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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Texas Eagle Trip Report

At the end of March I took an Amtrak trip from Washington, DC to Dallas Texas and was able to get survey photos between DC and Cumberland, MD, Elkhart, In and Chicago, IL, Chicago and St Louis, MO and between Texarcana and Dallas, TX. I was also able to make a number of other observations on the state of signaling along the two long distance train routes.

As previously reported, both the old B&O Main Line and ex-Conrail Chicago Line have seen extensive re-signaling and modification. Still, a few B&O CPL dwarfs exist as exist signals off of industrial sidings and a few Conrail era auto signals exist between Elkhart and South Bend, IN. West of Pittsburgh new signals are up at CP-WEST CONWAY and CP-ROCHESTER, although when the re-signaling will hit is anybody's guess. This will complete Rule 562 operation between Cleveland and Harrisburg. CP-WOOD on the Ft Wayne Line did not appear to have any new signals present, but I have since heard it is being relocated off of a curve.

The METRA Heritage Corridor between 21st St and Joliet has been completely scrubbed of anything interesting including the old UD tower in Joliet, although it is on track to be preserved in some way. The Lincoln Corridor has been substantially upgraded even though speeds remain at 80mph and the cab signals have been turned off(!). Although new block signals were going in as early as 2005, the bulk of the recent improvements has been limited double tracking and the installation of signaled sidings with limited speed entry and exit, a sharp improvement from the old system with fewer restricted speed sidings.

As I previously reported LENOX tower has been closed and the last Alton CPLs at Wann were removed. However I did notice a rare North American outside slip switch at Wood River junction that appears to be on track for retention after the current re-signaling effort. Stay tuned for a full port on these and other outside slip switches.

South of St. Louis, the DeSoto sub appeared to have some surviving classic CTC sections with searchlight signals, however it was quite late and my observations were limited. In Texas the route of the Eagle has a mix of re-signaled and un-re-signaled line segments, although this was traffic light and Vader hood territory before it was popular. What few searchlights remain are clearly being targeted for replacement, although many old style Vaders appear to be safe. Nearing Dallas additional examples of the off brand GRS "Style N" signals appeared along with other non-Safetran modular color lights. All along the route were examples of MoPac tri-light dwarfs, which are still favored by UP.

Monday, April 22, 2019

PHOTOS: CP-TITUS - History of Flat Junction

CP-TITUS, formerly known as Klapperthal Junction under the Reading railroad, was a British style two-track flat junction that survived until a Norfolk Southern re-signaling project in 2018. Although one of the more common junction formats overseas, the two track flat saw only limited use in North America, mostly in the Northeast, and then rapidly fell out of flavor after the expansion of bi-directional signaling in the 1970's. The Reading in particular had a thing for the two track flat junction format with many examples throughout its network. Even the Reading's 3 or 4 track flat junctions often featured diamonds (usually with movable points) or double slip switches. Although most of these were eliminated during Conrail rationalization projects in the 1990's, CP-TITUS remained due to the specific geography of the situation making an in-place rationalization impractical. Conrail successor Norfolk Southern ultimately rolled the complete replacement of the old junction into it's 2018 ABS elimination project between Norristown and Reading.

A two track flat junction is actually a very simple affair to signal with only two levers needed for switches and another two for signals (at least under the US&S or unit lever systems). Built at the eastern end of the Reading Belt Line in 1900, the junction featured a mechanical lever interlocking until 1951 when the entire Belt Line was placed under the control of the CTC machine in Lebanon Valley Jct tower, which sat at the immediate western end of the Lebanon Valley branch's bridge over the Schuylkill River. Around this time the junction was also modified to neck the diverging Belt Line route to a single track as westbound traffic would diverge onto the Belt Line from Klapperthal Junction, while eastbound traffic would continue along the eastbound only "Turkey Path" track to join the main line at BIRD interlocking in Birdsboro.

The formation of Conrail saw the name eventually change to CP-TITUS and a general decline in freight traffic to Reading yard combined with the end of passenger service in 1983 led to the decision to single track the slow twisty route between CP-TITUS and downtown Reading. As a result, by 1987 Conrail had to modify the junction and being Conrail they chose the most "cost effective" method which involved shunting the westbound main track into a new single main heading west from the junction. Also at some point in the 80's or 90's the interlocking was re-signaled with Reading era hardware being generally replaced by contemporary Conrail equipment. What was left was a two track flat junction that had been converted into a scissors crossover. It might be a little hard to see in the diagrams, but the tracks interacting with the diamond are the crossovers while the two other tracks are the straights. Note that the old style US&S Numbering with Left and Right signals was retained after the Conrail modifications.

Since the 1951 re-signaling CP-TITUS has only had two signal "levers", 2 and 6, with the Right signals governing westbound movements and the Left signals governing eastbound movements. Here we see the high mast 2R signal for westbound movements and the dwarf 6R for reverse direction movements off the eastbound rule 251 #1 track.

