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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

09-05-12 PHOTOS: Capitol Limited Dreams

Over the last few months I posted a series of photos from my trip out to Pittsburgh last year along the old PRR Main Line and then from my travels around the city. Well now it's time to return back east and for this leg of the journey I took Amtrak's Capitol Limited which with its Superliner equipment provides a rear facing railfan window that allows for the sort of line surveys I enjoy doing. The Cap is so good at this that I have actually surveyed this line about 4 or 5 times before so I really don't feel the need to bore everyone by highlighting the same old B&O CPL signals again so I'll just keep things short and save everyone some time.

The survey can be found here arranged chronologically for easy following along.

Catching the Capitol Limited in Pittsburgh is no easy feat as its scheduled departure is about 5:15 in the morning. As such I had to get up sometime around 3:30 and catch the very first morning bus that ran downtown on Forbes. Fortunately my chariot of the masses arrived and deposited me a few blocks from Penn Station with enough spare time for some photos. Here we see the west end of the Pittsburgh station platform with the old CP-WEST PITT relay box taken shortly before the Cap arrived.

The trainset for the eastbound Pennsylvanian was waiting patiently under the trainshed for its 8am departure.

Departing Pittsburgh the Capitol Limited takes the Bloom Connector to the old B&O P&W Sub, which was the original route of the B&O between Pittsburgh and New Castle. The line is overland and twisty and for many years the B&O retained traffic rights over the generally superior Pittsburgh and Lake Erie route. After CSX purchased the P&LE in the early 90's almost all of their traffic shifted to the P&LE route leaving the P&W to eventually be leased off to two short lines and the signaling removed. Anyway, even back in B&O days the road used the P&LE main line between McKeeysport and Braddock, PA and to this day the old P&LE flavor remains evident for anyone bothering to look out the back of the train.

The old P&LE route consists of four back to back interlockings the first of which is BRADDOCK where the P&W curves away from the P&LE route. The P&LE line will cross to the far bank of the Monongahela over a bridge that has always been single track as in P&LE days this was the far southern end of its route and didn't warrant a second track. Between 2003 and 2005 the interlocking was re-build to provide a straight route for trains on the P&LE while moves to/from the P&W had to diverge. Also about that time the 2-track P&W was reduced to a single bi-directional track and the nearby GLENNWOOD tower was closed.

Here my train makes the diverging movement from the single P&W track onto P&LE Track 1 at BRADDOCK interlocking. BRADDOCK is of a double ladder configuration and also note the rust on the second P&W track as it is now used to store surplus "coke express" hopper cars.

Next up in DEMMLER interlocking which provides access to the west end of Demmler Yard, which was the P&LE's main yard in this area directly serving the USS Edgar J. Thompson steel mill. This interlocking is a full crossover with yard lead and hosts a P&LE signal gantry at each end with traditional searchlight signals.

At the other end of Demmler Yard is RIVERTON interlocking with another full crossover and yard leads. It is a popular railfan spot and notable for the unique three-mast cantilever on the west end covering both main tracks and a yard lead. Unfortunately I just saw a photo indicating that the westbound mast signals are being replaced by a new cantilever despite being in very good condition. Let's hope that the rest of the searchlights at RIVERTON are not under threat of replacement.

Here my train takes a diverging route from track 1 to track 2.

You never know what is around to suddenly appear out of the fog when railfanning. Seconds after having passed the westbound signals at RIVERTON I passed a special Amtrak shop move from Bear, DE to Beech Grove, IN consisting of a P42, 5 800 series P40's and two Amfleet I's. What amazingly good luck!!

Next up is McKEEYSPORT interlocking. This was once the terminus of the short lived PATrain commuter service from the old B&O Pittsburgh Station, but today the interlocking only has a single switch on track #2 for a former P&LE branch down the Monongahela river valley. The P&LE/B&O main line hangs a left and takes off down the Youghiogheny River valley. Hang in to the end of the video because CSX recently replaced a searchlight bracket mast at the east end of the plant with brand new searchlight mast signals!!! Ugh, why can't CSX be consistent!

