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Saturday, December 22, 2012

End of the Main Line

It appears that NS wasn't finished when it applied to the FRA to remove the wayside block signals on the Port Road between PERRY and STELL as in a slightly more recent filing they are looking to remove all the wayside automatic signals from the PRR Main Line proper as well all the way from CP-HARRIS to CP-BLOOM/EAST PITT.  While the Port Road had been largely ruined with re-signaling work with only a handful of position light automatics remaining I was cautiously looking forward to the 'C' boards to spruce up the monotonous Darth Vader signals, but 562 on the Main Line proper would be a devastating turn of events, dumping the last of the major east-west main lines into the bucket of crap signals (not counting the Erie).

Like with the Port Road we are presented with the same questions with a few different twists.  First, as with the Port Road why is NS going ahead with this after a decade of wayside signal replacement and the precedent of no freight railroad installing new 562 trackage since Conrail's work on the Cleveland Line in 1999?.  Second, is this going to simply comprise a bagging of the intermediates and installation of 'C' boards at the existing interlockings without any other work or will this be the end result of a complete end to end re-signaling effort that will put the position lights out of service at even the 1980's and 1990's re-signaled interlockings? 

I suspect the answer, at least to the second question, would be along the lines of a complete re-signaling rather than a quickie effort to save on light bulbs.  Despite all the new intermediate signals that NS and Conrail have put up to replace the failing PRR signal bridges starting about 1990, a closer looks reveals that almost all of them have been plugged into the existing hardware.  East of Altoona this would date from the mid-1980's re-signaling, but between Altoona and SO and CONPIT JCT and Pittsburgh the signaling there dates from around 1980 if not earlier.  So when you see shiny new signals, remember there is a lot of old school relays hiding under the surface.

The other problem is that even a lot of the "new" 1986 signaling east of Altoona doesn't use the what might be considered modern solid state equipment as is evidenced by this video taken at the famous Fostoria intermediate signal bridge which reveals the presence of electro-mechanical pulse code generators.  Even if the components were entirely "modern" that doesn't mean that would be any less likely to be replaced as the old relay systems so often derided as being unreliable, are actually able to last about twice as long in service as a solid state component.  It's the old tradeoff between maintenance and replacement.  Big old relays can be repaired and adjusted.  Integrated circuits and printed circuit boards with individual components can only be replaced.  Seeing old school position lights on shiny new aluminum signal bridges may have only given us a false sense of security as the rusty cantilevers and brackets with their supporting pole lines on the B&O and C&O mains were all ripped down.

The good news about a complete re-signaling is that it will give those who are interested in classic signaling several years to get out and catch things before they are changed.  If this is just someone's bright idea to save money then bagging the autos out of service could be accomplished within a few months.  Another reason to suspect re-signaling is the remaining section of Rule 251+261 mixed trackage between Altoona and CP-SO has been standing out like a sore thumb since NS installed three track 261 between SO and C.  This would parallel the section of 251 on the Port Road that also had to be dealt with at some point.  When you factor in any sort of PTC upgrades, even thought Amtrak is showing how well PTC systems can get along with both 1980's and 1930's signaling, it wouldn't surprise me if whatever consultants NS brought on for the project simply went with all new signaling and no waysides. Still, NS is not known, at least no recently, for end to end re-signaling projects.

Still, it is fairly clear that this decision, if one has even been made yet, has come about quite recently as there was absolutely no indication during the ALTO replacement that this sort of thing would be going on.  Furthermore, you never know exactly what the final product will look like.  NS can currently run non-CSS equipped trains off the Buffalo Line to the Harrisburg Line, so removing the 107 automatic would upset that arrangement.  Likewise would NS want to be vulnerable to CSS failure on a major mountain grade choke point where crews might rely in signals ahead on how they handle their trains. Remember the Fort Wayne and Cleveland lines are much flatter than the Pittsburgh Line.

While some recent 562 projects have come with surprised likefixed distant signals or, in the case of NJT, the retention of of single direction wayside signals on bi-directional 562 track, we can't assume that all the autos on the Pittsburgh Line wont be gone within the next 12 months.  While a qualified positive on the Port Road, this will doom the former PRR Main Line as a railfan friendly route to either ride or watch trackside.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Signaling News Update

Well its time again for some signaling updates and like usual its all bad news.  First of all at CARROLL interlocking the only complete B&O CPL anywhere in the world was removed and replaced by a cantilever with a pair of full CSX Darth Vader heads so the world is officially a less interesting and diverse place.

Up on the Chicago Line the CSX resignaling has reached the railfan hotspot at CP-215 in Little Falls, NY.

And lastly, on the former D&H main line the re-signaling there has hit the Tunnel Hill area between Albany and Binghampton with the expectation being that bland LED Darth Vaders will replace the classic D&H searchlights.  Where said searchlights have already been refreshed the outcome remains to be seen.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Coming to the Port Road: Rule 562 Operation

At the end of October Norfolk Southern filed a motion with the FRA to remove the wayside automatic block signals on the entirety of the Port Road and Enola Branches.  The line is already equipped with cab signals and this would simply result in the removal of said automatic signals and the installation of those Clear to Next Interlocking 'C' boards for trains with failed cab signals.  While I have not covered it much here, the Port Road has seen a lot of changes in the last 5 years, going from one of those PRR museums where nothing had been changed since about 1940, to having large sections populated with Darth Vaders and nothing much else to set it apart.  This newest change isn't necessarily the disaster that the average fan of interesting signaling might assume and might actually be beneficial.  The only thing known for certain is that this is the first expansion of PRR style cab signals on a major freight railroad since the Conrail era and might indicate future moves for NS in its northeast territory.

To those of your unfamiliar with the history, starting in 2007 NS began to re-signal the 1930's era CTC installation running from CP-CRESS to SHOCKS and centered around COLA.  Later they removed the 100Hz, 6.9 PRR vintage signal power line running the length of the Port Road i favor of utility power.  As the re-signaling around COLA wrapped up, NS extended its resignaling efforts south past the restricted speed siding at Safe Harbor and all the way to the double track segment between CP-McCALLS and CP-MIDWAY.  After the resignaling was completed NS went about removing most of the old PRR catenary poles and as part of that effort the formerly 4-track signal bridges on the north end of the Enola Branch between CP-WAGO and CP-STELL, which also resulted in all gantry mounted block signals being replaced with single Darth masts, although without any change in vital hardware.

