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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

To G or not To G

A lot of people like to throw the term "G Head" around as a generic reference for signals that have a circular target surrounding a triangular arrangement of three signal lamps.  Also known as target signal, target color light, V light or tri-light, this style of signal doesn't really have a good name so people tend to gravitate to the professional sounding "G Head" moniker.  However, instead of being a generic term for that style of signal, it is actually a specific model of signal produced by the General Railway Signal corporation.  You can't even say that it was the dominant producer of said signal type as US&S had their own competing products that tended to be purchased by railroads US&S bias towards.  As time went on even more producers entered the market so using G Head without any regard for the manufacturer is not only imprecise, but also inconsiderate to the actual brands involved.  So below is a quick field guide to tri-light signals to help you tell the G Heads from the Generics.

First up is an actual GRS Style G color light signal.  Note the partly rounded lamp housing and the GRS brand spelled out in words.  These were made popular by the New York Central railroad, but were also heavily employed by the Rock Island, MoPac and others. 

US&S responded with a couple of models.  Their first attempt, the Style TR, used a compact, three section lamp housing covered by a single detachable backing plate.  These are becoming quite rare, although Amtrak installed a bunch new at Chicago Union Station in the 1990's.

US&S later updated this style to be more like the GRS G-Head with a single piece lamp house.  Christened the CR-2, it was a favorite of Conrail and other northeastern commuter railroads that were willing t pay more for a brand name.

Of course Safetran couldn't help but make a knockoff.  Dubbed the NR (I think), it did show some innovation by having a split door on the lamp house.  

Of course even at Safetran prices railroads can't be bothered with purchasing large cast iron signals so to accommodate them, Safetram offers a V target configuration for its ubiquitous scallop shell modular signal lamps.   This produces a large gap in the center of the signal target, which is the easiest way to identify this style of hardware from the front.

I mentioned that other suppliers jumped on board back in the 80's and 90's.  This triangular single housing model was made by an outfit in Louisville, KY and was purchased by Amtrak for its 90's color light needs.

A decade later, this boxy LED modular Safetran knockoff is popular on Amtrak related projects throughout New Englande. 

Of course there are a few others in the V arranged modular lamp category, but I think you get the point.  Hopefully you've learned something and will be able to correctly give every style of tri-light signal its due.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Signal Power Save Mode

I am sure that many of you are familiar with "Approach Lit" signals, where the signal lamps only light up when a train is in the block approaching it (or sometimes, in CTC territory, leaving it).  This feature, still employed today, was originally used when block signals were lit by consumable battery power and hung around to conserve bulb life as well as battery power in times that pole line power failed (which was often).  Well it turns out that there is in fact a third option between leaving signals on at full brightness all the time or only lighting them up when a train is approaching and, at least as far as I can tell, it was a Conrail thing.

I first noticed this at CP-103 on the now-Amtrak Hudson Line where one of the 4 approach lit signal heads maintained a low level glow, in this case of the red variety, with the rest remaining completely dark.  

Of course when a train approached they lit up with their full intensity.  Strangely, the southbound masts did not exhibit the same type of power save feature, with all lamps remaining dark.

I thought this was a one off until a few weeks later when I noticed the same effect on the eastbound signal at CP-BLANDON on the former Conrail Reading Line. 

While the Hudson Line was re-signaled in the 1970's or early 1980's, CP-BLANDON was re-signaled in the late 1990's, so this is clearly a feature that was being employed for a number of years.  However it is not all together clear why it is used to selectively.  If I had to guess, the one similarity I noticed between CP-103 and CP-BLANDON was that a power save mode signal was located just past a grade crossing.  The ghostly red light may serve as a visual reminder of the interlocking limits to hi-rail vehicles entering or exiting at said grade crossings.  High rail vehicles and other track cars might not shunt the track circuit and therefore would not light up regular approach lit signals.  A burning red marker light would go a long way to preventing careless Stop signal violations.

Anyway, if anyone knows the true reason for this feature please let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Canadian Pacific Mystery N-Lamps

For those of you who remember the case of the CP Mystery Searchlights, it seems that Canadian Pacific has been at it again, this time with mystery single unit traffic light style signals similar to US&S N types.  I first spotted these in photos about 2 years ago, at first thinking that they were recycling old US&S N-type signals, but then noticing the much more generic appearance.  Well I finally managed to get up close and personal with a few that were being installed up at CPF-483 in Mohawk, NY and, well, I don't know much more than I already did.

 They share the fully oval shape of the US&S type N, but the flat, rear panel of the GRS style traffic light.  The signals were not clearly labeled or branded so I could not tell who was responsible for their construction.

The faux N-types were being installed in mixed company with more typical Safetran clamshell type modular color light, Darth Vader configured signals.  Although a welcome break from the monotony of the Safetran monopoly, they are horribly generic to the point of not even having a knock off brand name or symbol or whatever.  If anybody can shed some light on this mystery please leave something in the comments.

It makes me thing.  With former CP hatchet man Hunter Harrison now at CSX, I wonder if he'll bring some creative cuts to the signal budget.  Of course he might have been the one to shift CP from their home grown searchlights and plunge them into the arms of Darth :-(

Monday, May 8, 2017

Amtrak Signaling Updates

So I just got two pieces of Amtrak related signaling news.  The first is an update on my previous NY Capitol Area signaling report where I said that it did not appear that Amtrak was ready to re-signal the portion of the Hudson Line between CP-156 and CP-159 based on some long distance observations of CP-159.  Well it turns out the new signals were located out of my line of sight because both NYC/Conrail vintage interlockings were replaced in April.

Also removed would be the NY Central two track intermediate signal bridge between CP-156 and CP-159.  Fortunately I was able to fully document that location a number of years ago.

I also got word that a reconstruction effort has commenced at PAOLI interlocking on the former PRR Main Line to replace the two side-wall platforms with a single island platform.  As such the two through tracks have been cut and both the 14L and 18L signals removed along with their associated turnouts. This is a huge blow to the character of the station and also eliminated the notable "high dwarf" signal mounted on the road bridge gantry adjacent to the two westbound high signals.