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Monday, December 31, 2018

Winter 2018 Reading and Northern Update

So once again Bill Tarantino has sent me another year end Reading and Northern signaling update.  After signaling much of the line north of their operating base at Port Clinton, the R&N is making a real push to open up tourist passenger service to Reading and therefore is looking to extend the CTC along the Reading Division Main Line between North Reading MP 62 and Port Clinton MP 78.

Bill has made several exploratory and documentary trips to the area over the course of the last 3 months in conjunction with their fall and winter steam excursions.  New signal infrastructure and track work has popped up rapidly like mushrooms overnight.  It appears from the accumulated on-site evidence that more work still remains to be done per the final overall design.

  1. MP 62.0 (NORTH READING) 
  • Evidence indicates probable site of a new interlocking here.
  • New yard track and switch re-alignments completed.
  • Two new sidings under construction on the opposite station platform side for engine holding and run around.
  • Switch circuit controllers on all switches are in place.
  • Old Green & Yellow MBS Station Sign (“N. READING”) has been taken up and moved across the main to the opposite track side across from where it was originally placed.  And, now just leans up against a new double door relay box.  Probably in advance of new Cabin prep work.
  • No new cabin or signal equipment or up powered switches yet, probably waiting on finalization of new track work here.
MP 62 NORTH READING – Looking south towards CP BELT
  1. MP 63.8 (RICK)
  • New single switch Interlocking here.
  • Will control movements into and out of the north side NORTH READING yard.
  • No name plate on the new cabin.  Likely called RICK because the old MBS YL Sign at MP 64 says RICK.  And, this new interlocking just 0.2 miles to the south will supplant it.
  • Triple head tri-light 3-3-3 absolute  home signal for southbound main. 
  • Dual head tri-light 3-2 absolute  home signal for northbound main. 
  • Yard lead siding northbound has conventional 3 light dwarf.

MP 63.8  RICK - Ground Level.  Looking north towards Port Clinton.

MP 63.8 RICK – Overhead shot.  Looking north towards Leesport and Port Clinton. 

  1. MP 65.6 (DUAL MAST ABS)
  • Southbound dual head tri-light 3-3 serves as distant approach signal for RICK.
  • Northbound dual head tri-light 3-3 serves as distant approach signal to MOHRSVILLE for now, perhaps DAUBERVILLE later.
  • This emplacement is equi distant between RICK and DAUBERVILLE.  And, could be a telling key indicator of what ultimately happens at DAUBERVILLE.  But, presently, there is no new signal equipment at DAUBERVILLE while there is at MOHRSVILLE which is 1.2 miles further to the north.  But, MOHRSVILLE is a strange animal now.
MP 65.6 DUAL MAST ABS - Looking North, Leesport Grade Crossing is visible in the far distance.

  1. MP 67.4 (DAUBERVILLE)
  • Presently, no new signal equipment in place.  However, recent white paint lines with arrows and numbers now run across the grade crossing blacktop foretelling  future cabling activity.
  • Logical site for a new interlocking connecting the other end of the MOHRSVILLE sidings.
  • Track work on the 1.1 mile new siding from MOHRSVILLE was stopped cold here quite some time ago right before the creek bridge about 100 yards north of the grade crossing.   Suspect creek bridge fixes or replacement is the impediment issue here which may take some time to resolve.
  • Additional new track work would be needed here including a 75 yard long track siding extension over the bridge to or beyond the grade crossing, integration of a powered interfacing switch to the main and  grade crossing equipment clearance modifications.
  • It’s wait and see for now.  
MP 67.4 DAUBERVILLE – Probable passing siding Integration from MOHRSVILLE 1.2 miles to the north is pending.  Likely MOW bridge issue then new track work needed before switch and signaling work.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

W 4th St Tower - Closed But Not Yet Forgotten

I previously reported that the NYC Transit Authority was closing most of the classic towers on the 6th Avenue trunk line in Manhattan.  Chief among these  these were 34th St tower and West 4th St tower.  The latter was notable for its "fishbowl" status with little in the way to prevent the average rider from observing how the GRS Model 5 machine functioned. Previously, when the NYCTA resignaled lines the former "tower"rooms were quickly stripped of the old signaling equipment and then often re-purposed into some other space, usually with the windows being walled or otherwise covered over.  For example the Queens Boulevard towers  were completely devoid of any heritage equipment mere weeks after their closure.

Therefore you can imagine my surprise when I found the legacy W 4th St tower to have been pretty much untouched, months after it had been closed back in August/September 2018.

