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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

First Confirmed PTC Casualties

I have always maintained that PTC was going to kill people and not just in the sense that it makes rail transportation uncompetitive with highway travel.  Of course the assumed cause of these deaths would be a PTC penalty brake application on a long freight train in a mountain territory leading to a runaway.  Well I'll be the first to admit when I am wrong because the first PTC related deaths happened when an Amtrak train hit a mis-aligned hand operated switch at track speed due to a signal suspension facilitating a PTC-motivated re-signaling project. 

19th century technology reliably tells me the switch on track 2 is lined and locked.
What is really gauling is how the media keeps saying that PTC would have prevented the accident.  Well do you know what else would have prevented it?  A functioning block signaling system, with or without cab signal ATC!  This is probably a good harbinger of the other way PTC will kill people.  By making train crews reliant on an electronic crutch, the accident rate will increase when operating under contingency circumstances, like a signal suspension (or a run of the mill PTC outage).  Crews get used to the cab display warning them of that 30mph curve and when it doesn't, boom.  We've seen this countless times with Airbus' horrible human factors engineering that pretty much ensures that pilots will stall and crash the plane when the computer training wheels come off.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Well Somehow I missed This Site

Today I was made aware of a new interlocking tower related website, and by new I mean it was started around 2011, the same year I launched this blog.  It is, get ready for it:

Yup, exactly what it says on the tin.  The site amalgamates photos from the collections of many prolific railfans, including midwestern tower enthusiast John Roma, and pretty much just makes a list of towers, sorted alphabetically by state, with direct links to the high res photos.  Most of the photos are from the 1960's through the 1980's, although some are from the "pre-historic" period before World War 2.  There are especially good collections covering the New Haven and other railroads that used wooden towers that never made it into the modern era to be photographed. 

SS79 MILL RIVERwith active New Haven catenary.
Some of the towers have diagrams included and some of the photos are extremely rare and interesting interior shots.  This will surely come in handy as a historical reference for some of my line surveys.  For example, I re-discovered photos I had lost links to when the old JD Tower website died.

Time to update my CARROLL interlocking page again.
Anyway, I highly recomend this site and make sure you leave yourself some time as you'll quickly lose a few hours clicking on non-thumbnailed photo links, itching to see what secret they hide.  If you make this site a recurring habit, there is also a "what new" page.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Amtrak Signal Diagrams Courtesy the Feds

So when Amtrak made regulatory filings to alter the signal system both on the Southern NEC and Springfield Line, it appears that they also submitted pdf diagrams, which now turn up when one searches through the FRA website. 

Rule 562 BACON to PERRY
Rule 562 BUSH TO OAK
Springfield Line Double Track Project Signal Changes

In addition to just being plain interesting there are a few key takeaways.  First, the 562 project that is currently going in between BACON (North East, MD) and OAK (Aberdeen, MD) will extend to BUSH, at the Bush River drawbridge.  This will eliminate three additional automatic block signal locations, each covering 3 tracks with back to back colorized position lights :-(

NEC ABS Signal 652 north of Aberdeen Station.
Second, the Springfield Line 562 scheme will include an island of 261 around Hartford with a single remaining wayside automatic block signal and the first two phases of the project will not include additional work between a point north of Hartford and Springfield, MA, leaving it pretty much un-touched from a signaling perspective.  Although the Springfield line has already lost all of it's interesting H-5 searchlights, the remaining wayside block signals were at least something extra.

The Springfield Line actually stands to gain a number of interesting features as interlockings in North Haven, Hartford and Berlin are all being expanded with gantries, cantilevers, 'C' boards and industrial track dwarfs.  There are still some puzzling instances of Rule 562 being in place between back-to-back interlockings with no obvious intermediate signaling points.  The diagrams are not very clear on that point.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

NS/Conrail Buffalo Line Alert!

Well things are going downhill fast on the northern portions of the former Conrail Buffalo Line.  About a decade ago, declining traffic on the line prompted NS to turn over much of the middle portion of the former PRR main line over to two regional short lines via a long term lease arrangement.  Between Driftwood, PA and the outskirts of Buffalo, NY, the rare first generation PRR CTC instillation was switched off, but generally left in place as a "temporary" signal suspension.  Fast forward a decade and it appears that NS is not pussy footing around anymore.  About a week ago the PRR interlockings of CP-NORTH DRIFTWOOD and CP-DRIFTWOOD were completely ripped out, with the northern limit of Rule 261 now being at CP-SOUTH DRIFTWOOD.

CP-DRIFTWOOD (seen above) was notable for its PRR signal bridges and pneumatic switch plant.  Probably the last in operation on the former Buffalo Line.  With it's removal there are rumblings about NS wanting to completely de-signal the line north of Lock Haven, which recently sawit's interlocking re-signaled back in December.  Moreover, new signals are appearing between Lock Haven, PA and Williansport, PA, which was a major holdout of PRR signaling with a number of interlockings and a few photogenic two track automatic signal bridges.

