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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Classic Towers Closing on the Queens Boulevard Line

With electro-mechanical interlocking machines in terminal decline on North American main line railroads, the NYC Subway stood out as a bastion of classic signaling with more GRS Model 5's and US&S Model 14's than could be found throughout the entirety of the "real" railroad network stretching from coast to coast.  Unfortunately, this appears to be coming to an end.  Last I addressed this subject the system had just closed two towers at 4th Ave and Church Ave on the Prospect Park Line.  This week I learned that three additional towers have closed on the Queens Boulevard line with one to follow shortly.

First I need to catch up on some old news.  Way back in 2013 the NYCTA closed the fishbown 5th Ave tower that worked the junction between the Queens Boulevard the 6th Ave trunks.  This tower was notable for being able to watch the operator line up alternating straight and diverging movements between E and M/V trains on a 40 lever GRS Model 5. 

The Queens Plaza complex had already been re-signaled in support of the 63rd St connection, but just past it was the Roosevelt Ave crossover complex with another GRS Model 5 equipped tower at the east end of the eastbound platform.  Only open as needed, I got some photos of the 60 lever machine back in December of 2015 after someone had left the lights on.  I had known that the Queens Boulevard was on track for a CBTC capable re-signaling project, but I had expected that to take years if not decades to complete.  Unfortunately I just found out that the tower closed less than a year after :-(

After Roosevelt the normally GRS equipped IND line enters US&S country.  Although hard to get photos of due to the presence of a manned dispatch booth, the Continental Ave tower held an 83 lever US&S Model 14 that was also visible from the platform.  This interlocking contains not only crossovers, but access to Jamaica Yard from the west.  I just learned that its duties were recently transferred to a new N-X style area interlocking panel located in somewhere in the station.

Union Turnpike tower contains a 43 lever US&S machine and mirrors Continental Ave's function for trains accessing the yard from the east.  Apparently this tower is still open, but will close soon.  For sch a complex signaling project that involved at least a wiff of CTBC I really expected it to take many more years than it did :-( 

I'd say I should have tried to get more photos, but the paranoid staff I really did the best I could.  As I learned from Church Ave, it's really tough to provide a good "feel" for old NYC Subway towers since there is just so much that is behind the scenes.

In related news, I also got word that the PATH smashboards protecting the DOCK drawbridge at Harrison have been removed.  This was not unexpected as both the DOCK complex and PATH in general are being re-signaled.  It's a shame that the smashboards did not make the cut as PATH is keeping its pneumatic trips and switches, but in the age of CBTC there probably isn't as much of a need to get in the operator's face. 

Anyway, sorry for the bad news.  Visit NYC while the towers last!

Friday, June 30, 2017

PRR Main Line Trip Report Supplemental

Well I had my plans worked out I would have been sitting on a full set of PRR Main Line signal photos taken from an eastbound run of the Pennsylvanian.  Unfortunately, due to a joy ride by a private car I was left with a bunch of side window shots and some news, so I might as well share the news.

First off, the re-signaling project has climbed the east slope and is knocking at the doors of CP-AR/CP-UN with new cantilever signal hardware delivered to CP-MG.  Not sure what NS is up to as I had figured they would have cut the new in the new signaling in stages, but for all I know they might try to get the whole thing cut over in one go. 

In a severe bit of irony, CP-ANTIS is being re-re-signaled with new cantilevers and dwarf signals supporting the Rule 562 'C' lamps.  New signals are up for both directions, which implies the auto on track 2 at CP-HOMER is on its way out.  I did not see such new signals at CP-ALTOONA, but they may not have been visible from my point of view.

CP-ROCKVILLE and the eastbound signal at CP-MARY did not have 'C' boards attached, so the segments with non-cab signaled Buffalo Line traffic will also not be getting Rule 562 installed.

While it's not the name brand PRR Main Line, the new Rule 562 segment on the Main Line, Philadelphia to Washington, so far only has 'C' boards southbound at BACON and northbound at PRINCE.  This will only means the demise of a couple of intermediate signals and is possibly a capacity expansion project on the double track segment that also sees a lot of slow freight traffic.

Well sorry for the short post, I've been real busy in the field gathering information and content.  See ya next time!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

2017 California Zephyr Trip Report

Time for another trip report. This will be my third time covering the California Zephyr Route after previous trips in 2012 and 2014. Unlike before I only rode the train between San Francisco and Denver, but there was quite a bit going on. However, let me begin with some Bay Area news.

On Caltrain the supplementary signal automatic signal locations have been placed in service since my last visit to the peninsula. This has resulted in some remarkably short (for North America at least) main line signal block distances. For example from Redwood City, one can count up to 6 Clear signals in a row in the southbound direction.

