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Thursday, August 7, 2014


CSX's WB (West Brunswick) tower in Brunswick, Maryland closed on December 9th, 2011 after a career spanning a full century of service on the B&O Main Line between Baltimore (or Washington) and Pittsburgh (or Wheeling).  It also had the distinction of being the last manned interlocking tower on the B&O Main where scarcely more than 10 years before there had been 8.  Fortunately I had several opportunities to personally visit WB tower between 2007 and 2010 as well as numerous others to pass by it on Amtrak's Capitol Limited, so I have enough material to devote an entire post to it in my ongoing series covering the B&O Main Line.

As far as I can tell WB was built sometime in the time around 1910 and while most evidence says indicated that it featured a power type interlocking machine from day one (note the compact square layout of the structure which would be ill suited to a mechanical frame) there is an opening in the concrete foundation that could have supported operation of mechanical pipelines.  Over the years it had many paint jobs including the rather bland Chessie cream, however it eventually ended up in a nice CSX blue and grey scheme as seen here in 1999.

Remarkably the all wooden WB not only failed to catch fire it also retained its original tall style drop sash windows, a feature that most others of this age would have had boarded up and replaced with smaller modern windows.  At some point in the first years of the 21st century WB was given a cosmetic refresh with brand new red siding and new, old style windows.  In the age of rapid tower closures this was a remarkable development.

For most of its life WB was a US&S pneumatic interlocking plant with a 29-lever Model 14 type interlocking machine.  At the time of its closure the tower had 9 levers for signals (2,4,6,8,16,24,26,28), 5 for switches (1,3,15,19,21) and 1 for an electrically locked switch (11).  They are painted red, black and blue respectively.  Here is a picture of the machine and the operator's desk shortly before the tower's closure in 2011.  The machine is an older style Model 14 similar to the machine of similar vintage in ALTO tower which is another reason I suspect it is original.

To help you orient yourself here is a view of the model board.  Technically WB controls the west end of Brunswick Yard which is located between two pairs of main tracks, 2 and 4 eastbound, 1 and 3 westbound.  Technically tracks 3 and 4 function more as sidings and yard leads than main through tracks.  On tracks 2 and 4 the interlocking consists of a pair of crossovers with signals on either side.  On tracks 1 and 3 the interlocking is a trailing point ladder from three yard tracks.  There is also a hand operated facing point crossover outside of interlocking limits.  In WB's later life this ladder was mostly used by MARC commuter trains pulling out of the yard and into service.

In WB's last few years its premier signal was the 28R, which replaced an earlier structurally compromised CPL mast earlier that year.  Here it is displaying a Clear indication for an approaching CSX freight train.

 Also present in 2007 was the westbound train order hoop which got a lot of use prior to 2004 when the section west of HARPERS FERRY was operated under Rule 251.  Orders would be placed in each of the two order fork mounts with the head end crew grabbing one set and the rear end crew the other.

The other two westbound tracks in front of the tower are governed by the 24R and 16RA CPL dwarf signals.

The track 3 signal provides for straight moves towards WEVERTON interlocking, although I am not sure that section is still circuited as the new signals only provided for Restricting and Slow Approach.  The engine track CPL allowed for Medium speed movements onto track #3.

The yard leads, marked as tracks 5 and 6 on the model board, are each governed by the 16RB and 16RC slow speed CPLs.  Because of the interlocking configuration all three yard tracks were able to be controlled by one signal lever with other logic determining which one actually displays.

The 16RB is a typical no-orbital type mounted on an elevated concrete base.  Note the inconsistant use of (D)istant plates which were required on all signals preceding an absolute signal in non-cab signal territory where push-pull commuter trains were operated.  In the case of WB the (D) applies to WEVERTON interlocking to the west and EAST BRUNSWICK interlocking to the east.

The 16RC on the other hand is not only ground mounted, but is also missing the base element with the socket for the medium speed orbital.

Here is an eastbound view of the interlocking looking back toward WB tower showing the yard lead arrangement.  This was taken from a grade crossing used to access the MARC commuter parking lot.  Note the arrangement of the hand operated facing point crossover outside of interlocking limits, but still electrically locked from by the lever 11 on the WB machine.

Westbound view showing the yard lead and tracks 3-1 crossover as well as the Brunswick Station platform.

Switch machine were of the US&S A-5 variety.  One advantage was that this area was prone to flooding and the pneumatic machines are much more tolerant of water than electric motors.  The 15 switch routes trains between yard tracks 5 and 6.

Another interesting feature is the presence of the CP air value units near to or even in the commuter parking lot!  Talk about convenient.

Old school interlocking logic had different priorities as an extra signal could save a load of expensive relays.  The 16R signal protects the 15 and 17 switches from yard moves after they have passed the 19 switch.  Movements in this direction were at restricted speed only.

Here we see the 24R signal, another intermediateon 3 track separates the #21 crossover from the #19 yard lead switch.

Like everything else that isn't a westbound train on track 1, westbound movements on tracks 1 and 3 are governed by a pair of dwarf signals, the 14L for track 1 and the 26L for track 3.

 The 14L allows for the full set of normal speed signals as well as Approach Medium for the crossovers at EAST BRUNSWICK.  Routes into the yard would either get a Restricting or a Slow Approach for a Restricting at the 24L or 16L.

 Trains on track #3 don't get the Slow Approach option on the 26L.  I suspect that at some point both reverse direction signals only offered Restricting into the yard.  Oops, look like the (D) plate fell off there.

