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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Caught on Camera: Approach Restricting

The Approach Restricting signal indication has a bit of a bad reputation in the land of speed signaling east of the Mississippi.  Typically, the signal progression in both the NORAC and CSX codes are Approach -> Restricting with the idea being that since Restricting could be displayed with an obstruction 5 feet inside the signal, there is no benefit to preparing the engineer to do anything other than stop.  Yes, NORAC does have an "Approach Restricting" rule, but it's basically a re-branded distant Approach or PRR Caution signal that doesn't really capture the spirit of approaching a signal in block signaled territory and finding the next signal displaying a Restricting indication.

Calling this "Approach Restricting" is an insult to "Approach Restricting"
So the real Approach Restricting is found in route signaled territory both in the west and on the Southern.  Now I know that you are thinking that "Restricting" implies a speed, but the rationale behind Approach Restricting is much more apparent in a  route signaled context.  Below is the true meaning of Approach Restricting, caught on camera.

Y/L Approach Restricting leads yo...
R/Y Restricting for a route into a siding.
The traditional use of Approach Restricting was as a route indication to alert trains that they had been routed into a non-circuited (Restricted speed) siding.  This was popular out west because there Single Track with Passing Siding was the predominant form of rail line.  Once CTC started being installed it was logical to distinguish a movement into a signaled siding (Approach Diverging) from a non-signaled track (Approach Restricting) from some sort of regular Stop or Stop and Proceed signal (Approach).  However, as speed signaling has started to gain traction on western roads, signal engineers and consultants have started employing it a wider variety of situations.

Ok, tk1 has a route lined at the next interlocking and tk 2 does not. Is this distinction really going to make a different here?
For example on the CN Waukesha Sub (METRA North Central line), Approach Restricting was widely applied as a capacity improvement, although as eastern railroaders pointed out, it's unclear how much one actually gains from this unless one is bending the rules of being able to stop within 1/2 vision.  Approach Restricting (and Medium Approach Restricting) has also showed up on the hyper speed signaled Caltrain line, right along side Approach Slow.

Y/*R* Approach Restricting
This of course brings up the alternate Approach Restricting aspect, Y/*R*, which of course has become popular as *R* took over for Lunar for Restricting (since using 4-lamp monster heads is just wacky *cough*CSX*couch*).  Since many two headed distant signals use placeholder Reds, this has made all of them a potential location to employ Approach Restricting.  In fact, when the aforementioned CN Waukesha Sub was re-re-signaled, Y/*R* Approach Restricting came in to replace the lunars. You can see an example of  "speed" style Approach Restricting on the following video montage of flashing signals on the Waukesha Sub (cut to time code 00:23).

Well I hope this sheds some light into the past, present and future of the Approach Restricting indication.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

ACSES PTC In Service Demo

Today I hit the jackpot as part of a Philly area rail transit trip I help organize.  While riding a short turn on SEPTA's Fox Chase line, I happened to catch a student engineer being instructed on how to operate a set of new Silverliner V cars and also deal with the new ACSES PTC system.  Because of the glorious half cabs, the instructor was sitting in the second seat row and the student had the cab door open.  From there I had a mostly unobstructed view into the cab where I could video the cab signal/ACSES display unit and how it behaved.

Until now, how ACSES would function in service was mostly speculation.  Although Amtrak has had it in service for 15 years now, there have been few reports (and no video) of the system from an Engineers point of view.  This made me optimistic that any impact would be minor and mostly involve positive stop points at stations.  Of course there is wide variation and little regulation regarding how ACSES (and all other PTC systems) are implemented from a human factors perspective.  There is also a fair bit of wiggle room in how the speed and stop enforcement take place with a good deal of it being policy decisions by railroad management, not necessarily the FRA or other third party safety scolds.

What I discovered today hit on both of these points, and neither fr the better.  Note that the observations below apply only to SEPTA andwhat they saw fit to require of their vendors and signaling department.  I know for a fact that similar railroads are examining other options.  Hopefully if anyone involved in other projects they will take away some things to avoid.

