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Saturday, February 18, 2023

Reading and Northern Video Update

 It's been a good while since my last Reading and Northern update and although there's been nothing earth shattering I was recently tipped off to a cheat code when it comes to exploring the generally less accessible northern division between Scranton and Jim Thorpe. With the general collapse of any other interesting signaling in the region I have been been putting additional time and effort into getting photos of the R&N's newly installed CTC signaling between Reading and Jim Thorpe.  However while the R&N inherited some interesting bits of signaling from the Conrail era, most of it reachable either by boat or long hikes along 20 miles of inaccessible right of way in the Lehigh River Gorge. My Plan A was to try and grab a seat on one of the many R&N passenger excursions however the summer 2020 one was cancelled by Covid and the recently announced one in May 2023 quickly sold out. 

However one of my fantastic readers linked me to a speeder enthusiast's Youtube channel that included a 2022 speeder trip from Reading all the way to Pitson Yard north of Scranton, which is pretty much the entire R&N CTC'd main line. This basically provided all the signal status information you need for either fact of existence or for planning more involved photo trips. Part 1 covers Tamaqua through White Haven in a very respectable 90 minutes with part 2 White Haven to Pitson.

If you don't want to spend 3 hours watching the videos the TLDR is between CP-COAL and CP-WHITE HAVEN the LVRR signaling has been replaced by square Safetran CL-10 modules in a target/tri-light configuration. Between White Haven and Glenn Summit is where the LVRR searchlights appear and finally between Glenn Summit and CP-DUPONT is the land of 1980's non-modular GRS traffic lights.

Aside from closing the gap between the Hometown viaduct and Jim Thorpe, I'm not sure how much more the R&N is planning to expand its CTC, but whatever they do I'll be sure to report on it here. Meanwhile I will continue to gather R&N signal photos for additional less current events type posts.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Amtrak's B&P Tunnel Related Signaling Work

Amtrak recently filed with the FRA to replace its Rule 261 signaling between BRIDGE interlocking in south Baltimore and GROVE interlocking near Odenton with Rule 562 cab signals without fixed wayside signals. A recent article from Trains Magazine provides some insight on why Amtrak has chosen this particular stretch to convert. Part of the prep work for the B&P Tunnel replacement involves a new high speed turnout at WINANS interlocking south of the Halethorpe MARC station. When Halethorpe gained high level platforms in 2013 it forced all northbound stopping trains to switch over to Track A at WINANS, resulting in a 2 mile long 45mph cab signal restriction for the standard speed turnout. The 80mph high speed turnout will mitigate this source of delay.

WINANS Interlocking Medium Speed turnout.

Converting to the 80mph turnout, as well as any signaling work to support the new tunnel at BRIDGE will require signal changes and Amtrak has decided to perform a general signaling conversion from Rule 261 to Rule 562. I suspect these these changes will be lumped in with the tunnel project and thus paid for with B&P tunnel money.  Artful use of adjacent state funded capitol projects to pay for state of good repair items is a common trick among the cash starved rail public transit sector. 

4x2 Signal Bridge at GWYNN

The 562 project will eliminate the 2 4-track automatic signal locations between BRIDGE and WINANS and 3 3-track automatic signal locations between BRIDGE and GROVE. Of course just because Amtrak has filed to carry out these changes doesn't mean they will happen tomorrow. In 2018 I reported on a similar NEC Rule 562 application to convert the segment between OAK and BUSH. I recently found out this application was related to a similar externally funded capitol improvement projects to install high level platforms and Metropark style crossovers for the Aberdeen, MD station. As of 2023 this project has yet to break ground.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Don't Regulate Defect Detectors Like Signals

It looks like the derailment in East Palistine, Ohio is causing another full blown safety panic of the type that brought us Positive Train Control. Some of the more benign proposals are calling for increased regulation of equipment defect detectors such as those that scan for overheated axle bearings. Like everything the devil is in the details and treating detectors exactly like other FRA regulated safety devices such as signaling systems and grade crossing protection would be a mistake that would take an automation technology that railroads don't really have a problem with, into a high cost headache that would become an actual target for cost reductions.

Let's be absolutely clear. Hotbox detectors (HBD) and the response to their alarms have not been impacted by investor demands or Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). The frequency, placement and procedures associated with defect detection have not substantially changed for the past 40 years. Conrail spaced HBD's every 20 miles with supplementary dragging equipment detectors every 10. NS kept those exact same detector locations since Conrail was taken over in 1999. The Southern Railway preferred a 10 mile detector spacing and on former Southern parts of NS that detector spacing has also remained unchanged since its operations were merged with the N&W in the late 80's.  Speaking of the N&W, their detector spacing was every 15 miles and has also remained unchanged. Long story short the derailment was not caused by corporate cost cutting.

The risk of strict regulation, similar to that applied to signals, is that ay change to a detector would require costly certification processes and/or regulatory approval. For example Amtrak and other railroads must go through a full regulatory process, including public hearings to, apply a software update to their PTC system. Detectors on the other hand display a far greater range of context specific innovation with secondary features like train speed, axle counts and time/temperate enouncements. Regulating all of these features like signals would create a race to the minimum standard as regulated features would have to be rigorously maintained and certified. Don't think this is fanciful prediction either as believe it or not there do exist FRA regulated detectors in situations where they form part of the signaling system. 