Although devoid of personnel, the interlocking machine was still in place with all of the levers tagged out of service.  The desks and other tower accoutrements were also still present. 

I am not sure if there are some sort of plans to preserve the tower, potentially maxing it a Transit Museum annex, but I wouldn't count such a thing out given the strong support for the historic subway trips and the need for the NYC Subway to put on a better face for the public after completely melting down.  It could also be due to the fact that resources have been all diverted to more pressing needs. 

In any event, go get some photos while you still can and before this piece of history vanishes from view.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

IC / CNW Two Aspect Cab Signaling

In the past I have made reference to various "two aspect" cab signaling systems, specifically those used on the Illinois Central (since retired) and the former Chicago & North Western east-west main line, now operated by Union Pacific.  Aside from the cab signal display of current Union Pacific locomotives this two aspect system can be seen in the cabs of old METRA locomotives and Illinois Central signal rule charts.

If a two aspect signaling system sounds bizarre you would be correct.  It's a pretty fundamental principle that trains cannot stop on a dime and need some warning before encountering an occupied block.  Well the two aspect cab signaling system (Clear and Restricting) adopted by both the IC and CNW worked a lot better than you might think.  A somewhat recent article on Carsten S. Lundsten's US signaling website goes into detail about how the system functioned on an IC single track Automatic Permissive Block segment in Iowa, but it is probably best summed up in this single .gif image.

The cab signal "code" (pretty much the presence of an AC current frequency or even a DC voltage), is transmitted from any signal point displaying more favourable than approach.  Passing a yellow signals will cause the cab signal to drop to Restricting and the train will continue on at Restricted speed until the cab signal returns to Clear.  To ease the confusion between wayside and cab signals, both the CNW and IC used this system without fixed wayside signals except at distants and interlockings.

Alright, now I'll bet you are just thinking this system is horribly inefficient as trains will be crawling at Restricted speed instead of a less odious 30mph Approach.  The key consideration here is to remember the braking time and for most freight trains, getting slowed down from MAS to Restricting will take a good chunk of the Approach block. Let's see what the GCOR Rulebook has to say on this issue.
17.5.1: Over 40 MPH
The high speed whistle will sound when the speed is more than 40 MPH when the cab signal changes to a Restricting aspect.
  1. Move the brake valve handle to SUPPRESSION within 6 seconds to prevent a penalty brake application.
  2.  When speed is reduced to less than 40 MPH, the high speed whistle will stop and the acknowledging horn will sound.
  3.  Acknowledge this horn. If the cab signal continues to display Restricting, speed must immediately be reduced to restricted speed,
If restricted speed is not reached within 70 seconds after the acknowledging horn was acknowledged, a penalty brake application will occur unless the brake valve handle is in SUPPRESSION

17.5.2: Under 40 MPH
The acknowledging horn will sound if the cab signal changes from Clear to Restricting when the speed is under 40 MPH.
  1. Acknowledge the horn within 6 seconds to prevent a penalty brake application.,
  2.  If the cab signal continues to display Restricting, train speed must immediately be reduced to restricted speed.
If restricted speed is not reached within 70 seconds after the acknowledging horn was acknowledged, a penalty brake application will occur unless the brake valve handle is in SUPPRESSION.
Basically if you are traveling over 40mph, reduce to 40mph and then you have 70 seconds to reduce speed to Restricting (20mph) or at least be making a sufficient brake pipe application to reach that speed after 70 seconds. It's not as efficient as a traditional 3 aspect system, but it likely won't penalize a typical train more than a couple of minutes.  The situation is a bit dicier approaching diverging routes and, especially where no waysides are present, the engineer has to pretty much be prepared to advance on the slowest route unless the home signal can be otherwise made out.

Ultimately the system works, and although it dis not as advanced as the PRR version, it did save a lot of expense equipping locomotives with code following relays.  The IC eventually removed it's installation on the Champlain District sometime in the late 80's or early 90's as Canadian National came on the scene. It also goes to show that the engineer doesn't need to know he's approaching an occupied block, just sufficient time to show down before entering the occupied block.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Speeds Finally Increasing on the NYC Subway

We might have a first here as the increasingly dismal performance of a transit system has managed to override the calls of the safety scolds and the NYC Subway is reversing decades of policy by dramatically increasing speeds system-wide.  Basically someone noticed that when trains run slower, capacity and delay recovery get worse and after trying to shrug things off and claim the cause was a lack of funding, Also we need to credit the role of the media in calling the TA out on it's decades long policy of slowing the system down.

