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Sunday, August 28, 2011

ALTO Tower to Close :-(

I guess I'm a little behind in the news, but as you might guess I don't try to seek this information out as it will only serve to depress me.  Anyway after seeing some more photos I discovered that the work at CP-WORKS is not isolated as I had thought and that is one part of a larger project to completely re-signal everything around ALTO tower.  This will mean the closure of ALTO tower after 100 years of service and the destruction of an amazing of pure PRR signaling.

I don't have a lot of photos to post, but as I know it ALTO, SLOPE and WORKS are all to be completely re-signaled.  There will be new track arrangements to facilitate movements in and through Altoona Yard as well as the application and removal of helper power.  The PC era beam signal gantry may be re-used in the new arrangement and some of the pneumatic switch machine might survive as well at WORKS and at ALTO.  There are plans to re-locate and preserve the tower itself at the Railroaders Museum across the street, but there were also plans to preserve MO tower which came to nought when the wooden structure fell apart. The current schedule has the new signals, which includes the 228 auto) being cut over in November so I might have to actually drive out there for this.

Fortunately this occurs at the point where I will be posting photos taken inside ALTO tower during a visit in 2005, but the new is still a disaster for the railroad signaling community as the last tower on the non-Amtrak PRR Main Line is about to close.  Fucking punch in the gut.

UPDATE:   Another day, another photo and more bad news.  Looks like HOMER is also on the chopping block with its PC era cantilever that juxtaposed an all amber automatic next to red eyes absolute signals.  At this rate I wouldn't be surprised if ANTIS and its two 3/4 track PRR signal gantries is in the mix as well.  Basically everything covered by ALTOs CTC machine.

Here are some photos.  More detailed ones are on the password protected, but I am sure there will be no shortage in the coming months.

PRR Main Line Survey 2009 Part 6 (CP-LONG to CP-WORKS)

Picking back up at CP-LONG just west of Lewistown you can follow along
on the track diagram here

Also if anyone is interested in the official interlocking diagrams you
can download them here. ... %20Charts/

You'll want the 1998 Pittsburgh Division one.

Next up is the 172 automatic which uses position lights and distant to
CP-LONG. A mixed freight train is seen having just passed the signal
on the opposite track.

174 automatic is also position light masts and the 1tk signal is still
displaying Approach due to the freight train.

The 176 automatic and its position light masts is another distant, this time for CP-McVEY. On CTC territory interlockings are spaced ever 8-10 miles to allow efficient single-tracking / wrong railing
operations. This has the effect of making signals that aren't distants or home signals the rule rather than the exception as in times past when interlockings were installed much more sparingly.

Like CP-THOMPSON, CP-McVEY was an infill crossover installed in the late 80's CTC project. Here are the westbound position light mast signals set to the engineer's side of the track, which was still the style at the time. CP-THOMPSON and CP-McVEY are actually named after locations (Thompsonville and McVeytown), not people. An advantage to early settlement in the New World was being able to have whatever patch you set you farm up on after yourself which was later incorporated into more interesting things such as railroad interlockings.

The generous space between the two tracks belies the right of way's 4-track pedigree. As I mentioned before, most of the turnouts on the Conrail upgraded PRR main line are #20 and are good for Limited Speed (45mph).

The 2E signal at CP-McVEY was replaced sometime after 2000 with a
grand new position light. Unfortunately I pulled the trigger a bit
too early and got a close up of the original 4E signal.

But I managed to pull in a long shot that included the new signal. Thank god for steep regulatory requirements regarding alterations to interlocking logic. Of course recently that means when an interlocking is re-signaled old signals are just replaced instead of being wired into the new plant. Oh, note the new health and safety enhanced maintainer ladder.

Replacement ties have been dropped along 2tk at the 182 position light
automatic and distant to CP-McVEY.

Color lights at the 184 automatic. The left handed placement on 1tk
is a bit odd for an automatic signal.

186 automatic position lights. Note the Hot Box-Dragging Equipment Detector which used to announce itself as Newton-Hamilton. To replace the human eyes of tower operators, automated defect detectors are spaced about every 10 miles.

182 automatic is the distant to CP-JACKS and is mounted on a classic PRR gantry. The wb tk2 signal has a full lower head backing.