Below CP-MIDWAY NS didn't just leave the old hardware alone, they actually went about refurbishing it with a fresh coat of paint, new signal cables, new position light fittings and even replacing some of the old signal logic with newer components.  So the question becomes, what else will NS do besides eliminate the 2 surviving position light automatics on the Enola Branch and 5 surviving position light automatics on the Port Road.

One obvious conclusion is despite the new coat of paint on the southern PL's, NS will implement this change as part of their ongoing Port Road resignaling efforts, replacing all remaining position lit interlockings at CP-PILOT, WEST PILOT, WEST ROCK, TOME, QUARRY, WAGO and STELL with brand new plants.  One especially juicy target is the stretch of Rule 251/CSS operation between SHOCKS and STELL.  They could also choose to re-signal only he 251 section of the Enola Branch and keep the southern Port Road the way it is or some other combination thereof.  Either way I wouldn't bet on any of the cool stuff remaining so if you want photos get them now.

The other question involves if NS will actually implement 562 all the way to the Amtrak division post at PERRY, as implied by their regulatory filing, or will they cut things a bit short at CP-TOME.  The reason I wonder is that there is only a single automatic between TOME and PERRY (at the former interlocking known as MINNICK) and if that were to be eliminated 'C' boards would need to be installed on the 22L and 18L signals Amtrak's PERRY interlocking and Amtrak given a way to display them into NS territory.  If NS doesn't want to deal with Amtrak's signaling department they could simply install a single 'C' board at TOME and be good to go.

Anyway, I have always been of the opinion that no automatic signals are better than Darth Vaders and 'C' boards on Darth interlocking signals are at least somewhat interesting so this move by NS is sort of a copper liming even in the worst case scenario.  It also hints that, at least on the Port Road, NS could be gearing up to install ACSES as its PTC solution as all Port Road trains will have it installed anyway due to running on Amtrak and it is integrated with the cab signal system. How much this spreads to other NS lines, such as the PRR main from Harrisburg to Cleveland remains to be seen, but a cab signal based PTC is far more reliable than that wireless bullshit and might serve as a Plan B when the fancy stuff fails.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

CSX Resignaling Accelerates

I have two new CSX re-signaling alerts and the first has some potentially unfortunate implications for the River Line, but that remains to be seen.  First up on the hit list is CP-90 in Kingston, NY which is the north end of a non-signaled controlled siding on the former Conrail River Line.

 Now I am not sure if this is technically a full on re-signaling as the vital hardware went in in the late 80's or 90's and is probably some solid state system like Microlock and does not to be up for replacement at this time, but to convert the siding from restricted speed to signaled the Michigan Central style small target searchlights are getting the toss. 

However all of you who prefer to have the South keep their culture on the other side of the Mason Dixon line are going to be in for some disappointment.  Yup, you see that Lunar White lamp?  That's the hallmark of the Seaboard style of signal aspects.  No more R/Y Restricting  because why use three lamps when you can you four instead!  Does this mark a full conversion of the River Line to Seaboard signal rules as has happened on the Selkirk branch and parks of the Chicago Line instead of the 'CR' prefix rules?  I don't know, but the CP-90 will certainly be ready for them.  The Lunar lamp is a valid in NORAC for Restricting and the new three head signal would need a bottom head green to support R/Y/G Medium Approach Medium  Even on the 4-lamp unit off the siding isn't indicative of a conversion to Seaboard rules as the Yellow could still be set to flash for Medium Approach. 

This could just be a simple upgrade of a controlled siding to a signaled siding, or it could be more evidence of that creating southern culture into the North.  It will only be possible to tell if CSX is going Seaboard on the River Line if we start seeing that lower green on the tri head flash or crews start calling Limited Approach off the siding.  Until now CSX had been good about keeping the River Line in the NORAC sphere, but thee might be a total changeover in the works.

Anyway the second bit of news comes to us from Cleveland where the former location of Quaker (QD) Tower is now about to get the kill of banality from CSX.  Quaker is a massive interlocking complex at the west end of the former NYC Collingwood Yard where the Cleveland Short Line jioned the straight through Chicago Line.  Today with CSX and NS handing off ownership of the Chicago Line at Cleveland almost nothing uses the section between Quaker and Drawbridge except the daily Amtrak Train 48/49,  QD was an active tower well into the 1990's, but despite looking like the nearby BEREA (BE) tower, it was fitted with a modern NX panel, instead of its original GRS Model 5 pistol grip machine.   From the generally non-modern layout of the interlocking plant I have to assume that the interlocking was remote controlled instead of being re-signaled.  Well, it looks like CSX is out to remedy that little oversight as you can pick up on here.

Yup, new relay huts, new signal masts and cantilevers.  Just about the only interesting part left will be the use of Unilens dwarfs in place of the searchlight dwarfs.  Once again the real question is if we will continue to see NORAC signal indications, especially with all those dwarfs, or is it time to get ready for Lunar restricting and Approach Slow that needs three signal heads.

Oh yeah, they're dicking around elsewhere on the Chicago Line as well.  It's times like these when I really wish I could get pictures out the back of the Lakeshore.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Life and Life and Death of G Cabin

The former C&O Railroad's G Cabin Gordonsville, VA has been a well known railroad attraction for years.  Constructed in the 1930's at the Y junction of the C&O's single track line between Richmond and Clifton Forge via Doswell and the short Washington Branch to Orange.  The tower stood at the west leg of the wye and for decades controlled the all US&S interlocking plant from its upper floor.   Of course, after many years of service, G Cabin, like most small towers like it, closed and the interlocking plant was put under remote control using US&S 504 code equipment with the vital hardware stored in the lower floor of the old interlocking tower.

Over time the C&O was merged into the Chessie System, then CSX and finally leased to the Buckingham Branch ShortLine.  Under the BB, the former G Cabin territory was split into three separate logical interlockings.  These were CP-YOWELL at the south end of the wye, CP-NORTH GORDONSVILLE at the north end of the wye and CP-EAST GORDONSVILLE (formerly CP-G TOWER) at the east leg of the wye.  Each of these interlockings were fairly simple, basically consisting of one or two switches and some classic C&O signals.  Anyway, over the last year or so some money was made available to "improve" the BB route for the 3-a-week Amtrak Cardinal service and slowly the deadly pall of re-signaling is falling over what had been a pristine route.  The most recent victim of this slowly moving resignaling effort was unfortunately G CABIN with the new signals being cut in over the first weekend in November, 2012.

