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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Two More Chicago Icons to Fall

I guess it serves me right for not checking through the interwebs for a couple of days because when I came back from a trip I found not one, but two pieces of devastating signal news.  The first is that the remarkably preserved CBQ and CNW signal bridges at the Rochelle, IL diamond crossing are all being replaced.  These appear often in railroad media due to the proximity of the Rochelle Railroad Park.  Once again we see both local government and railroad management being completely tone deaf when it comes to the preservation of a local tourist attraction.  Yes, I know new signals are somehow "cheaper", but couldn't an offer have been made to somehow preserve the look and feel of the old setup?  Especially devastating will be the loss of another set of CNW style oval target searchlights.

Across the metro area it appears that the venerable CP-506 is on its last legs.  Located just east of the General Hammond-Whiting Amtrak Station, CP-506 marked the Chicago Line's transition from the Central to the Pensy RoW and featured a position lit west end and color lit west end.  From the photo it appears that the long snaking interlocking limits are being shortened.  It also looks like a third track could be part of the project.

 In addition to CP-506, CP-507 at the opposite end of the General Hammond-Whiting station is also being re-signaled.  This is a bit of a surprise as the interlocking was installed new in the 80's or 90's along with a modern style PL cantilever support, but in this day and age it doesn't matter if the old signals are 5 years or 50 years of age.

 Elsewhere on the Chicago Line NS is continuing its rather haphazard replacement of NYC and Conrail era signaling.  Locations include Huron and Waterloo.

Resignaling is also spreading on the former N&W territory including the well known asymmetric cantilever featuring one CPL and one traffic light.

 Further east there is some work going on at CP-88/CP-BETHLEHEM.  The layout there was already strange so we'll have to see how much of the interlocking is changed.

 The SEPTA West Trenton separation project will mean the end of a great example of Conrail era 4-block signaling between CP-WOOD and CP-TRENT.  If you live nearby try to take advantage of the railfan window for some photos or video.

Out west it appears that the effort to remove the last semaphores from the Raton pass is a bit more extensive than it initially appeared with low cost traffic light signals popping up at multiple locations despite BNSF's capitol improvement freeze due to funding hangups.

Like usual lots and lots of bad news, however I am slowly collecting a few silver linings so stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

No Respect - The Safetran Unilens

While riding up the Caltrain Corridor I noticed a little something that once again reminded me that the Safetran Unilens signal, for all its seeming usefulness, is the ugly duckling of the signal world.  The Unilens series (now in its second generation) was created as a solid state replacement for the old fashioned electro-mecnahical searchlight signal.  Inside, instead of a moving colored filter, one will find four lamps each connected to a single (hence the name) lens via fiber optic cables. This seems like the perfect solution to the old problem of getting multiple colors out of a compact signal head, and in fact should have been a marked improvement seeing as each Unilens head could support 4 colors instead of three.

From the Greek, Uni meaning one and lens meaning lens.
 Not only could the Unilens play the role of a dwarf signal, it could also be used in mast mounts behind a circular target just like the older searchlight and in the case of close quarters transit applications the Unilens had an additional trick up its sleeve with a goose-neck attachment that allowed the lens  to be placed a foot or two away from the actual lamp housing.

Initially adoption was good with a number of traditional searchlit railroads, such as the Delaware and Hudson and Canadian Pacific, buying them as a simple replacement for the US&S H series and GRS SA's they had been buying for decades. The BART rapid transit system enthusiastically bought into the whole goose-neck configuration for its limited number of wayside signals

But then things took a turn for the worse.  Crews complained that the small internal lamps didn't provide a bright enough light and the lamps themselves were proprietary, expensive and prone to burning out.

You be the judge!
The Canadian roads that briefly used the Unilens in high signal applications switched over to Darth Vader style LED lamps, and the transportation authority that owns the Coaster route to San Diego actually took the step of replacing its high mounted Unilens signals with target configuration Safetran colorlights.

I am posting this because while passing by the BART Millbrae station I observed that the goose-neck Unilens signals, perhaps some of the only examples ever purchased for rapid transit, had been swapped out for bland and boring LED traffic light type signals.  No the Unilens isn't going the way of the position or searchlight signal.  CSX, SEPTA and BNSF still prefer them in close clearance signaling locations across their systems, but as a replacement for what was once the most common signal type in North America if not the world, the Safetran Unilens has fallen dismally short.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

PHOTOS: Port Road Trips - PILOT to WEST ROCK

Well it's time for another installment of Port Road Trips and like many budget re-signaling projects I am making slow yet steady progress working down the line.  This week we will be looking at the Pilot siding between CP-PILOT and CP-WEST PILOT and the intermediate signal between Pilot and CP-WEST ROCK. For reference here is the relevant sheet from the 1997 Conrail interlocking chart book.

Since the southern end of the Port Road is still traditionally signaled I was able to conduct more recent surveys instead of having to rely on the 2004 photos.  We will begin with CP-WEST PILOT at the upper end of the Restricted speed Pilot siding.  This siding was identical in function to the Harbor siding before it was upgraded to "signaled" with medium speed entrance and exit. This means that the signaling was fairly simple with Restricting lower heads and dwarf signal siding exits.  Looking towards CP-WEST PILOT from the west we find the 230L PRR PL mast signal guarding the single switch into the siding.

The 230L is a Conrail hybrid type with the full upper head replaced with a newer Safetran model while the lower head remains a US&S PL3.

As I said before the \ lower head governs movements into the unbonded siding.  We can also see that this signal was not included in the NS refurbishment program.  The paint dates from the Conrail era and the wiring is possibly original.  

 A new high voltage M23 replaced the non-dual powered M3 that was originally installed on the 229 switch.  The switch looks like it would be good for higher speeds so when this is eventually re-signaled look for the siding to become signaled.

The WEST PILOT relay hut has gotten a nice fresh coat of  silver paint along with a satellite dish fashion accessory.  Also present is the battery well and a number of cable penetrations.

As with the other locations in the south some elements of the code line appear to be in service while others appear to have been quite literally cut.

Here we see the two lever 230R signals.  The main track high signal is mounted on an old catenary pole stub and the siding signal is a PRR PL dwarf.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mixed Changes Up North

No, I don't mean Canada, but it's pretty close and operated by a Canadian railroad.  The previously independent railroads of the Iron range have for years operated a searchlight based CTC system similar to many others that have been replaced across the land. Unfortunately these too are coming under the ax as Canadian National imposes their new standards on subsiduaries.

Well, almost.  It seems that it is at least possible for a railroad to install a form of signaling that isn't a god damned Darth Vader.  What I am speaking of are the perfectly acceptable LED searchlights seen here.

Unfortunately, it looks like that interlocking might be an isolated case as in other locations Darth Vaders are springing up. :-(

If anyone lives up there make sure you get out and catch the old signals while you can.