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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Better Know a Signaling System - METRA

METRA is the Chicago area commuter rail umbrella organization that supplies equipment and funding to various contract railroads such as Union Pacific and BNSF to transport workers from the greater chicago metro area into the center city.  Unlike the commuter railroads in the east METRA was never forced to assume direct operation of all of its lines by congress so on a majority of its routes METRA trains operate under the rules and signals of the host railroads.  However in two and a half situations METRA actually owns and maintains its own track with its own rules and signals.  The first is the former Illinois Central electric division which was taken over sometime in the 1980's. and the other is the Rock Island Division, which was part of the Rock Island Railroad that went completely bankrupt and thus was not available to run its trains under contract.

METRA is the first of the Western railroads that I will be examining and as I have mentioned before Western roads like weak route signaling.  METRA is no exception and he lacks even the light dusting of speed signaling that UP and BNSF have incorporated over the years.  While it is not the most bland and boring set of signal rules we will look at, it is pretty close.  So anyway without further adoo here is a 1997 METRA signaling chart for the Rock Island district, but is also the same the signals used on the Electric District.

So let's look at the key features.  The use of Approach Diverging, Diverging Clear and Diverging Approach are hallmarks of the weak route signaling system.  In the case of three headed signals each of the two different diverging routes are known by the crews from literal route knowledge, although in general the bottom head is reserved for slower speed routes.  Other features include use of lunar white for restricting with no yellow or flashing red options.  This makes additional head or 4-lamp signals a feature on METRA just as it is on CSX.

A 4-banger that doesn't look like ass!
Unlike the Southern Y/Y is used for Approach Diverging.  If you are wondering why it actually goes hand in hand with the lunar white for Restricting.  If you check your classic signal vendor catalogues you will find that searchlight signals came in two flavors in terms of colors.  You could get a R/Y/G unit or R/Y/L.  With lunar chosen for Restricting then if one wanted to use Y/G for Approach Diverging then you would need a  third head with the R/Y/L unit.  The same logic applies to Semaphores.

Y/Y and four lamps lower heads.  Having your cake and eating it two.
The one vaguely "non-boring" feature of METRA's signal rule set is the use of *Y* for Advance Approach and R/*Y* for diverging advance approach.  Similar roads often omit this pair of signals so points go METRA.  Another interesting feature of the rule set is the 40mph speed used for Approach (and Advance Approach) speed control.  Those of us from the east coast are more familiar with a 30mph speed approaching a Stop signal.  *Y* could also double for "Approach Medium" as trains must be prepared to pass the next signal not exceeding 40mph and this is exactly what happened on the Burlington Northern system.

So when I said that METRA has two and a half lines that is because the MILW division is currently owned by Canadian Pacific.  However the section between Union Station and Tower A-5 is maintained and owned by METRA.  CP does not have a *Y* Advance Approach in it its signal ruleset, but as you can see in the above video there is a yellow flashing away at Tower A-3 interlocking.

Anyway you can read the signal chart just as easily s I can and that's pretty much it.  I never promised that BNASS would always be exciting :-P  Oh wait, I should mention that METRA does use a couple of position lights left over from when the PRR Panhandle trains came in to Union Station from the north and west.

They work pretty much as you would expect substituting positions for colors which is made easier due to the prevalence of Restricted speed diverging moves.  Position lights are located at the still US&S Model 14 controlled Tower A-2 and the famous Racine St signal bridge at MORGAN ST interlocking (remote Tower A-2).

Other unique METRA signals include these split track bracket masts at La Salle St station.

Along with these two lamp faux-SA style dwarf signals.  Both examples of early 1980's products from General Railway Signal. 

There is also a 15 mile section of cab signaling on the Rock Island line between Blue Island Tower and UD Tower on Joliet, but that's a story for a different time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

PHOTOS: Port Road Trips - SHOCKS to COLA

After the short detour up the Royalton Branch it is once again time to get back on the Enola Branch as we continue on towards Columbia, PA and COLA interlocking.  I have mentioned it several times before that while entire area is covered by the 1938 COLA CTC project that was undertaken along side the electrification of the low grade freight lines.  As you may know the PRR never fully embraced the whole CTC concept, clinging to its manned block stations and either single direction ABS or manual traffic control using traffic levers at adjacent towers.  As a wealthy road the PRR lacked the large stretches of single track main line that forced other railroads to adopt CTC starting in the 1940's or 50's.  While I describe COLA as a CTC project that is because it uses a US&S Centralized Traffic Control style interlocking machine making use of unit levers on a console with 504 code controlled remote interlockings. 

What this and other similar projects lack is actual traffic control technology to enable bi-directional operation.  Over the 10's of miles and 7 remote interlockings that COLA controled there were only two segments of bi-directional track, both of which I will cover today.  The first was the center siding track between COLA and LAKE.  The second was track #2 between SHOCKS and LAKE which made use of the only traffic control lever (#104) on the 150 lever console.  You can see for yourself on the COLA interlocking chart.  Today's post will be covering the far left hand side.

