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Saturday, March 30, 2013


Well once again it is time to turn some hum drum interlocking photos into some sort of cohesive narrative on signaling. In today's installment I bring you VINE and LOCUST interlocking on CSX's Philadelphia Subdivision. These two interlockings are located back to back about 1/2 mile from eachother on the former Baltimore and Ohio line along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Located just 600 feet from the far more impressive Pennsylvania Railroad Northeast Corridor and its 30th St Station, the B&O line was always a distant second in the City's transportation pie...taking you the same places the PRR could, just in a lot longer time.

Now technically the B&O line ended at VINE, but during the golden age of railroading the line made a connection with PRR antagonist Reading Company which had an alliance with the B&O to allow it access to the major New York area market. Now as I said the B&O's route between Washington DC and New York was hopelessly outclassed by the PRR's mega main line, even more so after the latter built tunnels directly into the heart of Manhattan and then electrified the whole kit and kaboodle. Their response was to try to compete on quality of service in the form of the daily Royal Blue service. This train would be handed off to the Reading at Philadelphia, then take Reading tracks to Bound Brook, NJ where there would be another hand off to Reading subsidiary Central RR of New Jersey, which would then take the train to its final destination in Jersey City where the passengers would leave their super luxurious train and board a deluxe...*sigh*...bus, to go the last few miles to Midtown Manhattan. Needless to say this train did not survive long into the era of the Eastern Shuttle between NY and DC.

Now this stretch of track along the east side of the River had two main uses. The first was passenger service with the B&O's 24th Street station located right there. The second was freight traffic to and from New York via the Reading, but the 1976 consolidation of the bankrupt Reading into Conrail ended these movements. Even in 1999 when CSX bought half of Conrail to regain access to New York, most traffic ended up bypassing this stretch via a connection to the West Philadelphia Elevated due to the clearance restrictions caused by the Art Museum tunnel. The upside of all this irreverence has been that since whatever signaling associated with the 24th St station was removed in the Chessie System era, what they put in for replacement has stayed intact to this day and that mean, you guessed it, the whole corridor is sprinkled with B&O style colour position light signals.

Now despite these two interlockings being located in a deep depression adjacent to the river on one side and a retaining wall for the city centre on the other, the City was awesome enough to install a Multi-Use Trail between the tracks and the river, allowing near perfect access for the purpose of documenting the signaling there. There's even a cute little level crossing for the pedestrians and cyclists, but more on that later.

Anyway we begin with LOCUST interlocking which is named for proximity to Locust St. LOCUST consists of a basic crossover and the western end of the old B&T Philadelphia terminal area between here and RG Tower where the freight yard is located. South of LOCUST in addition to the two main tracks there is also #3 and #4 Running track which are used to park freight trains for various reasons. In this photo we see the westbound CPL dwarf signals, which are dark due to approach lighting, and a freight train way in the distance parked on the running track. The principle freight traffic that uses this line are municipal waste trains to and from large transfer stations in New Jersey and Staten Island that cart away the endless stream of refuse from New York City en-route to points south. The running tracks are a popular place for CSX dispatchers to park returning empty trains until they are needed up north.

The track #1 CPL dwarf consists of a full central target with the 12 and 2 o'clock orbitals attacked. The 12 being for straight routes and the 2 for an Approach Slow for mores at GREYS FERRY interlocking. If you are wondering about diverging moves at LOCUST itself the switches only good for 10mph, which is 5mph less than the official "Slow" speed so they have a special note in the Timetable. Diverging moves are covered by either a flashing | for Slow Clear or a solid | for Slow Approach Slow.

The track #2 dwarf is the same as the #1 dwarf except it lacks the 2 o'clock orbital for Approach Slow. GREYS FERRY has another one of those 10mph turnouts for diverging moves only from track 1 to 2 westbound so at LOCUST all that is needed is Slow Approach Slow, which does not light an orbital. The lunar white Restricting \ is displayed for movements into the non-circuited #3 running track.