Captured below are two runs on the Fox Chase Line from NEWTOWN JCT to the end of the line in Fox Chase and back.  ACSES is in service on the entire Fox Chase Line NEWTOWN JCT excluded.   The second video has a better angle on the cab display unit.  Station stops were omitted and a few ACES / CSS changes were lost.

As you can see, the SEPTA ACSES system communicates the braking curve to the engineer by means of an Authorized Speed countdown system.  As a speed restriction approaches the ACSES speed will begin to drop.  If the train's speed is suddenly above the ACSES speed, at some point an overspeed warning will light and it sounds like 5 seconds after that there will be some sort of penalty application if either the brake is in the suppression position or the overspeed no longer no longer exists.  Two problems with this system are plainly evident.

First, the braking curve is ridiculously conservative.  Every time the ACSES speed began to drop, the engineer was able to get well ahead of the dropping curve without anything close to "aggressive" braking.  The capabilities of the equipment have been completely ignored and some leisurely braking rate has been chosen.  If PTC "ideal" is to stay out of the engineers way except in case of a dangerous condition, the penalty braking curve should follow the full service braking rate.  SEPTA paid both $ and weight for full dynamic, disc and tread brakes on the Silverliner V, which should allow for later braking into curves and stations.  Are we now to believe that was just a waste?

Second, the human factors of the speed countdown entourage the engineer to just proceed at slower speeds to avoid potential overspeed warnings.  You can watch the student here get dinged by ACSES a couple times, and later, at the instructor's urging, keeps the train at a slower than authorized rate of speed in anticipation of another speed countdown.  This is exactly the sort of behavior I warned of and is not exactly what is happening.  In addition to a realistic braking curve, the system should try to be invisible and not trigger compensating behaviors.  A warning light at 3mph above curve followed by a penalty application at 6mph is all that is needed.  This is the standard used on the British Rail ATP system back in the 80's.

Pre-CSS Fox Chase Stop signal at NEWTOWN JCT

An additional item I wanted to quickly point out is the positive stop distance encountered southbound at NEWTOWN JCT (see video, its multiple car-lengths).

 UPDATE:  The effects of the ACSES roll out were evident in SEPTA's January 2017 schedule.  Travel times were uniformly increased on the Media and West Trenton lines between 4 and 6 minutes.  Again this runs completely counter to the PTC propaganda that operations would not be affected.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Grinch Steals More Signals

I first want to let everyone know that I now have confirmation that the NS PRR Main Line re-signaling program is not pausing at Lewistown, but has now reached as far west as Huntington.  I hope to be able to get out there, but I am as of yet unaware of their timeline.  Let's prey for a harsh winter as it would go far in slowing things down. 

 I can also report massive on Chicago Line re-signaling efforts are pretty much sweeping up everything between South Bend and Chicago including the former BEND interlocking itself, which itself was re-signaled back in the mid 90's to replace the old BEND tower. Multiple new interlockings are in service along with a lot of layout changes (including segments of third track).  The former PC-style I-beam gantries at CP-501 and CP-502 have been replaced and older NYC era gantries will soon follow.

 However the late model NYC cantilever just east of South Bend did not yet appear to be marked to replacement.

File photo
 There is also evidence that some of the PRR PL's on the NS Marion Branch are also going to survive a bit longer.

 On CSX some ominous signs are appearing around Akron, the last bastion of CPLs on the old B&O Main Line.

 CSX resignaling is now invading the Atlanta area on both their searchlight and elephant ear territory. 

While on the former SCL route to Alabama, the re-signaling has reached the GA/AL state line.

For another piece of good news, here is a fine example of the robustness (wind resistance?) of newer style Darth Vader signals that replaced the lower profile MC style searchlights on the former NYC Main Line.

In hindsight, 2016 was a pretty rotten year with a number of tower closures and major re-signaling projects, but compared to other events and past years, it was kind of tame (and I was able to get out and document more stuff compared to 2015). 