Some examples like the CP-BANKS, shown above near the Rockville Bridge on the former Conrail Pittsburgh Line, have interlocked high car detection. As part of the interlocking, even changing the readout recording would have required costly re-certification and as a result the CP-BANKS detector retained its Conrail readout some 20 years after Conrail's absorption by NS. Other examples might include the propensity for all automatic signal locations on some western roads to have an breakaway style dragging equipment detector stick. If those are linked to the signal system (instead of radio readout) it would explain why this type of protection has persisted on select western lines and no others.

Regulated standards are important, but requiring a public heating to adjust alarm thresholds or change a broadcast recording (no matter how much I would love to hear KCS and Guilford over the air in 40 years) is liable to trigger loophole abuse in an area was uncontroversial.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Caught on Camera: The US&S M22

The Union Switch and Signal M3 series of switch machines (including the M3, M23 and A and B models of both) is so ubiquitous and has been around for so long that one might assume the model spring fully formed from the head of George Westinghouse. However it is important to remember that the "M" is the family, not M3 and unlike General Railway Signal, where their switch machines Models 1 through 4 were radically different than the Model 5, the US&S Style M has remained fairly consistent since its introduction in 1918. In fact one of the reasons its easy to assume that the M3 (or M23) has been around far longer than its actual introduction date of 1951, is because the M22 is similar enough that both times I encountered one in the wild, I only noticed the machine was actually an M22 when I was performing unrelated photo research years later. 

To review, above is an US&S M23 switch machine as previously installed on the former C&O Washington Sub near Charlottesville, VA. Below is an M22 switch machine as previously installed about 10 miles to the east in Gordonsville, VA.

I'm not going to go into all the technical details as to how they differ, there's already a page for that, but the big giveaway for an M22 vs an M23 is the non-concentric selector lever that swaps the machine between manual and power operation. The second giveaway is the bolt pattern on the top of the central gearbox with the M23 having 2 large bolts and the M2 4 smaller bolts and a more bulbous cover. Unfortunately I have yet to encounter an M2 in the wild and from the few photos online I cannot determine an easy way to differentiate it from an M3. Anyway, these and any other M22's along the former C&O Cardinal Route (now operated by the Buckingham Branch shortline) were removed in a 2013/2014 re-signaling project.  However there is another M22 I just discovered situated about 5 feet from a busy public right of way.

It's this fellow, the northern end of the #1 crossover at CP-ASH in sunny downtown San Diego. In fact its directly adjacent to the Little Italy light rail station.

Although my photo is from 2015, a quick check of Google Street View shows that it is still in place as of October, 2022.

So if you happen to be in San Diego or out and around some rail line that hasn't seen a switch replacement since 1951, know how to spot an M22 and make sure you take plenty of photos if you come across one.

Friday, January 20, 2023

The Ongoing Saga of D&H Main Line Signaling

Last we checked in on the former D&H Main Line between Albany and Sunbury/Scranton, NS had reversed its decision to abandon all of the signaling below Binghamton. Since that time NS has made some alterations to the signaling it had inherited from Canadian Pacific and after a couple of field trips and Google street view surveys I can offer up a summary of the goings on. 

First we need to dive into the crazy quilt of signaling on the old Delaware and Hudson main line that is under the control of NS after purchasing the route from CP in order to access New Englande markets via the Boston and Maine route. I previously discussed the complex ownership history of the D&H in an article on D&H interlocking naming conventions.

The D&H currently exhibits 6 different generations of signals in the 200 or so odd miles between the NS Buffalo Line in Sunbury and the Boston and Main division post in Mechanicville, NY. They can be broken down as follows:

Generation 1 includes the legacy D&H with GRS SA searchlights, relay based logic and iron/steel mounting hardware including masts, cantilevers and brackets. 

Generation 2 covers the early CP era in the 1990's with SA searchlights and relay based logic using modern aluminum structures.

Generation 3 is the Unilens Era where CP applied a solid state upgrade of its older SA searchlights, primarily at automatic block locations as those present less of a testing burden than interlockings. I believe this began in the late 90's and overlapped with some Gen 2 signals being installed at interlockings. By 2005 end of life Gen 1 interlockings were being actively replaced by Gen 3.

Generation 4, the Mystery Searchlight era, is the shortest, taking place from around 2009 through 2011. This represented CP souring on its Unilens solution and falling back on older SA searchlight guts in a custom housing. 

Generation 5, starting around 2011, is the great CP resigning that have up on searchlights entirely looked to replace Gen 1 signals at relay-based interlockings north of Binghampton with typical Safetran CL-20 type Darth Vaders.

Generation 6 is modern day with NS type Darth Vaders going in to replace both Gen 1 signals select relay plants, but also to replace Gen 3 signals at newer 2005 vintage interlockings. On the remaining CP territory this included the use of mystery N-type signals in place of CL-20's.