Now a couple months later a cut of 85 foot flatcars each with 4, 1 TEU garbage cubes parked on #2 track was lighting up the dwarf signals. In this zoom shot you can see the interlocking along with another cut of 85 foot garbage flats which was probably split to avoid fouling the interlocking and the crossing.

 Here we see each of the westbound CPL dwarfs lit up from a slightly off angle.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

An Interlocking By Any Other Name

If there is one thing that can be considered constant in the world of railroad signaling, apart from mileposts that is, it would be interlocking names.  Interlocking names tend to hang around even as towers are closed and signals replaced.  Now sometimes large plants are broken up into smaller ones and telegraph codes may be replaced by names and names replaced by CP numbers, but there are numerous cases of interlockings keeping the same name through 3 or 4 owners over a time period of a century or more. 

While out documenting some searchlight signals on the former Delaware and Hudson territory in Upstate New York I came upon a unique piece of living history several miles west of Mechanicville where the generically named Canadian Pacific "Freight Subdivision" joins with a connector track to Rotterdam Junction westbound and a 9000 foot siding eastbound.  As you can see the relay hut for the interlocking plant is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis.

As the intra-interlocking pole line cable may give allude to, this interlocking plant has clearly been in service for a number of decades and the relay hut has no fewer than four different nameplates identifying it three different ways.  Solving this puzzle will take one back in time through a tangle of corporate ownership, but fortunately its not too difficult to figure out what is going on here.

The oldest name is the QS telegraph code which is the original D&H name and was probably taken from the tower that used to be at this location.  At some point the D&H caught the CTC bug and when the number of interlockings exploded, instead of trying to make up new call-signs some clever person in the D&H front office just went with a popular variety of the CP system with a suffix indicating the particular subdivision.  In this case the Subdivision was F for the "Freight" Subdivision which ran from the Boston and Maine interchange and massive yard complex at Mechanicville to the interchange with the former Erie and DL&W lines in Binghamton with further connections to Scranton.   This new organization reflected the growing importance of freight flowing to and from the New England ports over freight to and from Canada and also opportunities granted the D&H during the Conrail merger where the smaller railroad was given expanded track access to help "compete" with the semi-nationalized northeast freight monopoly.  So the new designation of the old QS interlocking became CPF-10 as it was 10 miles from the start of the line in Mechanicville.

In 1984 the B&M successor Guilford Rail System and its eccentric owner bought the ailing D&H for essentially pocket change and because he now had a lot more railroad to play with the owner decided to fully integrate his existing 'Freight' Main Line, which ran from near Brunswick, Maine through to Mechanicville, with the D&H line to Binghamton.  Out went the millage reset and in came a new set of three digit numbers from 467 to 611 and CPF-10 became CPF-477.  GRS ran the D&H into the ground so badly that the D&H portion of GRS went bankrupt in 1988 and Canadian Pacific was eventually brought in to take it over.  Now CP Rail wasn't about to go all wacky and re-name things yet again, but it did eventually come by and attach new nameplates on the relay hut. 

One result of the CP takeover of the former GRS integrated line is that the CP trains which run primarily to and from Canada (just like the D&H trains did) start off at MP 611 in Binghamton, run to milepost 480 north of Schenectady and then continue straight ahead onto the Canadian Sub with its new mileage system starting at Milepost 21 (facepalm).  Oh, and CP trains making the turn to stay on the Freight Sub will continue to count down to 468 at which point they turn onto the Colonie Sub at Milepost 19 which will then count down to zero at Albany. 

CPF-477 of course is not the only interlocking to show off at least some of its heritage.  One mile to the west CPF-487 still shows the signs of its original name, QG.  Unfortunately CPF-478 and other interlocking plants along the line are being re-signaled and the new relay huts aren't going to have their naming history transferred over.  One example that might survive is the old hut from CPF-130 (that's D&H CPF-130) now serving as the housing for the radio repeater at CPO-4 on the Colonie Sub in Watervillet. 

