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Sunday, March 31, 2019

NS and CSX Re-signaling News

I am on a trip to Texas and I'll have a more detailed trip report shortly, but I wanted to first report on some additional bits of signaling news.  First the giant CP-16 wye junction in Duquesne, PA that sat at the junction of the Port Perry Branch and the Mon Line and featured PRR position light signals and pneumatic point machines has been re-signaled with the typical combo.  I was hoping to get out there this summer, but just like the Conemaugh Line to the north it seems that NS attacked the branch lines before going after the Main Line :-(

Next up the popular railfanning location of Palmer, MA, where the New Englande Central crosses the former CSX Boston Line has lost it's Conrail era (~1992) signals.  The Boston Line re-signaling is still somewhat haphazard given that the signaling is so new and uses a Rule 562 setup with NORAC signal rules.  I am not sure what the ultimate plan is so get out there and get your photos ASAP. 

For example a year ago the searchlights at CP-187 showed no signals of replacement and CP-45 in Worcester has undergone some isolated signal replacements, but nothing wholesale.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The ABC's of GRS Model 5 Switch Machines

Today in North America railroads pretty much have two choices with it comes to power operated switch machines.  They can get a Union Switch and Signal M3 derivative or a General Railway Signal Model 5 derivative.  These aren't new models either as both designs have been around since the 1930's with only minor modifications.  For the M3 family there are a few basic sub-types, dual control, low profile, that rare one that can run a movable point diamond, but unless you find yourself face-to-face with an M2, the US&S offerings are pretty uniform.

The GRS Model 5 on the other hand, comes in 8 distinct offerings labeled A through G.  The first four, A, B, C and D, were available upon introduction of the family and they were eventually superseded by sub-models E, F, G and H, which are still available today.  Today I am going to take you through the identifying characteristics of each model, but first some quick notes on the common design elements.  All Model 5 switch machines consist of three sections.  A motor sticking out of one end in a conformal casing, a drive and locking section that moves the points and locks them in place, and finally a point detection section that houses contacts and other control elements.  Power only models have a flat top with a port for an emergency winding crank.  Dual control models have a hump on the top with the manual throw lever on one side.

Replacement GRS Model 5A point machine at JOHN ST interlocking in Toronto.
The Models 5A and 5B were required to be operated from a GRS pistol grip style of interlocking machine as those have motor control functions built in.  Power for the switch motor would be wired through the lever itself and upon the completion of throw the 5A or 5B machines would send a reverse current back to the tower that would allow the lever to be fully thrown in a process termed "dynamic indication".  During the throw the operator would actually need to monitor an amp meter in case the points became stuck and the motor started to overload.

The 5A's and 5B's are easily identified by their motor housing which features an angled access door.  The only difference between and A and B is that the B's are equipped for both manual and power control.

Surviving GRS 5C at CP-LAUREL
 The models 5C and 5D are intended to be operated from an all-relay or other non-pistol grip style interlocking system, although they could still be attached to the latter.  Unlike the 5A and 5B, these incorporate a motor controller into unit resulting in longer overall dimensions. 

Surviving GRS 5C at CP-TITUS
The distinctive feature of the 5C is a large box on the end of the motor which houses a brake to slow the motor as it reaches the end of travel.  The 5D is shown in the catalogue to have the same housing as the 5A/B, but I cannot confirm that layout from observations in the wild.

Uncommon GRS Model 5F at CPO-5 on the former D&H Colonie Sub.

 The Models 5E and 5F are the conceptual replacements for the 5A and 5B in that these also lack an internal motor controller, but there is no requirement to have a manually operated interlocking machine.  As some sort of motor control is still necessary, a 5E or 5F simply requires the control elements to be external switch machine itself.

GRS Model 5E conveniently installed as switch 5E on a SEPTA Market Frankford Line interlocking. 
The 5E/F are distinguishable by their noticeably reduced length compared to the internal controller models and with the other models the 5E is power operation only and the 5F is dual control.

5F model machines seem to be popular in New England, especially on the former Guilford Rail System, and also at some former B&O interlockings that had manned towers up through the 80's or 90's.

 The 5G is pretty much an updated 5C without the large box for the motor brake on the end.  

The built in motor controller can be seen where the cover bulges between the point detector and the drive mechanism.

Of course the king of the GRS model line is the 5H, which is a dual control 5G.  Basically unless you want to buy a US&S style machine or you have a passenger or mass transit line that doesn't need dual control, you are going to be buying a GRS (now Alstom) Model 5H point machine.   Still, while these things are about as common and appealing as Darth Vader signals, if you keep your eyes peeled, you might just spot something a bit more unique ;-)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

LENOX and WILLOWS Towers Close

In a devastating blow to St Louis area rail history and living examples of General Railway Signal Co technology, I just learned that both LENOX and WILLOWS towers closed in the later part of 2018.  LENOX was a former Big Four tower operated by Union Pacific between Granite City and Alton and WILLOWS was operated by Kansas City Southern.

LENOX tower was built in 1924 with an 80 lever GRS Model 2 interlocking machine. It eventually passed from the former New York Central to the Chicago and Alton (owned by a succession of other railroads) to finally the Union Pacific in 1996.  As late as 2016 the future of the lower looked bright as no funding was available to rebuild the plant as part of the Illinois High Speed Rail Lincoln Corridor.  However it appeared that Union Pacific had grown tired of looking for a state financed rebuild and settled for a simple CTC automation.

 The real bummer is that I am scheduled to travel the Texas Eagle route for the first time in early 15 years at the end of this month and was really looking forward to get some reasonable photos of LENOX's other features such as the single slip switch and old B&O style CPL signals.  Latest report is that the tower is still standing and the lights are still on, but nobody is home :-(

WILLOWS tower, built in 1903 and equipped with a 112-lever, pre-GRS Taylor Signal Co Model 2 interlocking machine, was one of those I thought would be around for some time to cone due to the intersection of 4 lines with 6 diamonds and 5 competing railroads (NS, TRRA, CP, KCS and CSX).  Well I guess I was wrong :-(  Word is that Kansas City Southern is looking to donate the vintage interlocking machine to the science museum co-located with the Kansas City Union Station.

These latest closures leave only one or two examples of either the GRS or Taylor Model 2 interlocking machines left in the North American rail network.  My cursory count gives me three in Chicago (JB, LAKE ST, 16TH ST) and two more in New Orleans (East and West BRIDGE JCT). 

Monday, March 4, 2019

NYCTA Speed Increases - Q1 2019 Update

Back in December I reported on how the NYC Subway was finally being forced to move away from their "safety at all costs" mentality because they had pretty much melted the whole system down.  Well I am happy to report that the effort has continued on at pretty much the same pace into 2019 with about another 27 speed improvements taking effect since January 21th, 2019. 

And these aren't all just trivial increases of 5 mph.  If you look at the above chart you'll see an instance of a 25mph restriction being removed entirely (basically raising the speed to whatever the motorman can get) and if you like something a little bit more definite you can see another instance of a 25mph restriction being raised to 45mph.  You can see the MTA's official list of speed improvements right here and also catch some legitimate reporting on the project at Railway Age.

PATCO just recently had their 40mph tunnel stretches knocked back to 30mph because it made the consultants nervous despite there being not a single issue over 50 years over operation. 
Hopefully this will inspire other transit systems that have seen similar slowdowns, like PATCO and SEPTA, to disregard Cover Their Ass consultants and get back their lost capacity. You never know when you might need it.