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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Call to the Signal Bungalow

So a number a years ago I was planning to get some signal photos along the former Conrail Buffalo Line and while searching for information on CP-NORTH MILLER, I noticed something strange about the results.

It appears that, for some bizarre reason, the telephone in the signal house at CP-NORTH MILLER had gotten itself listed in a phone book at some point and now it was plastered all over various cyber-leech clickbait websites.  Normally I might not have given this a second thought, but for another poignant experience I had way back in 2006.

On another Buffalo Line trip, while taking photos at CP-LINDEN out of the blue an old style bell phone began to ring inside the spacious 1950's vintage PRR CTC-style relay house.  I had a chuckle thinking who would be calling an interlocking in the middle of nowhere, but when I saw the phone listing for CP-NORTH MILLER 8 years later, I just HAD to try it.

The PRR was never very enthusiastic about CTC, content to rest on its laurels of multi-track main lines, manned block stations and the manual block system.  However it did green light a few projects and the Main Line between Rockville to Buffalo, was one such example.  Installed in 1957, the Buffalo Line CTC was definitely a creature of the PRR with lavish signal huts, a reliable power supply (so no approach lighting) and apparently, a PTSN station in each walk-in signal shanty.

So back in 2014 I drove up from Rockville to Millersburg, all excited about capturing a cool intersection of the rail and telephone network communities of interest and...nothing happened.  I tried the number and the phone didn't ring.  Ah well, should have known it wouldn't have worked.

Fast forward to 2017 and I was back up again, chasing signals on the Buffalo Line and I just couldn't help myself to pull over and see if I could give the call another go.  At this point I'll cut to the video.

Man, what ever happened to that wonderful rich 1950's ringer sound?  Absolutely wonderful!  I'm going to go out on a limb and say I'd bet it was a wall mounted Western Electric model 554.  I don't see the PRR sticking a desk set in such a cramped location, nor do I see Conrail or NS ever having upgraded the line for DTMF service ;-)  Of course a Western Electric rotary phone is probably even more reliable than the US&S glass case relays powering the interlocking logic. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A British Style Tower In Illinois

In Europe, mechanical signaling is still quite common.  Paired with the manual block system, all or nearly all-mechanical interlocking towers control thousands of miles of main line track.  However in North America, the all-mechanical tower, that is with semaphore signals controlled directly by levers and pipeline, is virtually unheard of .  Yes examples can be found at drawbridges and diamond crossings on low density track, but the difference is quite stark.  Part of the reason is the general incompatibility of automatic block and mechanical signals.  Manual block was much less popular in North American than in Europe.  The other reason had to do with a number of ICC regulations that required signals to be interlocked with train detection (read track circuits) and that signals be electrically interlocked with point detectors.

You can imagine my surprise when I discovered Neilson Jct in Neilson, IL to have a set of fully mechanical signals controlling a manual block style junction with non-Restricted speed movements.  Now RR Signal Pics does a great job providing basic details about Neilson, but I just wanted to not only call attention to that page, but also to a set of videos that have been on Youtube since 2011, but due to poor use of keywords, does not appear on most interlocking tower or signaling related searches.

For a single switch between two secondary tracks, Neilson has a surprising number of levers.  First, just like in British practice, each former C&EI distant has its own lever.  Second, each of the southbound signals are connected to derails which also come with a facing point lock.  Finally, the 12 lever operated a mechanical timer that I assume provides approach locking in the absence of track circuits.

The northbound home signal handled the route route selection issue by having two semaphore heads, each controlled by a different lever and indicating one of the two routes.  Of course the straight route semaphore was for the C&EI and the lower diverging route semaphore for the BN.

Aside from the British style of operation, what really puzzles me is how such a tower survived up through 1989.  Checking Google Earth it appears the single junction switch was replaced by a hand operated type and that the line is un-signaled.

Basically just watch the 7 videos and read up on the RR Signal Pix page. I'm just trying to call attention to an historical oddity that is in need of some help with discoverability :-)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Curtain Closes on IRT Signaling (Take 2)

One of my earliest posts for this blog back in 2011, covered the closing of the NYC Subway's E. 180th St interlocking tower.  This was the last instance of an electro-mechanical single interlocking tower on the IRT division and also what I thought at the time was the last bastion of old IRT signaling as well.  You see, in addition to it's on interlocking plant, E. 180th St tower also had CTC control of the (5) Dyre Ave line.  It seemed logical that closing the tower would be followed by a re-signaling of the Dyre.

Well it turns out I was wrong and the old IRT signaling on the Dyre persisted for another 6 years!  Unfortunately, I was just informed that the NYCTA would finally be concluding it's closure of the E. 180th extended enterprise by cutting in a new, bog standard IND style system on the Drye on or after Labour Day 2017.

If you want a full explanation of IRT and IND/BMT signaling, you can find it here, but the short explanation is that the IND/BMT system uses the upper head for block occupancy and the lower head for route.  So a G/Y signal would be Diverging Clear and Y/G would be Approach Straight.  The IRT used a more railroad style system with each head representing a different route.  R/G would be diverging clear, etc.  Basically something that would be familiar to almost any real world railroader.  The NYC Subway marked old IRT signals with a red number plate and outside of the Dyre they were last seen on the (2) and (4) lines in the Bronx up through the turn of the Millennium.

While I guess it was a good thing that these signals survived 6 more years that I had assumed, I'll definitely regret not taking the time to go up and see them beyond my last visit in 2009.