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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Better Know a Signaling System - METRA

METRA is the Chicago area commuter rail umbrella organization that supplies equipment and funding to various contract railroads such as Union Pacific and BNSF to transport workers from the greater chicago metro area into the center city.  Unlike the commuter railroads in the east METRA was never forced to assume direct operation of all of its lines by congress so on a majority of its routes METRA trains operate under the rules and signals of the host railroads.  However in two and a half situations METRA actually owns and maintains its own track with its own rules and signals.  The first is the former Illinois Central electric division which was taken over sometime in the 1980's. and the other is the Rock Island Division, which was part of the Rock Island Railroad that went completely bankrupt and thus was not available to run its trains under contract.

METRA is the first of the Western railroads that I will be examining and as I have mentioned before Western roads like weak route signaling.  METRA is no exception and he lacks even the light dusting of speed signaling that UP and BNSF have incorporated over the years.  While it is not the most bland and boring set of signal rules we will look at, it is pretty close.  So anyway without further adoo here is a 1997 METRA signaling chart for the Rock Island district, but is also the same the signals used on the Electric District.

So let's look at the key features.  The use of Approach Diverging, Diverging Clear and Diverging Approach are hallmarks of the weak route signaling system.  In the case of three headed signals each of the two different diverging routes are known by the crews from literal route knowledge, although in general the bottom head is reserved for slower speed routes.  Other features include use of lunar white for restricting with no yellow or flashing red options.  This makes additional head or 4-lamp signals a feature on METRA just as it is on CSX.

A 4-banger that doesn't look like ass!
Unlike the Southern Y/Y is used for Approach Diverging.  If you are wondering why it actually goes hand in hand with the lunar white for Restricting.  If you check your classic signal vendor catalogues you will find that searchlight signals came in two flavors in terms of colors.  You could get a R/Y/G unit or R/Y/L.  With lunar chosen for Restricting then if one wanted to use Y/G for Approach Diverging then you would need a  third head with the R/Y/L unit.  The same logic applies to Semaphores.

Y/Y and four lamps lower heads.  Having your cake and eating it two.
The one vaguely "non-boring" feature of METRA's signal rule set is the use of *Y* for Advance Approach and R/*Y* for diverging advance approach.  Similar roads often omit this pair of signals so points go METRA.  Another interesting feature of the rule set is the 40mph speed used for Approach (and Advance Approach) speed control.  Those of us from the east coast are more familiar with a 30mph speed approaching a Stop signal.  *Y* could also double for "Approach Medium" as trains must be prepared to pass the next signal not exceeding 40mph and this is exactly what happened on the Burlington Northern system.




So when I said that METRA has two and a half lines that is because the MILW division is currently owned by Canadian Pacific.  However the section between Union Station and Tower A-5 is maintained and owned by METRA.  CP does not have a *Y* Advance Approach in it its signal ruleset, but as you can see in the above video there is a yellow flashing away at Tower A-3 interlocking.

Anyway you can read the signal chart just as easily s I can and that's pretty much it.  I never promised that BNASS would always be exciting :-P  Oh wait, I should mention that METRA does use a couple of position lights left over from when the PRR Panhandle trains came in to Union Station from the north and west.


They work pretty much as you would expect substituting positions for colors which is made easier due to the prevalence of Restricted speed diverging moves.  Position lights are located at the still US&S Model 14 controlled Tower A-2 and the famous Racine St signal bridge at MORGAN ST interlocking (remote Tower A-2).


Other unique METRA signals include these split track bracket masts at La Salle St station.


Along with these two lamp faux-SA style dwarf signals.  Both examples of early 1980's products from General Railway Signal. 


There is also a 15 mile section of cab signaling on the Rock Island line between Blue Island Tower and UD Tower on Joliet, but that's a story for a different time.





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