on the left gantry is the 24L which governed the now removed 6 yard track. While the piles of tie debris might seem unsightly this is actually an improvement as the area was littered with a number of ghost points from the old configuration, some retaining rusted out A-5 point machines.

Clearer view of the interlocking and the CALN relay hut. CALN is CTC from THORN using pulse code equipment from 1937. The hut still sports a green Penn Central sign dating from 1969. The Penn Central famously went bankrupt in 1972 and was nationalized in 1976.

17 switch at CALN. The TSR sign indicates the condition of #2 track.

What looks like a set of trap points is actually the old route of #2 track which until 2008 or so continued west of here. #2 track was used by a single local freight train to reach a cannery past Parkesburg. Note the 16R signal for eastbound #2 track is still present and lit.

Zombie signaling at its most extreme!! Here the #2 track signals on the 390 automatic are lit up to protect the ballast where #2 track used to sit. XD What's even more ironic was the signaling system on track two had been de-certified for years as Amtrak stopped bothering to inspect them so the local freight on the line traveled under a track warrant. ::rolls eyes:: Surprisingly Amtrak has bothered to remove the overhead catenary, which remained above the track 3 bed for two decades after it was removed. You can see how the signals were arranged when the line was 4-track, single direction. The #2 track westbound signal was not moved over tho, a new Safetran unit was installed as the existing signals had probably rusted past the point of disassembly. The 390 signals are the distants to CALN interlocking and the #1 track signal has an unusually small number board.

414 automatic, another zombie signal on #2 track and a limited speed triangle on the #4 track distant to PARK. As PARK tower became park time the operator at THORN assumed traffic control on the bi-directional two track. When the new #2 track signals were installed they appear to have used an oversized mounting post.

Westbound signals at PARK interlocking. #2 track re-appears just in time for the local freight to take the home signal at PARK. This arrangement might appear odd, but PARK is slated for removal and this arrangement preserves the status quo signaling wise while allowing the removal of #2 track between here and CALN. So if PARK is only open as needed, how are the signals on two track worked? Well they play off the traffic control controlled by the operator at THORN. Throwing the traffic lever causes the signal for the proper direction at PARK will to and its opposite to go to Stop.

Note the limited speed triangle on #4 track, which only came into play prior to 1983 when there were actually tracks here to cross over to. The large lamps to the right of the signals are 'E' boards. These are a somewhat unique feature to this interlocking installed when the tower was made part time with an automatic mode. PARK had dragging equipment detectors wired into it so if a train trips one the signal will drop to stop and the 'E' lamp will light. The crew then must stop and inspect the train while a 10 minute timer runs down. When the timer finishes the signal will re-clear with the 'E' lamp lit until the train takes the signal.

PARK interlocking is still a 4-track complete crossover even tho there are really only two main tracks left. Here we see the east 3-track stub and the eastern turnouts. As with everything I will discuss PARK tower more completely in a future post, but in brief it was built in 1937 with a 39 lever US&S Model 14 interlocking machine.  At that time the Main Line was 4 tracks through to CORK interlocking in Lancaster and PARK served as both a 4-track crossover and a junction to the 2 track Atglen and Susquehanna low grade freight line.  However in 1948 the Main Line west of PARK was reduced to 2 tracks and PARK became just a 4 track crossover with the center tracks becoming the A&S branch.

In the Penn Central era PARK was further reduced to a single pair of crossovers that allowed freight on the center tracks to crossover to the two remaining Main Line tracks 1 and 4.  Then in the eraly Amtrak era PARK was restored back to its post 1948 state as a 4-track full crossover (albeit with stub tracks) which it remained until its retirement in 2010.

Center portion of PARK. Note the difference between infrequently used rust and never used rust on 3 track. Notice the 28R has popped up to Restricting as PARK tower is in auto-mode.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

PHOTOS: Laughlin Junction CPLs

This little post goes out to another signal enthusiast who traveled out to CSX's GLENWOOD tower around 2003 near Pittsburgh, PA and was invited inside by the operator. I was unsure if he knew at the time, but GLENNWOOD tower and the line it served was slated for some reconfigurations by CSX that would have significant implications for the signal enthusiast community. First, here are a couple photos of GLENNWOOD after its closure in 2005.


So the topic of this post, Laughlin Junction, is about 2-3 miles west of Glennwood and until Glennwood closed was part of a string of back-to-back interlockings on the CSX P&W subdivision. Laughlin Junction had been the junction between the B&O overland route to New Castle and ultimately Chicago and the short spur to its downtown station in Pittsburgh. This station was used by the B&O's commuter train service which was taken over by the state in 1974 as PATrain and ultimately discontinued in 1989. I actually visited the old B&O station in 1994, but sometime between then and now it was demolished for a bank headquarters and the rail right of way converted into a bike trail.

Last June I was attending a conference in Pittsburgh (unrelated to my PRR Main Line adventures) and I had the opportunity to walk down to Laughlin Junction for some photos. Laughlin Junction was special because for a brief time it had the only "complete" B&O Color Position Light signal anywhere. Like the 6-feather junction indicator in the UK, a complete not only required all 6 orbitals, but also a full central target with the lunar Restricting \. So basically everything you see on this chart it had. Unfortunately when Glennwood tower was closed the interlocking wasn't just re-signaled, it was completely removed. CSX had been routing most of its traffic via the better equipped P&LE main line that it had acquired in 1993 and the old P&W sub was sort of left to wither. In 2007 the line was leased to the Allegheny Valley Railroad and all of the signaling was pulled out north of where Amtrak trains use the line to connect with the PRR Main at CP-BLOOM.

The effect on Laughlin Junction was that it's complete CPL on eastbound #2 track didn't need all those orbitals anymore as #2 track wasn't just lacking diverging routes at Glennwood, but it was de-signaled and turned into a storage track. Here is a little before and after shot first showing the eastbound signals with the complete CPL and the rail line to downtown Pittsburgh and then the current view with a more bare bones arrangement.

Also in the before photo is something called a steel mill which apparently used to "manufacture" goods.

So, let's take a walk around Laughlin Junction in 2009 and learn the story behind what was the last legendary complete B&O CPL. We begin on the old downtown right of way which is now a parking lot. The eastbound bracket mast is nicely framed by the invasive Trees of Heaven on either side of the old alignment.

Zoom shot of the bracket from the same angle. All 6 orbitals have been removed from the track 2 signal and even worse all the target needs to display is Stop and Restricting. Note that in America we've sacked the Health and Safety man and there is nothing stopping you from driving your oversize 4WD vehicle onto the rail right of way.

I was lucky enough to catch an Allegheny Valley Railroad train passing through the interlocking on #2 track.

The AVR was using two GP11 rebuilds to haul a single empty flatcar. After all, you never know when you might need a spare locomotive for some reason.  To the left appears to be the 440v pole line powering the various signal appliances on the line. 

As the signals are approach lit the passing train gave me the opportunity to get a picture of the signals displaying twin Stop indications. Track 1 (left) is the only track that is still signaled through to the P&LE Main at Braddock and it's major customer is Amtrak's daily Capitol Limited round trip.