Monday, December 12, 2016

How to Ruin Your Signaling System (For Real)

So I go on a lot about various signaling systems being "ruined" when reliable relays are replaced by hackable computer based logic or when artisnal hardware is replaced by the equivalent of cheap fast food.   Well at some point in the recent past, NJT went out and made its signaling system on the Atlantic City Line just plain worse.  After the two recent overspeed derailments on MetroNorth and Amtrak, the FRA made the two railroads install cab signal drops at places where the speed limit decreases be more than 20mph in an attempt to have ATC enforce the civil speed limit.  This was part a cudgel to speed the adoption of the ACSES PTC system and part safety theatre since the blunt require didn't take into consideration the actual risk of derailment (in fact MNRR eliminated many of the problem locations by lowering the speed in stages each individually less than 20mph).

NJT Comet IB cab car in the Haddonfield Trench
Well I don't know how NJT got caught up in this, but I noticed that all green signal lamps had been removed from the northward ABS signals at MP 7 (A72) and MP 8 (A86) south of a 30mph speed restricting through the Haddonfield Trench.  The A72 signal is located at the approximate southern limit of the restriction  and also serves as the distant to SOUTH RACE interlocking.  A 30mph PSR board for the restriction is in place and located about halfway between the two signals.

Modified A86 signal with no High Green lamp.

It appears that NJT has run afoul of the whole craze to "protect" hazardous speed restrictions and normally an 80mph to 30mph drop might seem hazardous, however I should point out that most of the 30mph restriction is not due to track curvature, but complaints from people in town about vibrations from trains in the trench cracking their foundations.  While there is a curve at the north end of the restriction, any train passing the A72 signal would be slowed in time by a cab signal drop there and only there.  Moreover, at least Amtrak had the common sense to work with its existing setup, jumping relays to force adverse signal indications at adjacent signal locations without any other modifications since, in theory, the changes were temporary.  In this case it appears that NJT is settling for reduced speeds, indefinitely. 

Modified A72 signal with no High or Bottom Green lamps

Now because the signals are approach lit I couldn't verify what exactly NJT was up to here.  Were they giving an Advance Approach on A86 followed by an Approach on A72 to make sure that trains couldn't accidentally go more than 30mph around a curve and through a trench that was likely good for 60mph?  Given the removal of the Approach Medium option at A72 that seemed to be the most likely case until I paid a visit to SOUTH RACE and observed this.

The southward signal at SOUTH RACE had also lost its Green lamp and was now displaying Advance Approach as its least restrictive indication.  So either an overspeed on southbound trains is less risky than an overspeed on northbound trains going around the same curve, or the A72 signal was also modified to display Advance Approach, despite Approach Medium getting the same 45mph ATC enforcement.

I would have been fine with the A72 being pegged at Approach Medium and the northward signals at SOUTH RACE being pegged at Approach because both alterations are clearly temporary and provide adequate mitigation against a very unlikely situation.  What NJT decided to do instead took time, effort and appears to be permanent.  This is exactly the sort of problem that PTC is inviting, safety margins being stacked on top of eachother.  The overturn speed is 60, but other factors cause the PSR to be set at 30, ACSES will enforce the 30 with conservative braking curves, then cab signal drops will extend the restriction even further  (2 miles) away from the curve.  Then people wonder why nobody rides public transportation.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Well, There's a New One

Last week, while on a field trip to Chicago, I encountered a new Class 1 railroad signal indication I was hitherto unaware of.  Approaching Tower B-12 interlocking on the former Soo/Wisconsin Central line (now owned by Canadian National) to Chicago on a METRA North Central Service train, I saw a signal flashing yellow over a steady green (*Y*/G)  This was nothing I had ever encountered before, however it was not difficult to surmise that it was Advance Approach Diverging.  At the next interlocking I was proven correct as a Y/G Approach Diverging was displayed for a R/G Diverging Clear at Tower B-12.  The Advance Approach Diverging was warranted for the short signal distance between the Approach Diverging at Junction 16 and Tower B-12.

Upon reviewing my CN documentation from 2010, both this and Diverging Clear Approach Diverging (R?*G*) were listed in the operating rulebook, so I should have been aware of it, but I usually refer to the late 90's rule card I have in a more accessible location.  I suspect that the signal was likely deployed for the first time for the re-signaling project on the NCS line and might even be a unique situation.  It's still an interesting developing for a route signaled line as most others begin to employ speed signaling to various degrees.  Of course I should save any more in depth analysis for my BKASS article on CN route signaling ;-)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

See Hamilton!

