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.
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.