CP-JACKS is named for Jacks Narrows and includes a connection to the Mt Union yard. Mt. Union was the interchange between the PRR and the narrow gauge East Broad Top railroad, which now operates as a well known steam preservation line. Although currently out of service, Mt. Union has some of the last dual gauge trackage left in North America and it is slowly being restored.

The westbound PRR signal gantry is about 6 tracks wide to accommodate the old interchange tracks. The Mt Union connection uses a dwarf signal.

The interlocking used pneumatic points until about 2003 when they were replaced with US&S M23s.

Uh oh, it looks like the eastbound PRR signal gantry has reached the end of the line. The foundation is in place for another NS cantilever mast. While the amount of rust on the signals and gantry certainly belie some structural defect, the replacement of this particular signal is a real loss because the alignment of the two main modern tracks matched the alignment of the two old westbound tracks so the signals on the gantry did not have to be altered during either of the two major re-signaling projects. They are accessed via a short maintainer catwalk and the lower heads use the original PRR economic backing on the | array only. I was lucky to get such a good photo of it as CP-JACKS is isolated and does not have many ground railfans to document changes like CP-MIFFLIN did. Also note the now disused air tank to the left of the gantry.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Farewell Ridgely Tower

I regret to report the demolition of Ridgely Tower in Springfield, IL on August 8th, 2011.  Ridgely was the last interlocking tower in North America to have a set of points operated mechanically from a lever frame via a pipeline and also the last instance of a mechanical facing point lock.  Ridgely was located on the old Chicago and Alton, currently owned by Union Pacific, and until recently also supported a bevy of CPL signals, an artifact of the line's brief B&O ownership. 

Ridgely Tower was about 100 years old and contained a General Railway Signal supplied lever frame, which was preserved mostly intact.  I am hoping that its vintage model board was saved along with it. Despite having a 30 lever frame, by the end of its life the tower was only controlling one set of points (#22) and 7 signals.  The reason the tower lasted so long has to do with the slowly simmering 110mph high speed corridor being built between Chicago and St. Louis.  Union Pacific simply had no reason to replace a tower that would eventually be replaced at government expense.  Unfortunately the towers wooden structure and generally dilapidated condition prevented preservation beyond the lever frame.  In a bit of good news however the tower and its history was covered by both the print and local television news media.

The railfan community was also on hand for its demolition to send the old girl off.

A large group of photos of the tower can be found here, some containing views of the pipeline and CPL signals.  Of course I'll be thankful of my photo of Ridgely taken on a trip to Saint Louis back in 2005 with the levers in the window and the operator out on the stairway waving us a good trip.

Farewell Ridgely, ~1910-2011.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

CSX At It Again in New Castle, PA

For some time CSX has been working to eliminate the long stretch of Rule D-251 operation on the former B&O route between New Castle, PA and Greencastle, OH.  For years CSX had accepted the role of second fiddle in the east coast to Chicago maket to Conrail and even after the Conrail merger CSX only bothered to upgrade between the Indianapolis Line and Chicago with two track bi-directional CTC.  For anyone riding the old Amtrak Three Rivers, delays in this D-251 section were notorious if your train became trapped behind a slow moving freight with no means to pass it.

Well over the last 4 or so years CSX has been glacially  upgrading the line, taking out such notable structures as HN Tower in Newton Falls and some of the elderly ABS CPL signals.  Unfortunately CSX also showed its dark side when it came to interlockings that were well within the time frame of solid state electronics and coded track circuits.  The interlocking in Stirling, OH was one such location where the old GRS pistol grip equipped tower was replaced in 1988 with new solid state logic and brand new CPL signals on modern mast mounts.  Upgrading the CPLs to support bi-directional signaling would have been easy, but CSX decided to go for a complete remodel with the dreaded Darth Vaders. 

Well unfortunately history is repeating itself in New Castle PA where another late model CPL equipped interlocking is being axed in favor of the dreaded vaders.  This interlocking is at the northern end of the New Castle Terminal where the connection track to the Conrail Youngstown Line, used by the aforementioned Three Rivers, would connect.  Like Spirling this interlocking had brand new CPLs on modern masts and even a tubular steel cantilever, but alas it did not protect it from CSX and its wasteful standardization.

