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Monday, April 9, 2018

1930's PRR Port Road Signaling Retired

 In the late 1930s the Pennsylvania Railroad decided to equip its low grade Columbia and Port Deposit Branch with a state of the art signaling system in conjunction with an equally cutting edge electrification project.  The Rule 261 signaling on a single track line with passing sidings was controlled by CTC machines at just two on line towers, PERRY and COLA.  Remarkably this signaling lasted  over 80 years with the northern half being retired in 2012 and the southern half being retired on April 9th, 2018.  Fortunately I had been able to fully document the line as it originally appeared over the preceding decade and a half and you can review my work here.

Compared with other recent NS re-signaling projects that have continued through multiple calendar years, the PRR signaling on the lower 20 miles of the Port Road were replaced in about 6 months.  Not only were the remaining PRR position light signals replaced, but NS also decided to convert the cab signaled line to Rule 562 operation, eliminating four automatic signal locations and converting another to a controlled point. Of course I don't need to tell you all of the changes that took place between PERRY interlocking on the NEC and CP-MIDWAY because NS is nice enough to publish comprehensive change documentation that also includes all possible signal aspects.

 Starting from Amtrak territory at PERRY, the first major change was the conversion of the former CP-MINNICK interlocking to a new CP-MINNICK controlled point. CP-MINNICK used to provide access to the west end of the Perryville freight yard and was downgraded to an automatic signaling location when the yard was removed. Well, for whatever reason NS decided to install a controlled point cantilever mast in between the two former CP-MINNICK home signals. I guess it allows locomotives and trainsets to be reversed at the Perryville wye track without having to tie up the entire stretch of track south of CP-QUARRY, where NS likes to store trains waiting to get onto the NEC. It could also be a way for the signal department to add what is functionally an automatic signal despite a possible management directive to go Rule 562. Without the signal at CP-MINNICK, crews cannot tell if they are approaching a Slow Approach or a Stop signal at PERRY from their cab signal alone. The aspect chart also shows how the distant to CP-QUARY on the siding track has to display both Approach Limited for a Limited Clear and an Approach Medium for a Medium Approach. Also being wiped away are electro-mechanical cab signal code generators of the type that existed at the cab signal cut between CP-MINNICK and PERRY.

The once and future CP-MINNICK

Moving on, CP-QUARRY has had its eastbound home signal moved to be closer to the switch. Evidently PTC and cab signals are a substitute for sight lines. Also, NS is taking a play from the Amtrak playbook and having trains diverge over Medium Clear at CP-QUARRY approaching a Medium Clear/Approach at CP-TOME and Limited Clear approaching a Clear/Approach signal at CP-TOME.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Historic PT&T (New York Penn and Sunnyside Yard) Video Tours

I recently stumbled upon a YouTube channel run by an old Amtrak conductor who posted a number of video narrations of various parts of the Pennsylvania Tunnel and Terminal Railroad (Penn Station, Sunnyside Yard, etc) including the towers and signaling.  The videos were shot prior to the mid-90's when the old towers and old signaling were still in place.

Here in this discussion of the Penn Station track layout, one can see some interrior footage of A Tower starting around 4:30

This video show Sunnyside Yard has some footage around Q tower a little past 3:30.

Here is another Sunnyside video with some Q tower content right up front and some R tower inside footage after 8:00

These are the ones with the most tower content, but her has a bunch of other tour videos that are still very interesting.  Check them out!!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Here Comes the Harrisburg Line CTC Project

Well NS just cut in the CTC on the former Conrail Reading Line, however the original "Reading Line" was the Reading railroad Main Line between Philadelphia and Reading.  Eventually folded into the Conrail Harrisburg Line, running between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, the western end was given the CTC treatment pretty much on the NS/CR border in 1999/2000.  However, the portion between Reading and Philly was largely left in it's ABS Rule 251 State barring a few bits and pieces here and there.

The All New CP-FORGE
NS has already gone about replacing most of the former Conrail ABS small target searchlights with Darth masts, and then embarked on a re-signaling project that has gone from CP-FALLS  to CP-PHOENIX (exclusive).  However a few searchlights and Rule 251 remnants hold on.  Still, a new crossover is in evidence at CP-BIRD and just a few miles north of there a new crossover is going in at the future CP-LORANE.

The biggest loss, besides the whole concept of single direction ABS, will be CP-TITUS, which is pretty much still in it's 1960's Reading System configuration, complete with a movable point diamond.  Needless to say, that i currently my top target for documentary preservation.  Hopefully things will move slowly, as they did with the Reading Line, however one has to be prepared for the unexpected, like with the Allentown Terminal complex.  Don't pass up the opportunity to get out there while you can.

