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Friday, July 30, 2010

10-07-30 PHOTOS: Cumberland Roadtrip

Last July I had to take a trip out to Cumberland, MD to see someone about a horse and that provided a wonderful excuse to get out and take some pictures at some of the well known railfan locations long the CSX Cumberland Sub. You might remember these locations from such trips as CSX Freight Spectacular and my B&O Survey 2009. This time I was actually going to put some boots on the ground and see these locations up close and personal.

Unfortunately I didn't get much if any actual train action until I hit Cumberland so anyone who tunes in for trains instead of signals and scenery do not have to read more. For those of you who are still interested my road trip included stops at the very popular Magnolia CPLs, the Paw Paw CPLs, Green Spring interlocking, the abandoned tower at Patterson Creek and finally the railfan bridge at Mexico. The first two locations are situated on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's Magnolia Cutoff which was built around 1914 and literally cut off several miles of curvy Main Line track that followed some twisty bends in the Potomac River.

Blah blah blah you can see the full set of photos here.

We begin with the CPLs at MAGNOLIA which are located just east of the Bridge-Tunnel-Bridge complex where the Potomac takes a sharp dip the the south forcing the B&O Main Line to cross into Maryland for the duration of the 1600 foot Graham Tunnel. While the day wasn't too hot, it was still the height of summer and the sun was nearly straight overhead. The intense light, heat and humidity not only made the photos somewhat bright and washed out, they also were affecting the quantum structure of matter causing it to distort in the same way one sees with gravitational anomalies in Star Trek.

You can see the effect here in this telephoto shot of the Graham Tunnel across the first Potomac River bridge. It is hard to emphasize how huge that tunnel is although it is still not able to accommodate double stacks due to the arched roof profile.

In the heyday of the B&O both the cutoff and the old alignment were in use and the line had three or four tracks between West Cumbo interlocking near Martinsburg and Mexico interlocking at the eastern end of Cumberland Yard. On either side of the cutoff signaling was mounted on bridges that spanned all the tracks. On the Magnolia Cutoff, which was built as a 2 track RoW, signaling came to be mounted on bi-directional bracket masts, of which a pair was installed at Magnolia. The eponymous Magnolia CPLs are a bit less impressive when you meet them in person as opposed to how they appear on Wikipedia due to the fact that they are approach lit and in this sort of sunlight tend to blend into the background.

Up close the brackets are clearly in need of buckets and buckets of Rustoleum and it was no big surprise when photos appeared last month of new CPL masts getting ready to replace the westbound bracket. It is for these reasons that it is so important to document this classic infrastructure before it is gone forever.

Even tho the Cuttoff and its CPLs are configured for bi-directional CTC, the ultimate fate of these signals will be sealed by the pole line that still transmits signal state and electrical power. Old school pole lines are a big ticket maintenance item that also have serious reliability ramifications as well. The current state of the art in signal power and communications is to transmit block state through coded track circuits in the rails and deliver electric power either through a utility grid connection or via solar panels and batteries. The old state of the art was a classic multi armed telegraph pole carrying a multitude of single strand copper wire.

These copper wires would transmit single bit state information between the signaling locations such as if the local signal was at Stop and Proceed it would cut voltage to the state wire to the next signaling location triggering an Approach indication. Also included would be some sort of code line to transmit information to any interlockings via pulse code modulation as well as a 400-480v AC power line that would be appropriately rectified at the signal sites to light the signals and power the relays and track circuits.

Here we see the eastbound Magnolia bracket with its wrist thick umbilical of copper signal wires stretching from the telegraph pole to the relay boxes. The box hanging below the crossarm is most likely a power transformer changing the 440V power feed to a lower voltage for consumption by the equipment in the relay box. You can see the difference in the insulators between the ones for signal state and the ones for power supply.

Looking west along the pole line we can see how only a small number of wires are needed for a modern two-track CTC setup. Back in the day before modern communications this pole would have been crammed full of telephone wires connecting not only lineside booths, but also railroad towers and offices stretching hundreds of miles in either direction. Keep in mind that before such things as the power grid and public switched telephone network existed the railroads had to roll their own.

Here we can see the top of the westbound bracket. The sheer quantity of rust is one indication as to why this unit may be marked for replacement.

Here we see the eastbound bracket from the rear showing the pole line and its subsequent journey up and over the mountain that the Graham tunnel bores through. Is it any wonder that pole lines are near the top of a C&S department's capitol improvement list?

