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Saturday, June 19, 2010

10-06-19 PHOTOS: METRA Western Ave

METRA's Western Avenue Complex is sort of the Wayne Junction of the METRA system, to replace one obscure reference with another. Located about 3 miles west of downtown it is the primary storage and maintenance facility for the CNW and Milwaukee Districts. Peak trains terminating at either Union Station North or the CNW Station will deadhead back out to the Western Ave yards to wait for the evening rush. At the heart of the Western Ave complex is former Milwaukee Road TOWER A-2 which handles the crossing of the 3-track Milwaukee District trunk with the 4-track CNW West Line. The crossing is flat and the acute angle necessitates the use of movable point diamonds (8) and double slip switches (4). As one might expect at such an important and complex interlocking the tower is still manned and operational so naturally I was going to have to take a trip out there eventually.

Fortunately Western Ave also has its own METRA station and is a reasonable walking distance from the California Ave station on the Green Line L to Oak Park. I had profiled TOWER A-2 and its interlocking via a METRA train on the CNW West Line a few years ago, but this time I wanted to get out and walk around, to the best of my ability. My trip plan was to take a Milwaukee District train out to Western Ave. Wait for another Milwaukee District train that would shortly follow. Then walk to the Green Line station for the trip back downtown. By this time of day my bags had already been dropped at Union Station for my departure on Train 50 so I was generally unencumbered.

The remainder of the photo set mostly takes place at Quincy Adams while I was waiting for a Pine Line train to take me around the loop to where I could walk to Union Station and then photos taken from T50 as it weaved its way out of Chicago.

As usual all of the photos can be seen by following the link and I encourage you all to check them out for plenty of CTA action that didn't make the cut.

If you are confused by the layout of TOWER A-2 and would like a little cheat sheet you can find the original PRR interlocking diagram here. I will not be going into great detail on the interlocking this time around because I have some interior photos and I will be using those for a more detailed essay on the tower itself.

I will begin with a problem common to all METRA trains and this is METRA's annoying policy of tinting its windows green. Nobody wants to look at green pictures so I take the time to color correct them back to a semblence of normality. The front windows use a slightly lighter tint which I can usually banish with a simple automatic color correction (counter-intuitively making the color temp cooler), however the side windows use a much heavier tint and my last attempt to get rid of this didn't work to my satisfaction. This time I broke out the advanced checkbox on my automatic color correction option and it had some handy dandy sliders to bias towards green or purple so moving the slider all the way down towards the purple end of the bar resulted in some much improved coloration. However background items that included more than ballast tended to suffer.

While things weren't perfect I was happy with the improvement. Also, due to shooting out the side window (the rear cab car was closed :-( ) resulted in some poor shooting angles as my train crossed the field of diamonds in front of the tower. I did the best I could at the time then decided that it was more important to present the correct orientation than it was to crop off the black rotation borders. So in what was probably my best result we have the levers 33/39 double slip switch and lever 41 movable point frog. If someone has some of their own tricks to bust the METRA tint let me know. I could have probably stood to find a want to replace the purple tint with red, but the only method I knew was endless fiddling with the color saturation values that only seem to replace one bad option with another.

Stepping off the train I saw that my train had a lineup at TOWER A-3 so I switched over to Video Mode in order to capture both my train departing and it knocking down the Clear signal. TOWER A-3 of course is now just an interlocking name and is remote to TOWER A-2. For reference the cars with the small windows are the Budd originals from the 1960's and 70's and the larger windowed cars are the newer models made by M-K, Amerail and Nippon Sharyo.

Bringing up the rear was METRA Cab Car #8425, one of the newt generation Gallery cars made by Amerail in the late 1990s.

TOWER A-3 provides a healthy mix of new and old with a brand new tubular signal gantry for northbound trains and a classic Milwaukee road era lattice gantry for southbound trains. Both gantries supported classic searchlight style signals with the phantom second head to allow for a call-on head. Be careful how you act here while railfanning because there is a CCTV camera at the end of the Track 1 platform used by the operator in A-2 to determine the identity for trains waiting on the platform.

