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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

+1 Active Towers: CSX St Joseph's River Bridge

It's always nice when I "discover" a new active interlocking tower and unlike the last time it is still in service, although not in its classic configuration.  The tower I am speaking of is a bridge cabin controlling the St Joseph's River movable bridge in St. Joseph's, MI on the CSX Grand Rapids Sub. For those not familiar with the CSX system this is the route of Amtrak's Pere Marquette train service.  Now unlike most movable bridge cabins which are staffed by a "tender" job and do not control over switches or signals, St Joseph's River Bridge is staffed by an operator who does control local switches and signals.  The bridge is manned 24/7 during the boating months, closing the bridge for train movements and opening it back up again when the train has passed.  As recently as 2010 the actual "cabin" structure was mounted on the swing span itself.  Here is a video of the operator getting out to hand up a freight pickup order to passing local freight Q327, providing a little human touch for something that normally has to be carried out over the radio.

At this time the Cabin not only controlled local signals and a pair of derails, but also an honest to god turnout at the west end of a signaled siding that ran all the way to Riverside, MI.  Such a configuration is reminiscent of the BRIELLE Movable Bridge on the NJT Coast Line.  Here is the original configuration of the east end of the bridge.

Unfortunately such good things never last and probably due to having to either staff the tower in the winter or not have trains able to use the siding, CSX reconfigured the interlocking splitting off the turnout into its own Brenton Harbor interlocking about half a mile to the east.

The operator was taken off the swing span and placed in a brand new interlocking cabin just to the west of the bridge.  It is a blue box structure with a detatched porta-potty, parking lot and air conditioning.  Here is a close-up view of the new tower showing off its street address of 100 Vine St.

Here is a wider view of the "tower" showing the operator's vehicle and the new Darth Vader type signals.  Not sure what sort of interlocking machine is provided, but its probably some panel type unit that incorporates the bridge controls. No doubt some ancient motor control system was also replaced when the interlocking was re-signaled.

While the number of active towers continues to fall and those with traditional machines are almost non-existent, there are a few more towers out there than is known about in the typical circles.  I have been tracking them down by searching employee timetables and the like, but only the long defunct Conrail was nice enough to explicitly note manned towers so sometimes it takes a bit of inference.  Research continues, but I have tentatively identified two local control operators on NS, one in Princeton, IN and another in their Kansas City Terminal.

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