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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Better Know a Signaling System: C&O Color Lights

The Chesapeake and Ohio color light signal aspect set is the crazy uncle of eastern US speed signaling,  From a distance they look perfectly respectable, carrying on like all the other railroads, but upon closer inspection some major deviations pop out at you.  One might say that the Chessie System merger was a marriage of two equally odd signaling systems, equally odd in two completely different ways that is.  If B&O CPLs are being purged due to their complexity, the C&O system is meeting the torch simply because it is batshit crazy once it gets a little liquor into it.  Let's cut to the chart and see what I'm talking about.

Like I said, at first glance the C&O looks like a very responsible Northeastern style railroad.  You have your Y/G Approach medium, even Y/Y Approach Slow!  That's a big step up on the New York Central and others with Y/Y for Advance Approach.  

Exit signals invite Approach Slow
 R/R/G for Slow Clear is pretty standard and then R/Y/R for Medium App....  Wait...R/Y/R isn't Medium Approach...the label says Slow Approach.  Hmmm, must by a typo because why would you have a third head available and not use it Slow Approach?  Wait...if R/Y/R isn't Medium Approach what exactly is Medium Approach. 

Oh boy, yeah, not I see the problem.  R/Y/Y is Medium Approach.  It looks like the entire indication was an afterthought, sort of like how the PRR used to diverge trains to stop over Approach until 1956.  Still, if you have a third head to play with  there is no need to see the cost of flasher relays come down.  Makes me wonder if they could have gotten away with R/R/Y for Slow Approach and R/Y/ / for Restricting.  This is one of the few cases where a red lamp is lit to upgrade a dark head and upgrade the signal indication (in this case from Restricting to Slow Approach).  This is also one of the few cases where Restricting is more common operationally than Medium Approach. 

Doing with 8 lamps what other railroads do with 9.
It seems that the C&O was really trying to use a two headed signal system, but ultimately had to abandon the idea.  First, Stop is only R/R as the only time an R lamp is present on the third head is for Slow Approach.  Restricting is R/Y in all cases, no R/R/Y. and if trains diverged to stop over Approach then you avoid the third head in most situations.  Placing a lower maker to upgrade Restricting to Slow Approach would suffice in those situations where the turnout speed was low.  Eventually it seems that someone thought better of this idea, but with R/Y/R already given away so the C&O was forced to scramble.  When limited speed turnouts appeared the C&O had to scramble again by using R/*Y*/Y for Limited Approach.  No wonder the C&O had a thing for exit signals.

Enter interlocking?  Pass a signal.  Exist interlocking?  Pass another signal.

This brings up another quirk.  The C&O placed its Red lamp in the upper position on its upper head and the bottom position on the second or middle head.  This gave a wider spacing between Red lamps, but made the concept of "high" green a bit less applicable.

Low high green?
The combination signals Medium Approach Slow and Medium Approach Medium match what was seen on the Seaboard, NY Central and elsewhere with R/Y/G for M-A-S and R/Y/*G* for M-A-M.  I've explained this before, but it assumed a dwarf siding exit signal displaying Slow speed indications.  Speaking of dwarf signals, why don't we take a look at one.

Bottom placement of the R lens on dwarfs allowed for Y/R Slow Approach with Y being Restricting, avoiding the need to flash Y as seen on NORAC.  R/Y was also a Restricting Option.

Slow Clear could be either G or G/R, but in a bit if clever thinking the C&O went with *G* to upgrade slow speed siding exits to Medium Speed, as opposed to NORAC going with G/*R* and leaving *G* for the less applicable Limited Clear.  The rest of the C&O scheme was all pretty standard with the usual mix of Approach Medium/Limited and Medium/Limited Clear.

Is there a slow speed route?  No, just Medium Approach.
In summary, before flashing signals were accepted, railroads were constantly placed in the bind of how to handle both Slow speed signals AND Restricting.  Some, like the Seaboard, went the Lunar White route and used three heads.  Others, like the Reading and NY Central, skipped Slow Approach on high signals.  The PRR dumped Medium Approach in favor of Slow Approach.  The C&O went with Plan D, sacrificing BOTH Slow and Medium Approach in favor of Restricting.  Yes, the third head is common enough so that Medium Approach isn't rare, but there are many situations where only two heads were provided requiring trains to get an exit signal or simply diverge to stop over Restricting.

It's a real shame there isn't much room in our national rail system for unique and interesting signal systems such as this.  Not only does the C&O suffer from not being as lamp efficient as some others, it is a bit less intuitive, relies on dark signal heads and conflicts with many other more popular systems. Going forward only the Buckingham Branch shortline appears committed to the C&O system, however as they remove the remaining signaled sidings on the C&O Washington route there won't be much of an occasion to show it off.

BTW, I am celebrating a milestone at The Position Light today with my 251st post. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

New Year, New News

It's a new year and I have some news items that have built up since the last installment.  Just FYI I am working on getting photos and videos of the new SEPTA, ACSES compatible cab signal displays, but when those will be up is TBD.