Now  this actually went beyond just ripping out some relays and putting up a bunch of new signals. While CP-EAST GORDONSVILLE was treated to the extra generic brand of cheap LED lit 4-stack Darth Vader heads, the cost savings didn't end there.  As the Piedmont Sub from Gordonsville to Richmond via Doswell is run under TWC rules starting just a mile past CP-YOWELL, CP-YOWELL itself was completely ripped out.  So was CP-NORTH GORDONSVILLE and the line between there and the NS connection at Orange (which probably sees the Cardinal as its only traffic) lost two intermediate signals and two controlled points at ANNE and SOUTH ORANGE to be replaced by a pair of single headed block signals with 3+ mile long blocks.  The entrance signal at Orange was also replaced as was CP-GORDONSVILLE about a mile west of G CABIN.  

So here a short line bucks the trend of unecessary signal spending, by instead ripping out most of the signaling plant it inherited.  I guess I should be glad that it took them do long to get around to it.  Hopefully further austerity budgets will prevent any more of these "upgrades which have also included the removal of one siding, the downgrade of the IVY siding from signaled to controlled and the removal of the holdout signals around the Charlottesville yard limits.  The only bits of good news is that the BB seems to be committed to the C&O signal rules (not so you'd notice with the lack of signaled sidings), the C&O signal into NS's  ORANGE interlocking has been left unmodified and I was able to fully document both the G Cabin wye and the signals around Orange.  I hope to write a full essay on the G Cabin signaling at some point, but if you want to view images of things now gone you can find the full set here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

NS Wasting Money Again

There are many reasons to replace signal equipment.  They can use complex or conflicting aspect systems like position lights or those wacky C&O signals.  They can have failing structural elements.  They could have insufficient protections for maintainers.  These are all valid reasons to go out and replace the signal equipment with one of those aluminum Darth Vaders, but when we see with this example on the former Conrail Southern Tier Line that some railroads just don't care about money or care about whatever consultants are planning their signal upgrades.

Here at CP-ATTICA the old color light masts are being replaced by new color light masts.  Same aspects, same aluminum masts, same caged maintainer ladder.  The only difference is that one ones are Conrail era target signals and the new the dreaded Darth Vaders.  How deep does a recession have to be before a company stops doing this kind of thing?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NS CP-CANNON Railfan Hotspot Elimination

In a move that I can only rationalize as an attempt by NS to eliminate railfan hotspots, the eastbound position light masts at CP-CANNON on the former Conrail Pittsburgh Line just west of the Rockville Bridge, have been replaced by two head Darth Vader masts.  That's right, the position light masts.  Now for some time NS has been replacing position lights on the PRR Main Line, but they have almost all been of the gantry mounted variety and the replacement has been due to structural issues with the aging steel signal bridges.  In this case the two well painted mast signals were removed and a rusty three track PL gantry was left standing with no immediate plans for its replacement.

Like I said the only reason I can think of is that NS was getting tired of railfans driving up to CP-CANNON and framing westbound trains with the position lights.  I'm only half joking here because there are many instances where lost of people can end up ruining a good thing.  Anyway here is the video that alerted me to this sad event. Shame I never managed to go there myself for an up close tour.

Photo taken from the east end of the interlocking showing the PL gantry and new color light masts.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Extinct: The US&S MT Switch Machine

Over a year ago when I posted about the demise of E 180TH ST interlocking and tower on the New York City Subway system I was unaware that we were not only losing the last main line single interlocking on the IRT or the last section of IRT signaling (including those three headed monsters).  It appears that the E 180TH ST interlocking had one more surprise, a surprise that I had noticed, but never fully comprehended. 

This mystery object was brought to my attention be a superb, yet rather invisible, signaling blog called The Has Been that took note of my E180TH report and quickly flagged the item of interest.  If you had ever viewed my photos you may have seen something that looked a bit out of place...a bit like it should belong in the London Underground instead of the NYCS.  I'll make it easy for you and just show you what I am talking about.

Well I have confirmation that yes indeed that is a Mid-Track mounted point machine produced by USTS as the model, what else, MT and according to this post on the Has Been blog it dates from the original construction of the interlocking and was manufactured sometime between 1904 and 1912, surviving about 2 or 3 re-signaling efforts...but unfortunately not 4.

The MT machine at E180TH ST was attached to a split point derail and what probably kept it in service in addition to its compact mounting, was that it is probably the only model of point machine that support staggered point blades, which were called for in this specific power derail. 

Anyway, the 100+ year old point machine had been giving the NYCTA some real headaches as of late as all repairs had to be carried out from scratch, still, it is always a same when the last of something disappears from the wild, if not the entire world.  While the three headed monsters were clearly unique, they were made from standard hardware that still exists in droves.  The MT was truly unique and something the likes of which will never be seen again.

Monday, October 8, 2012

PHOTOS: METRA TOWER A-2 (Western Ave) Part 2 - Inside

So back in Part 1 we explored the history behind TOWER A-2 and the layout of the interlocking plant.  Here in Part 2 we will venture inside the tower to see how it functions as a critical part of the Chicago area commuter rail network.  Just for a quick reference I am going to throw up the link to the original interlocking diagram again so you can open it in a second tab or window for reference.

So we will begin with another quick look outside the tower at the entry stairway which was clearly updated at some point after construction.  The PRR tended to prefer internal stairways for its late model interlocking towers, but in this case Milwaukee practice seems to have prevailed with an external stairway and door.  As is typical the relay room has been provided with its own entryway.  The upper story of the tower has been retrofitted with new siding and new replacement windows, but fortunately seems to have avoided the worst aspects of Tower Window Syndrome with none of them being boarded up.