Here we see the eastbound masts with a 3 orbital and 4 orbital CPL, each capable of Medium Approach Medium.

And here we see the westbound signals.  One is on a tubular cantilever mast, the other is for the old Three Rivers connecting track.

So remember, get out there and take photos of whatever CPLs you can.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

CSX CnO Signal Rape On the Move West

Until just a few years ago the C&O Main Line between Limeville and Huntington Kentucky contained some of the finest examples of C&O signaling anywhere.  The route had frequent interlockings and a good deal of 3 and 4 track running with a pair of complex flat junctions between major C&O Subdivisions.  Well over the last few years CSX has been on a tear, completely denuding the line of its classic elephant ear color light signals all the way from Russel Yard to Montgomery, WV.  Well I am sorry to report that CSX has resumed its westward march setting its sights on the last sections of exemplary  C&O signaling between Russel Yard and LJ (Linedale Junction) Cabin where the Northern Sub to Columbus branches off the Cincinnati Sub.  

This was brought to my attention by some pictures on showing LIMEDALE interlocking with the dreaded Darth Vader signals already up and in place.  What stands to be lost are two C&O signal gantries each with ABS exit signals.  Even more galling is the fact that both signal gantries were rehabilitated with fresh coats of silver paint sometime within the last 2 decades or so and easily had another 2 decades of good service left in them.  The impetus for the re-signaling is due to the C&O being an early adopter of bi-directional CTC and thus still relying on all relay logic and a pole line to communicate block state and CTC commands.

Unless you happen to live out in that area there isn't much of an opportunity to see these signals because while the route is used by Amtrak's Cardinal, it passes through this area at night in both directions.  The only chance to take photos would be if an eastbound train were to be delayed by 2-4 hours.  Fortunately those masterful photos were posted on for us all to enjoy, or to get depressed about because such a beautiful piece of engineering will soon vanish forever.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


During a trip to Chicago back in 2009 I posted a number of photos in the area of METRA's KENSINGTON interlocking in a non-signaling related essay. Today I will take a more in-depth look at the tower and signaling equipment and will make use of photos from that and a previous trip along with interior photos taken by another another tower enthusiast.

METRA KENSINGTON tower is located on the Electric Division on Chicago's South side at 115th St. It was built by the Illinois Central Railroad as part of their electric line improvements in the 1920's. Unlike some of the other towers I profile I don't have as much exact historical information on this tower except, so I'll muddle through with what I do know and if anyone has corrections they can let me know. Up through the early part of the 21st century the Metra Electric division was still primarily a tower controlled line with control locations at Randolph Street Station (some sort of panel), Weldon Yard (non-interlocked with switch-tenders on all main tracks), 67th St (GRS model 5 electro-mechanical) and Kensington (CTC and direct wire panel). Metra first moved control of Randolph St into its central control room, followed by Kensington and its territory and finally in March 2009, 67th Street was cut over. The non-interlocked portion between Van Buren and Roosevelt is still controlled by switchtenders and of those three closed towers, only 67th St was technically re-signaled as its interlocking was electro-mechanical, not relay like the others.

Between Roosevelt and 115th St the electric line has 4 tracks and sits adjacent to the CNIC freight main line where 67th St handled operations at the flying junction with the South Chicago Branch of the electric division and Kensington handled the junction with the Blue Island Branch and the begining/end of the 4-track local/express operation as well as the leads into the Kensington yard and maintenance facility.  When METRA took over the commuter operations on the electric line the integration with the IC freight line was removed, with the notable exception of Kensington. This was because the Chicago, South Shore and South Bend interurban line to South Bend joins the IC line into downtown Chicago. The CSS&SB crosses the 4 tracks of the former IC freight main line on 4 diamonds, but also has switch connections with the freight line. METRA was not at all interested in having to beg the freight railroads for lineups for the South Shore trains so it retained operation of the interlocking.

As a quick note since the original CSS&SB went bankrupt the passenger service has been operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District or NICTD (pronounced Nicht-Dee) and I will be referring to it as such.