Monday, March 19, 2018

NS Reading Line 261 Finally Cut In

Wow, so it took nearly 2 years, but the short, 30 mile long NS Reading Line has finally been "upgraded" to bi-directional Rule 261 operation, replacing the former Conrail small target searchlight signals.  Fortunately, over the course of two marathon trips I was able to document most of the signals between CP-WEST LAUREL and CP-ALLEN, inclusive.

The Reading Line and I go way back, it being the site of one of my very first interlocking surveys all the way back in 2002 and later captured in this blog post on CP-ALBURTIS. I later surveyed the Reading Line from the back of an Amtrak fall foliage train in 2016, returning a few weeks later to document the west end and then about 6 months after that to cover the east end.  Incidentally, the re-signaling will also come with an increase in speed from 50 to 60mph, with NS now making full use of its Class 4 track.  Speed increases are rare events, even after a re-signaling effort as it requires the re-timing of every grade crossing on the route, whereas normally they can be left alone.  This may have accounted for the protracted timeframe of the project.

I want to thank my friend Kevin, a Reading Line local, for being my guide and I want to direct everyone over to his own photo album of the signaling changes over the last 2 years.  It's a damn shame to see another stretch of increasingly rare ABS bite the dust, but at least we did everything we could to capture what it was like.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Book Review: GRS - Elements of Railway Signaling

So it's come to this.  I'm so desperate for filler content that I've taken a page from the Forgotten Weapons playbook and started posting book reviews 😂  General Railway Signal's (GRS) Elements of Railway Signaling (or at least this version) was published in 1979, on the 75th anniversary of the companies consolidation. It is an industrialreference book similar to Babcock and Wilcox's "Steam: It's Generation and Use" and is likely targeted at electrical engineers who are looking to enter the railway signaling field or at least manage it.  No publisher information is listed and it appears to have no ISBN.

The book is exceedingly comprehensive, covering everything from basic track circuits to CTC systems and NX interlocking schemes.  It also covers all sorts of obscure topics like approach lighting and hump yard retarder systems.  When one reads the word "Basics" in a title, one might expect a focus on "basic" operations.  Big easy to read diagrams of Automatic Block schemes and grade crossings.  This book is more an inch deep and a mile wide, providing a basic explanation of pretty much every railroad signaling topic.  

Ultimately this is where the book can fail a reader with no or only casual electrical engineering experience (and no, not the digital kind that everybody is learning today).  For pretty much every signaling topic one can think of, the book provides a paragraph or two, a diagram and then moves on to the next topic.  There has been very little effort given to actually trying to provide intuitive explanations and a lay reader will probably need to make more than a few passes. 

Ultimately a reader will gain insight into why (classic) signaling works the way it does, however there are so many ways to do similar things that without further information one will not be able to tell how any specific piece of railroad is signaled.  Moreover, with a date of 1979, there are a lot of things that are not covered like solid state relay replacements and data transmission that uses packets instead of simple frequencies and polarities.  Still, it's a very valuable reference for anyone who is looking to understand how things worked in the pre-digital age and Railway Signaling is far more accessible than something like Color Television or Telephone Switches. After all, relays are pretty much digital devices.

Because of it's "not really published" status, the book is hard to find at typical online booksellers.  Ebay is your best bet with final sales prices ranging between $20 and $30 before shipping.  These books also can be found at train shows with a typical price of $40.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Northern Buffalo Line Trip Report

So after reporting that the PRR signaling on the Northern NS/Conrail/PRR Buffalo Line was in danger, I took a trip up to the Williamsport, PA area to take what photos I could before everything went away.  Previously NS had re-signaled everything from the north end of Northunberland Yard through to the wye complex at Linden.  I had visited the latter location back in 2006 when I was chasing a Levin sponsored PRR E8 trip to Renovo and knew that classic signals were still in place through to Lock Haven, however replacements were in the process of going up.  Long story short if you'd like some spoilers, my buddy Todd has already posted his trip report, but I have a few takeaways of my own.

First of all NS did carry out a general signal refurbishment project so the old PL's will be looking their best when they are unceremoniously ripped out in the next few months. although that did mean the demise of the pneumatic point machines.  Second, CP-RIVER, which used to span the entire length of the Susquehanna River Bridge at Linden, has its northbound signal moved to the south bank, probably so the LV RR shortline could take full responsibility for the bridge.

After the Linden complex I tried to stop by CP-BUD, but found it to be inaccessible thanks to a gate closing off what is nominally a private road serving some vacation cabins, however I was able to document CP-PINE and the two famous 2-track PRR signal bridges between CP-PINE and CP-LANE.  Moreover, just south of the MP 197 bridge there is also an abandoned weigh-in-motion scale that has the equipment arranged in a very strange setup on a platform over a river and protected by steel plate armour. 