Here we see the venerable US&S Model 14 electro-pneumatic interlocking machine.  This is an 83 lever frame that contained 69 active levers in its original configuration with 45 for switches, derails and movable point diamonds, 22 for signals and two release levers that I believe set traffic direction over the crossing.  As this tower is following Milwaukee practice the model board is of the more colourful variety with color coded track circuits whereas PRR practice used a white on black scheme with diagram symbols to indicate circuit boundaries.  The other Chicago Union Station towers, LAKE and JACKSON streets, also used this multi-colored style.  Due to the four color theorem US&S only needed pastel versions of red, green, yellow and blue to represent all the circuits without having any one color touch another of the same type.

While the model board has had all of the removed trackage blacked out, those altering it did a good job blacking out what was gone and re-painting what could not be simply blacked out.   Moreover all of the original text labels like C.&N.W. RY and C.M.S.P.&P. RY are still present along with the control city of Logansport on the since removed PRR Panhandle track.  BTW, I believe that the model board is in fact fitted with three clocks, one old analogue, one new analogue and one digital.

Builder's plate on the Model 14 machine.  Constructed in 1938 this is a fairly late model frame, although production would continue up until the 1950's.

Wider view of the Model 14 machine.  You can see that when the tower was renovated it was fitted with a drop ceiling and track lights to illuminate the model board.

Opposite side angle view of the Model 14 power frame.  You can see that the lever 83 position is still occupied to control a switch.  Of the 69 original active levers about 45 are still in service.  Those switches that do not see frequent movements are affixed with Rusty Rail tags which remind the operator that trains working over those switches may not shunt and therefore the operator should verify that the route is clear before making any conflicting actions.  Probably due to a noddle incident there is now a sign on the interlocking machine advising people not to put food or drink on top of it.

As would be expected the levers at the far right of the machine handle the position light signals and crossovers in the east end of the interlocking plant. The 77 turnout is set reverse with a blocking device applied which would imply that track #2 east is out of service at that time.

Here in a closeup of levers 29 through 49 we see the standard US&S setup with switch levers pointed upwards and signal levers pointed downwards.  Unlike PRR practice, the levers here have also been painted in the normal style with switched black, signals red and lock levers blue.  The PRR tended to leave all of its power frame levers painted black.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Trading the Uncommon for the Rare

The MTBA owned portion of the Fitchburg Line is being re-signaled and while this will ultimately lead to the closure of Waltham Tower and its increasingly rare US&S Model 14 machine, it has created a rather interesting conundrum for the committed signal fan.  The junction of the Fitchburg Line with the Guilford Rail System's freight main line is being reconstructed to accommodate the second track being added to the MTBA portion of the line and of course the relay based interlocking plant with its Boston and Maine era signaling hardware is going to be replaced because what good is Federal money if it can't be used to help out a private for profit corporation.  The silver lining is that a pair of rather spartan B&M two track signal bridges equipped with three head US&S searchlight signal masts are being replaced by brand new target type bracket signals, similar to ones installed previously on the Haverhill Line resignaling project.

While the loss of searchlights, especially US&S H-2 units is always tragic, the truth is that the bracket mast is far more endangered on the North American rail network than the searchlight signal is, especially if Unilens and new LED searchlights are included.  Today the MBTA is the only outfit that still regularly installed bracket masts after NJT generally dumped them in favor of standard signal bridges.  So I guess I'm have to be contented with the silver lining of getting a brand new instance of something that has become increasingly rare. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Chemicals that Made American Signaling Great

Two months before ALTO Tower closed I went out for a final round of photos on a sunny spring day and while I was there I spent some time at the satellite interlocking CP-SLOPE, which was under direct wire control from ALTO tower.  The old SLOPE tower was closed in the 1950's with a relay plant being constructed on the foundation.  However the power supply for the interlocking remained much as it was when the tower was open.  Pole line power is nothing new in my experience, however the PRR was not about to be satisfied with some dinky 440 volt wires on a telegraph pole and SLOPE was fed from ALTO through a thick bundle of signal wires to a number of vintage 1930's or 1940's "Pole Pig" at the westbound signal gantry.

 Hmmm, what's that sticker on the side of the transformer.  Let's take a closer look.

Yup, good old PCB's.  Except no substitutes when cooling a transformer.  In what could be the ultimate example of "if it ain't broke" this power supply lasted past the closing of the tower, past the formation of the Penn Central and Conrail and right up to the point that ALTO itself was closed and eliminated with those persistent organic pollutants staying stable, year in, year out.  This wasn't the only example either.  There were two more at the SLOPE relay plant.

I have asked around, but have not been able to definitively date these transformers except that they probably date from the 30's or 40's.  Help would be appreciated.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rumors of Train Orders' Demise are Greatly Exaggerated

Last week it was reported that the Long Island Rail Road had "retired" its Train Order system inherited from the old PRR Standard Code rulebook.  The last Form 19 Train Order was issued on September 3rd at 11:59, removing the Form 19 from use as a train order device.  Prior to this the venerable Form 19 had only been used to deliver speed restrictions and other miscellaneous instructions with movement authorities being transferred to the new LIRR Form L.  While some had assumed this to mean that the LIRR was now using a modern Track Warrant system with paperwork similar to a NORAC Form D or MNRR Form M, the truth is that this only represented a change in paperwork.

The Form 19, seen below, was a long form train order where all the instructions were written out in long hand, on multiple copies and given to whomever it may concern.  The large block of text could confer a movement authority or seed restriction or just about anything safety related that a train needed to do.

The Form L on the other hand is broken up with those fill in the blank lines so common on track warrants and other movement permits in use across North America.  However while most of those other forms have 10 or more fill in the blank lines, the Form L only has 4, and none of them have anything to do with standard movement authority.  However there is a 5th block that contains a paragraph worth of blank lines for....hmmm...a long form, hand written block of instructions.

Upon inquiring I learned that there have been no alterations to LIRR operating practice except for the elimination of a Clearance Card C for passing a stop signal in favor of the Rule 241 verbal permission past a stop signal.  The LIRR still uses its traditional PRR manual block system with K cards, A cards and superior/inferior trains governed by timetable and, you guessed it, train orders.  So despite what you might hear, train order operation still lives on at America's oldest railroad.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

PHOTOS: METRA TOWER A-2 (Western Ave) Part 1

METRA Tower A-2, also known as Western Ave, is one of the most epic interlockings in North America.  Unlike many of the well known east coast interlockings like ZOO or UNION or JAY/HALL, Western Ave doesn't have networks of tunnels and flyovers artfully sending trains to their required destinations.  Western Ave does things the Chicago way with brute force using diamonds, diamonds and more diamonds.  Furthermore, the interlocking plans survives with an active tower and many original appliances from its heyday in contrast to many other large Chicago area interlockings which have fallen prey to resignaling and simplification in recent years.

