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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.