Before you assume that this is only saving time around the margins, just look at the savings in the above chart and remember that this is only the start of the improvements and also doesn't count all of the faulty time signals that are being repaired.  At speeds under 40 or 50 mph, small improvements from 15 to 25mph represent a significant percentage increase in the overall speed.  Going from 10 to 20mph decreases travel time BY HALF, even though the increase is only 10mph.

Let's just go over again why the TA is in this situation.  First, at some point emergency braking rates were reduced to prevent passenger injury on board trains and after some accidents in the 90's, speeds were generally slowed to prevent accidents.  That's legitimate (although the passenger injury thing is less so), however we don't know how this was carried out, especially if it was done without analysis or under existing infrastructure constraints.  Since the 90's slow downs, more speed control mechanisms have been installed.  In some cases it was strictly to reduce wear and tear on curves or prevent other maintenance issues.  In others it was a ploy to decrease reliance on employee skill to maintain a schedule and prevent rulebook slowdowns.

Ultimately the biggest problem is the propensity of rail transit speed restrictions to be sticky. It is always more of a problem to try and change something that has been there for decades, than it is to just leave it alone.  Also, raising speeds requires careful analysis, lowering them generally doesn't.  A speed limit set in 1930 reflected the equipment of the day and was likely very conservative as analysis tools were limited.  Over time employees would learn what the safe speeds actually were,but when decision were made to enforce the limits, the 1930's figures were taken as gospel resulting in unnecessary slowdown.  Currently PTC is bringing the same problem to the national rail system.  I wonder how many decades it will be there is sufficient outcry to reevaluate all of the outdated assumptions that will gum up the works.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Caught on Camera: ATS Ding

Intermittent Inductive Automatic Train Stop (ATS) was that thing that met the minimum safety requirements for high speed rail as laid down by the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1948, and although adopted by the New York Central, Southern, Santa Fe and others, was pretty much ripped out everywhere it could be after the end of most private passenger operations in 1971.  ATS soldiers on in those few places where it could not be so easily discarded, namely the former Santa Fe transcontinental Southwest Chief and San Diego routes and the former Chicago Northwestern commuter lines out of Chicago.  The latter two routes both feature bi-level cab cars where one can, in various degrees, get a railfan view and hear the going on in the cab, so it becomes possible for one to hear just what sort of alerts this safety alertness system produces.

METRA Up-NW Line Typical ATS Inductor Setup
Now I was expecting something similar to a British AWS activation horn, which is quite loud and designed to get the operator's attention.  However, when I reviewed my video, what I heard in METRA Gallery cab cars was small analogue bell chiming once. You might even need to replay the video a few times as you might miss it right after the train passes the Diverging Clear signal.

In this Amtrak Surfliner video you can hear a small electronic beep right after the passes a diverging signal at T=11:20 and an Approach Diverging Signal at T=6:55.  Again, very underwhelming.

These are just two examples of videos where one can hear the ATS ding, but they cover both types of equipment passengers can reasonably expect to hear a ATS activation from. I may post updates here if I find cab videos from other equipment.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Caught on Camera: Vanishing Towers

While searching through the North American Interlockings website, I happened upon some Pittsburgh area towers with somewhat recent photos that I wanted to check up on.  The towers in question were CP-3 and CP-3Y on the P&LE and BECK on the former PRR Mon Valley branch.  Since I didn't know the exact location of the towers, I could not rely on Google overhead as a positive indication of demolition because it could simply be my inability to locate them.

Typically I would find as many old photos as I could and use landmarks to try and determine the position of the tower.  However because some of the photos were recent, I pulled up Google Street view and used the back in time feature to back as far as I could to see if any towers appeared.  Let's see what I found.

BECK Tower April 2008

BECK Tower July 2007
Well in the case of BECK, a suspicious driveway leading to a patch of trackside gravel revealed the tower I was looking for.  Clearly having met it's end between July 07 and April 08.  Moving on to CP-3 in McKeeys Rocks I discovered...

Tower CP-3 April 2012

Tower CP-3 April 2007

Yup!  There it is.  Demolished between 2007 and 2012 for additional bus parking.  Anyway, just thought I'd share this little tool.  It won't work everywhere due to the service not being Google Railroad View, but a lot of towers were in sight of busy roads.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Reading Line Runaway!