Getting onto the bad news, CP-LANE, a crossover on the double track just before Lock Haven, PA, had been re-signaled in the same sweep that also hit CP-LOCK HAVEN.  Of course the most shocking discovery was this little sign next to the new southbound at CP-LOCK HAVEN.

Yup, NS has completely scrapped the signaling north of Lock Haven, PA.  They had already cut back the Rule 261 to Emporium, but for whatever reason they just decided to throw in the towel.  You might notice that the northbound cantilever has signals that all support 261 territory north of Lock Haven, but between the time those signals were ordered and today it appears that their plans :-(

All of the relay cabinets have been unceremoniously dumped in the backlot of the NS Lock Haven station/crew base so if you're a relay collector...

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

NYCTA Union Turnpike Tower Closes and Warwick CPL's Fall

Double shot of bad news today, although none of it was unexpected.  At 5am on Monday, February 20th, 2018, the UNION TURNPIKE tower on the NYCTA Queens Boulevard Line closed.  The tower had entered service on 12/1/1936 and contained a 43-lever US&S Model 14 machine.  It was replaced by the new Forest Hills Master Tower that also closed  Roosevelt Avenue Tower (60-lever GRS Model 5) on 7/11/2016 and Continental Avenue Tower (83-lever US&S Model 14) on 9/11/2017.  As I reported earlier in the year, the Northern Boulevard tower (12-lever GRS Model 5), remains open on the local alignment, but will also be closed at some point.  The Model 14 towers at Parsons and Jamaica Yard are not currently scheduled for replacement.

In other news, the replacement signals covering the CTC island at Warwick, OH (south of Akron) have been cut over.  These have some significance for me as I recall that back around 2000 I was taking my first real long distance Amtrak journey via the old Three Rivers.  After being delayed by over 4 hours between Pittsburgh and Akron due to freight congestion, I awoke in my coach seat to see all sorts of strange sites out the window.  At Warwick, the RoW opened up with yard tracks in the middle.  Emerging from the morning fog I saw B&O CPL signals in their native habitat.  It wasn't the first ones I had seen in person of course, but just seeing them when so much of the trip was to be filled with darth vaders on the rebuilt Chicago main line was an amazing experience.

So long and farewell old friends.

Monday, February 12, 2018

PTC Assimilates METRA Beverly and Fox Lake Branches

PTC is in the news after that CSX wreck and it came to my attention that, as one might expect, METRA's solution to some of more oddball signaling arrangements is replacement with bog standard CTC.  One of these quirky signaling setups is the Rock Island District's Beverly Branch, which, amazingly, still runs under time separation.  The 30 mph line with frequent stops and many level crossings basically gives all stops locals a 10 minute buffer behind them.  Following trains work under timetable and line of sight.  Well of course one could try and emulate this with some sort of moving block system...or just installed CTC, which is what METRA is doing.

The other casualty is the Fox Lake branch, that turns off the old MILW main line at Rondout and heads west to Fox Lake.  This single track line makes use of an interurban style Automatic Permissive Block system with meets taking place at Gray's Lake.  Again, there is nothing that would prevent a PTC system to just plug into the existing signals, even ones worked automatically, however once you have to test everything you might as well replace it.

I am going to laugh and laugh when someone markets a PTC solution based on computer vision with no wireless wayside components.  So much fire and fury, all for nothing.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

First Confirmed PTC Casualties

I have always maintained that PTC was going to kill people and not just in the sense that it makes rail transportation uncompetitive with highway travel.  Of course the assumed cause of these deaths would be a PTC penalty brake application on a long freight train in a mountain territory leading to a runaway.  Well I'll be the first to admit when I am wrong because the first PTC related deaths happened when an Amtrak train hit a mis-aligned hand operated switch at track speed due to a signal suspension facilitating a PTC-motivated re-signaling project. 

19th century technology reliably tells me the switch on track 2 is lined and locked.
What is really gauling is how the media keeps saying that PTC would have prevented the accident.  Well do you know what else would have prevented it?  A functioning block signaling system, with or without cab signal ATC!  This is probably a good harbinger of the other way PTC will kill people.  By making train crews reliant on an electronic crutch, the accident rate will increase when operating under contingency circumstances, like a signal suspension (or a run of the mill PTC outage).  Crews get used to the cab display warning them of that 30mph curve and when it doesn't, boom.  We've seen this countless times with Airbus' horrible human factors engineering that pretty much ensures that pilots will stall and crash the plane when the computer training wheels come off.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Well Somehow I missed This Site

Today I was made aware of a new interlocking tower related website, and by new I mean it was started around 2011, the same year I launched this blog.  It is, get ready for it:

Yup, exactly what it says on the tin.  The site amalgamates photos from the collections of many prolific railfans, including midwestern tower enthusiast John Roma, and pretty much just makes a list of towers, sorted alphabetically by state, with direct links to the high res photos.  Most of the photos are from the 1960's through the 1980's, although some are from the "pre-historic" period before World War 2.  There are especially good collections covering the New Haven and other railroads that used wooden towers that never made it into the modern era to be photographed. 

