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Sunday, July 26, 2009

09-07-26 PHOTOS: C&O Survey 2009 Part 1

The last installment of my four part epic Railfan trip to Chicago in 2009 will cover my sleeping car trip on Amtrak's Cardinal in July of 2009. Due to CSX's retarded decision to start axing down the perfectly serviceable C&O era signals on the famous C&O Main Line through Kentucky and West Virginia I considered this part of the trip to be the real priority as I would take advantage of the rear placement of the sleeping car to try to document all of the remaining classic C&O signals on the route.

I lucked out is not having any private cars attached to the train, but in a moment of pure stupidity I failed to see how dirty the rear door windows were when I had a clear chance to clean them before Indy so combined with an overcast day most of the photos I took came out somewhat muddy. Fortunately there was no rain to screw things up even further.

Now I can easily assume that few people here are interested in looking at hundreds of pictures of signals, even if they are classic C&O signals, so I'll try to stick to some of the non-signaling related high points of the route. The C&O main was the other was heavy tonnage route across the Alleghenies designed to accomidate coal and ore trains traveling between the mines in West VA and the ports at Toledo and Norfolk. As such it has much better examples of railroad engineering than one finds on the B&O route used by the Capitol Limited. Unfortunately the C&O did not have the deep pockets of the PRR and the terrain of its route is a tad more imposing so the Cardinal does not enjoy the same high speeds as seen on the Pennsylvanian. For anyone who has ridden the Pennsylvanian the best comparison is 200 miles composed of what one encounters between Huntington and Tyrone.

The complete set of about 400 photos can be found here and covers the like from MP 513 in Catlettsburg, KY to MP 498 past Barboursville, WV, MP 458 at Charleston, WV to MP 398 near Covington, VA and finally between MP178 and MP150 on the Washington Sub near Gordonsville, VA. The photos are in roughly Chronological order, but between MP 413 and 409 there are a bunch of photos out of order due to the time stamps getting screwed up.

Another worthwhile reference for anyone who cares is this Ma href="">list of C&O signal rules. They are roughly equivalent to what one sees under NORAC, but have several big exceptions. Also you can follow along via the 2005 CSX Huntington East Division ETT downloadable here.

I am going to begin at KV CABIN in Kenova, WV. The C&O liked to call its tower "Cabins" and the moniker has persisted to the present day. KV CABIN was one of two interlockings on the Kanawha Sub that retained its pneumatically worked switch machines until it was re-signaled in 2010. Here in 2009 we see the 6-track wide eastbound C&O signal gantry with two three head entrance signals and one two head exit signal. The C&O almost exclusively made use of US&S style N single unit color light signals (think what you see on the Flushing Line) with large "Elephant Ear" backing plates.

I quickly switched to video mode due to the low light in order to capture the model A-5 pneumatic switch machines that powered most of the switches in the interlocking. Our train was only about 20 minutes late at this point and the time was about 6:45am in late July.

A few miles down the road we have the Huntington, WV station which features a gen-u-ine Amshack station. In 2006 I remember food being onloaded here for the Diner Lite cafe, but I don't know if that is still a standard practice.

 Next up was the other pneumatic interlocking, DK CABIN. Here we can see the facing crossover complete with silver painted A-5 machines and a ground mounted N-3 dwarf signal.

More A-5's, the still standing DK CABIN to the left and in the yard lots of coal.

Westbound C&O signal bridge at GUYANDOTTE with a bunch of Darth Vaders standing ominously behind. The track 1 signal is cleared for an approaching coal train. You can see the difference between the lamps needed for the C&O signal aspects and the Seaboard style aspects CSX is trying to standardize on.

For the next 6 miles the C&O has 3 main tracks and our train has been routed onto track 3. This is the fast portion of the route with speeds varying between 60 and 80mph. The line follows the generally flat terrain along the Ohio River, the Teyas Valley and New River before Charleston. Here is the 3-track signal gantry at MP 500. This is 500 miles from downtown Richmond, VA.

The large interlocking complex at BARBOURSVILLE is where the Logan Sub splits off. Here we see the large eastbound C&O signal gantry complete with three sets of exit signals. The C&O was a big believer in exit signals as they helped eliminate the need for its rather awkward 3-head Medium Approach signal (R/Y/Y). About a month before my trip I was tipped off to the dire straight of the signaling by a photo on

Between MP 483 and Montgomery the line has already been re-signaled which provides an opportunity for one to get some food from the dining car without missing anything in the way of signaling. On this trip I got done early and went back to the window in time to watch one of the few patches of sun I got on the trip. Here we are looking back at the Charleston, WV station and downtown area.

 Here are some new automatic signals next to I-77 east of Charleston. The one glaring flaw in the Seaboard signal aspect system is the need to have three heads to display the Y/R/G Approach Slow signal. This is because the Y/Y aspect is used for Advance Approach instead of flashing Y.