No, I'm not talking about the hit Broadway musical about the guy on the $10 bill (although you should see that as well), I'm talking about the B&O CPL refuge of Hamilton, OH, north of Cincinnati, what currently sees both CSX and NS traffic.  Recent photographic evidence indicates that it is not under threat of re-signaling.  Surprisingly, Hamilton has managed to resist nearby re-signaling efforts in the Cincinatti area going back nearly 15 years, but it looks like it's time has run out.   If anyone within the sound of my voice is operating in the Hamilton area, please get out and document these CPLs.  They deserve not to be forgotten.

Some new masts are already standing.
The orange cable of death is in evidence at the Wye track where Amtrak's Cardinal diverges 6 times a week, often under cover of darkness.
This modern style CPL Cantileveris already a rare bird, but a 5-orbital CPL is doubly so!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

More R&N Updates

Thanks to one of my Northeastern Pennsylvania contributors, I have another batch of Reading and Northern signaling updates for everyone. This is probably the only place in North America where classic signaling, such as searchlights, is being installed.

First up,  HAUCKS Interlocking now in service and fully operational.  In addition, one of the signals sports a Reading style, lower head lozenge signal for call-on indications.

Distant Approach  Signals #107S and #108S are now fully operational as well providing crews with advanced HAUCKS indications heading south from both the Hazelton & Nesquehoning Branches.  108S seen below, is located on the Nesquehoning Branch near MP 108 close to the Route 1021 Overpass above Hometown, Pa.

The former 105S distant signal to East Mahanoy Jct  at Bernhard Rd. Grade Crossing has now been removed from service as it has been made redundant by HAUCKS.

New lower signal heads added to the Southbound home signals  at East Mahanoy Jct Interlocking in order to display Restricting indications for the new CTC project.

In preparation for the new Tamaqua Interlocking an entirely new dual staggered head distant signal has been added adjacent to the 99N Mahanoy Jct distant signal at the Tuscarora  Park Road (Route 1015) Grade Crossing which is north of Tamaqua.  99N had originally been installed as a bi-directional mast, but it appears the R&N is going with classic style right hand placement.

According to R&N News, the new Tamaqua Interlocking is planned to be cut into service by early 2017.  Cabling ground work and installation of the physical plant are planned to be completed by the end of 2016.   A new RDG “MYRTLE” plant in South Tamaqua may then follow to create a full 2 mile controlled passing siding.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Amtrak 2016 Autumn Express Trip Report

A couple weeks ago I rode Amtrak's  2016 Autumn Express which ran in a loop from New York to Harrisburg and back via the Lehigh Valley - Reading Valley Route on the outbound leg and the PRR Main Line on the return.  I was interested in the state of classic signaling on the route, and despite ongoing re-signaling projects I was actually pleasantry surprised.

Departing Amtrak's NEC at HUNTER, the NJT portion of the Conrail Lehigh Line retains its early 2000's Conrail style signaling.  Between CP-ALDENE and CP-PORT READING JCT the signaling is 2010 vintage from the double tracking project.  There appears to be some additional work at CP-PORT READING JCT to allow for parallel movements as there are currently THREE facing point crossovers between the two main Lehigh Line tracks.

In NS territory there are are 4 additional miles of double track to the new CP-SULLY.  A lone Conrail last stands at MP 45 as NS signals re-appear for the new passing siding between CP-51 and CP-53.  Conrail signaling resumes at CP-62 and continues through to CP-PHILLIPSBURG.  On this stretch are two surviving Lehigh Valley large target searchlights at MP 71 and MP 74!

CP-PHILLIPSBURG was re-signaled around 2010, but CP-EASTON is still Conrail, with the westbound signals mounted on a classic Lehigh Valley RR gantryleaver. Unfortunately, between there and CP-BURN the LVRR route is being completely re-signaled.  This includes the 261 section between CP-EASTON and CP-RICHARDS that encompasses a small target searchlight at MP A78.  A new crossover to replace CP-RICHARDS is going in at MP 81 just shy of another set of surviving LVRR searchlights at Mp 83.  At MP 87 there is another LVRR gantry mounted ABS searchlight, just shy of the ~2000 vintage CP-87.  CP-BETHLEHEM has been completely re-signaled as previously reported.