Tower A-2 and the interlocking complex known as Western Ave is located a few miles to the west of downtown Chicago where the present day METRA Milwaukee District crosses the  METRA UP West Line. However back in the day the interlocking actually involves three railroads.  The heart of the interlocking was where the Milwaukee Road's trunk line to the North and West crossed the former Chicago Northwestern Railroad's main line to the west through Iowa.  There is where one four track main line met another four track main line at grade and the only solution was a set of diamonds.  Actually, diamonds would have been simple blessing, sort of an Englewood of the north side, as the lines cross at about 30 degree angle which required a set of 16 double slip switches and movable point diamonds to be constructed.  This is perhaps the largest such application of double slips and movable point diamonds to ever be installed in North America outside of a terminal location. 

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better the Pennsylvania Railroad got involved.  You see, the PRR didn't just have one route into Chicago.  Aside from the familiar route via Fort Wayne, passing through the Quad Draws and 21st St Tower (aka Alton Junction), the PRR operated what was known as the Panhandle Route, named after the West Virginian panhandle through which its main line passed after splitting off the usual main line at Pittsburgh.  The line continued on via Columbus, Richmond and Logansport, entering Chicago through the back door, running parallel to the B&OCT up through 75th St Junction and the Brighton Park crossing until it hit the CNW main line where, like a garden hose trained in a brick wall, made a sharp right hand turn to curve back in toward Chicago to the Union Station complex that the PRR owned 50% of.  It was at this right turn where westbound PRR trains to Chicago would ironically travel the last 2 miles heading eastbound that Western Ave interlocking and it was actually at this point where the Milwaukee Road's main line into Chicago would end and merge into the PRR's line, under the auspices of the Chicago Union Station holding company.   Due to the majority PRR stake, this part of the line was and still is equipped with position light signaling, making the junction at Western Ave a real Chimera.

So let's take a quick look at Western and as you can see in this thankfully clear interlocking diagram, its layout borders on the insane.  It is similar to the interlockings at either ZOO or Janacia in function, a major sorting and junction point where two trunk lines meet on their way downtown, but like I said this one takes the brute force approach instead of something more elegant with ramps and flyovers.  The 83 lever US&S Model 14 interlocking is large, but still modest in size falling well short of at century mark at 83 total levers with 69 active.  Like I mentioned before the real hallmark of this interlocking are the doubleslip switches and movable point diamond crossings.  Aside from the 4x4 crossing with its 7 doubleslips and 8 MPD's, as built where were two additional doupleslips for a trailing point ladder track on the CNW trunk and three additional MPD's where the Milwaukee Road track join with the PRR tracks.  All told there are 11 MPD's and 9 doubleslip switches, numbers unheard of outside of terminal interlockings. 

It is also interesting to note hot this interlocking was zoned.  As you can see there is the Milwaukee /CNW crossing zone and the Milwaukee/PRR junction zone.  In the PRR Zone the PRR was of course calling the shots and all of the signals were position light.  The CNW tracks of course has CNW type ssearchlight ignals and the last entrance for the Milwaukee Road was equipped with Milwaukee searchlights.  As the interlocking plant was built in 1938, all of the signals were of the most modern type (ie no semaphores) and those original signals remain in service to this day, for the most part.

At this point I wanted to mention that the photos used for the essay come from a series of my own trips to Western Ave (exterriors) and from a source at METRA (interriors).  My own trips were taken in 2007  on an inbound UP West Line train, 2009 on an inbound Milwaukee District train and 2010 on a trip to the Western Ave METRA station.  This first photo of the tower was from the 2007 set.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Signal News Updates

Two quick updates.  First the twin three track M&W CPL bridges at HULL have been replaced.  Unlike CSX I guess NS doesn't screw around with re-signaling projects.

I also identified another 5-orbital B&O CPL in the Cincinnati Area.  They are at KC Junction across the Ohio River in Kentucky where the B&O meets the old L&N main line.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Extinction Looms Again for the Complete CPL

Once again it appears that the Complete B&O CPL is one again headed for extinction.  These most rare of signals is the B&O style CPL with all 6 orbitals and a complete central target with all 4 lamp pairs (G,Y,R,LW).  As far as I could ever determine there only used to be 2 of these, one in Curtis, IN and the other in Laughlin Jct, PA.  The first bit the dust ~2000 when the B&O Main Line to Chicago was re-signaled in the wake of the Conrail merger.  The second then fell in 2004/5 when Glenwood interlocking was removed from service on the P&W. 

Then in 2007 a miracle occurred.  A capacity improvement project at West Baltimore triggered an upgrade of the 1992 installed westbound CPLs at CARROLL interlocking with one main track getting a plus up to 5 orbitals and another to 6 and like the coelacanth, the B&O complete CPL was back from the dead.  Unfortunately, a short 5 years later CSX abandoned all efforts to reuse any old signaling hardware, even if it was not life expired and in the case of the Capitol and Metropolitan subs had no incentive to do so as it was awash in stimulus money to upgrade the MARC commuter rail service.  The result is a brand new, modern and recently upgraded CPL signal now facing retirement and forcing the complete CPL back into extinction.  What a fucking waste of tax dollars.

As far as I can tell the next best CPL is a 5-orbital model in Hamilton, OH, although the head lacks a Lunar indication.  If anyone reading this knows of anything better let me know.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Canadian Pacific Mystery Searchlights

A year ago I posted about the new searchlight signals being installed by the Canadian Pacific at their rebuilt Mechanicsville Yard.While the CP ultimately became rather inconsistent about its new searchlight policy it seems that there is a bit of a wrinkle to the plot.  I recent came across some photos about a new, new searchlight installation in Canada, this time with some closeups of the searchlights themselves and it confirmed something I had suspected for some time.  CP is not installing either recycled "classic' style searchlights or their modern replacement Unilens or tri-LED type searchlights.  Instead what is going in is something that looks like a classic searchlight, but has a much larger housing and the light output of an LED signal.  You can see here in this photo of the most recent instalation being put into service.

