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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Where Old Signals Go to Live On

When railroads retire signals they are typically thrown in the scrap heap, sold off to railfans or sent down to the C&S shoppe to keep any of their surviving kin up and running.  For the general public the best they can hope is that a few of the signals will reemerge in someone's back yard or in a static display at a museum.  After all, what other use is a railroad signal than railroad signaling? with everything in life there is a loophole to every rule.

Every so often a railroad will recycle its discarded signaling apparatus until the less vital world of grade crossing warning devices.  After all a flashing light is a flashing light.  This can give life to signals far beyond their typical sell by date.  Perhaps one of the more (in)famous examples are track circuit fed warning lamps placed at a number of N&W private crossings in West Virgina.  These used surplus N&W amber PL-2 position light signals as track occupancy lights that extinguish when the circuit is shunted by an approaching train in the block.

Now I know some of you might be saying that I am cheating as those PL marker lamps may have been installed new, instead of used, but in a related use case the Cape May Seashore Line has employed surplus PL-3 lamps as so called "snitch lights" on its rather unreliable grade crossing equipment as seen in this 2005 photo.

Look above the crossing flashers for the amber light.
A few months ago I came upon another recycled railroad signal in grade crossing service while documenting SEPTA's FORD interlocking on its Norristown Line.  A twin stack of GRS model FA modular drawf signals had been mounted low down on a vintage cantilever flasher mount at the Ford Street (Of course!) grade crossing. 

The extra pair of flashers had been installed because cars pulled up to the crossing would not be otherwise able to see the flashers above them.

 When the signaling department (either SEPTA or Reading) needed this supplemental hardware they went to the recycle bin instead of the PennDoT catalogue.

Check out that hexagonal charm
Perhaps the ultimate example of old signals living on in crossing applications is the B&O's reuse of semaphore signals as pedestrian crossing gate mechanisms.  I first noticed this phenomena while passing through Cumberland, MD on Amtrak's Capitol Limited and like the SEPTA signals above I did a double take as I was confronted with railroad signaling in a place I had not expected to see it.

Unfortunately the Cumberland examples were replaced before I could get good photos of them (how many times can a signal be replaced?), but fortunately I know of at least one other example of this type of signal reuse and it is transit accessible!

At the famous SEPTA Route 11 - CSX Philly Sub grade crossing, a pair of former B&O semaphores stand guard on the sidewalks stopping cyclists and pedestrians from crossing the tracks.   

 I wasn't joking.  The B&O (or Chessie System) literally replaced the semaphore blade with a red and white striped crossing gate and put it into service.

These are 90% as "good" as a in service signaling semaphore.  The train approaches the semaphore drops, the train leaves it goes back up again.  All that's missing is the / position so just pretend you're in manual block territory. 

Combine the semaphore crossing gates with old school cantilever flasher masts, frequent trolleys rumbling over an active railroad main line and a nearby B&O CPL signaled interlocking and you have perhaps the most interesting level crossing in the country.

1 comment:

  1. There are some of those Semaphore crossing gates on the North Jersey Coast Line. One is in Manasquan, New Jersey.