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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.