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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

PRR Main Line Survey 2009 Part 8 (CP-UN to CP-C)

Well we have reached the summit of the PRR at Gallitzin and it is time to coast down the West Slope. While not as dramatic as the East Slope and its Horseshoe Curve the West Slope is still a helper district, is three tracks and has a good bit of cool signaling.

The following track diagram will apply to this part.

If you forgot all of the photos can be seen at: ... art-3.html

The summit of the Alleghenies, like most mountain railroad summits, features a complex of tracks that enables the use of helpers to be cut off and return to base and also accommodate any reductions in main tracks due to tunnels and junctions of alternate / low grade routes.  The Gallitzin Summit is not different and at one point featured all of those in a giant interlocking complex known as BN-SF-AR-UN, seen here in this 1948 chart.  After a signaling consolidation project during World War 2, the entire complex was controlled from a pair of US&S Model 14 interlocking machines in a new all brick tower overlooking AR interlocking overlooking tracks 1 and 2 with a logically seperate yet direct wire controlled UN interlocking on tracks 3 and 4.  East of AR  and UN was the previously mentioned SF interlocking where the Muleshoe Curve route diverge and before that was BF that provided a trailing point pre-processing ladder.

Today only AR and UN remain as active interlockings and the tower was closed in 1994.  Today CP-AR serves as the eastern end of two sidings off track 1 that run between there and CP-MO.  CP-UN acts as a crossover between tracks 2 and 3.  Finally, between AR and UN runs a loop track that helper sets (or excursion trains) can use to turn back to Altoona after helping a westbound train over the grade.  CP-UN used to have a 3-track PRR signal bridge for westbound movements, but around 2009 it was replaced by a color light cantilever due to structural issues.  We can see it here with the 12W and 14W signals.

#15 switch crossover with pneumatic switch machines. 

The slow speed loop track splits off between the two crossovers on the #11 switch. 

The relay hut is located in the crook of the loop track, adjacent to the #11 crossover.

The restricting-only 14E reverse direction dwarf follows immediately on the Rule 251 West track #3.

 Around a bend sits the 12E-1 signal sitting all alone on a 2-track PRR signal gantry.  The lower head only offers a Restricting indication as the only routes available are straight ahead or against the flow of traffic on track #3.  Back in the day this used to support two semi-automatic exit signals for westbound movements.

After leaving CP-UN we pass under the 2493 automatic, which is for westbound movements on tracks 3 and 4 only. Yes you heard me right, between CP-UN and CP-MO the tracks are renumbered 0 through 4 due to the presence of two siding tracks on the other alignment and thus track 3 becomes 4, 2 becomes 3 and we have a new tracks 2 and 0. This automatic is also distant to CP-MO, mounted on a two track late model gantry and if you look at the bottom | you can see the old mounting bracket for a Limited speed triangle.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Last May Metra closed the last interlocking tower on its Electric Division running south out of Chicago. This was the former Illinois Central suburban routes electrified at 1500 vDC in the 1920's. Like many other high density suburban routes the Metra Electric continued to rely on on manned towers well into the CTC to deal with the traffic volume and complexity of operations. However over the last few years Metra has invested in closing the 3 towers on the line, Randolph Street (terminal office with some sort of relay machine), 67th St and Kensington.

Now I had always assumed that Kensington Tower would be the last to go because it was arguably more complex and also involved a crossing at grade of the CNIC freight main line by the South Shore Line, which diverged from the Metra Electric line there. Because of the three separate entities involved I figured a fight over funding and service quality would keep Kensington open. I was also under the impression that 67th St was some sort of more modern type relay based machine and Kensington was an ancient GRS pistol grip frame as that was how each was listed on the large Jon Roma list of towers. Turns out I had it completely backwards. Kensington had been converted to a relay plant controlled by a GRS TrafficMaster CTC console (and was originally a US&S plant), while 67th St had the GRS machine. Also I thought 67th St was some small office buried somewhere around the junction, while in reality it was a full on tower hiding in plain sight next to the tracks. I just never noticed it.

Anyway, I spotted this Blog piece on the closing of the last of the Metra Electric div towers and along with a good history of the tower (which you should read) there was a very tantalizing interior photo of the GRS Model 5 machine inside. I managed to track down the man who took the photos who was nice enough to send me his whole set on CD with permission to post them online and use them in my photo essays. The photos have been unmodified (apart from renaming) and left at their original resolutions to preserve the details inside the tower so you might want to click "View Image" to get the full amount of detail. The entire set may be viewed here.