Compare them to the classic US&S H-2 units they are replacing.

I will look into this.  It would be great if modern solid state searchlight signals could finally take off and provide some much needed competition for those god damn Darth Vader signals.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

VIDEOS: Pennsylvania Railroad Cab Signaling Demonstration

I've talked about the 4-aspect PRR Cab Signaling System before, but this time I have a really good video demonstration of how it works in practice. As you know the system uses coded track circuits with pulses of 100Hz current sent through the running rails at rates of 180, 120, 75 and 0 pulses per minute which provide the cab signals of Clear, Approach Medium, Approach and Restricting. These roughly correspond with the 4 main speeds of railroad operations, Normal, Limited, Medium and Slow. As there are about 20 signal indications displayed on wayside signals and only 4 cab signals, the cabs provide only a rough indication of what the engineer can expect, but the system is set up in such a way so that it can forestall most grossly unsafe conditions, especially when outfitted with speed control.

So what better way to demonstrate the PRR Cab Signaling System than to bring you a video taken in the cab of one of the last passenger cars purchased for use by the PRR. On June 29th, 2012 the 1967 vintage Silverliner III class EMU, along with the 1963 vintage Silverliner II class EMU made their final runs on the SEPTA Cynwyd Line service. I was take to stand in the cab and get some video of the engineer operating the train from the Cynwyd Station in towards 30th St Station in Philadelphia. The cars are equipped with a Modernized Cab Display Unit, installed during an early 1990's rehabilitation. This still display the PRR miniature position light signal indication, but also include an integrated speedometer for the speed control function as well as other lights for overspeed and brake suppression. The train starts in non-cab signal territory, but as it passed the signal at CP-JEFF (4:27) it passes a cut-in loop (4:55) and the display activates (5:00). The cab signals then begin an automatic test sequence running through each aspect before returning to the one respecting the code in the rails (6:00).

There is a slow speed switch onto the main line with a wayside signal displaying Slow Approach (6:38). This translates to a Restricting cab signal, but the cab signal only drops when the train passes the Slow Approach signal (7:03). Had the signal been displaying Stop it would drop about 1500 feet before the signal. At 7:12 the train's leading wheels pass the interlocking limits and then pick up the cab signal being fed into the block ahead of it and the cab signal upgrades to Clear. The engineer then waits for his entire train to clear the 15mph turnout. The signal remains at clear as the train enters the western limits of ZOO interlocking. As you recall ZOO is quite an expansive interlocking (less so than in years past) and is still controlled from a big US&S Model 14 machine in ZOO tower. There are several automatic signals located within ZOO's interlocking limits and as we approach the 28 automatic at Clear it drops to Approach (9:03) and then bounces up to Approach Medium (9:11). This was the result of a signal dropping to Stop at K interlocking and the old relay logic took a bit of time to figure out what to do with it as the 28 auto is the second signal in advance of the one at Stop. You can hear the delay between the signal drop and when the cab signal responds to it.

The next signal the train passes is at Approach (9:57), which causes a cab signal drop from Approach Medium to Approach (10:26), and then you hear the cab signal drop from Approach to Restricting (10:42) as we come upon the Stop signal. K interlocking used to be part of ZOO interlocking and was owned and maintained and operated by Amtrak. However Amtrak ran no trains through that part of ZOO so a few years ago Amtrak transferred that part of ZOO to SEPTA, re-signaling it and ting it into their own dispatch center. Well SEPTA has been having issues with their dispatching ever since they closed their panel type interlocking towers and set their trains to run on a system designed for rapid transit services. The dispatchers are told to use the automatic route setting almost exclusively and as a result their train routing skills are a bit rusty. In this case a heat kink was discovered on the track we were routed on and we needed to cross over to track 2 at K interlocking. The situation is discussed starting at11:19, but at 11:39 the dispatcher lines up a route down the kinked track 1 again!!! The crew calls it in and this time the signal needs to be knocked down (12:07) with a 4 minute timer run. We finally get a Medium Clear signal indication which results in an Approach Medium cab signal indication which turns to Clear when we pass the limits of K interlocking at 13:19.

Anyway, here is the video. Enjoy both the signaling and the vintage equipment on its last day of service.

As a bonus I have a second video taken in the opposite direction that still shows the cab signals, but doesn't capture the engineer very well. This is because the Silverliner III's were delivered with left hand driving positions to allow passengers to enter and exit through the front of the car when being operated as a single unit. In this video the train climbs up on a long slow ramp to a truss bridge flyover. This used to be the route of main track #4 flying over some freight tracks, but as the bridge deteriorated and freight was eliminated, main track #4 was relocated leaving only Cynwyd Line trains using it. As the train passes the reverse direction dwarf signal at 11:08 on an Approach cab signal, it leaves cab signal territory. I think automatic cab signal cutout loops do exist, but even if they do this location is not equipped with one and the conductor must place his key into a cab signal cutout box (11:15) and turn off the cab signals (which would otherwise be left at Restricting in absence of a CSS code). The cut-out box out is out of arm's reach of the engineer so it requires two people to cut out the cab signal system without stopping the train. Sort of like how missiles are launched from submarines.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hoboken Terminal Tower and North American Panel Interlockings

In 2005 the door closed on one of the last large panel driven interlocking tower in North America.  Occupying the bridge between second generation power interlocking machines like the Model 14 and Pistol Grip and today's ubiquitous computer driven interlocking systems.  Typically referred to as N-X interlocking machines, the simple technology of pushing buttons to set routes is just one part of a true panel interlocking. The best example of panel machines controlled either large territories or complex stretches of track.  In addition to the simple N-X route buttons and unit levels for switches panels would be outfitted with communications equipment and large analogue model boards separated from the human interface that would light up the routes set.  Sometimes this interface would be simplified like a GRS TrafficMaster, other times a highly compact model board that could be easily reached by the operator, but no matter their appearance their time in service was short lived.