The next interlocking is SINNS and is the former division post between the PL&E and B&O Keystone subdivision. Until recently that meant the change from searchlights and Rule 261 to CPL's and Rule D-251. I lucked out twice on this little string of videos as first I caught the Amtrak shop move and then two interlockings later I managed to capture a CSX freight on the adjacent track with the Sinns defect detector sounding off for my own train. All in all it is one of the best videos I have ever shot at least from a compositional point of view. XD

Monday, May 11, 2009

09-05-11: PHOTOS: 47 Library

If your town is named Loafer's Hollows you might have a little problem with civic pride. I mean I would think residents would be hesitant to list their address on web forms let alone organize a town celebration of 100 years of Loafing. Fortunately there are steps one can take to remedy such a situation. The first is to build the first library in your area and then rename your town after it, the second would be to obtain convenient access to a nearby metropolitan downtown via a fast and efficient rail transportation.

That is pretty much the story of the Pittsburgh Light Rail's 47L, Library line that runs from Washington Junction to the namesake terminus at Library, PA. Last May after my epic survey of PRR Main Line signaling I didn't just teleport home, but instead hung out with a friend at CMU and set out to cover the 47L route. Previously on 24 my series of railfan adventures I took my first extensive PAT trip making the 1 zone loop between the 42S via Beechbiew and the 47S via Overbrook. This time I wanted to ride the 47L because I discovered that it had been essentially unmodified from the days of PCC cars, complete with trolley wire and wayside block signals.

Also covered in this trip was a touristy side trip with my friend up and down the famous Pittsburgh inclined planes as well as a Wikipedia inspired visit to the steepest street in the world, Canton Avenue.

You can find the full set of photos at the usual location, but this time you have your choice of alphabetical and chronibetical order.

We begin with the University of Pittsburgh's steam plant which unlike most district heating schemes, still receives hopper cars of coal instead of some wussy fuel like natural gas. I commend Pitt's commitment to the industrial revolution.

Adjacent to the steam plant and located under the Schenley Bridge is the former CSX EAST SCHENLEY interlocking on what used to be the P&W Sub. This is the original B&O route between Pittsburgh and New Castle that winds it's way through the hills and vales of western Pennsylvania. A more direct route became available to CSX in 1993 when it bought the P&LE railroad and used their heavy duty main line along the banks of the Ohio and Beaver rivers to reach New Castle. The mostly single track P&W line was sold to a pair of short lines around 2007 and had most of its signaling system removed except for a few miles here on the east end which is the route of Amtrak's Capitol Limited between the former PRR Station downtown and the B&O main line to Washington. Currently the track is owned by the Allegheny Valley railroad, but might still be dispatched by CSX.

Here we see the eastbound CPL mast signal and some AEI scanners.

One reason the signal system was torn out was due to the ancient pole line communications system which transmits track circuit status between logic points. The relay logic CTC interlockings probably date from the 1960's.

The westbound side of the interlocking supports a hansom B&O CPL mast. The Approach Slow (2 o'clock) and Slow Approach Slow (4 o'clock) orbitals are for the Amtrak connection from FIELD interlocking to CP-BLOOM on the PRR Main Line.

Between this interlocking and the connection to CP-BLOOM is the Schenley Tunnel, which runs under the high ridge in the center of the Pittsburgh wedge. The PRR Main uses a deep rock cut that passes over the west end of this tunnel. There is a 15mph speed restriction through the tunnel which does not help the Capitol Limited. It's somewhat ironic that the Cap passes through here as I was forced to catch a 4:30am bus to get downtown just to pass by a few hundred yards from where I caught the bus!!

Anyway, after EAST SCHENLEY interlocking I took the 42S out to the Coast Ave stop to walk the short distance to Canton Avenue. This is no joking the steepest public street in the world with an grade of 37% The often cited steepest Baldwin Street in New Zealand maxes out at 35%, while San Francisco's steepest is a mere 31%.