So the lesson for everyone is to think long and hard before you go and re-chain your rail line because if your expansion plans get undone its going to create major headaches for decades to come.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

CALUMET Tower Closes and Other News

Well this one certainly came in under my radar, but CALUMET tower located on the Indiana Harbour Belt where it crosses the CSX (BO&CT) main line in East Calumet City, IN just closed in early March 2013.  CALUMET was a very old mechanical tower with all the looks and structural integrity of METRA's 16th St crossing only containing a 96-lever National Switch and Signal (later bought by US&S) mechanical lever frame which would help to hold the tower up better.  Calumet Jct consists of the triple crossing between the IHB, B&OCT and EJE lines with the IHB and EJE each crossing the B&OCT on a set of 6 diamonds and then the EJE crossing the IHB via shallow angle movable point diamonds.

 Like all other surviving interlocking towers CALUMET lost a lot of complexity over the years and like DOLTON junction it had its mechanical points swapped for the power operated variety and most of its classic signals swapped for Darth Vader masts, but its ease of access and location at the crossing of two major main lines made it a very popular railfan hotspot, although only for those willing to brave the bad neighborhood it was in.  While no scheduled passenger service passed by CALUMET I personally had the honor of getting a rare mileage trip past during an Amtrak detour over the Porter Branch after a large freight train derailment on the Chicago Line and I am glad I was able to get my own photos of the old girl while where was still someone up top bending the iron.

CALUMET, which one source lists as being built between 1895 and 1897, clearly saw a long and full life and now will probably face the fate that befalls most wooden towers of that type of either being torn down or being burnt down.  There is a slim bit of hope in that the near by GRASSELI tower, which closed in 2007 as the third to last tower with mechanically worked points in North America, was actually preserved and moved to a nearby railroad museum so who knows, perhaps the same motivated individuals are still around to get the IHB to hold back the backhoes and give this tower a new lease on life.  One thing is for sure that is CALUMET is preserved its lever frame will be vastly more interesting to play around with. Unfortunately the once tower rich IHB is down to only about two active plants on its serpentine main line after HICK closed a year or two ago up where it joined the Chicago Line.  The EJE isn't far behind although it two movable bridges with local control towers are unlikely to be put under CTC.

There is of course a Has-Been post on the closing of CALUMET, although that site doesn't seem to like direct inbound links so you might have to re-load the page or cut and paste the link and of course John Roma has been inside to take pictures.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


When one hears the name BLUE ISLAND in a Railroading context one is most likely to think about truss bridges, a 7 track grade crossing, 4 diamonds and the last Crossing Tower in the United States. Blue Island Junction is near the top of the list of hottest railfan hotspots. Located at the west end of both CSX's Barr Yard and the IHB's Blue Island Yard, many tend to pair it with the previously featured Dolton Junction which sits at the east end of the same yard complex. Like Dolton, Blue Island Junction is also controlled by a manned interlocking tower, although it is seldom seen as it sits on the far side of the river, partially hidden by the 5 truss bridges carrying the B&OCT, Grand Trunk, IHB and Iowa Interstate lines over the Calumet River.

However, there exists another Blue Island tower some 3000 feet from the first. Built about the same time and of roughly the same design, the second Blue Island hides in plain sight on a METRA passenger station platform at the southern end of the former Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Blue Island Yard on what it today's the METRA Rock Island District. Visible on Google Street View, yet largely absent from the discussion today we will look inside the other Blue Island tower and also wrap up my METRA tower interior series as both the now demolished Lake Street and permanently hidden Jackson Street towers were part of Amtrak owned plants.

The METRA Rock Island district can be thought of as the Harrisburg Line of the Chicago area. While significant portions of the line have been running under CTC for decades now, up until 2010 there were still 4 active interlocking towers between LaSalle Street Station in Chicago and Joliet Union Station. These included the unique Gresham Junction, the increasingly elderly 16th St Crossing, the immaculate UD and of course the forgettable Blue Island.Blue Island is so under appreciated that a simple Google search reveals more photos and information about the abandoned Root Street tower than the active Blue Island tower. It probably doesn't help that Blue Island looks like a yard office is placed rather aloofly from the junction that it controls, but that should not diminish the significance of it and the classic relay signaling plant that it controls.