Search This Blog

Saturday, June 30, 2007

07-06-30 PHOTOS: Last Days of BRIGHTON PARK

Back in July I took an Amtrak trip out to Chicago for the express purpose of taking photos at Brighton Park Crossing. For those of you who do not know Brighton Park was rather special. As far as I know it was the last instance of mechanically operated semaphore signals on an active railroad in the United States (there is still a crew operated semaphore diamond crossing signal in British Columbia). Brighton Park technically wasn't even an interlocking. It was a non-interlocked crossing at grade manned by a switchtender. Right now it consisted of 10 diamonds. The two track former Alton RR line used by Amtrak and Metra Heritage Corridor trains and CN freights crosses a two track NS main, former the PRR Panhandle Division, a two track CSX main formerly the B&OCT and a single track NS industrial spur. If you think this is complex, it's nothing compared with what Brighton Park looked like back in the day.

The switchtender at Brighton Park operated a number of semaphore signals mounted on a bracket mast and a regular mast. The blades were directly operated from the mechanical lever frame in the tender's shanty via a system of pipelines and cranks. All trains approaching Brighton Park had to come to a full stop. The tender would then signal permission to occupy the crossing via the semaphores. Each semaphore represented a specific track and direction. The tender was also responsible for lining the switches north of the crossing for NS trains to cross the CSX main to then get to the industrial spur via a diagonal track.

Here is some more information about Brighton Park at the Chicago Rail Junctions page, and some additional photos courtesy John Roma.

Anyway, the reason Brighton Park hung around for so long in this archaic configuration was because the three railroads involved could never agree on who would pick up the tab for interlocking the crossing. Furthermore, no railroad wanted to cede dispatching to one of the others and risk getting screwed over priority wise. The tender at Brighton Park routed the trains on a FCFS basis, except for scheduled Amtrak and Metra trains which were given priority.

Eventually Norfolk Southern was responsible for the rebuild and took over dispatching the crossing. The other driving factor was that the Brighton Park diamonds needed replacing and the whole crossing had sunk down into the roadbed over the past 70 or 80 years and needed to be completely re-graded.

I decided to hit up Brighton Park early Sunday Morning after staying in a hotel with Pigs in the Loop. We got out there around 9 or 10 am and the weather couldn't have been better. We were not alone. A spike of railfans had already gathered, some driving in from as far as Toronto. There were also construction crews doing their thing for the July 6th rebuild date.

Anyway, I should probably cut the chit chat and cut to the photos.

You can find them all here:

And those too lazy to click around on their own can enjoy a guided tour.

First we have Brighton Park as seen from above from the adjacent CTA Orange Line. New cantilever signal is in the foreground next to the CTA substation. The BP shanty and semaphore bracket is behind. You can see the diamonds and an NS freight waiting for clearance to occupy the crossing.

I got there just in the nick of time to see this Amtrak Lincoln service train with P42DC #122 rumble across the diamonds. I am kicking myself for not getting some video of this.

After the Amtrak cleared up NS C40-9W #8911 was granted entry to the crossing...

...via the semaphores on the simple mast.

The Brighton Park mast was easily accessible and stood next to the entrance signal on the Alton line. Brighton Park was literally a black hole in the signaling system and trains on the Alton needed signals to re-enter the land of CTC.

Here is the Brighton Park mast with the Alton westbound semaphore showing next to the permanent stop signal.

Here is a picture of the cranks and pipelines which operated the semaphore mast.

Shame those condos in the background couldn't have been built sooner. They would have made excellent railfan housing.

With the trains out of the way, the heavy equipment could get back to work dragging track panels into their staging areas.

The new diamonds were also ready to go.

Of course the truly iconic part of Brighton Park was the semaphore bracket mast and the switchtender's shanty.

The shanty had definitely seen better days and I'm sure the tender just loved going to the bathroom on cold Chicago nights/days. Here you can see the semaphore pipelines sticking out of the front of the shanty.

People said the shanty was going to be preserved, but several months after the closure the shanty was burned to the ground by vagrants, the lever frame being the only thing left. Here is a view from the large balast pile also pre-positioned for the rebuild. 

Here is a close up of working end of the bracket mast.

 Brighton Park has other interesting tidbits such as two B&O CPL dwarf automatic block signals on the former B&OCT line. One bit of good news is that the 67 CPL bracket signal just south of the crossing was not targeted in the rebuild and still stands.

My luck held out as a former CNW C40-8W #6715 leading another UP GE headed up a southbound intermodal train. At this point I was trying to get a video of the blade dropping, but the tender was being a jackass and would do it at random times during the passage, not after the train cleared. The railfans who had been there said it was intentional just to be a dick. 

CNW unit through the crossing. You can see the pronounced dip the tracks take over the diamonds.

Here is the south entrance to the crossing, a juxtaposition of new and old. The massive 4-track cantilever is the new and the stop boards and N-63 signal along with the whole shanty and semaphores are the old.

In recent years I have had very bad luck finding out that certain iconic signaling locations have been ruined before ever getting the chance to get out and photograph them properly. While Brighton Park may have met an untimely demise at least I can give myself a pat on the back for getting my ass in gear and arranging a trip to see it just in time.

Parting shot of the tail end of the eastbound intermodal clearing the crossing.

No comments:

Post a Comment