Over on BART, the replacement of transit type gooseneck Unilens signals has been gaining speed with the Millbrae complex having its supply replaced by generic traffic light types. However Unilens signals were still in service at a number of other locations.

In the Capitol Corridor a new station is under construction at Fairfield, CA, which will result in the replacement of a number of SP style target signals, however the remainder, including the searchlights at DAVIS, appear to be safe.

The CTC is now active on the Roseville Sub between Colfax and Switch 9, however no new interlockings have been added and a number of the old ABS signals have been left alongside the RoW with the heads turned.

Over the Donner Summit, classic signaling remains in service between Shed 10 and Norden. Elsewhere old SP signal bridges have been generally left in place. This is also true along the old reverse running section between Truckee and Reno with almost all the old center mount signal bridges having been left in place.

All searchlights on the Nevada Sub have been replaced, however the SP tri-lights are safe. WESO interlocking and the Elko sub have been re-signaled, however it appears that the old single direction ABS tracks have been converted to bi-directional ABS. Old SP and WP ABS masts have been removed.

On the former DRG&W route, everything has been resignaled except the stretch between Green River and Grand Jct. This retains the 1960's era DRG&W CTC and pole line. This is all the more remarkable as replacement signals have been up since 2012! However the seemingly safe stretches of searchlight signals on the Moffatt Tunnel Sub have been replaced. On approach to Denver both Utah Jct and Fox have retained classic Rio Grand signaling.

Finally, the new Denver RTD commuter rail uses a Metro North style Rule 562 system with *G* Cab Speed signals placed only at interlockings. Cab signal speeds are Restricting, 15, 30, 45, 60 and MAS with 15 being given departing terminals and Restricting heading into them. This indicates use of a 50ppm slow speed code instead of just relying on a 0 ppm code in all slow speed situations. Also, Amtrak LD trains using tracks 4 and 5 in Denver Union Station only get *R* Restricted Proceed entering the terminal interlocking from non-RTD tracks.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

PRR Main Line Trip Report

Well I just got back from a trip surveying the old PRR Main Line between Huntington and Lewistown and I have a few updates to share regarding the extent of the re-signaling project and other related news.  First, to summarize, new NS Darth Vader signals and Rule 562 operation is going in on the PRR Main Line between CP-BANKS and CP-ANTIS.  Nothing about that has changed, although I did notice the following details.

First, at CP-HUNT, new signals are up, but the PTC antenna is not, so there is still a bit of work to do.  The pneumatic point machines are still in place with no sign of replacement, so that's good.  The adjacent HUNT tower is now signed as the home for the local Chamber of Commerce with no mention of the museum that should be located there, so that was a bit worrying.

In terms of modifications, the new eastbound cantilever at CP-HUNT has been placed several hundred feet east of the existing PRR PL masts where they are visible around the curve.  I suspect that thanks to cab signals and PTC, NS is less worried about signal sight lines than Conrail had been.

The MP 200 automatics, seen above in 2009, had a fresh coat of paint, just in time for them to be removed for the Rule 562 operation.

The westbound dwarf at CP-JACKS is getting replaced by a cantilever mounted, slow speed, high signal, but adjacent to the signal bridge was an old school signal power transformer mounted on a short pole, complete with PCB stickers and everything!

An interesting feature that I first saw at CP-HAWSTONE also turned up at CP-McVEY and CP-LONG.  This is the use of the old pneumatic air line to deliver gas to the direct burner point heaters.  It does not appear that this system is being retired.  Also, the old air-line at CP-JACKS was still in place, even though those air switches were removed over a decade ago.

I can also confirm that new signal equipment appears to be going in all the way up to CP-ANTIS so anyone who wants pics at CP-TUNNEL, CP-GRAY and the famous Fostoria signals, better go get your photos soon.

Finally, on a different PRR Main Line, the one between Philadelphia and Washington, Rule 562 'C' boards have appeard at interlockings between PRINCE and REGAN, inclusive.  It looks like Amtrak will be re-signaling the "commuter free" zone, possibly for higher Acela Express speeds.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Relay the Hut

Ever since the demise of towers, railroads have needed a dry, climate controlled place to house the relays and other sensitive electronics that run the remotely controlled interlockings.  Since their first appearance in the 1920's and 30's, they have evolved quite a bit over the ensuing century.  This post will attempt to show some general trends in relay hut (or bungalow) design.

The earliest solutions involved building mini-buildings out of brick, cinder blocks or poured concrete.  These buildings would have climate control in the form of small heating plants and often a work area for C&S employees.  The building above at CP-HOLTWOOD on the port road also housed an air plant for the pneumatic switches.

This more modest concrete design was a favorite of the PRR during its 1930's CTC projects.  Here at CP-SHOCKS, the walls are poured slabs.

