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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.

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