Jumping right in, here is the best photo of 67th St that was provided showing a Metra Highliner EMU making a station stop in fairly typical Chicago weather. The tower is a large rectangular monolith with no typical "tower" accouterments, which is why I probably mistook it for a substation. What gives it away however is the massive arm bundles of signaling wires running out from the tower onto a local concrete pole line.  67th Street is located at the junction of the IC Main Line and the electrified South Chicago Branch which runs to a station only a short distance from the Quad Draws at CP-509.

 I should probably provide a little reference at this point. Here is a line guide to the Metra Electric division. There is an updated track chart at the bottom showing current CTC (red) and ABS (green) territories. both 67th St (MP 14) and Kensington (MP 19) interlockings used to be blue, indicating tower control. Express tracks are on the outside, local tracks on the inside serving island platforms. The tracks between 67th St and Kensington was upgraded to bi-directional operation some time ago, but between 67th St and Chicago it remains ABS. Moreover, between Roosevelt Rd and the Randolph St terminal, trains work on sight within unsignaled yard limits with hand operated points.

Back to the tower we head to the top floor where we find a surprisingly large 176-lever GRA Model 5 pistol grip style interlocking machine. While only a small fraction of the levers were in use at the time of its closure, back in the day the tower would have also had control of the 4 parallel freight tracks. Here we have the left side of the machine starting at lever 1.

And continuing to lever 176 on the right. 

As per standard practice red levers are signals, black the switches. Here is some detail of the 8x levers. Pulled out from the machine displays a signal or reverses a switch. The small button on the pistol grip is not interlocked, but instead is covered by any blocking device. The red buttons are for displaying a call-on signal.

View along the levers showing the glass top of the machine and a scented candle. One wonders how often that glass top needed to be repaired in the 80 years the tower operated. 

Here is a view of the machine straight on. From top to bottom we have the illuminated track diagram, then the row of signal rundown timers (supplied by US&S) with an emergency switch release box. then a glass fronted case switch and signal fuses and finally the levers. Is it just me or are the stickers on the fuse case sending some mixed messages? 

Here is the right side of the track diagram showing off the north end of the interlocking. This consisted of a 4-track double slip scissors crossover employing levers 132 to 176. As the route north of here is ABS the tower only has full occupancy lights on the southbound tracks. Below the diagram is a display showing which levers are currently locked out, next to some truly ancient portable radios.

The left side of the track diagram shows off the south end of the interlocking which consists of a duckunder junction for trains proceeding down the South Chicago branch. Main line local train must make a diverging movement at the split. Past the South Chicago split we see a double slip trailing ladder allowing express to local crossover. Also note the traffic flow indications for the bi-directional territory south of 67th St. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Clear Sweep on the Port Road

For the last few years NS has been "cleaning up" most of the PRR heritage on the Port Road.  Having already eliminated the old PRR pole line 100Hz power supply and embarked on a project to remove most of the old catenary poles, this past week they finally completed work on a project to re-signal most of the old territory controlled by COLA tower.  Back in 2007 I discovered the first part of this project taking place at CP-SHOCKS where the PRR PLs were being replaced with the standard Darth Vader types.  Since then the project spread to CP-LAKE and finally CP-COLA, which was actually still using the original PRR era relay logic from the COLA tower CTC project.

The scope of the project was to install full Rule 261 operation between CP-CRESS and CP-SHOCKS.  While CP-SHOCKS and CP-LAKE were both re-signaled independently and in short order, the COLA and CRESS portion of the project took a little longer to complete with replacement signals standing at COLA since at least July and only being finally cut over in conjunction with the entire line segment between there CP-LAKE.  With the cutover CP-LAKE was removed from service as an interlocking with the third middle siding track between there and COLA being converted to having a hand throw western end.

The desecration didn't stop there as both ends of the Harbor siding were also re-signaled.  This was a 6000 foot, non-signaled siding with slow speed entrance and exit.  CP-WEST HARBOR appeared to have been recently rehabilitated with fresh paint on the eastbound PRR PL mast, but I guess this was just a fakeout as someone made the decision to upgrade both the entrances and exist to Medium speed operation and possibly signal the siding as well.  Fortunately I was able to get pretty good coverage of COLA and WEST HARBOR, but time ran out before I could get to CRESS or the PL intermediate signals between there and COLA.  Fortunately I do have a smattering of coverage from one of my contributors taken in 2006 which I hope to include in a future survey piece. 