Panel type interlocking control systems were never as popular in the United States as they were in Europe or other parts of the world. At the time that large panel type technology replaced power frames like the US&S Model 14 and GRS Pistol Grip (~1955-1985), railroads in North America were entering a period of sharply declining fortunes and austerity. Where lines retained their signaling or were not simply ripped out, classic interlocking towers dating from the 1900's through 1940's were either not replaced or replaced by Unit Lever CTC type panels, which while a form of panel, completely lacked the sorts of advanced technologies seen in European panel boxes. While there was adoption of first generation N-X technology for complex junctions and terminals starting in the late 1930's, this petered out austerity took over and railroad's physical plants were drastically simplified along with the near complete abandonment of passenger operations where the need for advanced panel technology would be greatest.

The other factor working against large panel type "boxes" in North America is the fact that vital interlocking hardware for large areas is not concentrated in one structure and the lower traffic density, even in remaining passenger terminals, was never high enough to necessitate things like automatic train describers. Therefore what panels were built served only as a human interface device, one that was easily replaced by software solutions and video display units. While most railroads jumped directly from towers to computers or from first generation CTC panels to computers, there was a small period of time where N-X panels with all the flashing lights were standard fare in dispatch offices and those towers that remained open. Here is a YouTube video of one such panel, situated in RU tower in Lorain Ohio that also happened to be a lift bridge control cabin, in operation. 

The other problem was that when railroads did rebound after deregulation in the 1980's those that had previously made the largest investment in signaling were the roads serving the heavily industrialized northeast and Midwest. When manufacturing was decimated those railroads found their signaling and track infrastructure drastically overbuilt just at a time when new technology was appearing so those few panels that had been installed in the late 50's and 1960's were nearly all removed from service during this period. Here are videos of two examples on the former Reading System in Reading, PA. The first is VALLEY tower which contained a wrap around General Railway Signal N-X console dating from the 1950's which had the operator directly pressing buttons on the model board. The machine is on the verge of retirement here in this 1987 video and you can see how much of the physical plant has been altered by looking at what's been blanked out on the diagram.

 Across the river from VALLEY is OLEY tower, which was built in the 1960's to consolidate several older towers in the Reading terminal and yard area. OLEY was provided with a much more advanced N-X setup that had a billboard style model board sitting in front of a wrap around operator's console. In this case the operator would work compact groupings of N-X controls on miniature diagrams, but not interact with the model board itself. In a similar 1987 video we can see the inside of OLEY shortly before its closure as part of the same re-control project.

So this brings us to Hoboken Terminal Tower which was built along with the terminal itself by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western in 1907. As can be seen in the Signalbox site's page the original tower, which had the appearance of a gingerbread house, contained an ancient 155 lever US&S Electro-Pneumatic type interlocking machine. This machine was in service up until the early 1980's when the state took over commuter rail operations directly from DL&W successor Conrail, which had previously been running them under contract. The old DL&W commuter rail system was in a sorry state to say the least with the 1907 signaling running electric MU's dating from 1930 under a bizzare signal aspect system. The state planned to replace both the aging 3000 volt DC electrification and completely re-signal the lines with modern signals displaying standard signal aspects. Most of its new commuter lines were to be signaled from a new dispatch office inside the Hoboken Terminal headhouse utilizing large non-video type model board displays. However the complex Hoboken terminal would still be worthy of its own dedicated interlocking tower and for this purpose a new 4 story brick structure was constructed at the end of the longest platform with a mix of signal operators and clerks contained within.

However 21 years later the entire 1984 vintage signaling control system with its micro-bulb lit model boards and semi-computerized operation was already starting to show its age and compared poorly with new all software systems that could do things like train description. Even more of a concern was the fact that with the office in the terminal station, signalers might occasionally interact with train crews, contaminating them with non-management approved ideas. Therefore the decision was made to move the whole kit and caboodle to a new control center located in the isolated Meodowlands Maintenance Facility, affectionally named Club Med due to all of the creature comforts the new facility would have compared to the old one. In addition to the dispatch center it was determined that having signalers who could actually see the complex terminal they were responsible for was a bad idea that might complicate scheduling and management so instead of replacing the old Terminal Tower hardware with some computer screens those jobs were also moved to Club Med.

Anyway what inspired this entire post is that I finally discovered some photos of the inside of Terminal Tower, which also happened to be taken on its last day of service on June 10th, 2005. So let's begin by entering the operational area of the tower.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Laughlin Junction is No More

CSX ripping down CPL's is nothing really newsworthy, but this time it involves the subject of a previous blog post.  If you happen to remember the piece on Laughlin Junction you will recall that it was an actual junction located on the CSX P&W Subdivision on the route of Amtrak's Capitol Limited.  The P&W Sub was the original B&O route to Chicago, but was long ago relegated to secondary status by the use of P&LE trackage rights between Braddock and New Castle.  Laughlin Junction was the junction of the short branch to the old B&O station in downtown Pittsburgh, last used for the PATrain service in the 1980's.  Laughlin Junction was special because it contained one of two Full Complete CPL's with all 4 positions on the target and all 6 orbitals being used.

The Junction's fall began in the late 90's the station was demolished and the line to it converted into a bike path. In 2003 the active interlocking tower at Glenwood was closed due to a long trending decline in local industrial rail traffic which was done in conjunction with CSX single tracking the line between there and Braddock which in turn caused the full CPL to lose all of its orbitals.  Shortly thereafter the entire P&W sub was leased to a shortline and all of the CPL signaling removed from service, making the three remaining interlockings orphans on the CSX system, retained only because of the Amtrak traffic but still requiring all the usual maintenance.    Well next Laughlin lost first one of its crossovers and then the other leaving only one switch between the former second main turned running track and the west end of the Glennwood yard.  Well this past week the final nail was put in the coffin when CSX removed the entire interlocking from service, replacing the CPLs on the E/B bracket and W/B tubular gantry with a simple bi-directional Darth automatic signal at the site of the gantry.

It remains to be seen what will become of the new gantry, the old bracket and the forest CPL.  Anyway I can't really get too made at this one.  The interlocking was barely functional and a dispatcher told me it would take several minutes for the all relay plant to display an indication.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Turning Out the Position Lights at AC

Here is something I cannot say I am very surprised about, although I have been expecting it for some time.  It seems that at least one of the N&W Position Light brackets on the NS Sandusky Branch are being replaced at the famous AC diamonds in Marion, OH.  AC Tower itself closed in the mid-1990's but was preserved, interlocking machine included, nearly in place as a signaling museum.  For over a decade the N&W brackets have stood in a sea of Vadar signals on the former Conrail branch since operated by CSX, but it appears now that at least one of those brackets (the northbound one with the / and | positions on the lower head) are being replaced by a bullshit cantilever.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

'C' is for Stop and Check

Some may make fun of the "diversity" of North American signal rules, but they do make for interesting explanations. Today's post brings us to the southern portion of the country for a signal rule unique to the former Seaboard Air Line territory of CSX. The rule in question is 293 which applies to any all red signal with a (C) plate attached to it.

