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Monday, February 18, 2013

CORK Tower Closes: 1929-2013

At 10am on Tuesday February 19th, 2013 Amtrak's CORK Tower in Lancaster, PA will was planned to close for good and when it does finally close that will also drop the curtain on the last fully paper dispatched railroad main line in North America (although the LIRR probably still has some branch lines that can qualify as paper dispatched).   CORK tower was opened in 1929 as the PRR re-routed its Main Line around downtown Lancaster (resulting in the infamous 1000 foot mile) and along with a shiny new station building the entire area was signaled by a new brick interlocking and an 67 lever US&S Model 14 interlocking machine.  From end to end the whole interlocking was 3.2 miles long and controlled a junction of the Main Line with the Columbia Branch to COLA, the Reading Lititz Branch crossing both the Main Line and Columbia Branches, the Lancaster terminal area, the junction of the PRR New Holland Branch and, until 1948, the 4 track to 2 track squeeze on the main line at the Conestoga River Bridge.

CORK did not go quietly and was probably one of the most protracted interlocking resignalings of all time.  The process started way back in 2005 (!) when the interlocking was dramatically reconfigured from its PRR vintage layout with the old station tracks being removed and the disused main tracks (previously used by freight trains that did not like high level platforms) being physically moved over to serve the platforms.  The pneumatic point machines were replaced with electrics, new crossovers were added (but not activated) and many of the old freight sidings were reconfigured and a new freight bypass track installed.  In 2008, with Rule 562 operation on its way east from Harrisburg, the old junction with the Lititz Branch was spun off as its own LITITZ interlocking, and about a year later the old Model 14 machine was finally retired with the remainder of CORK's territory being split into a new CORK interlocking west of the Station, CONESTOGA interlocking east of it and HOLLAND interlocking at the New Holland branch junction.

CORK was not about to have a little thing like re-signaling stop it as it simply exchanged its Model 14 for a bunch of panel machines controlling not only LITITZ, CORK, CONESTOGA and HOLLAND, but also the new interlocking at LEAMAN (formerly a TBS) and PARK (replacing the old PARK tower).  CORK soldiered on with a 24/7 operator looking at the little portrait on the model board for three more years until Amtrak finally managed to move its NEC Mid-Atlantic dispatching facility from 30th St Station to Wilmington, DE in the fall of 2012.  While the Section B and C dispatchers made the move with their large paper block registers, their new digs were fully equipped for computers and other modern amenities unlike the "back room" on the 8th floor of 30th St. With CORK's territory already under remote control it was simply a matter of adjusting the Wide Area Network to send the work out of State.

While it was inevitable that the Harrisburg Line would wind up as traditional CTC, the sad part is that both is and the southern NEC are no longer dispatched from a purpose built railroad structure.  While Amtrak's new operations center in Wilmington is next to the NEC, it is not in a station or other PRR related building.  The real irony is that the state of Pennsylvania has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to allow Amtrak to offshore about 10 or so jobs to Delaware while former dispatching offices in the Harrisburg Station not sit empty.  Oh well, perhaps one day CORK and the other preserved towers will see new life as museums, or maybe not.

 UPDATE: Due to unspecified issues the cutover was not successful and CORK remains in operation as of 2/22/13.

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