So how do things stand today? The CP re-signaling of the 2010's zapped pretty much all of the old D&H signaling north of Binghamton except CPF-499 and the Afton siding beginning at CPF-587.

In fact CPF-587 is seeing NS replace its southbound D&H Cantilever with a leftover CP mystery searchlight!

South of Binghampton D&H signals are holding on at CPF-648, CPF-650 and CPF-679.

CPF-650, still original D&H.

However Gen 3 Unilens signals have been replaced by NS Darth Vaders at CPF-630, CPF-631, CPF-659, CPF-661, CPF-714 and CPF-716.

CPF-716, Unilens signals replaced by Vader masts in 2022.

Interestingly enough, the intact Unilens masts have been gathered at the NS Scranton yard and the adjacent CPF-673 and CPF-672 were in their Unilens (or SA?) configuration as of November 2022. Nevertheless, almost all of the intermediate signals remain as Unilens, with just a handful having been converted by CP to CL-20 Vaders.

It will be interesting to see what the future holds, especially if NS extends between Scranton and Sunbury or if the need to replace the Unilens intermediates prompts an expansion of cab signaling.

Friday, January 13, 2023

CP-SK Changes Its Spots

In 2020 I reported on some unsettling activity at CP-SK on the former Conrail Selkirk branch with new Darth Vader masts going up to replace the Conrail style target signals. CP-SK had been able to avoid the general Selkirk Branch and Chicago Line re-signaling efforts due to a very late 90's re-signaling and the ambient environment of both the former River Line and Boston Line territories holding onto Conrail type signal rules as opposed to Seaboard rules.  In fact the change point was just west of CP-SK at the western limits of the CSX era CP-12.

Well as I feared CP-SK was completely re-signaled and to make matters worse the previous western extent of Seaboard signaling has been moved east to the southern limits of CP-SK on the River Line and the Milepost 9 intermediate signal on the former Selkirk Branch, just east of the Alfred Smith Bridge.

 Although the Milepost 9 intermediate signal has been changed many years prior, it was "future proofed" through the use of Seaboard compatible Y/R/G Approach Slow instead of the NORAC exclusive Y/Y.

The old CP-12 was also made Seaboard ready through the use of R/Y/R Approach Medium (instead of R/*Y*) and extra lamp spaces in which to fit lunar lamps for Seaboard restricting.

In fact the northbound River Line mast at CP-12 seen here displaying a NORAC style R/R/Y Restricting, has that lamp color filter replaced by Lunar White (as visible in this article's first photo). An empty space on the signals lowest head indicates planning for use of Seaboard R/R/Y Slow Approach due to a short signal distance, but it looks like this upgrade was never carried out.

Likely as part of the same re-signaling project, the Conrail style small target searchlight intermediate on the Carman Branch was also undergoing replacement as of August 2022.. 

In related news CP-153 in Quincy, OH on the former Conrail Indianapolis Line has also seen new CSX signals go up.  The Indy Line has a crazy quilt of new and old signals so this is more of an FYI than a warning of a wide area replacement plan.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Last SP Donner Pass Signals Retired

This definitely falls into the category of a news story that fell through the cracks, but after a bit of uncertainty I can confirm that all of the remaining Southern Pacific vintage signals on the Union Pacific Donner Pass route (Roseville Sub) between SHED 10 and and WEST NORDEN have been retired and replaced by extra height aluminum signal bridges of the same type already seen between SWITCH 9 and SHED 10 and east of EAST NORDEN. This  change took place sometime in the 2020-2022 time frame with the searchlights at WEST NORDEN being the last converted.

Donner Pass Phase 1 replacement gantry at MP 173 in 2017

Although this development was not entirely surprising, the surviving SP signal locations, with the exception of WEST NORDEN, used Safetran CL-20 modules in a target configuration and had PTC antennas mounted on the steel lattice signal bridges. Although not part of a PTC project, it is likely that UP desired to replace the relay based signal logic and simplify maintainer access. In total 5 automatic locations and WEST NORDEN interlocking were affected.

WEST NORDEN was the former location where the old 1860's main track #1 split from the later main track #2 with the interlocking being completely covered in a snow shed. After the completion of the first phase of Donner Pass re-signaling in 2017 it was the only remaining set of searchlights on the entire Donner Pass route (US&S H-2's)

If there can be any consolation it is that the steel lattice signal bridges themselves have remained in place due to the inaccessibility by road cranes. In face, some of the phase 1 locations left the searchlight heads turned in place.  

Unlike phase 1, phase 2 replaced the old SP locations on a 1 for 1 basis with most locations remaining the same except for the Milepost 181 automatics which have been removed in their entirety, creating a single 3.2 mile block where a 2.0 mike and a 1.2 mile block had existed before. In addition the the Vader type signals were moved off the westbound SHED 10 lattice gantry and replaced with masts at the mouth of the snow shed 450 feet to the west.

I finally got confirmation of this sad development due to media posted of the 2023 Donner Pass rotary plough training run so if you search out media of that event you can likely catch sight of some of the converted signal locations..