Moving on to the 1950's it became apparent that building solid walled little buildings might be a little overkill.  While a prefabricated approach was sought, the state of the art still involved a poured concrete foundation even if the walls and roof were of lighter sheet metal.  This hut adjacent to COLA tower was actually a C&S workshop, however it is similar in construction to early CTC huts used by the Santa Fe and others.

Here is a smaller version of the hut at COLA used for the 1950's Buffalo Line CTC project.  The builder's plate pretty much says it all.

The 1950's also brought the pre-fabricated concrete structure made from pre-poured concrete panels.  These examples are from the Reading and Erie railroads respectively.

Concrete mini-huts were also popular on a number of western roads like the SP and ATSF.  Note the raised footings that represented a lower cost innovation over the solid poured foundation and also indicate that these were indeed pre-fab structures.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

To G or not To G

A lot of people like to throw the term "G Head" around as a generic reference for signals that have a circular target surrounding a triangular arrangement of three signal lamps.  Also known as target signal, target color light, V light or tri-light, this style of signal doesn't really have a good name so people tend to gravitate to the professional sounding "G Head" moniker.  However, instead of being a generic term for that style of signal, it is actually a specific model of signal produced by the General Railway Signal corporation.  You can't even say that it was the dominant producer of said signal type as US&S had their own competing products that tended to be purchased by railroads US&S bias towards.  As time went on even more producers entered the market so using G Head without any regard for the manufacturer is not only imprecise, but also inconsiderate to the actual brands involved.  So below is a quick field guide to tri-light signals to help you tell the G Heads from the Generics.

First up is an actual GRS Style G color light signal.  Note the partly rounded lamp housing and the GRS brand spelled out in words.  These were made popular by the New York Central railroad, but were also heavily employed by the Rock Island, MoPac and others. 

US&S responded with a couple of models.  Their first attempt, the Style TR, used a compact, three section lamp housing covered by a single detachable backing plate.  These are becoming quite rare, although Amtrak installed a bunch new at Chicago Union Station in the 1990's.

US&S later updated this style to be more like the GRS G-Head with a single piece lamp house.  Christened the CR-2, it was a favorite of Conrail and other northeastern commuter railroads that were willing t pay more for a brand name.

Of course Safetran couldn't help but make a knockoff.  Dubbed the NR (I think), it did show some innovation by having a split door on the lamp house.  

Of course even at Safetran prices railroads can't be bothered with purchasing large cast iron signals so to accommodate them, Safetram offers a V target configuration for its ubiquitous scallop shell modular signal lamps.   This produces a large gap in the center of the signal target, which is the easiest way to identify this style of hardware from the front.

I mentioned that other suppliers jumped on board back in the 80's and 90's.  This triangular single housing model was made by an outfit in Louisville, KY and was purchased by Amtrak for its 90's color light needs.

A decade later, this boxy LED modular Safetran knockoff is popular on Amtrak related projects throughout New Englande. 

Of course there are a few others in the V arranged modular lamp category, but I think you get the point.  Hopefully you've learned something and will be able to correctly give every style of tri-light signal its due.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Signal Power Save Mode

I am sure that many of you are familiar with "Approach Lit" signals, where the signal lamps only light up when a train is in the block approaching it (or sometimes, in CTC territory, leaving it).  This feature, still employed today, was originally used when block signals were lit by consumable battery power and hung around to conserve bulb life as well as battery power in times that pole line power failed (which was often).  Well it turns out that there is in fact a third option between leaving signals on at full brightness all the time or only lighting them up when a train is approaching and, at least as far as I can tell, it was a Conrail thing.

I first noticed this at CP-103 on the now-Amtrak Hudson Line where one of the 4 approach lit signal heads maintained a low level glow, in this case of the red variety, with the rest remaining completely dark.  

Of course when a train approached they lit up with their full intensity.  Strangely, the southbound masts did not exhibit the same type of power save feature, with all lamps remaining dark.

I thought this was a one off until a few weeks later when I noticed the same effect on the eastbound signal at CP-BLANDON on the former Conrail Reading Line. 

While the Hudson Line was re-signaled in the 1970's or early 1980's, CP-BLANDON was re-signaled in the late 1990's, so this is clearly a feature that was being employed for a number of years.  However it is not all together clear why it is used to selectively.  If I had to guess, the one similarity I noticed between CP-103 and CP-BLANDON was that a power save mode signal was located just past a grade crossing.  The ghostly red light may serve as a visual reminder of the interlocking limits to hi-rail vehicles entering or exiting at said grade crossings.  High rail vehicles and other track cars might not shunt the track circuit and therefore would not light up regular approach lit signals.  A burning red marker light would go a long way to preventing careless Stop signal violations.

Anyway, if anyone knows the true reason for this feature please let me know in the comments.