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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Livonia, Avon and Lakeville's Captive Signals

There's a concept in preservation that's analogous to the world of wildlife conservation. In the ideal scenario animals are present in and fully engaged with their natural ecosystem. Far less ideal is when they are in simulated ecosystems in zoos or similar managed preserves. The least desirable state is where the creature is stuffed and mounted in an exhibit, fixed in place and time. For vintage railroad signaling technology the ideal is when equipment is in active everyday service. Next best is when it is still functioning, but used mainly for display instead of operations. The least desirable is of course when the equipment is on display but otherwise dead. Unfortunately in the world of heritage railroading, the most common way to treat signaling equipment is the latter, often in the form of a line of vintage signals around the entrance or parking area. Sometimes lit, sometimes not, they're better than the alternative, but still just stuffed specimens. 

Every so often a heritage railroad will make the effort to get vintage signals or interlocking equipment into some kind of working order. Often times it is officially non-functional due to regulatory costs, while still effectively working as intended. I recently discovered that the Livonia, Avon and Lakeville Railroad, via the on-prem Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum has been installing and activating a number of vintage signals. The specific ones that caught my eye were a pair of PC or Conrail era Michigan Central style small target searchlights that appear to have been salvaged from one of the CSX re-signaling efforts in former New York Central territory. One is a two offset head mast that can at least display a R/Y Restricting indication, while the other is a three offset head mast (used to display Y/R/G Approach Slow)  with an unknown indication repertoire. 


Around the museum station area is an active PRR position light on a cut down mast that was likely salvaged from the Buffalo Line during its recently de-signaling as well as some sort of home brew searchlit dwarf stack. 

While not on the level of the Reading and Northern that went as far to install fully functional main line CTC, the effort to install working signals in an approximation of their natural habitat is certainly appreciated. 

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Toronto Terminal Railway Update

The long running project by multiple parties to re-signal the Toronto Terminal Railway, aka Union Station Rail Corridor in Canada is showing progress in the form of new signal bridges going up between SCOTT ST and CHERRY ST interlocking towers. Those, along with JOHN ST comprised the signaling control infrastructure that went in with Toronto Union Station in 1927. The large GRS supplied plant made use of Model 5B pistol grip type interlocking machines in the style of Buffalo Central Station. 

SCOTT ST Tower
JOHN ST Tower

 While the 1927 dwarf searchlights are still in place it is unclear what exactly will replace them. The new signal gantries are equipped with LED searchlights so my assumption is that there will be some manner of LED dwarfs in the station, but there are still a number of possible configurations and vendors.


You can see in the photos below the new signal bridges. You can also see that the GRA Model 5A point machines have been replaced by a US&S M3 derivative. 



Google Street View is also fairly useful here with the new giant signal bridges being equipped with 3-head high signals, which is on par with Canadian practice. If they will display anything better than slow speed indications is another question.

 Another interesting tidbit is that the CHERRY ST tower got a full rehab in 2021.

Anyway if you are Canadian it might be a good idea to get down to Union Station and get as many photos of the old interlocking plant as possible. 

Sunday, March 31, 2024

2024 NEC Reference Video

 A side effect of Allan Fisher's recent "Festival Express" style journey from New York to Saint Louis in a private car full of transit Youtubers was a 3 hour and 22 minute long high definition rear facing railfan video of the entire Amtrak Northeast Corridor between New York and Washington. The video was filmed from the PV's position behind Amtrak's westbound Cardinal Train 51 with no observable delays and a top speed of 110mph.

This video is an important historical artifact as it captures certain NEC elements that are under imminent threat of replacement including the PORTAL bridge and Baltimore's B&P tunnel complex as well as all of the associated signaling that will likely be part of upcoming Rule 562 expansions. I was also able to confirm some recent changes such as the replacement of the pneumatic A-5 point machines at GRUNDY interlocking with electric M3's. If you have any questions about current NEC layout, this is the resource for you.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Vermonter Route Signal Update

About 3 years ago I wrote a fairly positive report on the state of signaling on Amtrak's Vermonter route between New Haven and White River Junction. Unfortunately the recent spike in infrastructure spending has had major negative impacts on the New England Central portion of the route within just the past six months. The only good news is that some of the vintage searchlit signaling might hang on for a little while longer, but much of it is already on the way out.