The Belgian blocks that pave most of the incline are set at an angle to provide a toothed texture for extra traction. Here a local driver descends the steep grade.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

09-05-09 PHOTOS: PRR Main Line Survey 2009 - Part 3

Previously on the PRR Main Line survey 2009 we traveled from Philadelphia to Harrisburg on Amtrak's Harrisburg line, then transfered onto Norfolk Southern's Pittsburgh line for the trip up the Juniata River to the city of Altoona where we then treated to a look inside ALTO tower.

So finally we come to the third, final and climactic part of my trip on the PRR Main Line between Philly and Pittsburgh last May where we will battle up the east slope of the Allegheny front via the world famous Horseshoe curve, crest the summit at Gallitzin, head down the western slope to the city of Johnstown, cut through the mountains along the Conemaugh River then race through the homes of Fred Rogers, Rolling Rock beer and US Steel on the final road to Pittsburgh.

The photos can be found in Chronibetical order here so its easy for you to follow along and look at some of the other non-featured photos. Also a 1990's Conrail ETT of the line can be found here, also to help with following along.

So as we leave Altoona we pass through CP-SLOPE, which anyone who read my ALTO tower essay will remember is remote control from there. It is in service only on 1 and 2 track and in the middle is a popular railfan bridge. You can already see the grade as we begin to battle up the east slope.

The asshats at NS have been on a bit of a Position Light removal binge on the Eastern Slope. It wasn't even part of a re-signaling effort :-( Here is a particularly ungainly looking cantilever at MP 239.

The MP 241 signal bridge was the one you used to be able to see from the Horseshoe Curve. I was lucky to get some good photos of it before it was replaced last summer. You would have thought they would have tried to keep this on intact due to its historical significance or at least solicited for donations to achieve the same end.

This is the change in elevation around the Horseshoe Curve. Pretty impressive.

It was a pretty good crowd in the park and we did our part by being roughly on time. A GP-9 replaced the K-4 guardian that stood there a few decades ago. Not sure what that little hut trackside is. I will admit that taking pictures out the back of the train tends to break down on the Horseshoe Curve.

If you remember that elevation difference picture a few back my train is now at that point with the MP 242 signal bridge, also probably replaced by now.

MG tower was built during the war to increase capacity on the curve. The tower design is unique today, but mimicked several others on the East Slope built around the turn of the 20th century. It was closed in 1994 as the segment between ALTO and C towers was changed from the old block system to CTC.

09-05-09 PHOTOS: PRR Main Line Survey 2009 - Part 2

And so begins Part 2 of my epic rear vestibule journey across Pennsylvania on the former PRR Main Line. Part 1 from ZOO to STATE can be seen at this previous post. PART two will cover CP-HARRIS to ALTO tower inclusive.

The raw photo set arranged by name for interlockings and milepost for block signals and sights can be found on this website.

So we leave Amtrak territory and enter into the former Conrail and now NS territory at CP-HARRIS. Up until about 1990 CP-HARRIS was actually an Amtrak interlocking controlled by HARRIS tower. This was a holdover from the time when freight trains running on the east side of the Susquehanna came up from the electrified main to the south through the Harrisburg station and then westward to Pittsburgh. After Conrail dumped electrified operations around 1981 it began to shift its New York terminal freight traffic to the Reading/Lehigh Valley route via Reading. The route was not only faster it avoided having to deal with Amtrak notoriously high trackage rates.

As a result HARRIS interlocking was in a somewhat awkward position being operated by Amtrak and optimized for "PRR" route traffic. Around 1990 Conrail implemented a project to take over control of HARRIS and re-align the routings to better connect with the former Reading Lebanon Valley branch, now known as the Harrisburg Line. Here we can see the NS Harrisburg Line taking the straight route, while the single connecting track to the Amtrak station branches off to the right.

Conrail chose to install Michigan Central style small target searchlight signals, which was the style at the time, and put them on a rather economical signal gantry derived from an old PRR catenary support. CP-HARRIS is also the southern end of the Harrisburg yard complex.

Just past automatic signals 107 we find the harrisburg fuel pad and engine terminal.