The Rule 251 Reading Line was untouched between CP-ALBURTIS and CP-BURN, however as was also reported, re-signaling is ongoing between CP-ALBURTIS and CP-BELT with a new set of crossover at CP-LYONS.  This will impact the Conrail signals at CP-BLANDON and the Reading signals at CP-LAUREL and CP-WEST LAUREL.

No changes were apparent on the 261 portion of the NS Harrisburg Line except for a project to reduce the length of CP-BURKE, which should impact the surviving Conrail signals there. At the turnaround point, the removed PRR PL signal was replaced by a blue doll marker on the gantry at CP-ROCKVILLE.

The new STATE interlocking was in service, although departing crossover speeds still felt a bit slow.  The new westbound Amtrak PL cantilever signals can display Approach, Approach Slow, Slow Approach and Restricting.  At CORK I saw how the ACSES PTC system enforced a positive stop on the locomotives during a shove move 14 cars after the rear of the train knocked down the displayed signal.  The engineer then had to go through the time consuming Stop release procedure.  Between there and Philly, Rule 251 is still in effect east of the new PARK interlocking.  Due to track work in BRYN MAWR interlocking we were given a rare eastbound trip down Main Line track 3 between PAOLI and OVERBROOK before heading through the old NY-Pittsburgh Subway.  It appears that the automatic signals on the Subway have been removed.  You can view a video of the Track 3 east and Subway trip here.

As I've said before, these Amtrak fall specials are a great way to check up on normally inaccessible freight railroad signaling.  I was also able to fully document the route from the rear of the train so look out for those photos in the future on my other blog.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Election Night Coverage!

Ha, fooled you!  I didn't say exactly what I was going to cover on this night before the election and as you may not have guessed (for once), it's going to be railroad signaling.  Thanks to all the tower closures I haven't had time to wedge in one of these news segments over the last bundle of weeks, but have no fear, that's what browser tabs are for. 

First a bit of rare good news up on Amtrak's Springfield Line double track project.  The old H-5 searchlights were removed over a decade ago, so there's no much downside to this 4-track signal bridge of modular target signals that is going up near Berlin, CT, complete with Rule 562 'C' boards.

Meanwhile, over in N&W territory, the slimy tendrils of NS's resignaling project is slowly wrapping their way around the iconic Bluefield area.  It's a shame the collapse of coal hasn't preserved the old N&W region in amber as happened on similar main lines around the lower midwest.

 It's not even the N&W signals that are going.  These modern era NS/N&W signals are also on the way out. Note the new 'Y' lamp on the bottom head as NS uses the importunity to include a Restricting capability, omitted from the previous CTC scheme.

Moving on the Southern part of Norfolk Southern, the new signals are in service on the main line at Salisbury, but old new ones are still standing...for now.

Moving on to CSX, any readers in Georgia should hop on over to the A&WP/WofA Sub to document this adorable little elephant ear mast near LaGrange before its gone forever.

Well that's it.  Apart from the tower closings this was a pretty slow news least signaling wise.

Monday, October 31, 2016

BO Tower (1888-2016)

Right as scheduled, BO Tower in Kalamazoo, MI, finally closed after a strange zombie period brought about by contractual obligation.  As far as I can tell, the former Michigan Central (New York Central) tower was built in 1888(!) and for about 125 years retained its original mechanical lever frame in service.

