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Monday, May 31, 2010

10-05-31 PHOTOS: C&O Canal CPLs

The C&O Canal Trail is a 184 mile long National Historic Park that runs between Washington DC and Cumberland, Maryland. It basically consists of the old C&O Canal and its towpath, but the improved surface and gentle gradient has made the park very popular with cyclists. While the subsequent B&O Railroad Main Line followed the route of the canal, it frequently diverged from the actual path of the canal, usually having the Potomac River intervening. However between Point of Rocks, MD and Harpers Ferry the railroad and canal run side by side thus turning your typical bicycle journey into a railfanning opportunity as well. In addition to the Marc/Amtrak Stations at Point of Rocks and Harpers Ferry, there is a large rail yard facility at Brunswick, MD which also serves as a MARC yard and hosts the last active interlocking tower in Maryland.

For this trip I started at Point of Rocks and biked the 12 miles to Harper's Ferry before returning. On the way out I made a stop about 1.5 miles from the start at the Milepost 70 automatic signals at HIGH ROCK and then on my return trip I took some pictures at the Brunswick MARC station (for which it is called the Brunswick Line) and then at East Brunswick interlocking at the east end of the yard.

You can find the full set of photos here which contain a lot more pictures of B&O CPL signals which some people tend to describe as "boring".

Be begin at Point of Rocks around 11am. A quick call to Julie informed me that Amtrak's Train 30, the eastbound Capitol Limited, was on time at Harpers Ferry which meant I should be expecting it soon. This information was confirmed when the dispatcher displayed a Medium Clear signal eastbound on track #1 at POINT OF ROCKS interlocking on the CSX Metropolitan Sub. Visible in the center of this photo is the Point of Rocks Station which sits in between the CSX Metropolitan Sub to Washington DC (right route)and the CSX Old Main Line Sub to Baltimore (left route). Notice that CSX's trademark speed restriction boards are up at the interlocking limits. Also note how the relay cabins are up on stilts due to the propensity of this area to flood.

I hiked a few feet up the right of way to capture t30 as it emerged from the Point of Rocks tunnel. This tunnel was single tracked with a bypass blasted around the rock outcropping way back in the B&O era for clearance reasons. I was lucky enough today to catch T30 wrong railing and thus giving me this cool tunnel shot.

Shortly after T30 had departed the scene I noticed the dispatcher has lined a straight route down the OML for some sort of freight movement. By the time I reached the High Rock automatic signals (a feat that involved crawling across a slick, semi-rotten log across stagnant C&O canal water), that first train had already gone past, however Train 30 passage had uncorked the bottle so to speak and I was gobsmacked when the automatics lit up indicating another eastbound freight train was approaching. Even better was that the track 1 mast was displaying an not-to-common Approach Slow, which uses the yellow tinted 2 o'clock orbital.

I was unsure what signal condition would cause this Approach Slow to persist for such a long period of time, but it did until CSX AC4400 #353 showed up on the head of a long coal train. That CSX had this train wait for T30s passage indicates that the company is at least making an effort to give some priority to Amtrak trains.

AC4400 #55 was the second of the lead locomotives.

The track 2 mast was displating Approach in both directions as the coal train passed by. The High Rock automatics were powered via a 440v feed on a pole line from East Brunswick.

The coal train had a pair of helpers attached including SD40-2 #8449.

And #797. The helpers probably indicate that the train was en route through Baltimore City and the grades on the Baltimore Belt Line which sometimes require helpers for the heaviest coal trains.

The High Rock signals were installed new in the early 1990s with a general resignaling scheme designed to improve the expanding MARC train service. The bi-directional signaling on the Metropolitan Sub allowed MARC trains to weave in and around conflicting CSX freight traffic. These were some of the last new CPLs installed before CSX changed its policy to install Seaboard style color lights on former B&O territory.

Moving on to Brunswick Yard we find a pair of AC4400s (208 and 473) sitting on the layup tracks west of the MARC station platform. 

AC4400 #452 sits on the #3 runner on the north side of the commuter parking lot.

A tall CPL mast signal sits at the end of the track #2 MARC platform at the Brunswick station. This is the home signal for WB interlocking controlled from WB tower, which I profiled back in 2008.

Finally as I was on the home stretch of the bike journey I took another time out to visit the westbound signals at EAST BRUNSWICK interlocking. Due to the placement of its tracks against very steep hillsides there are many places on the former Chessie system where the trees can form a sort of green roof over the tracks.

Upon looking around the other side of the signal I thought I was going to get a hat trick as I saw that the track 1 signal was displaying a Restricting indication for a movement into the yard. I waited around for about 15 minutes, but unfortunately no train showed up. While biking back I eventually found the problem. The train had gone into emergency just a mile shy of the yard and the conductor was having to walk the train to search out the cause. 

EAST BRUNSWICK interlocking also had up a pair of speed restriction boards in yet another example of fine CSX maintenance practices. 

Ironically this same situation with a freight train waiting at East Brunswick to get into the yard would be encountered just a few short weeks later when I embarked on a Train 29 trip to Chicago so stay tuned for my CSX Freight Spectacular in two weeks with probably a another METRA tower filler next week profiling UD tower in Joliet.

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