In this stretch of track there are two ABS signaling locations, MP 41 and MP43, one reverse direction ABS signal on track #2 at MP 42 and then LAKE interlocking at MP 40.  Everything can of course be found on this 1995 Conrail ETT. I do not have any of my own photos here for this post as all of this classic PRR signaling was wiped out in the 2007-2009 time frame, but my 2004 photo survey is on hand to fill in the gaps.

We begin with the MP 43 ABS signal location. Mileposts are prefixed from L which start at PARK interlocking on the Main Line.  The westbound signal is a two head PRR PL mast while the eastbound signal is mounted on a catenary pole.  Both signals are equipped with US&S PL equipment.

 Automatic L433 is the distant signal to SHOCKS interlocking and is therefore capable of displaying Approach Medium using the | lower had.  Default indication is Approach.  Note the 100hz signal power supply on the cat pole.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Caught on Camera - Episode 2 Google Special

having a railfan catch a rare signaling situation on camera, but having one be captured by a civilian on a completely unrelated mission is a lot rarer.  In today's episode of Caught on Camera I wanted to show off two interesting bits of signaling captured by the Google Street View car.  With more and more of the world's roads appearing in glorious HD by the law of large numbers it is only natural that Street View will capture comparatively rare events.

The first of these is located at SHEPARDSTOWN interlocking  on the NS Shenandoah Line in Shepardstown, WV.   The Street View car was traveling on State rt 230 when it caught the southbound N&W position light signal displaying a Diverging Approach indication for a southbound train taking the single track to wait for a northbound to pass.

Here is a closer view of the same signal in its normal state.

The second photo was taken in Bridgeport, NJ on the Conrail Penns Grove secondary.  This is the location of the Bridgeport Movable Bridge on the Raccoon Creek   The Bridgeport Movable Bridge is a non-interlocking swing bridge that was converted to automatic operation about 10 years ago.  The bridge works by a train occupying an island circuit which combined with some radio handset tones will command the bridge to close and a small dwarf signal to light up.   Well the Google Street View Car did it again, capturing the bridge in the closed position, crews on hand wanting for something or another.  

 Interesting detail is that the dwarf displays G/R proceed instead of G.  Remember this is DCS trackage so the signal only indicates the bridge is locked and does not convey movement authority.

Our last photos was actually not provided by Google, but looks like it should have.  Instead the Ohio DoT compiled a photo database of every grade crossing in the state and in so doing captured the unique pair of automatic signals on the former Conrail Cincinnati Line at Hague Ave in Columbus.  These are the only known examples of Amtrak style colorized position lights employed by Conrail.  Later replaced by NS as part of the general SCIOTO tower resignaling project in 2003 they live on in these photos.  

Of course Google is still helpful if you want to check out the non-Darth traffic lights that replaced them.

Anyway that's all, but rest assured that next time I catch the Google Street View car catching I'll let you know ;-) 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Even New Signals Aren't Safe

I know I've brought this up before, but one of the most disturbing trends over the last 10 years is how railroads are unwilling to simply preserve signal or signaling hardware that still has many decades left on the clock simply because it is cheaper to build new than splice into old  The latest, although not all to unexpected victim of this trend is the JD Tower interlocking complex in Hyattsville, MD on the CSX Capitol Sub.  As profiled on the JD Tower website the current B&O CPL signals were installed in 1992 when the original tower was closed.  However only 20 years later those signals are on the chopping block just like other new-build CPLs like the ones at CARROLL and DORSEY and numerous other locations.  Looks like its time to plan another expedition to catch some classic signaling before it bites the dust.  :-(

Brand new in 92
Here we see evidence of the ongoing resignaling on the former Southern RR line near Chattanooga with some really strange ancient searchlights on a functional, yet admittedly rusting beam gantry.  I guess I'm not surprised when this sort of signal is replaced by a pair of cheapo masts...

But at the other end of the interlocking is a brand new tubular signal gantry with Safetran seashell signal modules, same as the newer Darth Vaders use also slated for replacement.  Really?

To pick on NS some more we have an update from BURKE interlocking which apparently is being completely re-signaled.  In this case NS actually replaced the heads of the on the southbound Southern style signal bridge with Darth Vaders, but is now throwing the whole thing out for a cantilever.  There were times when a modification such as that would save a bit of historic signaling for decades more, but not apparently any more.

Ok, you get the point, but since this is a new post no point stopping there.  I have the sad duty to anounce that after over a year of being "on notice" the remaining CBQ searchlight signals on the 3-track Aurora racetrack away from the Eola yard complex have finally been replaced.  I was lucky enough to bag two sets of photos of these signals on the California Zephyr in 2012 and 2013, both coming and going.

Finally if you were looking for a railroad that isn't installing Darth Vaders look no further than SEPTA which recently installed new target color lights at its redone FORD interlocking as part of the R6 Norristown Line CTC project.  Here we catch the new three headed mast signal, replacing the previous dwarf stack, displaying Medium Approach the old fashioned way to an approach NS freight off the Morrisville Line.