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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.