The photos I will be presenting come from two sources. The first are my own taken on a trip in Summer 2009 from the Metra station platform within the limits of KENSINGTON interlocking along with a smaller number of photos taken during a trip in 2002. The second are from a railroad insider and are being posted with permission. These photos are being left in their original resolution so please do not hesitate to right click and view those images in their unreduced state.

As you can see on the right there are 4 Electric Line tracks and 4 CNIC tracks coming in from the north. The 4 electric line tracks squash to 2 for the single island platform. Then south of the platform the NICTD line crosses the CNIC on 4 diamonds and we see the ladders to reach the Blue Island branch and the KDY yard lead. There remains a single switched connection from CNIC to Metra, probably for freight moves to reach either the yard or the Blue Island branch. NOTE there is a complete set of crossovers on the CNIC and there is a considerable distance between the Kensington interlocking proper and the Blue Island Branch / Yard junction. It will be worthwhile to keep this photo handy to refer to as I show various points and signals.

We begin with the tower itself which is mostly of brick construction with a tile roof, typical for a power-frame tower built in the first half of the 20th century. Here we see a view of the north side with a pair of C&S employees walking the track.

Here is a slightly wider view. While the tower may have been closed it was not re-signaled as the relay hut in front still houses some or all of the vital components and those thick bundles of wires on the pole line still work the field equipment. The tower was re-signaled sometime earlier in its life with the power frame being replaced by a direct-wire panel which I will show later. As METRA was interested with operations, not replacing life-expired equipment they saw no need to re-interlock the complex plant, but instead remote controlled it from a downtown office building.

While the tower retains its bay window, something must have happened at some point in its life to require the entire facade to be replaced with plywood and two small replacement windows. This counts as an example of "tower window syndrome" and was probably Metra's solution to fixing a problem with the original floor to ceiling windows. Fortunately the other windows don't see quite as affected.

Fortunately the other windows don't see quite as affected. Also note that there is no external difference between 2002 when the tower was open and 2009 when it was closed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Good News For a Change - New Searchlights at XO Tower

 For those of you down about the credit downgrade and the generally bum economy I finally have some good news to report.  The NS/Guilford Rail System joint venture that links the Hudson Valley and the Atlantic port at Boston, MA and Portland, ME over the formerly 100% GRS Freight Main Line has begun upgrades to the massive weed covered field west of Mechanicville, NY that used to be a major interchange yard between the old Delaware and Hudson and Boston and Main systems.  Both the D&H (now part of CP) and B&M (now part of Guilford) were and are strong supporters of searchlight style signals with neither road having migrated to use of the dreaded Darth Vader lamps.  While the D&H has switched to Safetran Unilens type signals, Guilford has continued to install General Railway Signal model SA searchlight signals, except where funding and planning is from an external source like the Downeaster route or the MBTA.

Anyway I came across this picture on showing some new signals at CPF-467, the far west end of the Guilford freight main line.  This might be more familiar to some as XO tower, as it sports a preserved New York Central interlocking tower from the line to Albany that also used to tie in there (which now is also part of CP Rail).  The former yard at Mechanicville is going to be converted into brand new intermodal terminal so some interlocking work at either end was inevitable and in this case a new CPF-468 will replace CPF-467.  As you can see not only do we have new searchlights appearing on brand new shiny masts, but the heads themselves are freshly painted silver in back and black on the front.  Bravo Guilford for sticking with tradition.

Unfortunately this will not be a +1 as the existing CPF-467 already sports a bunch of searchlight masts, however not only will this increase their number and quality, but also lock them in for at least the next 4 decades.


I found a recent YouTube video tour of both the new CPF-468 and its opposite CPF-470 at the other end of the yard.  CPF-468 will not only have the two masts shown in the picture, but an additional eastbound searchlight mast and an additional eastbound tubular aluminum cantilever with two searchlight signals on it (!).  So that is a +2 on three-head searchlight signals at CPL-468 and the new interlocking at CPF-470 will bring +1 to the searchlight equipped interlocking total and at least +3 to the total of number of discrete searchlight signals.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Other Side of Cab Signals

Just thought you would like to see this photo I found of the mobile part of a cab signaling system.  Back in the days of very solid state electronics the CSS decoder was mounted on the front running boards of EMD locomotives in a strong metal box.  Well inside that box is the same sort of plug-in relays found  in the wayside cabinets. XD