The tower survived as long as it did for a number of reasons.  
  • First, the plant contained two diamond crossings of the MC Main Line as well as wyes and crossovers.  Railroads typically saved these types of interlocking for last. 
  • Second, the Conrail Michigan Line was one of those stepchildren that saw more passenger traffic than freight.  In fact Amtrak bought the MC route west of Kalamazoo to Porter, IN outright creating a stub line that Conrail was disinclined to invest in.  
  • Third, Amtrak didn't bother to take over dispatching duties of its own line until 2005, with a Conrail operator at Drawbridge Tower in Michigan Tower being paid to run CTC machine.  Operators at BO and Drawbridge gave Amtrak more personal service than having to get a hold of an overworked Conrail dispatcher.  
  • Fourth, NS went and effectivly leased the annoying Michigan Line to Amtrak in the aftermath of the financial crisis with MIDoT on hand with stimulus funding to upgrade the entire route for 110mph operation.  The agreement required NS to dispatch the line until 2016 when Amtrak would take over.  This means that while BO was re-signaled in the 2014-2015 time frame, the tower remained open with local control because of the lease agreement.

So what's next?  It was reported that the items inside the tower were removed for preservation in the Henry Ford Museum.  Unfortunately that implied that there might not be a plan to preserve the tower as is and wooden towers have a history of having to be demolished, even when preservation attempts are made (PD, MO, etc).  Still, BO tower was given a new roof about 10 years ago and it doesn't appear to be leaning so there could still be least until someone sets it on fire :-(

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Videos from Across the Pond

I just found a few interesting videos involving UK signalboxes.  The first two involve the Banbury North Signalbox , which was recently decommissioned, but then opened for public tours (a somewhat rare occurrence due to all the health and safety BS their railways are tied up in).  Unfortunately the signalbox, like many others, is slated for eventual demolition so little other purpose than it being there.  Britain's attitude towards its decommissioned signalboxes is downright baffling seeing as every foot of railway infrastructure is publicly owned and almost everything in the UK is covered by some sort of historic preservation law.  Network Rail also seems to be chronically pressed for cash and where they can find the funds for these demolitions is beyond me.

The first video shows the full tour that was given to the public and the second video shows the view from the locking room as the levers are manipulated.  Those of your from North America should keep in mind that mechanical British signalboxes such as this, typically work on the manual block system.  Some track circuits may be provided, but train movement is primarily by manual block using block instruments instead of voice or message communications.

The third video is from Harrow On The Hill signal cabin on the London Underground in 2002 and shows a Westinghouse Style N machine, which is basically a US&S Model 14 with the levers pivoted around 90 degrees so that they throw in the traditional "back and forth" orientation, instead of left and right.  Even the tri-positionality of some of the signal levers is retained.  The most fascinating thing about this video is the use of a pneumatic assist to move levers at the far end of the frame when certain route levers are pulled in the primary operating area.  It's basically a non-vital intra-tower remote control system that doesn't require additional relay logic, a serious expense in pre and post war Briton.  This technology was later extended to create the Style V frame where all the levers were moved primarily by remote control pneumatics.

BTW, if you are wondering why the model board is all lit it, is it because that was considered safety critical information and any bulb out had to mark the track circuit as "occupied".  Of course with the bulbs burning by default I am sure there would be plenty of bulb out opportunities.

Monday, October 17, 2016

STATE Tower Closes (1937-2016)

This weekend the world lost not only an interlocking tower, not only a PRR Main Line interlocking tower, but a PRR Main L interlocking tower still sporting its origional US&S Model 14 electro-pneumatic interlocking machine.  On a personal note, STATE was the first tower I was able to talk my want into (during a long layover on the old Three Rivers while express cars were being attached) and also the first classic interlocking machine I was able to operate. 

STATE was closed due to high speed rail stimulus funds or that transportation funding deal PA worked out a few years back or some combination of the two.  STATE was the last active tower west of THORN and at times had remote control over ROY and RHEEMS, until those two were transferred to the section C dispatcher attached to CTEC.  For those of you who are unaware, STATE's opposite, HARRIS, was preserved after its closure in 1990 and now serves as a museum.  unfortunately, since STATE is an office embedded inside the Harrisburg Station it is unlikely the same sort of thing would happen, however one never knows.

Middle floor, left of the bricked up windows.
In addition to the tower being closed, STATE interlocking was substantially rationalized.  Pneumatic point machines were converted to electric, parallel paths were removed, the engine pocket spur was eliminated, the double slip switch was shipped off to Albany and #8 track was turned into a stub.