East end of the CABIN CREEK Wye showing off the new signals and an electric substation on the right.

OMFG The Sun! Don't get used to it, it's the last you'll see for several hundred miles. Westbound signals at CHELYAN interlocking with some ground level clouds up on the mountain.

Mountains, low clouds, coal train, yep, we're in West Virginia. EE PULLOUT interlocking as the C&O leaves the 60 and 70mph zone behind and enters the 30-50mph zone.

The station stop at Montgomery, WV reminds you that we are entering the New River Subdivision, the signal rules have changed and we are safely back in C&O signal territory with this C&O trademark lattice cantilever mast. The Amtrak station is well landscaped, but somewhat light on services or other infrastructure.

Now that we are back in C&O signal territory I wanted to point out what exactly is motivating CSX to rip out perfectly functional C&O colour light signals. Unlike position or searchlights there is no inherent cost disadvantage to these signals that would make them obsolete, except possibly for the cast iron construction. The line is fully CTC so that is not the issue either. The problem is 1) the signaling hardware was installed in the 1960's and is all relay based and 2) all the signal state and CTC commands are transmitted on an old school pole line that all the quality of service of a 1960's long distance call to Nebraska.

In this photo of GU CABIN you can see the pole line feeding the interlocking relay hut with an arm thick bundle of discrete wires that transmit interlocking state to the distant signals. Also in the bundle is the CTC code line that transmits state information to the dispatcher and receives commands using pulse code modulation and finally there is a pair of 440V lines that provide power to the entire signaling system. Look for the pole line as I post other photos, its really quite fascinating.

Automatic #411 for track #2 only on its own little cantilever.

MA CABIN is no longer an interlocking or control point, but the relay hut is still signed as such. In the background you can see the buoys on the lake that keep boaters away from the Gauley Junction dam.

At MA Cabin the main line splits with one track hugging a separate side of the famous New River Gourge. In my three trips on the cardinal I have each time ended up on track 1.

If you take out your Spring/Summer 2010 Amtrak Timetable you might recognize this bridge from the cover. This is the track 1 bridge over the New River at Hawks Nest.There's evidently a vantage point from one of the nearby bluffs. 

Hawks Nest is in fact the name of the locality as clearly labeled along the RoW.

Don't blink because just a few miles later is the world famous New River Gourge Bridge. Until recently the longest single span steel arch bridge in the world at 1700 feet, it is to West Virginia what the Old Man of The Mountain was to New Hampshire (only much more durable).

The railroad crossing under the bridge was used by the old switchback road that would bring traffic down to river level then back up the other side of the gourge. Total trip time was about 45 minutes the old way vs 2 minutes the new way. The interlocking in the background is WE FAYETTE.

The other track re-joins us at SEWELL interlocking, just in time for a single track portion. Between here and Clifton Forge the mighty C&O main will be periodically reduced to a single track.

Around a bend in the river we reach Thurmond, WV which hosts one of those indestructible poured concrete C&O coaling towers dating from 1922.

Downtown Thurmond has seen better days, but on the plus side it is a National Historic Landmark.

Yes, that IS the Thurmond Post Office, Zip Code 25936

Here is the Thurmond Amtrak station, a popular place for railfans. Thurmond is only 10 miles from the next station at Prince and therefore is only a flag stop. The station is popular with hikers looking to get off the train and immediately start backpacking the Gourge.

I should mention that there are lots of slide fences on the route.

The Piney Creek Sub joins the main at PRINCE interlocking.

Prince Amtrak station is one of the few surviving 1930's C&O passenger stations notable for the classy C&O font. Google up some pics of the interior, its been remarkably preserved.

Departing Prince with a CSX coal train coming off the Piney Creek Sub.

That same coal train led by CSX AC4400 #570.

The two models of C&O cantilever are on display at the QUINNIMONT control point. On the left is the long reach model with the sparse set of thick steel bars and wide stance base. On the right is the short reach variety with a lattice structure.

Another well maintained short reach cantilever at CAMP.

West End of the Meadow Creek yard.

Another cantilever hiding under the I-64 bridge at SANDSTONE. When I was on the train in 2006 I was lucky enough to catch an approach medium lined up on the signal.

CW CABIN may still host an abandoned interlocking tower, but the pneumatic switch machines were removed within a year of my 2006 trip.

Crossing over at T00L CAR in anticipation of the Hinton Station platform.

At Hinton locals were out to greet the train. I'm assuming its one of the few things to do for entertainment in No Bars Country. (Can you hear me now? NO! Oh, and there's not an app for that)

Somebody's home from something.

Looking back we see the 3571 automatic along with an old potable water stand for servicing passenger trains. The speed restriction on the sign is par for the course on the old C&O.

Alright in the interest of browser load time sanity I am going to have to cut this off and declare it to be the end of Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2.

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