First a quick overview of the old NECR signaling. Originally part of the Canadian National family under the Central Vermont brand, the rail line up the Connecticut River Valley would have likely passed into unsignaled TWC territory if not for the presence of Amtrak's Montrealer/Vermonter on the route that made abandoning the signaling system impossible from a regulatory point of view. The solution to make the signaling more cost effective was what I termed "Centralized Manual Block", with typical single track CTC sidings, but only a single ABS block between them (although technically the distant signal in advance of the next CTC interlocking did a second ABS block in that direction). This resulted in block lengths as long as 14 miles. South of Brattleboro, there was a additional 10 mile segment of non-signaled TWC before a (formerly) isolated interlocked junction between the old CV and Boston & Maine lines. In the 90's the NECR got some money to install a section of new CTC north of Windsor, VT, however this only included block signaling without interlockings with a more sensible 3 mile block spacing.


The first major change was the elimination of the TWC island south of Brattleboro. A new signaled siding was installed in Brattleboro itself, eliminating the old WEST RIVER CTC entrance interlocking and the related northbound searchlight distant signal just north of the Brattleboro station platform. It is not clear if the project included south of the NECR's Brattleboro yard, but if not evidence also pointed to sensibly spaced automatic block signals. Unfortunately the project also included the re-signaling of the EAST NORTHFIELD junction where the former Boston and Maine CT River Main Line splits off with the typical Safetrain Vaders. It is unclear if an additional new interlocking was installed at the south end of the NECR Brattleboro yard.

New block signaling between EAST NORTHFIELD and SOUTH BRATTLEBORO

New NORTH BRATTLEBORO interlocking south of the Brattleboro, VT station.

At the Putney CTC siding, the south end was re-signaled some years back with the notable poor man's bracket mast, however the north end is still searchlit with no evidence of impending changes. The same goes for the diamond crossing at Bellows Falls with cabling that implies a more recent logic update which might fend off searchlight replacement. I did not visit the Walpole siding just north of Bellows Falls, but as of June 2023 there were no signs of reconstruction. the news CTC siding at Claremont is a different story with new signals on the ground at the south end and in place, but no new relay hut yet installed at the north end. Both of these locations will use Vader masts from Progress rail (aka EMD, aka Caterpillar). This siding is also being upgraded from restricted speed to signaled which will allow Amtrak to better use the station-side platform at Claremont at the cost of siding exit dwarf signals.

New signals up at NORTH CLAREMONT.

Between Claremont and Windsor it also appears that new ABS signals have been installed at more regular intervals. The controlled point at Windsor has work going on, but the replacement signal masts are not yet present. A station sign also indicates that the "CTC" between Windsor and White River Jct was at one time operated under Canadian style Occupation Conrail System (OCS) rules. As I understand it this is somewhat analogous to APB system.

Northern extent of the Central VT era CTC.

From a documentation perspective, while I just missed getting photos of EAST NORTHFIELD and WEST RIVER at Brattleboro, I was able to fully document interlockings near Putney, Bellows Falls, Claremont and Windsor. I hope to return shortly and get the remaining signal locations around Wapole.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

THE Source for LIRR Tower Information

The rather secretive nature of the LIRR has always made it somewhat difficult to find information about its signaling infrastructure and interlocking towers. However over the past past 26 years Steven Lynch's decidedly web 1.0 LIRR Archive on trainsarefun.com has ballooned into an absolute juggernaut of quality information. In particular the page devoted to interlocking towers covers not only the current stuff, not only the recently closed stuff, but the towers that were displaced by the modernizations of the 1950's, 60's and 70's as well as the old block stations that were displaced by automatic signaling. While the layout is a bit haphazzard, you will not find all sorts of reference material that is still relevant today like photos of now out of service interlocking machines in towers such as VAN and BABYLON.


If you are unaware of this archive check it out, especially if you are doing any sort of LIRR tower writeups, like several I have planned for the future.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Reading Viaduct Signaling Remains

On November 6th, 1984 the last train departed the historic Reading Terminal in center city Philadelphia 4 days after the completion of the Center City Commuter Connection tunnel that allowed through running between the former Pennsylvania and Reading electrified commuter rail systems. Immediately after crews began to rip up the tracks as the tunnel had rendered both Reading Terminal and about 2 miles of elevated main line redundant. This also marked the end of RACE STREET as an active interlocking station and its task of signaling trains in and out of the 13 track station complex from the 4-track Reading Viaduct. Built in 1930 in conjunction of the Reading's own suburban electrification project to replace the previous interlocking from the 1890's, RACE STREET, or "RA" as it was known in the days of the telegraph, would fall to the wreckers ball as the viaduct between Arch and Vine streets was turned into a mix of event space and parking to support the new Pennsylvania Convention Center, that would also employ the Terminal train shed as an event space.

The surprisingly modern RACE STREET ("RA") tower at left.