Amtrak: We don't need no extra crossovers.
PRR: One more signal is never enough

In terms of what one might consider "upgrades", the almost entirely slow speed plant traded in some of its dwarfs for high Amtrak colorized PLs supporting Limited speed movements from the main platform, although any capacity gain was wasted by placing the only set of crossovers about a half mile away from the station end of the interlocking!   For those of you familiar with the Albany terminal rationalization project, you can tell Amtrak engaged the same set of consultants.

STATE re-signaling project- 10/2015
 This project has been metastasizing for a good 3-5 years now and a lot of what they were planing was evident when I visited last year for Halloween  I guess it was bound to happen at some point and I guess I should be thankful for the extra time we had to document the plant in the digital age and I guess the new gantry and cantilever mounted CzPLs will inspire railfans for decades to come, but with so few Model 14 machines (or any non-solid state interlocking machines) left in operation

STATE and ROY machines.
I have a lot of good photos both inside of the inside and outside of STATE to stay tuned for future articles covering them.  STATE may by gone, but it will not be forgotten.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


So a while a go I posted a piece on Amtrak's OVERBROOK interlocking in the Overbrook neighborhood of Philadelphia.  Today I will be focusing on the interior and exterior of tower itself so if you missed the first port go back and read it over as I won't be reiterating any of the interlocking specific information.  Most of the interior photos were taken in 2003 and 2004, while some of the exterior photos were taken between 2011 and 2015.  Part 1 of this two part look at OVERBROOK will cover the tower's exterior, first floor and Model 14 machine on the second floor.

OVERBROOK tower was built by the PRR in 1926 and was, chronologically, in the first wave of the all-brick style of towers that would become a trademark of the PRR in its later years.  OVERBROOK was soon expanded in 1941 as part of a CTC project that gave the tower control over the remote interlockings VALLEY and JEFF (on the Schuylkill Valley Branch ), as well as having its own limits expanded with control over the west end of Belmont Yard installed as OVERBROOK's "Woodbine" section under direct wire control.

Still, compared to other PRR towers, OVERBROOK is notable for its rather diminutive size.  Similar to later 1930's towers such as WINSLOW and YORK, it still presents itself as a bit smaller, especially compared to its sister towers elsewhere on the electrified main line.

The smaller size is more apparent in the quarter view where we can see that there is only one window on each of the sides, compared with two on the WINSLOW/YORK series of towers.  One feature that reduced the footprint was the location of the air compressor plant outside the tower.

Despite its location in a big city, Amtrak was never hesitant to store spare signaling components such as PL signal targets and A-5 point machine covers, in the open, behind the tower.

Like most PRR towers, OVERBROOK is fitted with an internal staircase with a ground level entry.  The money really shows with Flemish bond brickwork with a number of decorative courses.  Also note the canopy over the door complete with slate shingles.

The PRR standard bay window takes up most of the width of the tower and today is outfitted with a number of VHF radio antennas.  Also present is the interlocking horn, which is still functional and used to clear off people crossing the tracks in the station area.

A train order lamp, consisting of a single PL-2 unit, is still mounted on the east side of the tower.  With 4 tracks and one bi-directional, there was less need for train order hooping at OVERBROOK, but it still took place from time to time.  The 80's or 90's vintage Amtrak tower sign is clearly showing its years.  Don't look for any further investment in tower aesthetics as efforts to re-signal the line loom.

Here is another view of the front of the tower, complete with a 9/11 flag, before the platform was rebuilt in 2003.

Opening the door we are immediately greeted by the sound of clockwork ticking and the smell of the 1940's as we walk right into OVERBROOK's relay room.  Normally the relay room is locked and only accessible by C&S personel, however OVERBROOK is the rare exception where the operator can also poke about in the guts of the interlocking.  In this particular bay of the relay room we can see older shelf relays off to the left and "newer" plug type relays on the right.  Note the maintainer's chair, phone and stash of spare plug relays.  This interlocking and tower is actually assigned its own full time maintainer, likely near retirement and the only person who knows how things works.

The shelf relays are attached to the 1926 portion of the interlocking, which basically means the 4-track crossover.  Unfortunately I took these pictures back in 2003 when my camera card capacity was 96 photos, or I would have taken a lot more.