As a second train would be following the first the signals at TOWER A-3 were fleeted and in a fit of OCD I captured the whole signal progression including Approach, Clear and Advance Approach. Of course Advance Approach is a flashing aspect that that requires another video segment.

This would have been a photo worthy of if it weren't for that #%@#$ anti-pedestrian fence between tracks 1 and 2, Subject is METRA MP36PH-2S #427. This is the last unit in METRA's MP36 order.

Yup, its time for another video. Here #427 accelerates from a stop at Western Ave and through TOWER A-3 interlocking. Note the large number of cab cars being used as coaches. I don't think I have seen a computer outfit that uses more cab cars away from their customary position than METRA. Also note the differences between the small window old stock and large window new stock and the pleasing growl from the EMD 645 engine as it works to get the train moving.

On the rear of that train is an 8500 series Nippon cab car shown here passing through TOWER A-3 interlocking. This zoom photo clearly shows off the mix of new and old rolling stock common to every METRA trainset.

Unlike most other commuter railroads METRA employs a rather verbose Delay in Block rule warning signal. So instead of a (D) or [D] or DIB we have a text explanation of the rule. Even more ludicrous the signs at Western Ave are located about 3 feet from the home signal the rule is meant to warn the engineer about!!

It is sort of hard to see, but the operator in A-2 has already pulled up the 38R signal on MILW track 2 for a move across the CNW tracks. There must be really really long weekend headways on the CNW for the MILW route to be cleared so far in advance. The train this signal is meant for didn't even show up while I was anywhere near the tower. Also visible past the pleasantly searchlit 40R signal is TOWER A-2 itself and the interlocking's very own signal maintainers' shoppe. Yeah, its that complex. 

The Western Ave Milwaukee District yard is empty today as it is a weekend and all of the trainsets are stored safely in their remote terminal yards. Visible in on one of the far tracks is a painted carbon steel Pullman/St Louis/ACF built gallery car. Also notice that like its bigger brother, TOWER A-3 also uses pneumatic point machines with a sufficiently robust air plant.

The eastbound signal gantry on the 4-track CNW line is visible from the Western Ave platform and stands in contrast to the beefier MILW models. 

Closeup view of the west side of TOWER A-2 with the C&S shack and the 40R signal. The MILW route was originally 4 tracks and, like the CNW line, used single-direction signaling. At some point the interlocking was rationalized with one MILW track being removed and reaplaced with bi-directional operation on all tracks. This saw the 40R signal change to a three head high signal instead of a dwarf.

Leaving the station platform one can walk around the block to the aforementioned Western Ave and then take a picture of the ivy covered eastern side of the tower. The speed limit sign is for trains on the CNW West line.

The Pennsylvania Railroad's Panhandle Route came into Chicago on a very roundabout path running up the west side to TOWER A-2, then making a left turn to enter Union Station from the North. As such the interlocking plant, although maintained and operated by the MILW, had significant PRR influence including the US&S Model 14 machine, pneumatic switches and architectural features such as this bay window. Hey wait a second, what is that in the window? Oh FUCK YOU!!!

Oh, did I say that the interlocking was built under the influence of the Pennsylvania Railroad? Yeah I meant it. The entire east end of the plant is signals on the MILW tracks is signaled by PRR position lights. In this case the 68R is displaying a Clear signal for a train I didn't feel like waiting for.

If you want a good photo of the front of TOWER A-2, but you don't want that nasty METRA window tint, then you can just zoom in from the other side of the Western Ave bridge.

The intermediate signal gantry with the PRR signals from the opposite side of the tracks.

Wow, nothing says Chicago L better than this picture. In fact I would say this is even cooler than equivalent photos taken under the loop due to the full width supports and comparatively meager track structure. Someone dig up Gene Hackman, I think I found a location for the French Connection III chase scene.