So get up there while you can.  I have the portion between Harrisburg and Northumberland covered, but above there I just have a few photos from 2006.  Hopefully I can return before it is too late.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Grafton D Tower, D-Stroyed

Well this was a bit of unfortunate news to start the new year.  D Tower in Grafton, WV was one an icon of the CSX Mountain Subdivision.  Built by the B&O in the 20's or 30, it was later upgraded to a CTC panel operation in the post war years.  Ultimately it was closed in the 1990's as CSX begrudgingly put money into the failing coal country rail line. However the sturdy brick tower was left standing, serving as an office for local C&S or MoW crews even as other Mountain Sub towers at Keyser, Terra Alta and Rowlsburg, were demolished.

Well it looks like the payout from E. Hunter Harrison's life insurance payout provided the Baltimore Division with enough spare pocket change for the tower to be demolished.  In all seriousness it possibly was some sort of management dictate, perhaps intended to reduce employee perks or simply eliminate whatever crew base it supported. 

While typically "slow" parts of a large corporate organization are neglected and thus preserved, sometimes the knife can cut the other way with extreme cost cutting.  Hopefully, with CSX's experiment in railroad management a complete failure, things will go back to the way they were.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Conemaugh Line Cab Signal Expansion

In what could pass for a piece of positive signaling news these days, Norfolk Southern is actually expanding it's Cab Signal System territory by installing cabs on the former PRR/Conrail Conemaugh Line between CP-KISKI and either CP-ETNA or CP-PENN.  For those who didn't know, the Conemaugh Line, a low grade main line running along the Conemaugh River between Johnstown and Pittsburgh, PA, was used by the PRR to test the concept of using cab signals without fixed wayside signals.  The system was installed between what is now CP-CONPIT on the Pittsburgh Line and CP-KIKSI, where the line had a wye junction with the Allegheny River line into the oil and coal fields on Western, PA.  Because the PRR did not want to equip these Western PA pool engines with cab signals, the remainder of the Conemaugh Line was conventionally signaled.

Westbound signals at CP-CONPIT with the original Rule 280b 'C' lamps installed.
While Conrail expanded it's cab signal territory in the 90's, adding the Boston Line, and the Fort Wayne/Cleveland Line corridor between Conway Yard and Cleveland, NS has been content with the status quo, perhaps in spite or because of the PTC mandate.  Plans to convert the Port Road and Pittsburgh Lines to waysideless operation did represent one type of change, it would not actually add any additional CSS track miles.

Same cab signals, just different packaging.
Well while I was in Pittsburgh recently I popped byCP-SHARP, which had been rebuilt from its Penn Central predecessor along with CP-ETNA as part of a siding expansion project.  You could say I was surprised when I saw new signals going up with the telltale 'C' lamps on them, indicating that since the Oil City line was long abandoned, NS saw no reason not to bring its cab signaled trains all the way to Pittsburgh on the alternate route.

As you can see the new 'C' equipped mast will lack the third head included on the existing mast as Medium Approach Medium is not considered necessary where a cab signal can be held at Approach Medium after a train diverges over Medium Clear.  This is one of the few circumstances where a PTC related re-signaling project has actually brought about more interesting signaling.

While I was not able to stop by CP-ETNA to see if the Rule 562 operation stopped there or would continue to CP-PENN, I suspect it will stop at ETNA, at least until the Conway Corridor is fully re-signaled.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

No More Lehigh Valley Signals on the Lehigh Line

Just got back from a road trip and to my disappointment I discovered that the remaining Lehigh Valley RR signals had been removed from the lower half of the Lehigh Line between CP-67 and Bethlehem, PA.  Caught up in this sweep were the former CNJ/Reading interlockings of CP-ALLEN, CP-CANAL and CP-JU (previously re-signaled by Conrail).  

The project had been underway for well over a year and I had taken the opportunity to document as much as I could, however I missed the two LVRR automatic signal locations at MP 71 and MP 74 as when I passed them by last October they did not appear to be under threat.

Of course the most devastating loss will be the classic LVRR Gantryleaver signal at the site of the former Easton, PA station.  This stout structure was in no structural danger and had been upgraded over the years with railings and walkways, but it appears that NS's commitment to its heritage is limited to more PR friendly devices like locomotives :-(

The former CP-RICHARDS was replaced by a new crossover a few miles to the west as once again the block lengths were stretched to reduce the number of signaling locations. Rule 251 was then replaced by 261 between CP-RICHARDS and CP-BETHLEHEM.  

I was also disappointed to have missed documenting CP-JU.  Although the original CJU plant with pneumatic points and signal bridges had been replaced by Conrail, it was nevertheless a great example of Conrail signaling, complete with searchlight dwarfs.

Finally, the odd arrangement between CP-EASTON and CP-PHILLIPSBURG wherein trains crossing the Delaware River could not get an Approach indication.  Signals would only display Clear or Restricting for following movements.  This was possibly due to some previous restriction regarding trains being stopped on the bridge, however NS appears to have remedied the problem and trains can get Approach at both locations.  I should also mention that CP-PHILLIPSBURG had already gotten new Darth Vader signals installed within the last 5 years for...reasons.

This is yet another lesson about not taking things for granted.  If you have the oppurtunity to photo something, do it ASAP, even if you think you'll have time enough to catch them "later".  If you would to see what I was able to document my Lehigh Line Amtrak Autumn Express photos can be found here and my Easton Roadtrip photos cam be found here.