So a few days ago there was a runaway incident on the NS Reading Line.  If you had seen some of my previous photo sets on my other blog, this line had recently been converted from Rule 251  ABS to Rule 261 CTC so I have some photo coverage of the area in question.  The incident involved a tank car with 75 tones of paraffin, rolling out of an industrial siding and onto the main line, following the descending grade eastward into the Lehigh Valley.  At CP-BURN the runaway car was routed, either intentionally or by happenstance, onto the former LVRR routing towards Bethlehem, where it eventually slowed down enough in the Bethlehem yard area for an employee to mount it and apply the handbrake.

Diverging route at CP-BURN
The most amazing thing is that there is actually a video of the runaway car taken from the overpass at BETHLEHEM where an astute railfan was able to position himself based on radio traffic.  What caught my attention was that the dispatcher actually had lined a route through the interlocking plant and displayed a Clear signal indication to the wayward tank car!  (I guess because it can shunt the track circuit it didn't count as a track car ;-) ) It's also worth noting that the single car had no issues shunting the track circuit and dropping the signal.

The important take away is that despite the billions in investment, this situation was not PTC preventable as the runaway car has no operable brakes no any sort of digital electronic anything.  Good out track circuits and CTC gave the dispatcher the tools to detect the runaway and route it onto a safer route with no high traffic grade crossings, and the Railroad Safety Appliance Act of 1893 provided the grab irons for an employee to grab a hold of to then work the hand brake.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Signs! Signs! Everywhere a Sign! - Part 1

Station signs are a uniform way of figuring out where you are on the railroad.  Sure mileposts work to, but important landmarks like stations and interlockings and block stations aren't always placed at whole mileposts.  Station signs aren't only a navigational aid, but in many cases a reminder device as many movement authorities are given between stations and if thew sign isn't obvious one is more likely to blow right by it. Of course every railroad is going to have it's own idea about what makes a good sign, some even have more than one.  Here in Part 1 we'll look at the eastern freight railroads, in Part 2 the western freight railroads and then in Parts 3 and 4 the eastern and western passenger railroads respectively.

Kicking things off,, Conrail use what I think is the most visually distinctive station sign in modern times using it's trademark blue and the Futura Bold font.  The signals were typically placed on either side of the main relay hut, although interlockings with two huts could support one each and of course special circumstances could lead to other mountings.  The standard signal was a reflective white lettering on a blue background.

However an alternate version existed that also contained the milepost.  This existed for a time in the late 80's and early 90's, but I'm not sure if ever fully replaced the regular signals. 

There was also this deluxe style sign with a white border and a different font that may have been a one off due to a rush order or something. .

Conrail used a slightly different sign for it's DCS block limits which was based on the PRR style of a vertical name surmounted red and yellow lamps..

Conrail's signage is still relevant today because after the split-up, Norfolk Southern decided to keep the style on all of the former Conrail territory (with a few exceptions early on). 

Elsewhere, Norfolk Southern adopted the style of the Southern Railway with a green background and white lettering.  The signs are smaller than the Conrail variety and use a stick mount with one plate in each direction.  Some of these Southern style signs have appeared in Conrail territory, although the practice seems to have ended.

Southern era signs sometimes have a white border around the outside of the sign. 

Moving on to CSX, CSX is a party pooper and doesn't really use station signs.  At interlockings it just stencils the interlocking name on the sides of the relay cabins.

 The policy applies even to new interlockings in Conrail territory. 

CSX used to use a Direct Traffic Control system with their own signage.  But DTC was largely replaced on CSX by DCS using mileposts.

The Guilford Rail System, currently known as Pan Am Railways, is known for painting some of it's rolling stock in a retro Pan Am inspired livery.  When it comes to station signs however, they can barely be bothered. 

A change in milepost prefixes has further degraded the artistic styling of the already bare bones signs. 

I have previously discussed interlocking names on the former Delaware and Hudson, and likewise, their interlocking signs reflect the period of Guilford ownership, although the association with Canadian Pacific did make things a little better.

The newly re-signaled interlockings have a more standard Canadian font, which I assume is bi-lingual in some manner.

Well that's all the Eastern freight railroads I have photos for.  Sorry Florida East Coast and Grand Trunk Western :-P

Monday, November 5, 2018

NS Dispatching Desks Moved to Atlanta

Following the lead of CSX consolidating all of it's dispatchers in Jacksonville, NS is moving all of it's dispatchers to Atlanta.  This will result in the closure of the Conrail era Harrisburg office on Interstate Drive as well as the Fort Wayne office.  NS will also be re-adjusting a number of territories to coincide with the move because one might as well have one period of screwed up service instead of two. 