Of course in the age of Rule 261 operation many trains do run eastbound on the old westbound track and here is how it looks as Amtrak Train 30 rumbles through the interlocking and past the tower with a Clear signal on the 14L.  In this zoom view you can also see the 21 crossover and the rapid succession of signals for yard moves which I am sure induced more than their fair share of Rule 292 violations.  Oh well, more fun for the tower operator.

Closer shot of the 14L and 26L signals from Train 30.   4 years later and the (D) was never replaced.

Here is a short video clip from the rear of westbound Amtrak Train 29 as is passes through WB's interlocking plant on Track 1 in 2010.

Moving across the yard / parking lot we come to the "eastbound" section of WB interlocking.  As I mentioned before that section consists of a full crossover between tracks 2 and 4.  Eastbound trains are governed on track 2 by the 6LA signal and on track 4 by the 8L.

Both of these signals are positioned at the end of the eastbound MARC platforms on both tracks 2 and 4 and just before the grade crossing to the C&O Canal park.

The 6LA signal is WB's only other high CPL signal.  As with the eastbound dwarf signal on track 1 it is equipped with a 10 o'clock orbital for an Approach Medium indication for diverging movements at EAST BRUNSWICK.

The 8L on the other hand is a slow speed CPL dwarf that actually isn't responsible for much of anything since a trailing point crossover just east of the crossing was removed at some point in the past.

Therefore trains would see first the 8L and then the 2L signal before the #1 and #3 crossovers.  The #3 crossover is good for Medium speed movements and even sports an 8 o'clock orbital for Medium Approach Medium indications when trains are diverging both here and then again at EAST BRUNSWICK.

Eastbound view of the #3  crossover with the A-5 pneumatic point machine.

The crossovers interacting with track #2.  Note the still active pole line and the raised CP value units to help protect against flood waters.

Here is a closer view of one of the elevated CP valves.

Looking back towards WB tower and the Brunswick station we find the 2R signal and the #1 turnout.  2R is equipped for medium speed routes over the #1 turnout, however no accommodation is made  for a Medium Clear indication.  I suspect that when bi-directional running was added to track #2 the Chessie or CSX didn't want to pipe the signal indication at WEVERTON interlocking all the way back 4 miles to WB so all trains got Medium Approach or Restricting.

The 4R reverse direction signal on track #2 is located waaaaay down and around the curve.  Like the 2R is also lacks the provision for a Clear indication with Approach being the most favorable.

 The pole line ran along track #2 and as you can see the relay cabinets were also elevated due to flooding.  The new interlocking equipment was elevated even higher.  Until about 2004 WB had CTC control between EAST BRUNSWICK and HARPERS FERRY where Rule 251 kicked in.  This control was removed when east of WB was re-signaled.  The old unit level panels can be found at the Brunswick Railroad Museum.

Here is a video taken from the rear of Train 30 eastbound on track #2 all the way from WEVERTON interlocking to EAST BRUNSWICK in 2010.  If you are interested in the 4R signal it can be seen at 4:08.

Between WB and WEVERTON there were two single CPL automatic signals still in their original Rule 251 configuration.  The mast on track 1 was actually replaced with a brand new example sometime around 2007 due to structural issues.

However the track 2 mast stayed its old rusty self all the way until the end.

Complete with an old school pole line feed from WB.   Both of these now support typical bi-directional Darth Vaders.  Reverse direction trains faced a double length signal block between WB and WEVERTON.

 While WB is closed the tower still stands and is in good condition.  Currently there are some ongoing efforts to preserve the tower and the location of a railroad museum in town is a huge plus toward this end.  Still such a project can always benefit from additional support. 

Here we see a photo of WB tower in 2012 about 6 months after the re-signaling program finished up.  The old hand operated facing point crossover between tracks 1 and 3 has been upgraded to power operation and placed within interlocking limits.

Also on the track 1/3 side of the interlocking all the former dwarf signals have been replaced by high signals of various types, although said signals can only display Slow Approach and Restricting.   

New automatic westbound exit signal #757 on track 1allow trains exiting the yard under Slow Approach to resume normal speed speed and saves on interlocking logic.  The alternative would also require a new medium speed trailing crossover as the CSX rulebook lacks a Slow Approach Medium indication. Use of Slow Approach with an exit signal was the method by which the PRR made do without a high signal Slow Clear or other such combination signals.  Note however that eastbound trains on track 3 now have a full slate of medium speed signal indications due to the new facing crossover.

All the pneumatic point machines have of course been replaced by electric M23's, however with the amount the relay huts have been elevated due to flooding one wonders if the old air units may not have been more appropriate.

If you are curious why WB lasted as long as it did when all the other towers in the area closed in 2004, I suspect it is because most of WB's operations involved MARC train movements as the MARC engine facility was located just east of the tower.  While these operations didn't exactly require a human touch, I suspect CSX was probably including the cost of the operator as part of the MARC operating contract and was happy to do so until the State paid for a new interlocking.  Whatever the reason the result was 7 more years of tower goodness.

Well that's pretty much all I have to say on WB.  It is still a great railfanning location and if the tower can be preserved a la BOWIE it will present a wonderful opportunity for the public to be able to interact with a fairly intact Model 14 interlocking machine.  If you are interested in seeing additional photos of WB you can view the full photo sets here, and here and here.

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