The entire PRR Main Line was rebuilt and re-signaled in the late 1980's, shifting the line from a 3-track operation with the original manned PRR block towers to a 2-track operation with full CTC. In most cases the original signals were kept, but at CP-ROCKVILLE this brand new 4-track PRR PL gantry was installed for westbound movements.

More recently the 3rd track was removed from the ROCKVILLE bridge due to problems with wind blowing double stack containers into the river below. The eastbound mast signals were re-configured, but NS was nice enough to replace the 3-track PL cantilever with these brand new PRR PL mast units.

Past the famous Rockville Bridge we arrive at CP-BANKS where the Enola Branch to Enola Yard splits off. Here is the eastbound PRR PL gantry with paint that not completely peeling off.

The eastbound signal at CP-CANNON is displaying a restricting aspect as we had just passed an intermodal train. This is about where the main line will leave the Susquehanna river valley for the Juniata River valley.

09-05-09 PHOTOS: PRR Main Line Survey 2009 - Part 1

Last May I took another trip on Amtrak's Pennsylvanian between Philly and Pittsburgh. Like my previous trip I bought a business class ticket so I could have access to the rear railfan window. This time around I had much more sunlight available, better weather and an implied verbal consent to stand in the rear vestibule. As a result I managed to take a picture of EVERY signal between ZOO interlocking and PITT interlocking at MP 342. I also took pictures of other points of interest as well as the trains that we passed and that passed us.

The trip was a wonderful experience and for an overall cost of $60 a great value as well. I highly recommend taking business class when it is the last car on a non-NEC train. The "Railfan Tax" of $20 is much cheaper than most videos, excursion tickets or even books.

The my PRR Main Line survey resulted in a collection of over 600 photos so I am going to have to split things up. Part one covers the Amtrak Harrisburg Line from ZOO to STATE, next we move onto the NS Pittsburgh Line from CP-HARRIS to ALTO and finally Part 3 will cover ALTO to CP-PITT.

The entire set can be viewed here Landmarks line stations and such are arranged by milepost as are block signals. Interlockings and any trains encountered are given their standard names.

Starting out we have ZOO interlocking still in about a month away from having the K section transfered to SEPTA control. The new signals are in place, but still wired into the massive 230 lever US&S Model 14 interlocking machine in ZOO tower. Here is the new cantilever mast carrying the 30R and 32R signals.

Old and new at the famous "K ladder" double slips. 70L and 68L signals on the 36th St connector remain original equipment, the 54L and 64L have been replaced pending transfer to SEPTA.

The 36th St connector joins the Main Line proper at under the twin cantilever mast holding the 80L and 86R signals.

At the JO section of ZOO we can see how the NY-Pittsburgh Subway was built with the straight route through the interlocking. Trains from 30th St have to take the slower diverging route. This was done to speed express passenger trains such as the Broadway Limited.

STILES interlocking was installed with the 1994 Overbrook Shoppes Project which relocated Main Line track 4 from the VALLEY flyover track to the space previously used by Bellmont yard. STILES is remote ZOO tower.

PAXON interlocking is located under the aging VALLEY flyover providing a access to the east end of Overbrook Shoppes. This track had previously been used to fly passenger trains over the busy freight yard here as in PRR times the center tracks were used by freight and the outside tracks by passenger trains. Even in 1994 the Flyover was getting into increasingly bad shape and moving trains off of it not only enabled the Overbrook Shoppes project, but also any need to radically repair the flyover. Today the flyover is only used by outbound R6 Cynwyd trains at 15mph.

Silverliner III #234 with a pair of SII's hang out in the Overbrook Shop yard.

WOODBINE interlocking provides access to the west end of the Overbrook Shoppes. Like PAXON it is R-ZOO and not to be confusing it is located next to what remains of the Woodbine section of OVERBROOK interlocking. Where the yard track now takes off was the former route of Main Line tk 4 which sandwitched a freight yard in the middle between here and the flyover.

OVERBROK tower still soldiers on after 83 years in service.