Now I previously discussed this in the context of CSX which first consolidated it's dispatching offices and then unconsolidated them only to re-consolidate them again. The benefits of consolidation are reducing manpower requirements with a single extra board, reducing overhead and placing operations next to management.  Downsides are reduced territory familiarity and vulnerability to natural disasters, including mild snow storms which frequently paralyze Atlanta. An ancillary benefit is forcing higher paid veteran workers who are tied to a specific area to quit or retire.

In the case of NS they are actually moving all of their corporate offices too Atlanta with the corporate HQ making the move from Norfolk, VA.  You might recall a post I made about the demolition of the Terminal South interlocking tower in Atlanta.  Well this was to clear the space for the construction of the new NS HQ, which will at least be located vaguely near some railroad tracks.  Will NS decide to reverse the decision at some point?  Probably, new management always needs to do something different and after a couple snow storms or hurricanes snarl freight traffic, some institutional investor might complain loudly enough.  At least for now everyone is jumping on the consolidation bandwagon.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

NS/Conrail Pittsburgh Line Changes

Well the great PRR Main Line re-signaling project has commenced with CP-HARRIS to CP-CANNON having already been changed and more segments scheduled in the next few weeks.  I was making one last trip to document signals on the eastern end of the Middle Division and given what has already taken place I was able to learn a number of very interesting things about the full scope of what NS is doing.  First, here are some videos of a westbound NS freight taking a color light Limited Clear signal off the controlled siding at CP-CANNON.  This is the new reality of the Pittsburgh Line.

 At CP-CANNON the old PRR signal bridge has been removed and scrapped, however the one at CP-BANKS was still in place, for now.

 The old intermediate signals have either been turned or removed. 

However they have been replaced with Conrail blue "Signal Indication Point" signs, complete with a milepost number.

The removal of wayside signals has allowed NS to double the number of blocks by reducing block length from 2 miles to 1 mile.  The track sections between both CP-BANKS and CP-CANNON and CP-HARRIS and CP-ROCKVILLE previously had two auto blocks each.  Now, as you can see from this ATCS display, they have 4 auto blocks each and each block boundary is marked as an SIP.

While out between CP-CANNON and CP-PORT, I noticed some signal men at the MP 124 signal location and whatever they were doing was showing at the MP 126 signal location.  As a reminder these signals are approach lit so not only was the track circuit to the east getting intermittently shunted, the block state east of MP 126 was also changing randomly.

Finally I made one more important observation.  None of the new intermediate SIPs were equipped with those distinctive PTC antenna masts as is seen at pretty much every other intermediate signaling location across the country these days.  Well this confirms my suspicion that the PTC box will be able to take the cab signal indication as an input, eliminating the need for a full time data radio link away from interlockings. At least that's one good design feature.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Buffalo Line: Gone But Not Forgotten

As of a year ago, the former PRR Buffalo Line, running between Harrisburg and Buffalo, was a real oasis of vintage PRR signaling with position lights and 1950's vintage CTC infrastructure.  Even the portions of the line where the signaling had been suspended, still retained a lot of the old hardware in situ.  Unfortunately, over the last year the line has been completely re-signaled or de-signaled as the case may be.  The good news is that over the years I went on several signaling expeditions to document what infrastructure I could.  Because these photos are split between a number of galleries shot between 2006 and 2018 it might be a bit of a challenge to find them so I decided to make a little guide in honor of the Buffalo Line.  Note, I plan to have my old web hosting restored later this year, but I will provide links to my Google hosted albums as those will hopefully be more reliable over the long run.

Beginning at CP-WYE, I first took some photos there on my 2006 PRR E8 excursion chase.

Then again in 2014 chasing an Amtrak Fall Foliage excursion. 

And finally in 2015 where I was looking to capture the signals I missed in my 2014 trip. 

I caught the intermediate at MP 304 as part of a 2007 trip to Harrisburg.

The MP 299 Automatic was also captured in the 2014 excursion chase.

I only got a few shots of CP-SOUTH FERRY in 2006 before the position lights were replaced rather early.

CP-NORTH FERRY was documented in the usual manner during my 2015 trip.

The next location I documented was CP-SOUTH MILLER, which was split between my 2014 trip and my 2017 trip.

While I got a few photos of CP-NORTH MILLER in 2006, I performed the full documentation in 2014.

From here northward the photos are from my big 2017 Southern Buffalo Line survey.  First up was the MP 278 automatic, which was replaced in the early 2000's.

The MP 273 automatic was a rare surviving split position light.  Possibly the only one on this part of the line.