The two head 6R searchlight dwarf signal existed since the 1951 re-signaling, however Conrail may have replaced the Reading era hardware with a new GRS model SA, which was still in Conrail's front line inventory in the 80's and 90's. Under the Reading the signal could display G/Y Medium Clear, Y/R Slow Approach and R/Y Restricting. Conrail changed the Medium Speed indications to NORAC (G/*R*, Y/*R*) and may have also added a G/G straight Clear for routes into the new bi-directional main track to Reading.

The 2R mast was modified from the Reading configuration to only give Medium Speed indications as the straight route to Reading was eliminated and replaced with a diverging route into the bi-directional single track. In another mix of Conrail and Reading practice the signal has Conrail US&S Model NR signal heads, but retains a dedicated third head to display R/R/Y Restricting.

The Reading used GRS Model 5C point machines in it's 1951 CTC project, one of which remained unaltered on the #1B switch. These are recognized by the square brake housing on the end of the motor.

In 1998 all of the point machines were listed as GRS Model 5C, but by 2018 3 of the five had been replaced by modern Model 5H dual control machines such as we see here on the 5B switch.

The Movable Point Frog was powered by a hybrid 5C machine that had been upgraded to the 5G standard. Movable point frogs have two sets of moving points that require a combined push and pull motion. The #1 switch MPF at CP-TITUS accomplishes this by means of a reversing crank.

Here we see the straight route through the Movable Point Front showing off the classic lines of the double track flat junction. Still, diamonds and movable point frogs are big ticket maintenance items compared to a stepped junction that rely entirely on crossovers. That style can be seen at CP-SM on the Boston Line and although it looks completely different, it supports the exact same mix of train movements.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Caught on Camera: Original BART CTC Dispatch Center

Control centers with non-video displays are a true work of art and are vanishing just as quickly as the interlocking tower.  Wiring off a custom, semi-immutable display with all sorts of tiny lamps and pieces that could become obsolete within a year just cam't compete with a giant display wall that costs a couple thousand dollars and can be driven from an off the shelf TV.  However there was a time between the advent of centralized control center and the cheap video display wall that all sorts of these one off boards were constructed.

One such modern, but not too modern control center was that of the Bay Area Rapid Transit, which opened for business in 1972.  I've actually seen photos of it's control center in a number of 80's vintage rail transit books that would always feature BART and WMATA as examples of the future of rapid transit.  Here is the best example of those photos.

Click me, I'm high res.

I'm not sure if Westinghouse means it is a US&S product as US&S was a part of WABCO at the time, but WABCO was not the same as the "Big W" Westinghouse so they might have gotten the contract as more of an industrial control thing as opposed to a railroad signaling thing.  Anyway, note the spartan NASA style consoles with integrated phones and displays (and probably ash trays).  All of that and the wall sized model board is pretty distinctive so there was little chance I'd miss it when it appeared in the 1971 George Lucas Science Fiction film, TXH 1138.

Yeah, there's no mistaking that is the BART system!  Filmed in 1970 or 1971 the BART control center would have still been in the shrink wrap, with much of the system still under construction or still on the drawing boards.  Still, BART knew enough about what they were going to do to have the whole model board cut and dry 4 years ahead of time.

If you are wondering why there are two copies of the BART layout on either side of the room, it's not because the dispatcher have poor eyesight.  The display on the right is for rail operations, trains, signals, etc.  The other one on the left is the power dispatcher's diagram that shows the sections of third rail, substations and feeder lines. If you loo closely you can just about see the power distribution lines apart from the track sections on the power board.

Well chosen camera angle to disguise anything actually written on the special purpose interface. 

They've even got those snazzy phones!

 Probably hitting a key on the telephone concentrator.

Great view of the train movement board, but I'm interested in how in 1970 the entire operation could be staffed by just three people (although maybe each desk would support multiple persons at peak times).  Also, if you go back to the first picture note the size of the room vs the small number of dispatch desks.  I suspect one desk was for the power director, another for the train director and the one in the middle was some sort of chief or a service coordinator who could make announcements and such. 

THX 1138 used a lot of the to-be-opened BART system as locations for it's dystopian underground society.  In fact, the climax was filmed in a BART tunnel where the tracks had yet to be laid.  The rebar formed sort of a ladder effect so to simulate climbing up a shaft the camera was rotate 90o and the actors made to "climb" horizontally.  Amazing what good old George Lucas could think up when he didn't have CGI as a crutch 😏

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Early US&S Promotional CTC Video

The first Centralized Traffic Control installation was developed by the General Railway Signaling company in 1927 for the New York Central in Ohio.  1927 also saw the first motion picture "talkie", the Jazz Singer with Al Jolson. It looks like Union Switch and Signal only has enough time to respond to one of these new technologies because I found an early 1930's SILENT film released by US&S promoting the advantages of a brand new CTC project on the Burlington Route between Denver and Akron, Colorado. The film is 30 minutes long and goes into great detail about how the new technology works and the time is saved over manual traffic control (aka Train Order) systems.

Remember that CTC dispatching was pretty advanced for the 1950's.  This was 20 years before that and a dispatcher's console with an illuminated real time model board must have been able to absolutely blow people's minds.