 The rule itself reads.

Stop and check position of drawbridge, spring switch, derail, gates protecting railroad crossing, ensure the way is clear and drawbridge, spring switch, derails, or gates are in proper position and proceed at Restricted speed

The rule sounds simple enough, sort of splitting the difference between a Rule 292 Stop signal and a Rule 291 Stop and Proceed signal. However, to fully understand Stop and Check and the reasons for its use you have to place yourself in the context of the single line, train order based system of operation that predominated in much of North America up until the 1960's. Growing up in the Northeast with its heavily industrialized past it is easy to develop a rather bias view of what railroading should consist of. I.E. Main lines have 2 (or more) tracks, signaled with ABS and interlockings (manned or otherwise) are plentiful, especially at main line diamond crossings and movable bridges. Secondary tracks can be single and controlled by manual block or train orders, but its not such a big deal because those are the old agricultural lines that don't even exist any more. Maybe if a railroad was trying to pinch pennies that might employ something with Absolute Permissive Block with swing switched passing sidings and holdout signals, but that's more an interurban thing. This point of view would also apply in Europe.

Unfortunately this reality only existed where industrial and population conditions allowed for it as things like two track main lines and interlockings are big ticket items that railroads serving areas that consist mostly of empty land or farm fields simply could not afford. In these places the model was single track main lines with passing sidings and some bi-directional ABS if you were lucky. Interlockings were few and far between with diamond crossings and movable bridges getting no special pass on this. Oh, and trains dispatch themselves working with timetable and train order. For a system that did whatever it could to eliminate the need for full fledged interlockings, Rule 293 Stop and Check is to diamond crossings and movable bridges as spring switches and absolute automatic hold out signals are passing sidings.

Stop and Check plated signals are automatics in that there is no human that can push a button and set them to absolute Stop, yet they are attached to things that might often require an absolute stop like diamond crossings and movable bridges. However they can get away with this because what Stop and Check protects does not represent a decision point for the train. Instead of spending money to install an interlocking that must have routes set by a human and must require human intervention in case of a failure, Stop and Check allows train crews to inspect local conditions on their own and continue without external input.

Now the usefulness of Stop and Check is clear in the old Train Order days, but why would they appear on modern CTC lines? Well under early modern CTC schemes where Stop and Check is likely to appear there are several factors at play. First you'll still save money using Stop and Check than installing an interlocking. Second, the majority of railroads outside of the Northeast industrial belt did not adopt a Call-on aspect as standard in their CTC interlockings so if there was a problem affecting the ABS logic of an interlocking a signal could not be displayed even if the routing logic checked out. Passing such signals would require dispatcher intervention, which on a low density line isn't a huge problem, but the more absolute signals one installs, the greater the potential for disruption. Finally, simply fitting an old train order operation main line with CTC doesn't necessarily eliminate the old train order mentality. The line is still single track with short passing sidings. Fitting fully fledged interlockings in the space between these sidings only allows for dispatchers to screw up and create Mexican standoffs at the movable bridge or diamond crossing. Since routing decisions can only be made at passing sidings there is no reason to allow dispatchers to exercise control at intermediate points unless there is an explicit need for a holdout signal.

Alright then, I think this is a pretty good investigation of the context behind Stop and Check so let us look at a real life example located in Athens, Georgia where the CSX Abbeville (nee SAL) crosses the former Central Railroad of Georgia Athens branch crossed. Today the old CoG line is run by a shortline serving local industries north and south of the city. It sees nowhere near the level of traffic as the Abbeville Sub does and therefore there is no need for full time mediation of routes at the crossing. The crossing is also one block north of Fowler Junction passing siding and while a holdout would be appropriate here, it was not seen as necessary.

We begin looking north along the Abbeville Sub and one thing in our immediate favor is that for whatever reason these signals are not approach lit so unlike every other signal on this line we are treated to constant stream of block occupancy and direction of traffic information. Also in evidence is a solar powered rail greaser, and a call box that may or may not still be in operation. Keep in mind this is not an interlocking and as such has no station name associated with it. It's only reference in the employee timetable is on the diagram and there are no special instructions regarding a "railroad crossing at grade. So for train crews the only thing special about this location s that (C) plate.

Nothing too special about the signal except that it is a US&S model N-3 integrated color light with an "elephant ear" type backing. The signal was probably installed along with the CTC project in the 1980's and was at the tail end of the use of the classic N series signals before US&S switched to a new singleton modular unit in the 1990s. In another nod to cost savings the standard maintainer's ladder has been replaced by a set of pole affixed rungs.

The relay box is located by the southbound mast in the southwest quadrant of the crossing. It is of the design typical to ABS signals instead of the bungalow style used for interlockings such as at nearby NE FOWLER JCT. While note the cut telecom line heading into the case which was probably used to report block state back to the dispatcher via a pole line. A similar hook up was similarly cut on the MP 511 automatic. The lack of an ACTS antenna indicates that there is no dispatcher control over anything at this crossing, however the "double wide" relay box indicates that a bit more equipment is present than usually required for a simple ABS boundary.

Looking in the southbound direction we find a much shorter and freshly painted mast protecting the crossing. The northbound signal is much taller due to the presence of a hand operated connecting track to the CoG from the Abbeville Sub in the southwest quadrant ([url]]since removed[/url]) which combined with a curve in the main line could could obstruct the view of a shorter signal.

This mast was freshly painted and was also displaying Stop. Until recently CSX had adopted the common practice of painting the "business" end of its signal masts black and the pole end silver to increase visibility of the signals. With the advent of unpainted aluminum signal structures and Darth Vader hoods this practice only continues with the remaining Conrail territory in New Jersey and Michigan. The (C) plate is made from fiberglass and is similar to the (P) boards that the Seaboard System liked to use to mark its permissive signals with.