Magnolia is also the site of a pole line utility power feed. The power for the pole line's 440v single phase supply has to come from somewhere and this is one of those places. The power comes from a utility pole, through a meter, through some sort of converter box that probably changes the frequency to 100hz or something and then onto the pole line's feeders.

Moving on to the next location we find the CPL bracket mast at PAW PAW. Unlike Magnolia, this signal governs eastbound trains only as the Carothers Tunnel and a curve blocks the sight lines in the westbound direction.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

10-07-03 PHOTOS: Philly walk-A-Thon

I am sure those who read this enjoy rail transportation and as anyone who has attended my Mid-Winter trips knows in Philly there are many different modes to choose from. However I am also not afraid of physical activity and again as anyone who has attended a Mid-Winter trip knows you can double your fun in Philly with a bit of walking. Last July 3rd was an absolutely marvelous day, sunny and not to hot, it proved the perfect opportunity to get in a bit of railfanning with Chuchubob and later hang out with a friend to take in the various Welcome America 4th of July festivities that were in full swing that day. What started out as a loose plan to head out to the Route 11-CSX Darby diamond crossing eventually morphed into an epic voyage around University City.

Part one of the plan worked out well as Bob and I caught a Rt 11 out to Darby and proceeded to photograph the diamond crossing. I then walked a few blocks to fully document DARBY interlocking and its CPL signals. We then caught an 11 back to the Woodland trolley depot where we disembarked for more photos. Then, instead of getting back on the trolley we walked across the Grey's Ferry Bridge to Grey's Ferry to get some photos around the railfan hotspot over the old B&O tunnels and even tried to get close to RG tower and the CSX yard. After that we returned via the University Ave Bridge before walking along the NEC past Arsenal Tower, then up the SEPTA line past University City station and Franklin Field before getting back to 30th St station.

At that point I switched Bob with a non-railfan friend and we walked back down to his Brothers place also in Grey's Ferry via the new bike path along the Schuylkill river (and happily adjacent to the CSX Philly Sub), then walked back up to 22nd and Market, took the MFL out to Spring Garden (via Frankford Terminal d.d b.b) and then walked down Delaware Ave to Penns Landing where we good pictures of the USS Bulkeley (DDG-84) which was in port for the holiday. Then to kill time before the fireworks we walked down to about 9th and South to find a non-crowded cheese steeak place, then back to Independence Mall for some Frisbee then finally back to Penn's Landing for the fireworks before I walked back to 8th and Market to catch PATCO home.

All in all by the end of the day I had walked a total of 11 miles and to visit all of the above locations I only needed two SEPTA fares. Just goes to show what one can accomplish with a little physical activity in place of either a car or transit day pass.

Well for those of you who are interested here is the full log of my travels in chronabetical order. For those who prefer to be spoon fed their information here is a narrated highlight reel.

Having taken us from Center City SEPTA K-Car #9026 departs westbound towards the Darby loop across the CSX Philly Sub.

 The 2x1 diamonds were updated a few years ago replacing the standard type of diamond with flange riding crossings. This eliminates the maintenance intensive flangeways on the mainline CSX track at the expense of the SEPTA trolleys having to take the crossing at low speed.

Another disadvantage is that with all the weight of the vehicle being applied through the flanges, they begin to slowly eat into the railhead which may or may not cause problems with metal fatigue in the future.

Another awesome feature of the crossing are the pedestrian walkway crossing gates which were made from recycled GRS semaphore signals. This was a pretty common B&O practice with a large number of of these gates in service in Cumberland, MD for example.

Of course there was a good amount of return traffic such Rt 11 K-Car #9086 shown here negotiating the diamonds.

DARBY interlocking, which is just visible from the crossing, is the start of the double track segment that runs all the way to VINE interlocking across from 30th St Station.

It features a CPL Combo-mast which combines a high CPL signal with a dwarf CPL signal mounted in a semi-bracket configuration. These were popular with the B&O as they single-tracked a number of their main lines with CTC.

The crossing also features a number of old school school short-arm grade crossing flasher cantilever masts. This freshly painted example is standing next to K-Kar #9042 as it heads westbound.

 Moving on to the Woodland depot we find the Woodland Diamonds, where the Rt 11 splits from the Rt 36 which also serves the Elmwood Depot which is the major carbarn on the south side. While not a Grand Union, the diamonds at Woodland are impressive nonetheless. 

Here 9086 on an 11 routing waits on Wooland Ave for the light to change.