While the demise of a historic terminal interlocking tower is nothing new, even finding a photos of RACE STREET was devilishly hard due to its position two blocks from the end of the passenger platforms and often located behind stored MU equipment. At 111 levers, RACE STREET's US&S Model 14 machine was as large as the one in HARRIS, but it features only 68 working levers, the same amount as the total number of levers in CORK. In addition to fanning 4 main line tracks into 13 station tracks, it also featured a junction with the single (originally three) track "City Branch" freight line and two storage pockets on the tower side of the terminal throat. The interlocking consisted of roughly 4 parts, each delineated complimentary signals. From north to south this was the outer set of medium speed crossovers, then the City Branch junction with a 3x4 double-slip field, the trailing point double slip ladder and then the final terminal fan. The terminal area made liberal use of Restricted speed routes with no signaled routes in the fan and only a select few in the trailing ladder. Of course this is all mostly academic as everything south of the City Branch junction was demolished  What about north of the junction?


Despite the demolition of both the tower and the core of its interlocking plant, significant artifacts of race street remain in roughly the condition they were left in 1984. This is because the main line viaduct north of Vine Street was abandoned in place as an electric power right of way to reach a rail power substation. While much of the track structure was removed, the overhead lines and their supporting gantries were needed to feed the electric power and attached to those gantries were RACE STREET's 1930 vintage color light signals. In 2012 the substation was replaced, ending active use of the viaduct for rail purposes, and the viaduct became an urban exploration hot spot with plans to eventually convert it into a High Line style linear park.


Working northward, the first surviving signal bridge is on the curve immediately adjacent to the Callowhill 25hz railroad power substation and features northbound high signals 20L and 18L for tracks 4 and 2, in addition to southbound high signals 28R and 26R for tracks 1 and 3.


The southbound 28R and 26R signals featured a full upper head, a middle head with green and red lamps and a Reading style horizontal head with the yellow Restricting lamp. The reason for the middle Green lamp without an accompanying yellow is somewhat unclear but I suspect that R/Y/R Medium Approach was unavailable in favor of R/R/Y Restricting. The only non-restricting signal south of here is on track #2  so both Approach Medium and Medium Clear would be possible.


For northbound trains the 18L and 20L signals are protecting medium speed main line crossovers. Track 4 had no diverging routed and was only supplied with a R/*/Y below the 20L full speed head while the 18L had two regular medium speed routes over the #17 and #15 switches. 


Both the 18L and 20: also feature metal ID tags on the back of the upper signal head. I'll also point out that all of the color light signal hardware is US&S style TR target (tri-light) with unitized lamp housings.


The next surviving gantry hosts the southbound 16R and 14R track 2 and 4 home signals and the southbound automatic track 3 and 1 exit signals. 


The 16R and 14R are mirrors of 20L and 18L except in this case the local track gets the diverging route over the #13 switch. 


The automatic exit signals are also nothing special, although the numbering system is a bit hard to figure out and apply to further automatic that are not on the diagram. It is also important to point out that tracks 1, 2 and 4 were bi-directional with the 16L signal able to display Slow Clear for straight movements, while the 14L on track #3 could only display Restricting.



A mere 800 feet down the line was the first automatic signal location with three northbound signals on tracks 1, 2 and 4, and southbound signals on all 4 tracks. The reason for the asymmetrical signaling was due to the presence of the Reading's MU storage yards on the east side of the line at North Broad. Deadhead moves heading to and from the yard would use track #4 in the shoulder peak.


Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The NS Bridge Line PTC Adventure

For years concerns of PTC interoperability drove all manner of decision making at freight and passenger railroads. For example's CSX decision to isolate itself from SEPTA's Regional Rail network, NICTD choosing not using the cab signal codes present on its line because Metra Electric wanted to use the freight-centric ETMS and MARC dumping ACSES for reasons. However one common thread is that when push comes to shove, equipping locomotives with multiple PTC systems is not a big deal (although it certainly isn't free).

Case in point are the SD60E locomotives that are always leading certain Norfolk Southern intermodal and manifest trains traveling on its New England Bridge Route between Harrisburg and Ayer, Mass. Between Harrisburg and Sunbury its on ETMS, then its off PTC entirely all the way to Binghamton. Then it on CP's ETMS all the way to Mechanicville, NY. From there it hits the former Boston and Main which is again PTC-less, but at Wachussetts it enters MBTA territory which uses Rule 562 cab signals and ACSES the last few miles to Ayer. These SD60E's are dual equipped for PTC and ACSES and although less needed on the NEC due to Amtrak dual-installing ETMS, they found a new home on this run. If I ever get close to one I'll see if I can get a photo of the antenna. 

Anyway, I heard that due to the shift of NS New Englande route internodal trains to the former Conrail Boston Line, this unique PTC situation will soon be obsolete as manifest freight might terminate at East Deerfield or something. If you're a fan of oddball leading equipment quirks, get your photos while you can.