This is where the Panhandle Route alignment crosses Lake Street in a triple crossing with the L on top, Panhandle in the middle and Lake St down below. Of course the actual PRR Panhandle tracks are long gone with only the former CNW freight line still in service by Union Pacific, connecting the former CNW West Line with NS, CSX and BNSF yards and routes. 

Of course there is a wee little problem with L's like this in that they tend to get a little loud. I'm talking Broad Street Subway loud.

 I caught a train of Boeings which I used to go to Adams/Wabash where I would transfer to a Pink Line to loop around to Quincy. Here is 2436 and what ever happened to that Red, White and Blue paint scheme?

A zoom shot of CTA TOWER 12 with an Orange Line led by #3295 making a left.

A Brown Line train consisting of M-K 3200 series cars including #3411 seen here.

Finally my Pink Line train showed up with Budd 2600 series #3164.

Well it was finally time to depart Chicago on The Cardinal. Pulling out of the station I caught an exotic visitor probably to/from Beech Grove. Amtrak California F59PHI #2012, not to be confused with the ACLEA Express power car of the same number.

The Tower fun wasn't quite over this day as my train approached the Nexus of the south side, Dolton Junction. As this is where the UP line crosses both the CSX and IHB main lines there was a wee bit of congestion, evidenced here by this approach signal to the Stop at the Dalton Junction home signal.

The user serviceable side door windows on the Viewliner was really paying off because as my train proceeded across the 4 diamonds at DALTON JCT I was able to give a pair of young railfans a little something extra for their video. I scoured Youtube to try and find myself, but no luck :-(

DALTON JCT is the largest mechanical lever frame tower tower in North America and one of the largest in the world with a 172 lever machine. It was built by the PRR during World War 2 along its Panhandle Route and today I believe it is either operated UP. One could call this the ZOO interlocking of Chicago.

End-on view of DALTON tower showing the B&OCT connector that links what is currently UPs Markham Yard with the CSX main line into Barr Yard. The tower is so wide because it uses a modified tappet locking where the locking shaft drove a longitudinal locking bar (or tappet) which transferred the locking movement up and down the frame wherein locking dogs were bolted to the locking bar to drive transverse cross locking which locked or released other locking bars.

CSX C44-10W #5230 was waiting patiently at the opposite connecting track to head east.

Despite the delay my train was still quite a bit early heading through the south side diamonds and junctions and as such it was treated to a 10 minute layover at the Dyre, IN Amtrak station. Passengers could step off to stretch their legs. Here we see the two "Indy" coaches attached to the rear of an Amfleet II LD coach (complete with Pioneer III trucks. The local cars will be dropped off at Indianapolis around midnight while he remainder of the train continues east.

Unfortunately for my next photo set, the sleeper had been moved to the head end which greatly increased the difficulty of obtaining a good survey of the former C&O Main Line.

Every time I have ridden Train 50 eastbound there have been railfans waiting at Dyre to greet it. This trip was no exception.

Unlike my last trip i did not feel inclined to try to induce the Indy crew to let me stand in the open rear vestibule due to the fact that the CSX Monon sub is rather boring having been generally re-signaled. The line is still run under APB Rules (271), but the signals are all lame-wad Darth Vaders such as this example at MP 72.6 in Rensselaer, IN.  Also adding insult to injury CSX downgraded the line speed from 80 to 60 between 2005 and 2008 which added 30 minutes extra to the run.

Well that's it for Chicago. I would want to say to tune in next time for my 2010 C&O survey, but 460 photos will take much more than a single week to process so stay tuned for another "Classic" photo set next week.

1 comment:

  1. I am from the NE suburbs of Philly originally and I love your blog. I am reading it all. Just a couple of quick notes:
    Dolton, not Dalton.
    Dyer, not Dyre.
    I can only imagine how hard it is to try to track this stuff as you look back on your travel notes.
    So, Delete comment after reading.