In one last bit of news I noticed at MINNICK that along with the catenary poles the Conrail-era 100Hz power supply station was also ripped out, although the PRR PL signals there were given a fresh coat of paint indicating that NS has no plans to fully destroy the southern Port Road branch yet. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

PRR Main Line Survey 2009 Part 7 (ALTO to CP-UN)

In this Part 7 of my 2009 PRR Main Line Survey I will cover the segment between ALTO and CP-UN.  Now while I did devote an entire special post to ALTO tower, my Main Line survey is not simply going to skip over that part like it was some sort of black hole so we begin again at the east home signal of ALTO tower at the end of the platform of the Altoona Amtrak Station.  Here you can see the applicable track diagram.

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

You'll want the 1998 Pittsburgh Division one.

ALTO marks the transition from a two track railroad running under Rule 261 on both tracks, to a three track line with single direction Rule 251 on the outer tracks and Rule 261 on the center track.  ALTO was arranged, or possibly re-arranged back in the Penn Central era, to allow easy access for Amtrak trains in both directions to access the station platform(s) located on the north side of the tracks.  The 31 switch allows westbound trains to continue either on the 251 track 3 or the 261 track 2.  Eastbound trains are given a straight shot to the platform off of track 2.  Passenger trains heading east on track 1 must first cross to track #2 at SLOPE.  Anyway here my train departs the Altoona station and takes the #31 switch set reverse to track #3.

Here we see the reverse direction 20R dwarf signal for movements on track 1.  This signal is controlled from the main machine in ALTO tower.  To the right we see the helper pocket track and its eastbound 32R dwarf signal.  The pocket exists between that signal and the PC era signal gantry.

Ironically one of the most iconic structures at ALTO appart from the tower itself wasn't even original to the interlocking.  The 5-track  beam type signal gantry was installed during the Penn Central era in conjunction with a PennDoT bridge and highway project in the area.  The gantry supports three high signal masts governing westbound movements on tracks 1 and 2 as well as the helper pocket which are worked from  levers 2R, 6R and 8R on the main machine.

ALTO tower itself posing by the westbound lattice signal gantry which probably dates from when the tower was built in the early 20th century.  Sometime in 2008 the tower was given a fresh coat of gray paint, but this investment was not a signal of any sort of longevity as you all now know the tower is scheduled to close sometime in the next year.

Here we are looking at the 6 track eastbound gantry at ALTO, which only supports two high signals for tracks 1 and 0.  The slow speed diverging aspects on both are for movements onto the yard leads which are in fact signaled to CP-WORKS as a controlled siding.  

Here we are looking at the 1sw and my extension the entire ALTO facing point ladder which runs from here to the yard leads at the other end of the interlocking.  As ALTO is basically a yard-terminal tower most of its movements involve trains either passing straight through or heading into/out of the yard, hence the ladders that head to that side of the track.  As expected ANTUS interlocking can be considered the reverse of ALTO.

Here we see the eastbound home signals for ALTO on tracks #1 and #2.  As expected the reverse direction track 1 signal is a dwarf and the bi-directional track 2 signal is a mast.  This zoom view provides an interesting prospective on the layout of the entire interlocking.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cardinal Dome Car and JC Cabin

First a small bit of good news.  Amtrak is now attaching its great dome car to the Cardinal in the later half of the fall foliage season after the car completes its stint on the Adirondack.  The even better news that unlike the Adirondack the dome on the Cardinal  runs as the last car.  This not only provides better photos forward (as the hot exhaust won't distort the photos), but also a rear facing railfan window, replacing the one that was lost when the Viewliner was moved to the front of the consist in 2010.  So, if there are any C&O signals left in 2012, the dome car trip will be the time to photograph them.

Unfortunately, on a related note it appears that the CSX lease of its C&O Clifton Forge to Orange route to the Buckingham Branch shortline is not enough to preserve all of the classic C&O signals on the line (although it helps).  While looking at pictures from Charlottesville, VA I noticed that JC Cabin, the diamond crossing with NS, is being re-interlocked and with that the old C&O mast signals are being replaced by single head, 4 lamp darth units (albeit with what look like non-Safetran lamp units).  NS signals, which consist of a northbound Southern style cantilever and southbound southern style and NS style lollipop masts, appear to be untouched.  I am assuming the motivation is greater reliability of the interlocking to avoid delaying NS trains.  I will be passing through there next week and will try to get more information.