SS79 MILL RIVERwith active New Haven catenary.
Some of the towers have diagrams included and some of the photos are extremely rare and interesting interior shots.  This will surely come in handy as a historical reference for some of my line surveys.  For example, I re-discovered photos I had lost links to when the old JD Tower website died.

Time to update my CARROLL interlocking page again.
Anyway, I highly recomend this site and make sure you leave yourself some time as you'll quickly lose a few hours clicking on non-thumbnailed photo links, itching to see what secret they hide.  If you make this site a recurring habit, there is also a "what new" page.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Amtrak Signal Diagrams Courtesy the Feds

So when Amtrak made regulatory filings to alter the signal system both on the Southern NEC and Springfield Line, it appears that they also submitted pdf diagrams, which now turn up when one searches through the FRA website. 

Rule 562 BACON to PERRY
Rule 562 BUSH TO OAK
Springfield Line Double Track Project Signal Changes

In addition to just being plain interesting there are a few key takeaways.  First, the 562 project that is currently going in between BACON (North East, MD) and OAK (Aberdeen, MD) will extend to BUSH, at the Bush River drawbridge.  This will eliminate three additional automatic block signal locations, each covering 3 tracks with back to back colorized position lights :-(

NEC ABS Signal 652 north of Aberdeen Station.
Second, the Springfield Line 562 scheme will include an island of 261 around Hartford with a single remaining wayside automatic block signal and the first two phases of the project will not include additional work between a point north of Hartford and Springfield, MA, leaving it pretty much un-touched from a signaling perspective.  Although the Springfield line has already lost all of it's interesting H-5 searchlights, the remaining wayside block signals were at least something extra.

The Springfield Line actually stands to gain a number of interesting features as interlockings in North Haven, Hartford and Berlin are all being expanded with gantries, cantilevers, 'C' boards and industrial track dwarfs.  There are still some puzzling instances of Rule 562 being in place between back-to-back interlockings with no obvious intermediate signaling points.  The diagrams are not very clear on that point.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

NS/Conrail Buffalo Line Alert!

Well things are going downhill fast on the northern portions of the former Conrail Buffalo Line.  About a decade ago, declining traffic on the line prompted NS to turn over much of the middle portion of the former PRR main line over to two regional short lines via a long term lease arrangement.  Between Driftwood, PA and the outskirts of Buffalo, NY, the rare first generation PRR CTC instillation was switched off, but generally left in place as a "temporary" signal suspension.  Fast forward a decade and it appears that NS is not pussy footing around anymore.  About a week ago the PRR interlockings of CP-NORTH DRIFTWOOD and CP-DRIFTWOOD were completely ripped out, with the northern limit of Rule 261 now being at CP-SOUTH DRIFTWOOD.

CP-DRIFTWOOD (seen above) was notable for its PRR signal bridges and pneumatic switch plant.  Probably the last in operation on the former Buffalo Line.  With it's removal there are rumblings about NS wanting to completely de-signal the line north of Lock Haven, which recently sawit's interlocking re-signaled back in December.  Moreover, new signals are appearing between Lock Haven, PA and Williansport, PA, which was a major holdout of PRR signaling with a number of interlockings and a few photogenic two track automatic signal bridges.

So get up there while you can.  I have the portion between Harrisburg and Northumberland covered, but above there I just have a few photos from 2006.  Hopefully I can return before it is too late.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Grafton D Tower, D-Stroyed

Well this was a bit of unfortunate news to start the new year.  D Tower in Grafton, WV was one an icon of the CSX Mountain Subdivision.  Built by the B&O in the 20's or 30, it was later upgraded to a CTC panel operation in the post war years.  Ultimately it was closed in the 1990's as CSX begrudgingly put money into the failing coal country rail line. However the sturdy brick tower was left standing, serving as an office for local C&S or MoW crews even as other Mountain Sub towers at Keyser, Terra Alta and Rowlsburg, were demolished.

Well it looks like the payout from E. Hunter Harrison's life insurance payout provided the Baltimore Division with enough spare pocket change for the tower to be demolished.  In all seriousness it possibly was some sort of management dictate, perhaps intended to reduce employee perks or simply eliminate whatever crew base it supported. 

While typically "slow" parts of a large corporate organization are neglected and thus preserved, sometimes the knife can cut the other way with extreme cost cutting.  Hopefully, with CSX's experiment in railroad management a complete failure, things will go back to the way they were.