First up, Amtrak has continued to spend Federal $ to put some gold leaf on the NEC between Trenton and New Brunswick.  As of this writing all tracks between MIDWAY and COUNTY are Rule 562 (Cab Signals w/o fixed wayside signals), with two new intermediate interlockings.  Between HAM and MIDWAY the two local tracks are now 562 with the inner express tracks 562 from a new controlled point, CP-CLARK, located just west of Princeton Jct.  The reason for the controlled point is the 20 mile distance between HAM and MIDWAY after NASSAU was removed and establishing that long of an absolute block for failed cab signals would be highly disruptive.  Long story short this means the famous Princeton Jct automatic signals have been bagged out of service. :-(

Moving to Ohio I found this photo of the now sterilized WORTHINGTON interlocking that used to have both N&W and PRR position lights along with a set of air operated movable point diamonds.  Today just move along, nothing to see here.

I've reported on this before, but in the South NS can't even be bothered to re-use completely modern aluminum tube signal structures, like this one on the Southern Main at Salisbury, NC.  I guess someone out there really has a cantilever fetish going on.

 CSX is still on its quest to eliminate Seaboard signals in Georgia, and Amtrak addition of a baggage car to the rear of Train 89/90 have further hindered documentation efforts over on the A-Line.

In PRR country I can confirm that CP-PACK has lost its pneumatic point machines.  Fortunately I was able to document the ones at CP-RADE a few miles down the line.

The CSX Philly Sub re-signaling project has reached the outskirts of Philly at Darby.   Fortunately I was able to document this interlocking some years ago.  It is transit accessible via the Route 13 trolley where some old semaphores live on.

Might be old news, but at some point CSX completed its double track project on the River Line between CP-121 and CP-SH (MP 132), bringing more Darth Vader signals along with it, like seen here at the former CP-128.

Further east in CSX land, somehow the AVR got CSX to pay to upgrade the two remaining interlockings on the old P&W route between CP-BLOOM and BRADDOCK used by the Capitol Limited.  Good thing I was already able to survey FIELD and EAST SCHENLEY.   

 Lastly Darth Vaders are continuing their march down the eastern end of the Amtrak Michigan Line.  A real shame since Amtrak had always showed its independence when it came to signal hardware.

Monday, January 11, 2016

METRA TOWER A-5 (Pacific Jct) Closed

Again this is a bit late, but I recently confirmed that METRA's famous Tower A-5 was closed, effective November, 17th, 2015.  This is the third major METRA tower to have closed in the last year or so as long simmering capitol improvement projects begin to chip away at what traditional signaling remains in the Chicago area (the others were UD in Joliet and Rondout).

 A former Milwaukee Road Tower, it controlled the busy junction between the northern route to Milwaukee and the western main line to Bentonville Yard.  The line is technically owned by Canadian Pacific, although METRA employed the operators at what were the three towers on the route, A-2, A-5 and Rondout. 

Much of the CP Chicago and Milwaukee Subdivision has been undergoing a re-signaling effort resulting in the closure of the towers and a loss of much late model searchlight signaling.  At Tower A-5 the old school interlocking suffered from crossovers signaled at Restricted speed and a lack of parallel moves.  The new scheme included splitting the former A-5 territory into three new interlockings, A-5, A-6 and B-6, so if there is a silver lining it is CP/METRA maintained the MILW naming scheme.

It wasn't entirely certain that Tower A-5 would be closed since having the route controlled by CP dispatchers has its downside when there are conflicts between revenue producing freight trains and moey losing commuter trains.  Before this METRA had effective control of the route from Mayfaire interlocking, all the way through Union Station.  Now, they only control from south of Tower A-5 interlocking.  Remember, even thought the tower operators worked under the CP dispatcher, there is always an advantage in having the passenger operator signing their paychecks.

Farewell Tower A-5. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Workin the HARRIS Tower Model 14 Machine

The Harrisburg Chapter NRHS has pulled off a minor miracle preserving the old PRR HARRIS interlocking tower on the west side of Amtrak's Harrisburg station complex.  Built around 1930, HARRIS and its 112 leverl US&S Model 14 interlocking machine would have been a huge achievement in preservation just being saved from the wrecking ball.  However the Harrisburg chapter went one step further, restoring the machine to its 1940's configuration and then restoring it to operation through the use of PLC's and Train Dispatcher 3's external interface functionality for model train layout control.

At some point I'll do up a more comprehensive writeup on the tower and its history, but for now I wanted to post a number of videos taken during some of my visits to the tower.  When the tower is open (Saturdays, May through October) the staff runs a real time schedule from the 1940's.  Power changes, commuter trains, long distance passenger jobs and freight, the simulation is so accurate the phone rings with voice cuts recorded from a PRR tower operator.

Running an interlocking machine is an operation best captured in video and HARRIS tower is probably one of the best places to do it.  To this end I have two sets of videos, one captured in 2015 with my Go Pro, which conveniently left my hands free to work the levers.  The other set was captured in 2013 with my still camera forcing me to work the machine one handed.  Thanks to the informative staff the videos don't need much external explanation.

Here in the GoPro series I am working an evening schedule.  In the first video we have some issues identifying what is locking the 96 lever.  In the second video there is a legit failure of a relay that was fixed after I stopped filming and went to lunch.

Here in the 2013 videos I'm first messing about with the machine doing various movements and moving some light engines around in the second.

In the future I'll try to produce a series of tutorial videos on working Model 14 machines and the one at HARRIS in particular.